Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Topical Issue Debate
Motor Insurance Regulation
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for accepting this Topical Issue, a vitally important one that affects every village, hamlet and home not only in Tipperary but in Ireland today. I question why it has taken the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission so long to initiate action on what has been an outstanding, urgent and clear case of market manipulation within the car and vehicle insurance sector.
I highlight the language that this authority - one of these quangos - has used in a statement in announcing the issuing of summonses, in particular its view that industry participants openly signalling upcoming increases may result in a degree of unspoken co-ordination. Did one ever hear such bunkum? We know that every young person, every pensioner and every family car owner is being screwed backwards by insurance companies and we get this timid language from this quango. I would like to know the cost of the quango and who is paying its insurance or if it is insurable because it is worthless, toothless and useless.
The Ministers may laugh, but they know this because they are hearing it in their constituency clinics every week. There has been ample anecdotal evidence from every town and village in the past five years about premium increases. They have defied any logic and any reasonable expectations, and operate outside market conditions.
The political reaction by the Government to the issue has been extremely weak and inordinately slow. I hope the Minister of State and the other Ministers present will listen to that. The Government has completely failed to grasp the seriousness of this situation for thousands of motor vehicle users and only at the last moment, driven largely by public pressure has it woken up to the scale of the problem.
We have had beef cartels and bank cartels, all of which used their industry dominance and insider knowledge to maintain their massive and obscene profits. The bankers have wiped out the farmers and the whole country. Are we going to let the motor insurance industry rip us all off here as well?
Last year Allianz, Europe's biggest insurer, reported record operating profits of €10.8 billion. Aviva Ireland reported an increase of 32% in its operating profit to €92 million last year. What do they want - the blood of the people? Young people do the theory test, pay an instructor to get the right standard of driving, pass their test and then they are made criminals before they go on the road because they are penalised to the tune of €4,000 to €7,000. They can buy a car for €2,000 and the insurance is costing their parents up to four times that amount. It is a rotten, stinking cartel.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission recently investigated small bus companies in Tipperary suspected of operating a cartel. They might have the law down on top of them - dawn raids with all kinds of intimidation of the bus owners. I do not support any cartels, but this has to stop I want to see the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission flex its muscle and not use this timid language that one would use when courting a girl up a boreen when we all buachaillí óga agus cailíní óga fadó fadó.
I cannot use here the language I want to use to describe what is going on. There is victimisation of young people, older people and also road hauliers. A number of road hauliers are now insuring abroad and registering abroad. There is a huge flow of jobs from Ireland where we have a recovering economy. This cartel of insurance companies is trying to racketeer and make even more profits on the back of ordinary families. I hope the Minister of State can give some assistance and hope to the families and businesses, especially small businesses, that cannot afford this. It is crippling businesses, families, students and everybody else.
I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for raising this very important issue. I am glad he did not use that language because I would be very sensitive towards any language like that.
Introducing measures to address the rising cost of motor insurance is a high priority for Government. The working group on the cost of insurance, chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is undertaking a review of the factors which are influencing the increased cost of motor insurance. The working group brings together all the relevant Departments and offices involved in the process. Its objective is to identify immediate and longer-term measures which can address increasing costs, while bearing in mind the need to maintain a stable insurance sector. The core areas to be examined by the working group in this first phase are: the motor insurance sector generally at present and in recent years; the effects of legal costs and litigation processes on insurance costs; the current claims compensation arrangements and the cost of claims; insurance data and information; the impact of accident rates; the impact of unlawful activity on the insurance sector; and other market issues.
A number of additional issues relating to motor insurance which impact upon consumers and the business sector are also being considered. These include the lack of a link between the national car test and the availability of insurance; insurance costs for young drivers and those over 65; the case for rural dwellers with no public transport to have car insurance at a reasonable cost; the issue of returning emigrants having difficulty obtaining car insurance; and the cost of insurance to taxi drivers, hackneys, hauliers and others involved in the transport business.
As the issue of the cost of insurance is complex and in order to get to the heart of these issues as soon as possible, the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has established four sub-groups to review them in detail. Chairs have been appointed to these sub-groups and work has commenced. The sub-groups are meeting weekly and their outputs are feeding into the meetings of the main working group. The working group will be holding its fifth meeting this Thursday and will continue to meet every two to three weeks to the end of 2016.
