Government advised against Hurricane Charley compensation

State Papers 1986: Funding uninsured companies ‘would have serious implications’

Just weeks after Hurricane Charley wreaked millions of pounds worth of damage, mainly in the south and east, the government heard it would “not be advisable” to compensate companies who went without insurance due to their own “imprudence”.

In a memo for government dated September 10th, 1986, then minister for industry and commerce Michael Noonan updated his cabinet colleagues on the insurance position for companies affected by the storm.

He said the “most comprehensive” statement on damage to business related to around Bray in Co Wicklow.

“While the original picture appeared grave”, the subsequent cleaning out of the various premises, examination and testing of machinery revealed “a less alarming situation”.

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It appeared the problem of no, or inadequate, insurance was confined mainly to retail and service businesses.

The minister said that without pre-judging the situation, it was “not unrealistic to suppose that many of those who went uninsured did so to cut costs, and that their financial position was already precarious”.

He wrote: “Some of these firms may well have closed in any event even in the absence of flood damage.”

Hurricane Charley struck on August 25th, 1986, and remains one of worst storms in living memory.

The damage, when property and ruined crops were taken into account, ran into tens of millions of pounds and the government sought European aid for those affected.

In Wicklow, a minimum of £410,000 was required to safeguard jobs in the area, according to the memo.

The department of the environment had consulted local authorities in other areas badly affected by the floods and a minimum of 154 companies had been affected, but no information was available on how many had adequate or any insurance cover.

“It is fair to assume, however, that if the Bray experience is replicated, a number of companies will be inadequately insured,” the memo added.

“This would obviously have exchequer implications if the government were to assume financial responsibility for restoring the flood damage in the Bray area.

“It would not be advisable for the government to compensate those companies without insurance which are at a loss through their own conscious decision or imprudence without running the risk of the State being called upon and expected to assume liability for compensation in many other areas of commercial and ordinary life where losses to commercial or residential property could have been avoided, if reasonable and prudent action were taken by the persons concerned.”

The minister added: “Even if there were further instances like those of Cork city and the river Blackwater where insurance was not available because of the risk of regular flooding, it would be unwise to assume liability for compensation.”

Dublin chamber of commerce, according to the document, admitted that those of its members without insurance had failed to take it out for reasons of cost rather than because it was not available.

More than a thousand people were evacuated from their homes in Bray after the river Dargle burst its banks, flooding houses to a height of seven feet during the storm.

The heaviest rain fell in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, with 280mm, or 11 inches, recorded on Kippure.

Some 200mm of rainfall recorded at Kilcoole set a new Irish record for the greatest amount of rainfall in a single day.

Irish Times photographer Dermot O'Shea described how people linked each other and pulled each other out of a "raging torrent" of water up to 5ft deep in Ballsbridge when the Dodder broke.

Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald cut short his holiday in Cyprus to preside at an emergency cabinet meeting to decide on relief action.

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