Dáil debates

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Business Insurance: Motion [Private Members]

 

1:50 pm

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I move:

"That Dáil Éireann: recognises that:— micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises currently employ over one million people in Ireland according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO);

— the cost of employer liability insurance and public liability insurance is a direct threat to the competitiveness and sustainability of many businesses throughout the country, including, micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, sports clubs and facilities, charities, community and voluntary organisations, play centres, livestock marts, pubs and bars;

— the National Competitiveness Council has cited the cost of doing business in Ireland as a major concern, and that hidden costs such as insurance remain a pressure point for businesses;

— the Report on the Cost of Doing Business from the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation placed insurance front and centre as an issue for ‘most business organisations’;

— many businesses are reporting large increases in employer and public liability insurance premiums, many more cannot even obtain a quote, forcing them to self-insure, which puts both businesses and claimants at risk, and large increases in insurance excess and a greater use of insurance exclusions have also been reported;

— the Personal Injuries Commission (PIC) has confirmed that the data shows personal injury claims in Ireland are out-of-sync with other jurisdictions;

— the PIC recommended that corrective action is required to bring personal injury damages back in line with other jurisdictions, that the Judicial Council Bill 2017 be progressed through the Houses of the Oireachtas as quickly as possible and that a judicial council should bring forward guidance on the level of personal injury damages;

— the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) was established in 2004 to provide an alternative dispute resolution mechanism to assess personal injury claims to often costly adversarial court proceedings;

— 33,114 applications were received in 2017 by PIAB, only 6,788 awards out of 12,663 made were accepted, and the remaining cases were dealt with outside the PIAB process;

— there is currently no data collected tracking the changes in premiums for employer liability and public liability, which means the problem remains under the surface;

— insurance fraud is one of the many reasons why insurance premiums are high, and there is currently no data collected on insurance fraud, be it from the Garda PULSE insurance fraud statistics or from the Courts Service;

— the insurance fraud database has yet to be established, the original deadline has been missed, and no new deadline has been put in place;

— in many instances, insurance companies are not challenging claims they believe to be dubious and potentially fraudulent; and

— insurance companies use non-disclosure at the point of a claim rather than at the policy proposal stage in order to avoid the payment of a claim;and calls on the Government to:— fully establish without delay the national claims information database inclusive of public liability and employer liability and an integrated insurance fraud database which includes the number of complaints made to An Garda Síochána, the number of cases brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the number of convictions made at both District and Circuit Court level, and the penalties and the sentences handed down;

— legally oblige insurance companies to notify policyholders of claims made against them as claims are made, to inform policyholders of the amount a claim was settled for and the reasons why the claim was settled, and to provide a breakdown of the premium;

— outline a timeline for the implementation of each of the 14 recommendations made by the PIC regarding personal injury awards;

— immediately commence recent legislative proposals passed by the Oireachtas which will require that PIAB update the Book of Quantum every three years or sooner;

— apply pressure to the insurance industry to be forthcoming with data in order for the Department of Finance to complete a key information report on public liability and employer liability insurance claims;

— urgently advance the Judicial Council Bill 2017 to establish a judicial council and establish an interim framework, inclusive of PIAB, to enable the judiciary to complete guidelines in advance of the establishment of the judicial council;

— fully fund and resource a dedicated Garda fraud unit, facilitate the passage through the Oireachtas of the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018, so that fraudulent or exaggerated claims are reported to the DPP and bring in tougher penalties for such claims;

— undertake analysis on the potential options for micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises which cannot obtain public liability or employer liability insurance from any company operating in Ireland;

— urgently work with the CSO to bring forward an objective measure of the level of public liability and employer liability insurance;

— urgently tackle the 18 outstanding action points in the Cost of the Insurance Working Group’s Reports on Motor Insurance and Employer and Public Liability Insurance, including the action points marked ‘Concluded (for CIWG)’; and

— work towards creating a single European market for insurance to better enable businesses to shop around for employer and public liability insurance."

I will share this speaking slot with six Deputies. I will take seven to eight minutes and they will take approximately two minutes each.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Before getting to the subject matter at hand, I warmly welcome students and staff from St. Peter's community school in Passage West , County Cork. It is the school I attended so I am delighted they are here in Dáil Éireann and able to witness this debate. I wish them well.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Cuirim failte rompu.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The focus of this motion is employer liability and public liability insurance. It is not that everything is fine in the area of motor insurance, as it certainly is not, but the focus of the motion is in respect of employer and public liability. For businesses, voluntary organisations, community groups, sporting bodies, livestock marts, festivals and so on, there is a real crisis regarding this matter. I welcome to the Gallery many people directly involved in those sectors, including proprietors of play centres, pubs, nightclubs and hotels. They have taken time from their own businesses to be here because of the importance of this matter. We are at a crisis point.

Any business with a significant public footfall, whether it is a pub, a nightclub, a hotel, a children's play centre or a leisure centre, is experiencing very significant increases in the cost of insurance. The reality is that the cost of insurance has closed businesses and it has done so repeatedly. I know three centres have closed in the past month, with the cost of insurance being the main factor. I can give one example of a play centre that has not yet closed but that will do so unless something changes. Its renewal is in March every year. In 2016, the cost of insurance for this business was €3,500; in 2017 it was €5,500; in March 2018 it was just under €10,000; and it has just received a renewal notice in the post for €18,500 for insurance for the next 12 months. If nothing changes within days for that business, it will close with the loss of employment and a vital amenity within the community. We cannot allow that to happen.

This is not about preventing legitimate claims from being dealt with and of course legitimate claims must be processed on a fair and even-handed basis. We are really lacking certainty when it comes to awards, however, as there is a lack in consistency. In July, the Personal Injuries Commission published a final report and its central recommendation was that there should be a judicial council established that could issue guidelines for appropriate damages in respect of personal injuries. It demonstrated through empirical evidence that with respect to soft tissue claims, including whiplash, the award levels in Ireland are 4.4 times the levels in England in Wales. The average awards are over €17,000 here against approximately €3,800 in England and Wales. We have the hard evidence now.