A consultation process has commenced. The Minister of Stat has had informal meetings with representatives from a number of key stakeholders including Insurance Ireland, AA Ireland, the Irish Brokers Association, the Injuries Board, IBEC, FBD Insurance and the Central Bank of Ireland. The working group and the four sub-groups are also meeting with the relevant stakeholders. At its third meeting, the working group met representatives from the Law Society, AA Ireland, the Irish Brokers Association and the Consumers' Association of Ireland. Further consultations will be arranged. In addition, submissions received from all interested parties are being considered as part of the process.
By the end of October, the working group will provide the Minister for Finance with an update report which will set out the priority actions required. From November to December, the working group will then develop an action plan to enable the relevant Departments and offices to commence the implementation of these priority actions. In this regard, the Minister of State will be consulting regularly with Government colleagues.
The Minister of State referred to working groups and consultation groups, but this has been going on for more than 18 months. I know that during the interregnum when the Government was being formed, it went off and took everyone for a fast ride around the country and the insurance companies. I read the figures and I will read them again. Last year Allianz, Europe's biggest insurer, reported record operating profits of €10.8 billion. Aviva Ireland reported an increase of 32% in its profits. It is no time for talking, it is time for action. The Government should deal with it. The Government is just tickling the Law Society by inviting its representatives in to talk to them. They have been robbing people for years. This is legalised robbery and is forcing people to drive uninsured. If they have accidents, ordinary motorists are paying the price.
My insurance went up by 50% this year and I will put up with that but there is even less cover for young drivers and everything else. I am talking about business insurance. Many jobs are being lost on a daily basis. Last year the road hauliers got a break with the motor tax. Now the insurance companies have decided to hijack them and double their insurance in some cases. Last week the president of the Irish Road Hauliers Association, Verona Murphy, whom I admire, asked why road hauliers are not allowed to access the European Single Market for insurance as commercial entities, noting that there is no competition in the Irish market. Do we need reports, consultations, sub-groups, committees and weekly meetings going on to the end of the year to find the answer? We all know what is going on. It is a cartel and a racket. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. It is a racket and it is daylight robbery.
Ms Murphy added that about 43% of trucks in Ireland now have foreign registered plates. That is telling. We are losing the tax and customs revenue. Some 30% of Irish operators are now based abroad. Are we going to allow this like the flight of the earls? We need to wake up and smell the coffee. The Government needs to call in the insurance companies and deal with them. There is no point in rubbing butter on a fat sow's backside, which is what is going on. It is pure plunder and rape of our business, our industry, our young people, our families and our economy, and it has to be stopped now. There is no point in having working groups, mojos, jojos and everything else. We need action. We are elected by the people to represent them to stop this racket and cartel. We put up with it with Larry Goodman and we put up with it with the banks. This is one we cannot put up with because it will drive our country into the abyss.
I understand the Deputy's frustration. Many, if not all, Deputies across the House are frustrated with the rising cost of motor insurance. Not a day goes by without someone mentioning the rising cost of motor insurance to me and particularly people involved in the haulage business.
County Wexford is heavily reliant on the haulage business, as I am sure is the case in County Tipperary and in other parts of the country. As I outlined, address of the rising cost of motor insurance is a Government priority. Work to identify the factors influencing the increasing costs is continuing apace via the cost of insurance working group. As Chairman of the working group, the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is driving the process-----
-----and is working with all of the relevant stakeholders, Departments and offices to identify immediate and long term measures that can address the rising cost of insurance. Consultation with the relevant stakeholders is ongoing. The working group looks forward to receiving the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and the Taoiseach on this matter. The working group will provide an update to the Minister for Finance at the end of the month, in which it will set out the priority actions required. The working group will then develop an action plan to enable the relevant Departments and offices to commence implementation of these priority actions by December.
Like Deputy Mattie McGrath, I have spoken to the president and other members of the Irish Road Haulage Association. I met recently with a number of hauliers who are being crippled by the rising cost of motor insurance. This is a matter of huge concern for them and young drivers. My car insurance increased this year from €350 to €950. That is unacceptable. Families are being crippled by the rising cost of motor insurance. Most young people now have cars and every household is reliant on a car.
I take on board all of the sentiments expressed by the Deputy and I will refer them directly to the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.