Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Consumer Insurance Contracts Bill 2017: From the Seanad
I hope that with the signature of President Michael D. Higgins to enact the legislation, there will be a much-deserved early Christmas present for consumers, given that it will radically reform insurance contracts throughout the State. I thank the Alliance for Insurance Reform for its input in respect of the legislation, which was doubtless strengthened by its suggestions. It has described the legislation, which Sinn Féin and I introduced, as a game changer. It will bring transparency to the sector and is part of my agenda of taking on the insurance industry and of ensuring that the scales will be tipped in favour of consumers. Contracts will now need to be read in favour of the consumer.
The insurance companies, which are fighting parts of this legislation, will have to be transparent about how much they charged on policies over a five-year period and the claims they paid out during the same period. They will no longer be allowed to settle claims without the knowledge of the person the claim was made against. They will no longer be able to ignore the evidence that a claim may be fraudulent, bogus or deeply suspicious. There are many other provisions in this legislation.
I thank the staff in my office, including Declan O'Farrell, who is leaving our employment to go to Brussels. It is important that one of the last things we are doing before he leaves is to pass legislation that he helped me with. I also thank Paul McIlvenny. I would particularly like to thank the LRC for drafting an earlier version of this legislation. I thank the officials in the Department of Finance and the Minister himself, who has helped to make sure this legislation passes in a timely manner.
I must say that there was a step change in the Government's handling of this legislation when the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, came on board. This Bill was held up by the Government for quite a period of time. Given that I initially sponsored it in 2017, we should not have had to wait until the final sitting day of 2019 for it to be passed into law. The previous Minister of State at the Department of Finance - the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy - failed to allow it to make progress for well over a year. It was held up by a money message. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, for his help and support. I would particularly like to thank his officials. At least we have all come together in unison now to do something positive for consumers. As many people have said, it should result in reduced premiums for people across the board.