Where is the process now of setting up that judicial council? The Bill to establish that judicial council was brought forward in 2017 but it seems to be stuck in the mud somewhere since November of that year. We need to deal with the fact that award levels in Ireland are significantly out of line with other jurisdictions. Is it the case that the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, is preventing the Bill from being brought forward in the Seanad because of the delay with the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill? We deserve straight answers as to whether that is the case. I cannot explain to the people contacting me why the Bill has not been progressed despite dealing with the central issue of award levels, which must be dealt with as a priority.

Where a claim is made against a business, it is hampered in its ability to defend the claim. Somebody can rock up as many as two years after an alleged event took place to submit a claim. On the other hand, the Data Protection Commissioner confirmed to us today that the business should only keep closed-circuit television, CCTV, records for 30 days. If somebody comes in on the eve of the second anniversary of an alleged incident saying he or she fell in the bathroom of the premises on a certain date, there would be no CCTV footage for the dance floor, the entrance to a facility, the playing area and so on. The business would be unable to defend itself, which is a key matter to be addressed.

Insurance companies are not providing information to policyholders in respect of claims being made against them. That issue must be dealt with and people should have the right to know when a claim is made against their policy. They should be given information about the settlement process and where awards have been made. It is not being done, and we have seen evidence of that for many cases.

There is also the matter of fraudulent and exaggerated claims. This is a serious problem and it must be addressed. We still do not have an insurance fraud database, which had been promised, and over two years ago a Garda insurance fraud unit was recommended but I am not sure what happened since. There was a debate for approximately two years as to whether the insurance industry should fund it but we now know it will not do so because the Garda Commissioner does not want it funded that way. Where is it and will it happen? We cannot even get information about the number of prosecutions brought in this State in respect of fraudulent insurance claims. Neither the Courts Service nor the Garda can tell us; there are no records and no information is being made available.

3 o’clock

I suspect it is because very few cases, if any, are being brought. We have brought forward our own legislation, the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill, which provides that when fraudulent claims are taken, the file is immediately referred to the DPP. I will bring forward another Bill when the House returns to provide that the costs of all such cases will rest with the plaintiff and not with the defendant.

We have no data regarding the cost of employer liability and public liability insurance. The CSO published data on motor insurance costs but there is no such data about employer and public liability insurance costs so we are really in the dark. This might allow the Minister of State to say that the problem is not as bad as I am saying it is and to claim that we are exaggerating the extent of the problem. We need that data. We need firm empirical data on this issue.

Fianna Fáil has offered the Minister of State and this Government its complete support in respect of any measure they wish to bring forward to tackle high insurance costs so there can be no excuse about this being a minority Government or about a lack of political support. No initiative that the Minister of State or the Government has brought forward has been blocked. We have offered our full support to all measures to deal with this issue. I will be straight with the Minister of State. I think he is doing his best and is genuinely interested in this issue. I hear no other Government Minister talking about the costs of insurance, which is simply not good enough. Of course, insurance companies have questions to answer. I cannot hold them to account here today but I can hold the Minister of State and the Government to account. I will deal with insurance companies, the legal profession and others when we get the appropriate opportunity.

There is a significant risk that many sectors are relying exclusively on one insurance provider to extend cover. If that insurance provider withdraws from the Irish market, the reality is that those businesses will go overnight. People are lying awake at night worrying about the costs of insurance and how much longer their business can stand up against the onslaught of rising insurance costs.

2:00 pm

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the members of the Alliance for Insurance Reform in the Public Gallery, particularly Peter Boland and Linda Murray, who have done a lot of work in this area. I know the Minister of State personally. We spent two years locked in the banking inquiry and got to know each other very well. I do not doubt his personal commitment to the task at hand but the issue is timing. My first question is whether the Minister of State has enough staff. I know he has the political will. Are his colleagues blocking his progress? Is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport blocking what the Minister of State wants to do because we have working on this in the House for three years? Fianna Fáil has put down a number of motions and proposed changes to legislation. As Deputy Michael McGrath rightly highlighted, it seems as though one Bill is being stalled, which is unacceptable. We have yet to establish a national claims information database, tackle insurance fraud, establish a judicial council to compile guidelines for general damages, establish a publicly funded anti-fraud unit in An Garda Síochána, establish a business insurance premium index and take any action in stabilising personal injury claims. The stones on the road know what needs to happen. The group in the Public Gallery has done great work but there have been many groups before it that have highlighted this. We need to take tangible action. I want the Minister of State to be honest with the House, as Deputy Michael McGrath said. He should tell us whether he is being blocked by senior Ministers. Does the Government lack the will to do this? If it does not lack the will, what is the problem? We have been at it for three years. Make the necessary changes and introduce the tangible improvements that we need so that businesses can, in the first instance, set up and, second, survive.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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The Government is well aware of the significant increases in motor, public liability and employer insurance. The Minister of State commissioned two reports, the latest of which was published a year ago and dealt with employer and public liability insurance. The reality is that many small businesses are not in a position to pass on the increased charges they face and that calls into question their very viability and sustainability and puts them at risk. The fact that the Minister of State has published two reports is very interesting. We have seen reductions in the cost of motor insurance, where we have some specific data. However, it is not enough. The problem with employer liability insurance is that we have anecdotal evidence and individual cases such as those read into the record of the House by Deputy Michael McGrath but the statistics do not seem to be available in the same way as the CSO figures for motor insurance are.

Having tackled motor insurance, we now see very significant increases in employer and public liability insurance. Have the insurance companies moved their target and focus from one range of insurance policies to another? I would nearly go so far as to ask whether they are working together and whether anti-competitive practices are in place. We need to look at this. It is very interesting because answering a question on the floor of the House yesterday, the Minister of State indicated that three insurance companies between them returned a profit of over €200 million at a time when we are seeing exorbitant and unsustainable increases in the cost of insurance.

