Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Business Insurance: Motion [Private Members]
Martin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
I thank Deputy McGrath for introducing the motion. I also acknowledge the role of the Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy. I have had many conversations with him about insurance over the past year or more, and in my view he has always done his best to resolve this matter. The difficulty is that, by and large, the insurance companies are in the driving seat. There seems to be nothing to stop or constrain them from making deciding how to act.
The main issue is business insurance. The reason we have insurance is to compensate members of the public, persons in a workplace and so on who are unfortunate enough to get injured or hurt. In such circumstances, a person is entitled to compensation. A culture appears to be creeping in whereby people who have an accident are afraid to make a claim. It has almost reached that stage. There is nothing wrong with making a claim and people who are injured are entitled to and should do so. That is entirely different from making fraudulent claims. One type of fraudulent claim I have recently come across concerns defamation. It involves people entering a shop and wandering around. A shopkeeper watching them will then suspect they have stolen items and if he or she challenges them, they take a defamation claim against the shopkeeper. Another person comes along and films the exchange on a mobile phone, capturing the shopkeeper asking if the persons have taken something or what is in their bags. The insurance company often settles with these people without informing the retailer. This goes on in many sectors, including retail, the leisure industry and pubs and it has an effect. This type of claim is made, the insurance company settles - too easily in my view - and as a result, premiums go up and businesses cannot survive. Business owners know they cannot survive because the activities of the insurance companies are pushing up premiums.
The legislation passed in the past year or thereabouts, which the Minister of State mentioned, is not having an impact on the ground. The other evening I spoke to the manager of a business about what he pays for insurance. His costs have gone up by 45% since last year. The legislation passed in the last year did not matter. When he asked his insurance provider why premiums went up, the company referred to international markets as insurance premiums are apparently increasing everywhere. This is the story the insurance firms spin. When the manager shops around among various insurance companies, they all tell the same story. It is as if they operate a cosy cartel. They agree to push premiums up by a certain amount now and a couple of months later they push them up another bit to see what they can get away with. That is the experience of businesses in this country.
I acknowledge that the Minister of State is trying to do his best, but somehow that does not seem to be enough. He mentioned that we have tried to use the carrot and we may need to use the stick. It is long past time for the stick to be used to deal with some of these insurance companies given the way they are behaving, particularly towards young people. I come from a rural constituency. A young person who gets a job will be unable to get motor insurance. We need to find a solution to that problem. There is always a solution if people are forced to sit down and work one out. That is what must happen. Insurance companies, which are making substantial profits, must be forced to act. There must be a means of bringing them into line. At the end of the day, the reason they are making such profits is that we have a law which forces everybody to have insurance. Motorists must have car insurance. We need to regulate the insurance industry, which requires that we show a firm hand. I appeal to the Minister of State to drive home this message and make these changes happen. I thank Fianna Fáil for bringing the motion forward and I seek its members' support for our amendment.