Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)


3:30 pm

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank my colleague, Deputy Durkan, for an interesting speech on the Bill and many other aspects of law and order throughout the country. On behalf of the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, I thank everyone for their broad support for this important Bill and for their contributions over recent days. As the Minister mentioned in her opening remarks on Tuesday, the current Garda compensation scheme has been in operation since the 1940s. It is important that we update the processes and key actors to make it more efficient and effective by utilising systems that are already in place for personal injuries actions more generally.

The Bill provides a new and more streamlined system for Garda compensation claims, which will reduce the time it takes to get from injury to initial application to award, while also reducing the costs of administering the scheme. It is important to note that the Bill maintains the parameters of the right to compensation under the old legislation. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan questioned whether the intention of the Bill is to reduce awards but I assure the Deputy this is not the case. Instead, it makes a number of key process changes, with clear timeframes for each stage to ensure a swift resolution of claims to reduce the administrative costs of the scheme and not the awards.

The Bill provides more time for applicants to make an application, extending the time period from three months for initial application to six months and this can be extended where necessary. Significantly, it provides members of An Garda Síochána with quicker avenues for resolution of their claims in the event of an injury arising out of a malicious incident and it allows for independent review at various stages of the process where the determination made is a refusal. This means that applicants will no longer have to take judicial review proceedings, which are expensive and time consuming.

The use of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, for assessing the award of Garda compensation ensures an independent assessment for members who need to avail of the scheme as a result of suffering an injury arising out of a malicious incident. The PIAB is expert at what it does and it will lead to greater consistency in awards as the PIAB will be guided by the personal injuries guidelines in its assessments. This was acknowledged by a number of Deputies in their contributions on the Bill.

It is hoped that the Bill will allow for the majority of cases to be resolved without the need for court proceedings. This will reduce the legal costs associated with these claims over time. The option to proceed to a lower court rather than the necessity to bring each claim before the High Court will mean a lower level of costs associated with some of the claims that do proceed to court. We can all agree that this an important change as there are cases at present where the legal costs are much greater than the awards themselves.

Turning now to the debate, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has asked me to respond to some of the queries raised by Deputies. Deputy Daly questioned whether the time limit of 30 days for the Garda Commissioner to submit an application to the PIAB was sufficient. As the application form to the Commissioner will contain all the information needed for an application to the PIAB, it will be a simple administrative step to submit this and 30 days is sufficient in this regard.

Some Deputies questioned whether the PIAB would create delays rather than reduce them. This is not the case. As we all know, the PIAB is a very efficient outfit. For example, the average time for processing claims over the five-year period between 2016 and 2020 was 7.7 months. This will be a significant improvement on current waiting times before the High Court. It is also hoped that the introduction of the new personal injuries guidelines and the requirement for the PIAB and the courts to have regard to them in assessing injury claims will bring greater consistency to award levels across the personal injury environment, which will, hopefully, increase the acceptance of PIAB awards.

In relation to insurance premiums, the Government is committed to reforming the insurance sector but cannot set the price of insurance. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, have met the CEOs of the main firms to discuss the Government's expectation that insurers will commence reflecting the savings arising from lower injury awards to consumers and businesses, in line with previous commitments from the industry. These engagements were positive, with insurers indicating that consistent implementation of the guidelines should result in lower premiums.

Deputies O'Reilly and O'Donoghue noted that malicious incidents can occur due to a lack of resources. I would like to point out that Government investment into An Garda Síochána has reached unprecedented levels, with budget 2022 providing for €2.062 billion. The significant level of funding provided over recent years is enabling sustained ongoing recruitment of Garda members and staff. The Government is on track to meet its commitment of 15,000 sworn members of An Garda Síochána and 4,000 staff. Budget 2022 includes funding for the recruitment of up to an additional 800 gardaí next year and the recruitment of up to an additional 400 Garda staff.

Deputy Ó Murchú raised the issue of insurance reform more generally. As the Deputy is aware, on 1 March 2022 the Government published the second implementation report on the action plan for insurance reform. The report shows that implementation of the plan is on track, with approximately 80% of actions now being delivered with the remaining initiated.

Principal actions delivered to date include the establishment of the Office to Promote Competition in the Insurance Market and the Insurance Fraud Coordination Office. Legislation to strengthen the laws on perjury has been enacted and we have seen a milestone reform with the commencement of the personal injuries guidelines.

Good progress is being made under our action plan. Central Statistics Office data shows that the average cost of claims for motor insurance policies is down 20%, while data from the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, shows that average award levels have decreased by approximately 42%. However, there is more to do and, in 2022, the focus is on remaining actions, including legislative reform in the areas of occupier's liability, completing the reform of the PIAB and competition enforcement.

Deputies Howlin, Catherine Murphy and Martin Browne asked about psychological injuries. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, assures the Deputies that, yes, claims may be made for psychological as well as physical injuries under the Bill. The personal injury guidelines, which came into effect in April 2021, provide detail on the level of awards relevant to injuries of a psychological nature.

Deputy Howlin also queried whether Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, officers may make claims under the Bill. Bureau officers, as well as Chief State Solicitor's office staff working on CAB matters are covered, as are reserves, trainees and former members.

Deputy Berry asked about the compensation scheme in place for prison officers and whether the Bill would apply to them. I point out that this scheme has been designed and developed for An Garda Síochána and, while there may well be merit in extending it or having a similar scheme for other roles, the implications and operation of any such scheme would have to be thought through carefully.

As Deputy Durkan mentioned, this scheme is a long time in development and we need to get on with it and put it in place for gardaí and their family members as soon as possible. The Minister will of course keep the operation of this scheme, and other schemes of this nature, under review in the future.

On the extension of the scheme to civilian members, which was raised by many Deputies, I understand from the Minister that this issue is being examined by her Department. Consultations have indicated that there are complexities with the extension arising from the fact that civilian staff of An Garda Síochána are civil servants and the interaction with the existing civil servant occupational schemes that already apply to them is not straightforward. The Minister is trying to work through these issues and has indicated that she does not wish to delay the passage of the Bill. The urgent need for reform in this area has been acknowledged by many Deputies so I think we can agree that this Bill should be progressed to enactment as soon as possible.

Once again, on behalf of the Minister, I thank the Deputies for their contributions on this Bill.


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