The Judicial Council Bill, which was referred to by Deputy Michael McGrath, is quite urgent. I heard the Minister of State ask yesterday whether we could facilitate it. Park the other Bill and move on. This side of the House has facilitated the Government on a number of occasions, particularly around the Brexit legislation in committee, on the floor of this House or in the Seanad. We are telling the Minister of State that the vanity project of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should not stand in the way of the Judicial Council Bill. We are asking the Government to park it and move with what is important for all of us.

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Michael McGrath for the work he is doing regarding the insurance industry. There is no doubt that there is a chronic crisis regarding insurance. I work with the Business Insurance Reform Group. This group came together three years ago and highlighted the crisis that exists in terms of businesses obtaining insurance. The likes of Michael Horgan in Newmarket and Declan Ryan have put an awful lot of work into trying to get groups together. They came here 12 months ago with the earnest belief that the Government would do something about the insurance crisis. There is no doubt about it. The latest excuse we get from Government is that the Judicial Council Bill is being held up by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport's vanity project. Not alone is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport stopping every other development around the country, he is now stopping developments regarding insurance.

We must accept that there is a real crisis across the country. Many genuine business people tell us that unless we get on top of the spiralling cost of insurance, we will close the country down. Many businesses are considering whether they will go without insurance. They are taking €10,000 or the first claim. If something is not done and if the Government does not commit to tackling it realistically and doing something genuine, we will close the country down because of the insurance crisis.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I commend Deputy Michael McGrath on all his work on this issue. One of the difficulties of the Minister of State's position is that he is not attached to the Department of Justice and Equality. We need a Minister of real presence in that Department to deal with insurance reform, move on with the Judicial Council Bill and make sure that the relevant Garda unit is established. In the past number of months, I have noticed much increased media coverage of claims that are failing in the courts but we never see any of these claimants being prosecuted for perjury or any action taken against them despite of the ridiculousness of their claims. Work needs to be done there.

There are communities that will not have a St. Patrick's Day parade this weekend because of the cost of insurance. There are communities that will not have a festival this summer because of the cost of insurance. The business people who are here today do not need to be here and should not be here but they are looking enviously at hundreds of millions of euro in profits for insurance companies while their businesses are going to the wall and their employees are being laid off in order to pay for that. We need action. We do not have the luxury of putting this off. We need the Minister of State to continue his work and to make sure that he brings the Government with him and deals with the issue once and for all.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I add my voice to those of others in trying to impress on the Government the need to act on the commitment it gave three years ago. We want the judicial council to be set up and the Garda fraud unit put in place. We want the Minister of State to honour that commitment. We are not prepared to listen any longer to the lame excuses regarding the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. To say the least, that is lazy and tardy and shows a blatant disregard for us and the people we represent who expect the Government to be in a position to act on the commitment it gave. While the Government dithers, delays and procrastinates, their businesses go to the wall and their amenities, services, facilities and jobs are not longer available in our communities. That is the real effect of this.

It is not as if it can be left to the market and the Government can allow the market to determine matters. The tools and the opportunity are there and the legislation is possible. A commitment given by the Government can no longer be disregarded. I talk to people who are canvassing for the local elections.

It is not only health, housing, broadband and a disregard for some regions that are being left behind. There is now a clear and definite wish being expressed by those we meet while knocking on doors regarding not only car insurance, but also insurance for the businesses that have been mentioned and that are here with us today. It is high time the Minister of State acted on the commitment he gave and put his money where his mouth is with this legislation and not be using the Minister, Deputy Ross, as an excuse for everything. It might well be appropriate to use him as an excuse when it comes to other issues, but certainly not this one.

2:10 pm

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I acknowledge the people in the Gallery. The number of them and indeed the number of people who wish to contribute to the debate signify just how serious is this issue. The people in the Gallery are captains of industry, people who have invested in, created and generated employment in the regions.

The Minister of State facilitated a deputation for me on this very issue a number of weeks ago. He replied in a comprehensive letter. He outlined that the cost of the working group was established in July 2016, almost three years ago. He signified that he had produced two reports. However, the key point in the letter is that he said - I do not for a minute question his sincerity and commitment to this issue - that undoubtedly, one of the key areas raised by the various stakeholders to this group is the level of awards in this country compared with elsewhere. He reported in September 2016 and concluded that the payouts on soft tissue injuries are significantly higher than in the UK and the recommended action was the establishment of a judicial council. There should be no reason this has not been established. The only reason it has not been established is that there is one man who is fortunate enough to have been elected to this House and to sit at the Cabinet table who has never created one job in his long life. He is delaying the establishment of the judicial council. That must be called out, and that man is the Minister, Deputy Ross. It is high time that the Government stood up to the Minister and told him that he can no longer prolong and delay the critical reforms that are necessary just so he can pursue a vanity project regarding the way in which judges are appointed. It is time he was called out and time his colleagues in government did so and held him to account. The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill going through the Seanad is the reason and the rationale given for bringing in this crucial legislation that will help save jobs. If that man, who is fortunate enough to serve in government, is serious about supporting jobs and supporting industry, that is what needs to happen, the Judicial Council Bill needs to advance at a rapid pace in the Seanad and the law needs to be enacted to ensure that people such as those in the Gallery get the rewards they deserve.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank all the Deputies for observing the time. I call the Minister of State. There are ten minutes in the Government slot.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Michael McGrath for bringing this issue forward. I am very pleased he has done so. I thank every Member of the House who has helped and supported me and the Government in passing legislation. This time last year we did not have the Insurance (Amendment) Bill, the Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Bill or the PIAB Bill passed. Those three important pieces of legislation have been concluded through both Houses with Members' help and co-operation. I thank Members for that and I hope and expect such co-operation will continue. I thank Deputy Michael McGrath in particular. He has been essential and helpful to these three pieces of legislation.

I say to everyone who talked about the Minister, Deputy Ross, that he is not blocking anything. I want to correct Deputy Troy on the period that has passed since the launch of the Personal Injuries Commission report. It was launched in September 2018, not July 2016, so it is seven months old. I did not anticipate that the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill would get stuck behind the filibustering in the Seanad. I do not think anyone else anticipated that either. My expectation was that the Bill would be finished by the end of last year.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That does not prevent the Government bringing in the Judicial Council Bill.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I have put this on the record of the House many times.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That does not block the Government bringing in the Bill.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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When it became obvious to me-----

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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That is unfair.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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-----that it was being delayed, I moved for an interim council, which was not acceded to. I moved to an ad hoccouncil, and that was not agreed to.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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By whom? Who blocked it?

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I then went back to the Minister for Justice and Equality. I am not sure who talked about going to the Minister for Justice and Equality. It is his side of the Government. The Minister will move the Judicial Council Bill in Seanad Éireann before the end of the month. I hope and anticipate-----

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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Why was that not done six months ago?

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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-----everyone will be as supportive of that legislation-----

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It was moved in November 2017.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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-----in order that it be concluded as quickly as possible and passed from the Seanad into this House so we can finish the legislation.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Government will go to Committee Stage within the month then.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Before the end of this month.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Before the end of next month.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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This month. That is the time schedule.

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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There are three sitting days left this month.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State must be allowed to continue.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Bill will proceed to Committee Stage before the end of this month, even if the other Bill is still being debated.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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That is correct. Again, I want-----

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill was not blocking it then.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State has clarified the position.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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The matter had nothing to do with the Minister, Deputy Ross, as I said at the outset.

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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Is that the point the Minister of State made on "Prime Time"?

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I wish to put on the record that I accept that the State has a significant role in providing and implementing a roadmap for all stakeholders regarding insurance and the level of awards. However, I also believe that the insurance industry needs to reflect on its current position, which in a period of buoyant profitability - three major firms made combined profits of almost €200 million last year - seems to involve them increasing premiums very significantly in certain sectors of the market, or else withdrawing from these markets altogether. In my view, insurers are being selective about the risks they will cover and are picking, choosing and pricing in such a way as to maximise their profits at the expense of small businesses in particular. I believe, and I think most people in the House will agree, that it is very difficult to justify such behaviour in an environment in which significant profits are being made.

What is most frustrating about the industry position is that its previous loss-making position was caused by its underpricing in order to try to capture market share. While I fully understand that this position became untenable and that pricing had to increase, the extreme ways in which many insurers have responded does not reflect well on them. In my view, we need a much more balanced and measured response from insurers: otherwise, they risk closing down many businesses, with major consequences for much of civil society as we know it.

I also agree that insurers are benefiting from changes in the market brought in by the Government and it is time for policyholders to be given a break. For instance, in putting in place the necessary legislation for the Setanta liquidation, namely the Insurance (Amendment) Act 2018, the Government took on board the views of insurers and the industry overall. Moreover, important changes have just been made to the personal injury litigation framework through amendments to sections 8 and 14 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, which provides for an earlier notification of claims to defendants. This will result in it being easier to challenge questionable claims. I also believe that the recently agreed protocol between insurers and the Garda, which was facilitated through the Department's fraud round table, is a significant move forward in enabling insurers to adopt a much more robust approach to questionable claims. I acknowledge that more work needs to be done. However, it appears to me that the industry wants to have its cake and eat it at the expense of policyholders, consumers and business people. They have become too risk-averse and seem only to wish to take on risks where there is the absolute minimum likelihood of a claim. While they rightfully argue that they are profit-making businesses and not charities, they also have a fundamental social responsibility to provide the service they have been licensed to operate in as fair and equitable a way as possible while obviously being conscious of the need to make a profit. I do not think they are currently doing this. I will touch upon some other areas. My time is short.

I have stated publicly on a number of occasions that the single biggest issue is the levels of award. In this regard, the Personal Injuries Commission reported, as I said, in September of last year. The outcome of this exercise was to highlight the award levels in Ireland. Payouts on soft tissue injuries are 4.4 times those in England and Wales. The Personal Injuries Commission, PIC, specifically recommended that action be taken to address this disparity through the establishment of the judicial council, and I have addressed that. The Judicial Council Bill, I expect, will be in the Seanad on Committee Stage before the end of this month. While the Bill has not progressed as rapidly as the Government would have liked, it will progress now.

On tackling fraud, I met the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, on 9 December following full consideration of a proposal that the insurance industry fund a dedicated insurance fraud unit within An Garda Síochána. The Commissioner concluded he is not in a position to approve such an initiative as he believes An Garda Síochána should only be funded from the Exchequer. I pushed strongly for the establishment of an insurance fraud section within the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, GNECB. I have requested that this be considered and it is being considered. I have been in contact with the Garda on a number of occasions and even rang the Commissioner's office this morning. I do not have a response yet. I will pursue the matter because it does not really matter if the section is funded from inside or outside of the GNECB, provided we have a Garda insurance fraud section.

On an insurance fraud database, work is ongoing by the relevant subgroup within the Department of Justice and Equality with the aim of establishing an appropriate mechanism whereby insurance companies can detect patterns to assist in the combating of fraud. Data protection related issues, however, have dominated this group’s deliberations and ultimately made it impossible to establish the database by the end of 2018. Work continues in this regard.

I note the motion calls on the Government to facilitate the passage of Deputy Kelleher’s Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018, which is on Second Stage. The Government stated that the objective of the Bill in seeking to deal with insurance fraud is acknowledged and, on this basis, the Bill was not being opposed. This approach was taken, however, on the basis that substantial amendments to the Bill will be required. These will be proposed by the Government on Committee Stage.

I will conclude as I have only a minute and a half remaining. I accept everybody’s bona fides on this matter and I believe most people accept mine. I am doing everything I can to try to ensure that the provision of insurance for businesses and people is being conducted in a fair and equitable way. I am not satisfied with the conduct of the insurance companies. As I stated earlier, these companies are having their cake and eating it. All of us have put our shoulders to the wheel to pass legislation and try to ensure we are putting a proper sustainable structure in place. We know from data that insurance costs have come down by 23%. The insurance companies, however, are increasing profits by repeatedly loading premiums on companies. That is not playing fair by any manner or means and I am not prepared to stand for it.

We have the opportunity in the Consumer Insurance Contracts Bill 2017, that I am highlighting today, where we can, with the co-operation of the House, put in place a much stronger structure so clients of insurance companies are protected more substantially than they are now. I refer to those companies from which consumers buy their products. It is not good enough and I am not satisfied with the insurance companies, three of which have announced profits of more than €200 million. Between them, eight insurance companies have between 89% and 92% of the market. Those figures are based on a seven-year average of market share of the eight companies in question. They are doing well and do not have to increase premiums on businesses annually in the way they are doing. That is not acceptable. Resolving this issue requires a carrot and a stick approach. I have tried very strongly to use the carrot approach, with the support of this House, for which I thank Deputies. If, however, that approach does not work, I will use the stick.

2:20 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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We now move to the Sinn Féin Party and I understand that Deputy Quinlivan is sharing time.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To insert the following after “to shop around for employer and public liability insurance”:“—secure a commitment from insurance companies to reduce premiums in conjunction with reforms being introduced.”

I thank Deputy Michael McGrath for putting forward this motion on business insurance. I will be the lead speaker on this motion on behalf of Sinn Féin as my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, is away. My party is happy to lend its support to the motion as we believe much more needs to be done to tackle the major problem of high insurance costs. It is now so bad that it has resulted in business closures and job losses. It is almost a year since we last debated a motion on insurance in this Chamber and, unfortunately, the Government has made little to no progress since then. Sinn Féin has put forward one minor amendment to the motion, calling on the Government to secure a commitment from insurance companies to reduce premiums in conjunction with reforms being introduced. This is an important point, as reforms being sought in this area, including tackling fraud and updating the book of quantum, will benefit insurers. It is imperative that the benefits are also passed on to consumers. I hope the House will support the amendment.

Sinn Féin met the Alliance for Insurance Reform again recently. The organisation is working hard to lobby for action on the insurance premiums that are crippling businesses. It informed us that insurers are refusing to insure entire sectors of industry, such as play centres. This leaves businesses facing a choice between closing their doors or the high-risk option of self-insurance. A direct result of high insurance costs has been the closure of businesses. This is a serious problem, which is spreading like wildfire to other sectors, including charities, sports clubs, festivals, voluntary groups, playgrounds and local authorities. The Government must commit to taking serious action to help businesses that cannot get insurance cover.

The insurance system in Ireland is broken. It is possible to take the mistaken view that insurance companies are struggling to operate in the Irish market due to the much cited excuse of fraud and the high cost of claims but the reality is very different. The laissez-faireapproach of the Government to regulating the insurance market is a jackpot for insurance companies, and it shows. In recent weeks alone, Aviva Ireland posted profits of €113 million, an increase of €14 million on 2017. RSA Insurance announced profits of €35 million last year, while FBD Insurance reported a profit of €50 million.

At the same time, businesses are closing down due to ridiculously high premiums and young people are practically banned from the roads because they cannot pay €4,000 or €5,000 for one year’s car insurance. Insurance companies are posting profits of hundreds of millions of euro. This is a scandalous but not surprising given that Fine Gael is at the helm. Insurance companies play a major role in the economy as they provide services that citizens and businesses are required to purchase, whether that is motor, home or public liability insurance. This prominent and important position ensures that insurance companies are not comparable with other undertakings. They should, therefore, be required to be much more transparent about their premiums and, in particular, their profits. Insurance companies are, however, operating on their own terms and in a cloud of secrecy. They are often charging premiums that make no sense whatsoever and have no correlation with the risk or the claims. It seems the Government is unwilling to challenge this. Big business always comes first where Fine Gael is concerned.

The Government can take a much tougher stance in respect of insurance companies. I raised this issue with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, which is engaged in an ongoing investigation into insurance companies. The Government’s approach has been described as "death by a thousand consultations". That is an accurate portrayal of what is happening. It is ridiculous that all the Government can cite when asked about insurance is the cost of insurance working group. We need action and new laws. The industry needs to be challenged on its behaviour. We do not need report after report. We need tangible action.

Sinn Féin has been made aware of another concerning issue, namely, the way in which the Central Statistics Office, CSO, collects data on insurance premiums. The CSO has confirmed that when gathering data on the price of insurance, its staff identify themselves to the companies. This is a completely unsatisfactory way to collect what are supposed to be objective data. The CSO data, which supposedly indicate insurance premiums have been falling in recent years, have been widely disputed by businesses and motorists who argue they show the complete opposite of the reality on the ground. Figures from the CSO from January 2018, for example, showed a drop of 11.7% in year-on-year motor insurance costs and a decline of 6% in January 2019. If motorists were told they had experienced an almost 18% drop in their motor premiums over the past three years, they would laugh because these figures do not reflect the reality on the ground. The CSO data are then cited by Ministers as proof that the Government’s countless reports are impacting on the insurance industry. Our concern is that since staff from the CSO identify themselves, it is possible that some insurance companies would provide lower quotes than they would to ordinary consumers. Unfortunately, this possibility calls into question the accuracy of the data. A better way of collecting data is urgently needed.

The Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, of which I am a member, undertook an extensive examination of the costs of doing business in Ireland last year. A large number of business stakeholders appeared before the committee and almost every single representative of every commercial group cited insurance costs as a threat to the growth and viability of businesses. The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, ISME, noted not only that insurance costs are high but that they are threatening enterprises in areas such as hospitality, distribution and retail.

The association went on to say that the solutions to its members' insurance problems are remarkably simple but politically challenging. They require facing down vested interests that view insurance reforms as costly to their livelihoods. The Small Firms Association stated that small businesses are facing an insurance costs crisis, with 81% of members experiencing a rise in premiums since last year. IBEC's submission stated that the recent upward trend in annual premiums is proving unsustainable for low margin businesses, particularly those impacted by Brexit.

The Government needs to get on top of this and start making tangible changes. Opposition parties, business groups and citizens have been plaguing the Government for years to do something about the rotten insurance system in this State, but very little has changed. The broken insurance system is bleeding ordinary motorists dry with ridiculous motor insurance premiums. The situation has become so bad that businesses are closing down due to rising premiums, with increases of 300% or 400% in some cases. This is pure greed on the part of insurance companies, which make hundreds of millions of euro in profit. They are being allowed to get away with this by the Fine Gael-led Government.

I thank Deputy Michael McGrath for tabling this important motion and I reiterate Sinn Féin's support for it.

2:30 pm

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion and I commend Deputy Michael McGrath and Fianna Fáil on bringing it forward. I hope Fianna Fáil will support the Sinn Féin amendment to strengthen the motion. We have all heard about the issue this country has with insurance. I will give a couple of examples. Insurance costs are crippling businesses, sports clubs, charities and non-governmental organisations, NGOs. The issue of insurance is creeping into housing estates, including voluntary housing estates, complicating even the simple act of cutting and maintaining grass. People living in rural areas cannot afford public liability insurance. There is a knock-on effect.

One of my constituents raised the issue of regulation. We have a law requiring anybody who operates a motor vehicle to have insurance, but we do not have a law that requires insurance companies to be prudent in how they work. I will raise a couple of issues to show what I mean by "prudent". Insurance companies often settle motor accident claims out of court. Let us suppose that two people are involved in a motor accident, An Garda Síochána is called and it is reported to the insurance company. The purported perpetrator is often left out of the equation and the case is settled between the Garda and the insurance company. The individual in question will have his or her insurance payment increase without any representation. That is another issue that has to be addressed. Surely it is not legal for insurance customers to pay premiums and not have representation.

Sinn Féin is not against insurance companies. However, they have had a free run. The three main insurance companies mentioned in this debate made profits of €99 million last year. A young fellow with a credit union loan who has just bought a new car because he has a job can be asked to spend between €4,000 and €5,000 a year to drive to work. He will not have much left by the time he pays his premium and credit union loan and supports his family. This is having a detrimental effect on young people. It is not just a rural issue. Premiums are extortionate no matter where one lives and these is no justification for them. I cannot understand why we cannot have a Government-led fund. That is another idea to think about.

On flood insurance, I live in Midleton in east Cork. We experienced flooding in one area, but that is a different issue. Many constituents have told me that insurance companies will not give them a quotation. One particular constituent lives on Forest Hill, Midleton, which is an estate built on a hill. The insurance company told him it could not give him a quote because his property was a flood risk. The only way the estate could be flooded would be for the water works at the back of the hill to burst. If there was flooding on the other side of the hill, the whole town would be flooded. Insurance companies have a free run and this is abuse on their part. We must regulate them properly and fairly. I do not know how we could do that but perhaps premiums should be tied to the consumer price index.

We have a large number of young people and small businesses to consider. There are charities and organisations that will not even hold a fundraising event because the cost of public liability insurance will shut them down. I will give another example. I was involved in an event for suicide prevention. We had to pay €700 for liability insurance beforehand for a two-hour event in a cul-de-sac. That is how criminal this can be.

I welcome the motion, on which I congratulate Fianna Fáil, and call on that party to support our amendment to strengthen it.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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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.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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I would like to give two minutes of my time to Deputy Kelleher.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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I commend Deputy McGrath on bringing this motion before the House. Previous speakers have criticised the insurance companies and described the huge profits they are making, and I agree with them. However, we have to control what those companies do. In any other area of public life, action is taken if something is being done that is contrary to the common good.

What we need to do is not just criticise them but take the actions that are necessary to control what they do. A number of those actions are listed in the motion but we need the Minister of State to progress the Bill in the Seanad as soon as possible. I heard him state on a radio programme some weeks ago that he could not move forward his Bill because of the other legislation that is the subject of a filibuster in the Upper House, although the Senators involved would not state that they are filibustering. In any event, it has been held up in the Seanad for a long time. There are many Bills from the Department of Justice and Equality waiting to be dealt with so I do not understand why it has to be sequential. The Minister of State has acknowledged that he can reintroduce his Bill without necessarily waiting for the conclusion of the Bill proposed by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. We need to see that Bill. I accept it is not specifically the Minister of State's Bill; it is in the Department of Justice and Equality. I have never understood why both Bills could not be taken at the same time. There are Ministers of State in the Department of Justice and Equality who could progress one Bill while the debate on the other is ongoing. I have never understood that argument for the delay in bringing forward the legislation in the Seanad. I welcome the clarity the Minister of State has provided. We will all be watching the timetable to ensure that it is complied with because this is one of the important measures that is required.

The other area on which I wish to focus is insurance fraud and the database relating to the latter and referred to in the motion. In particular, I support the section of the motion that calls on the Government "legally oblige insurance companies to notify policyholders of claims made against them as claims are made, to inform policyholders of the amount a claim was settled for and the reasons why the claim was settled, and to provide a breakdown of the premium". Transparency is one of the big issues in this regard. One of the major frustrations for businesses, those with motor insurance or whatever is that they are not told what is going on. As a result, there is great frustration and a major cost to businesses. Retailers estimate that for every €1 allocated in respect of an insurance claim, the business has to make €100 in sales in order to recoup it. This is causing businesses to close down.

I am particularly concerned about play centres, parades and all the other areas affected. I am aware of play centres in my constituency that have invested large amounts of money in equipment. Families get a great deal of pleasure from going to those centres, especially with the weather we have in Ireland. The idea that all that investment is put in to these centres, which are a positive experience for families, but they have to close down because of insurance costs is something over which we cannot stand. We have to take action. It is not just those centres that are affected. Many other kinds of businesses are affected also but that is one about which I feel particularly strongly.

I refer to the Civil Liability and Courts Act of 2004 and the issue of fraudulent claims. Sections 22 and 26 of the Act permit a court to refer the determination that the claim is fraudulent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. I do not believe that happens very often but I understand from my legal friend, Deputy Penrose, that it is in the legislation. The Minister might want to clarify that. In any event, there has to be a way in which fraudulent claims can be challenged because we hear of more and more being made.

I am a member of the cross-party retail support group, as are a number of other Members, and we have heard from businesses about the extraordinary activities of people who make fraudulent claims. A couple of them will get together, one will distract and another will pretend to fall over or whatever. It is a common practice. It is pushing up the cost of premiums and , therefore, hurting ordinary people who are trying to run businesses. In terms of the difficulty of running small businesses, one of the big costs is that relating to insurance.

Deputy Buckley referred to flooding. I, too, know many people in my constituency who cannot get home insurance because of threats of flooding, even where mitigation measures are either in place or about to be put in place. They are still being told that they cannot get house insurance, which has very serious implications for those families. I realise that is not specifically what we are discussing today but it is certainly related.

I support the motion. I hope the Minister of State will be able to progress various things. I refer, for example, to all of the recommendations of the cost of insurance working group and the actions of the Personal Injuries Commission. All of these need to be implemented. In some ways, it is very easy to criticise the insurance companies - and we rightly criticise them- but, as legislators. we need to do something about it and ensure they cannot do what they are currently doing.

I want to make one other point which will probably be considered irrelevant. I am the only female who has participated in this debate so far. There is a debate following this one on period poverty and I hope at least some of the men in the Chamber will stay to participate.

2:40 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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By agreement, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan has ceded her remaining time to Deputy Kelleher.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. I compliment Deputy Michael McGrath on bringing forward this motion. It is timely because this is one of the issues that is continually discussed when one meets business advocacy groups and individuals. They consistently highlight the fact that the cost of business - and, in particular, the cost of insurance to business - is creating a very negative impact across the broader economy.

In its report on the cost of doing business, the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, of which I am a member, indicated that this was the issue most highlighted by all the witnesses that came before it . Employer liability and public liability were the two key issues raised on a continual basis. There is no point in pretending that we have prioritised this matter. The fact is that we have been lethargic in addressing it. The Minister of State set up working groups to examine the cost of motor insurance and he has set up another group to examine the cost of business and public liability. However, we have not moved at a pace that would satisfy the demands of those in the business community.

Deputy Michael McGrath's motion does not involve reinventing the wheel; it merely highlights the issue and calls for what everyone in this House and at the various fora have agreed is needed to address the cost of insurance. I refer, for example, to a fraud insurance squad and addressing the issue relating to the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 in order to ensure that there is a full referral of fraudulent claims to the DPP. Those two matters could be addressed immediately. We accept that the Judicial Council Bill is delaying the implementation of the book of quantum from the PIAB in conjunction with the judicial council. There are a number of key issues the Minister of State could address very quickly.

I want to speak about insurance fraud. Such fraud saps the morale of decent, hard-working people. I refer to those who get up in the morning, pay their taxes and all the other service charges and who are employing people across this country. A chancer or a fraudster can come onto one of their premises, fall in the toilet and then make a fraudulent claim knowing that there will be no sanction whatsoever for doing so. If the same person goes in, jumps over the counter and takes money out of the till, there will be a criminal investigation. There could be a criminal sanction but if someone goes in and falls, makes a fraudulent claim and it is proven in a court of law to be fraudulent, there is no down side. That is a shameful indictment of this Parliament and the Government because we are not sending out a message that people in business should at least be afforded the basic protections of the State in ensuring their businesses can operate and be protected against the actions of chancers, fraudsters and criminals. That is one issue the Minister of State could take action on quickly. I ask him to progress the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill to the next Stage.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The next slot is for Independents 4 Change. I call Deputy Broughan.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I support this motion and commend Deputy Michael McGrath on bringing it forward. Anybody who has served as a director of a company, particularly in the past ten or 15 years, knows the way insurance costs have escalated and made it more difficult for us to employ people and to defray the kind of basic costs of running any kind of business in the community or in the commercial sector.

The objectives of the motion are particularly noteworthy. I refer to: the national claims information database inclusive of public liability and employer liability; legally obliging insurance companies to notify policyholders of claims made against them as claims are made - one would think that would have been standard and in statute for a long time; the PIAB updating the book of quantum - we have had many discussions about the book of quantum; a dedicated Garda fraud unit; and an insurance fraud unit funded by this Oireachtas through the budget. Those objectives and the other aims in Deputy Michael McGrath's motion should be implemented.

I also commend Sinn Féin on its amendment which asks insurance companies to reduce premiums in conjunction with the reforms being introduced.

The Minister of State was speaking about this matter yesterday and it is almost like Groundhog Day in this Dáil when it comes to insurance. On 21 March last year, almost exactly a year ago, we debated a Fianna Fáil motion and Sinn Féin amendment which called for the implementation of the 15 action points in the report of the cost of insurance working group on employer and public liability insurance. That would have obliged insurers to provide a breakdown of the premium cost to the business, give us more information and ensure that the book of quantum of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, would, at long last, be updated at least once every three years. We are going around in circles with this Government.

Last year's motion also called for the deadline for the feasibility study on including employer liability and public liability data on the national claims information database to be brought forward from the fourth quarter of 2019. Perhaps the Minister of State will address that specific point and provide an update, although perhaps he did already because I missed his introductory speech.

