Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


6:45 pm

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

First, I thank Deputy Denis Naughten and his colleagues in the Regional Independent Group for highlighting the issue with which the Bill deals. I acknowledge the spirit in which the Bill has been brought forward. I also thank those Members who have participated so far in the debate.

As the Minister of State outlined, there is much common ground between this Bill and the Government's action plan for insurance reform. I acknowledge the various points that have been expressed by Deputies about the high cost of insurance in this jurisdiction and, most importantly, the adverse impact this has on our private citizens, enterprise and communities.

This Government is taking insurance reform very seriously, as are all Members who spoke here tonight. We know that a cost-competitive insurance sector is absolutely vital for our financial stability and economic activity. We know too that pricing and availability of insurance has been and remains a major problem for businesses, community groups and consumers. The programme for Government outlines a range of commitments to inform our insurance sector and the action plan for insurance reform, which was published in December, contains 66 specific actions aimed at bringing down costs for consumers and businesses including introducing more competition into the market, preventing fraud and reducing the burden on the business community and voluntary organisations. Those actions include examination of the very issues which are the subject of this Bill this evening, that is, the pursuit of fraudulent claims and the awarding of costs,

Every effort is being made to address these issues and, more generally, what is colloquially described as the claims culture that drives them. Insurance reform is a key goal for the Department and is included in our Justice Plan 2021, which was published in February. My Department is engaging in work in a number of areas to address these matters, including placing the offence of perjury on a statutory footing and making it easier to prosecute, examining and providing recommendations regarding changes to ensure insurance fraud data is published and enhancing co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the insurance industry.

In addition to the range of legislative and policy measures to which the Minister of State referred, legislation has already taken effect to help address this complex situation. The Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Act 2018, for example, which commenced on 28 January 2019, establishes a national claims information database on a legislative basis to facilitate a more in-depth analysis of annual trends for motor insurance claims. We are also examining the potential to bring forward proposals with regard to other areas of reform such as occupiers liability and the potential to cap awards. This is in addition to the personal injury guidelines which Deputies have outlined. These were recently adopted by the Judicial Council and legislation relating to them is currently going through this House.

A key component of many of our reforms is the need to tackle insurance fraud. This includes examining those areas which are central to the root of the Bill being considered here, that is, awarding of costs and referral of fraudulent actions. As we have heard this evening, however, and as my colleague, the Minister of State, indicated, there are issues with the measures as outlined in the Bill which will require significant amendment. Given the broad range of challenges being faced, amending section 26 of the 2004 Act will not solve all our problems on its own. Indeed, there is no silver bullet when it comes to this complex problem.

In its Report on the Cost of Employer and Public Liability Insurance, the cost of insurance working group expressed a belief that for section 26 to more effectively achieve its aim of tackling personal injury fraud, there was a major onus on defendants to challenge misleading evidence, where appropriate, by taking it to court rather than settling on the court steps for fear of an unsatisfactory outcome. The working group was also of the view that appropriate use of the legislative provisions in the 2004 Act could be facilitated by encouraging the industry to make complaints to An Garda Síochána where it believes fraud to have featured in particular claims.

As previously stated, the Government is committed to increasing co-ordination and co-operation between An Garda Síochána and insurance industry . The action plan for insurance reform makes specific reference to an expansion of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, GNECB, to deal with the issue of insurance fraud. While reassignment of all Garda staff has been delayed due to Covid-19, it is expected that allocations of Garda staff to specialist units, including the GNECB, will commence towards the end of this month. In addition to this, a competition has commenced to recruit three forensic accountants for GNECB, which doubles the current allocation of three. I should also add that Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018, which provides for a statutory offence of perjury that can be clearly interpreted by investigators, prosecutors and the courts alike and includes false statements on oaths, false statutory declarations, fabrication of evidence and subordination of perjury is currently going through the Oireachtas. I hope to have further progress on this in the coming weeks.

The Bill also consolidates other relevant legislation in the area of perjury and knowingly making false statements in formal legal proceedings. The Bill, when enacted, will provide a clear definition of perjury, and simply put, should enable the offence and related offences to be more easily prosecuted in the courts.

These concerted reform initiatives represent a series of mutually reinforcing measures that in their collective implementation will strengthen sections 25 and 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act. I reiterate that the Government is not opposing the Bill on Second Stage. The Government view, however, which has been expressed this evening by my colleague, the Minister of State, is that substantial amendment will be required to the Bill before it proceeds further.

I thank Deputy Naughten and all his colleagues for raising these issues and, most sincerely, the spirit in which that was done.


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