Years After Major Flooding, Some Residents in Ringsend and Irishtown Say They Can't Get Flood Insurance

Around lunchtime on 1 February 2002, John Whelan was getting his hair cut in Sandymount Village when something unusual happened.

Streams of water began flooding through the door of the barber shop, he says.

Whelan, who lived in the Irishtown area his whole life, dashed home to check on his house.

The damage to his home was minimal, he says, but water would sometimes come through the keyhole and into his house when cars driving down the street caused the water to rise for a few seconds.

Whelan says he was lucky, compared to others.

“I was washed out of it. The Dodder came in the front door and went out the back door,” says Patrick Whelan, John’s dad, speaking on the phone last Friday.

Since then, Dublin City Council (DCC) and the Office of Public Works (OPW) have put in protection measures such as flood walls and warning systems, spending approximately €50m between 2007 and 2009, in an attempt to reduce flooding in Ringsend, Irishtown, Ballsbridge and Donnybrook, a spokesperson for the council said.

The result has been no significant tidal or river flooding in the area since 2011, says a spokesperson for the council, “despite the highest ever recorded tide in Dublin City on 3rd January 2014 and the 3rd highest tide on Friday 21st August 2020.”

While the flood protection in the area has mostly worked, residents are still finding it difficult to get flood insurance for their homes. Some say they are struggling to even get a quote for flood insurance off the bigger insurance companies.

Not Even a Quote

John Whelan says that residents of Stella Gardens in Irishtown that had two or three feet of water in their home during the last flood are now finding it very hard to get insurance.

Meanwhile, Patrick Whelan says that when he tried to shop around no company will give him a quote, although luckily his premium hasn’t risen during that time.

“I hear plenty of people talking around here and they say that they can’t even get [flood] insurance,” he says.

Claire Gough has been living in Irishtown since the early 1960s and says she is having a similar issue — no one will give her a quote.

“I live in O’Connell Gardens and we have never been flooded, never,” she says.

When the River Dodder overflowed in 2011 the water flowed the opposite way to Stella Gardens leaving her house untouched.

“The Dodder sits at the top of my road. I think it might have come over at one stage but it didn’t even come up to the front step,” she says.

Gough says she pays €616 to FBD Insurance annually for home insurance now, and while it is not too expensive, the price of it has gone up over the years.

Aviva Insurance, Liberty Insurance, Allianz Insurance, AXA Ireland, FBD Insurance, and AIG Ireland were contacted, by Dublin Inquirer and asked if they provide flood insurance for the Ringsend, Irishtown, and Sandymount area.

Liberty, AXA, and Aviva Insurance responded, saying that they provide flood insurance for some homes in the area, but not in others.

“…there are some addresses in the areas mentioned that we would offer flood cover to and others that would be declined,” a spokesperson for Aviva said. “Aviva Insurance Ireland uses a prediction model based on the topography of the landscape and the depth and frequency of flood events.”

Said a spokesperson for Liberty Insurance: “We assess the nature and level of risk associated with each property on an individual basis.”

Despite Defences

“If you look at the [flood] wall, you would want to be in Noah’s Ark to get over it,” says Patrick Whelan.

A flood wall was built downstream of Ringsend Bridge by the council along the River Dodder after the flood in 2002 to stop the river flooding into O’Connell Gardens and Derrynane Gardens.

According to the Dublin City Council website, the work entailed the placement of 665m of sheet piles, the building of 1130m of reinforced concrete floodwalls and the construction of 130 of “flood retaining earth embankment.”

When Patrick Whelan was told by his insurance company, Allianz Insurance, that his home insurance was going up he contacted the council.

“[The council] sent me a letter explaining that these flood defenses are good for another 200 years,” Patrick Whelan says.

When he brought it to Allianz they told him that his house still did not fit their policy, he says.

BJP Insurance Brokers is based in Sandymount Village. They have come across this problem many times before says business development manager for the company, Terry Pierce.

Pierce asks Dublin City Council to send insurance companies a letter of comfort that the property in question is safe from flooding.

Pierce says that despite these letters of comfort the bigger insurance companies will often still not issue flood insurance.

Says an Aviva Insurance spokesperson: “Insurance Ireland members including Aviva, since 1 June 2014, have taken into account all information provided by the OPW when assessing exposure to flood risk within these areas.”

“Flood insurance will be considered as part of FBD’s overall evaluation of the risk, which includes FBD’s flood mapping tools and any history of flooding in the area proposed,” said a spokesperson for FBD.

Looking Elsewhere

“It seems like insurance companies forget that this has been resolved in the past,” says Dublin Bay South Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews. “Extensive work was done with drainage and the floodwall but it’s still not enough for them.”

“To be honest I could write a book about the issues of flood cover,” says Pierce.

Pierce says he has noticed with many people that when their renewal arrives, the flood insurance either significantly increases or it is just left out of their new policy altogether, he says.

“The reason this is happening is that they are trying to alleviate risk off their books of business,” says Pierce.

New software and data mean that insurance companies have a more exact flood risk assessment for areas, he says.

Pierce finds it hard to get the bigger insurance companies to provide flood insurance so he has to go with smaller companies that are often based in England, he says.

“You couldn’t be picking up the phone and ringing London directly and taking out a policy with them,” he says. “They would only be able to write business through a broker here.”

The only thing is that they might have a slightly higher flood excess on them, he says.

The excess is the first portion of the claim that you’d have to pay yourself which could be maybe €2,500, Pierce says.

Many people would rather go with a big well known insurance company as well rather than a smaller one in England, says Pierce.

“But we have wasted our time asking insurance companies to look and re-look at the area and certain risks,” he says.

[Correction: This article was updated at 11.47 on 30 September 2020 to say that Stella Gardens and O’Connell Gardens are in Irishtown. We apologise for the error.]

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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