We should work towards creating a single European market. We have just had a discussion with the European Commission in the Committee on Budgetary Oversight on the European semester. It has often been asked by all sides of the House why, when we get some of the downsides of European membership, we do not get more of the upsides. Deputy Michael McGrath has consistently highlighted issues around interest rates and mortgage rates but there are also issues relating to insurance.

We called, exactly a year ago, for the Department of Finance and the CSO to report on the creation of a price index for employer and public liability insurance premiums and my colleagues have spoken very eloquently about that earlier. Why has another year gone by and insurance costs keep escalating? There are issues to do with databases, books of quantum, fraud and so on. Why has the Government not addressed them? It is a particular hallmark of this Government that Ministers - for example, Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Bruton - announce grandiose plans for climate change, housing, education and so on, but there is no action or delivery of the first necessary action. It would be better to take one or two of the measures the motion calls for and actually progress them.

The Government should be working with Fianna Fáil to bring forward real action on this. The whole House is ad idemthat we need to address these problems in the insurance industry and particularly how they impact our constituents.

Towards the end of 2016, there were reports that insurance fraudsters from the UK were coming to Ireland to cheat the system because they get much higher payouts than in the UK. Colleagues have rightly referred to this. There was a particular case in that era when the book of quantum payment in Ireland for a broken femur was over 300% higher than the UK award. In the book of quantum, the awards for minor whiplash injuries can be anything from €16,000 to €20,000; for moderate injuries, the figure is €20,000 to €30,000; for moderately severe, the figure is €30,000 to €52,000; and severe and permanent whiplash injuries command awards of between €44,000 and €78,000. It is quite clear that the book of quantum has to be addressed and that is something many Deputies have been saying for years.

There is very little appetite in the legal profession to introduce and implement the reforms needed. It could be said that some close friends of the legal profession in Seanad Éireann are holding up much-needed reform of the judicial appointments system. The legal costs associated with claims is a particular problem. We need urgent reform in this area.

The profitability of insurance companies is very high. At the beginning of March this year, it was reported that the main insurance companies in the country made more than €200 million in profit. Chambers Ireland, which regularly briefs us about business matters, published a cost of insurance survey in August-September 2017 which showed that 43% of respondents had an increase of between 5% and 20% in their premiums, some reported increases of 50% to 100% and others said they had increases of more than 100%. These are the actual bills that a business owner is faced with from his or her accountant or auditor, year on year, and it is a significant deterrent to having an efficient and progressive business. The brokers justified those increases at the time, according to Chambers Ireland, by referring to market conditions and an overall increase in claims but there is a dearth of information. The information gap in this sector upsets people most of all. There are some valuable data available from the CSO and PIAB which deduced that, between January 2011 and July 2016, insurance costs generally rose by 57% and that approximately 42% of non-motor PIAB applications relate to employer liability and public liability insurance, with increases of 15% and 20%, respectively, at a time when Ireland was in a severe recession.

2:50 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I am sorry to interrupt Deputy Broughan but his group had agreed to give Deputy Fitzmaurice two minutes.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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That is grand. I was not aware of that but I am delighted. I will just say that I warmly support the motion and amendment.

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I support the motion. We can kick Ministers all we want but we need to acknowledge that the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, has brought in a few Bills to try to resolve the situation. Some Bills are being held up at the moment but the Minister of State should try to gazump the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill which will be held up for a while because of the person who is trying to bring it in.

The problem all around the country, as everyone knows, is that payouts are on one side of the equation and businesses and everyone else with insurance are on the other side. The amounts of money thrown to people are astronomical at times. People with genuine complaints have to be looked after but some of the payouts are ferocious.

On the other side are cases where someone tries to slip on a floor or whatever and the claims are crippling. In fairness to all politicians in the House, no one is against trying to make changes in the insurance sector. The Minister of State will be supported in any Bill he brings in. The quicker we do this and sort out the book of quantum and provide realistic targets and not these astronomical awards the better.

The Minister of State can correct me if I am wrong but I think there is a Bill that deals with the amount of profits insurance companies are making, even though they are crying about the weather, or whatever. If one looks at the profit that three or four of the insurance companies have made this year, it is clear that they need to be hauled in.

There is a bit of payback in all this and the insurance companies have to do their bit. We have to do it through legislation. The number of claims has to be reduced.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I received a text from Deputy Boyd Barrett who was caught in traffic. With the agreement of the House, he will speak now.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I was caught up in committee.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Does Deputy Boyd Barrett agree?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I do.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Of course he does. Deputy Boyd Barrett has nine minutes but he does not have to take all nine.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Boyd Barrett will try to take ten.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I thank Fianna Fáil for the motion. I agree with the overall thrust of it and the various measures proposed to try to deal with high insurance costs. Costs have tailed off a bit for motorists but are still significantly impacting home insurance, business insurance, public liability insurance and so on where insurance premium increases have been very dramatic and punitive for some customers.

Following on from the last speaker, the elephant in the room in all this is the profit taking of the insurance companies themselves. There should be more emphasis on that in the Fianna Fáil motion much as I welcome many of the measures proposed relating to the book of quantum, the PIAB, addressing insurance fraud and so on.

The evidence of the significant increase in profits for some of the biggest insurers shows that even if reforms are brought in to address these areas, the insurance companies do not pass it on in the form of lower premiums.

4 o’clock

They just take the profits and run. These measures on their own may not ultimately lead to more affordable insurance or prevent significant hikes in insurance premiums because there is no compulsion on the insurance companies to pass on the benefits of reform in the form of lower premiums. This is the issue that has to be addressed. From my point of view, the way to do this is to have a public insurance company. I doubt very much that Fine Gael will go for this but it is what should happen. In previous debates on this issue I pointed out that it has been done elsewhere. One of the best examples I have read about is in Manitoba in Canada where there were significant increases in car insurance of the sort we saw over recent years. As I said, I acknowledge they have tailed off somewhat. