Both tourists and locals love the thatched cottages, rare as they may be, that you still come across in this country. Although the grá for these postcard-perfect premises from our past can be generational, according to professional roofer Jimmy Lenehan, Reet is often seen as a poor man’s roof that doesn’t enjoy the respect it enjoys in other European countries.
He was reminded of this when he was working on a thatched cottage a few years ago with his mother and daughter watching. “The daughter said, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful,’ while her mother, in her 70s, said, ‘I hate straw and everything to do with it.'”
This old lady may not have much longer to look at these historic houses.
“The straw loss in the last 20 years is around 20 to 25 percent,” says Lenehan. “At this rate, the only survivors of thatched cottages will be in heritage parks.”
The core of the crisis is the fact that property insurance, in contrast to the legally required car insurance, is not a legal obligation. Insurance companies are free to refuse thatched cottage owners, or to make them an offer they must refuse.
Unless you think it reasonable that an elderly widow who has maintained and maintained her family’s thatched pub for generations – for which she has been insured for 45 years and has never made a claim – would be offered an offer of over €12,500 a year assumes .
“It might not sound like a big developer, but for us it’s insane and impossible,” says her daughter Katie McNelis. “My mother’s pub is her fortune but she can’t do anything with it because she can’t get insurance. She cannot rent it out or sell it or even live there in peace.”
Katie says they were so distraught that they closed the pub when told their only chance of getting cover was to convert it into an apartment building – only to be told the insurance company’s rate for straw was exhausted.
Affordable insurance was always difficult to find in this pub in rural Tipperary, even before Brexit. Then Katie’s father died in December 2020 and her mother was unable to renew the insurance the following summer because the insurance company said they were exiting the market.
“I feel like I’ve exhausted all options,” says Katie, who was unsuccessful in trying to settle insurance for her ailing mother. From banks to politicians to monument conservators, nobody seems to be able to help. “I have sent a petition to the Oireachtas Petitions Committee and they have relayed the findings of their committee meeting to the Central Bank and the Treasury Ombudsman, both of whom have said there is nothing they can do. We have written to Minister Malcolm Noonan and have received no reply. The finance minister sent an almost identical letter this year as last year.”
Katie says many thatched home owners are facing the same problem but feel too vulnerable to speak out. “None of this is right. That’s why I started a petition on change.org and some of us came together to form the Thatch Insurance Action Group. Our government is failing us. They are the ones who can change laws. Insurance companies don’t break the rules right now. The rules have to change.”
She adds that not only lack of availability but also affordability is an issue.
“The difference between regular property insurance and thatched roof insurance in this country is appalling. In many cases, non-standard houses pay up to four to five times more. Even if my 81-year-old mother could get an offer, how would she pay the extortionate fees on a pension, let alone maintain a listed building?”
With that in mind, Katie struck the straw when a heritage council asked her why insurance was necessary. “People in these properties need to be able to live their lives. But they can’t even have a visitor in case they have an accident with all this compo culture. What planet do they live on?”
Perhaps one too precious yet too practical might be the final straw for these thatched cottages we should cherish.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/lay-of-the-land-lack-of-insurance-is-the-last-straw-for-thatched-cottages-41845176.html Location of the country: Lack of insurance is the last straw for thatched cottages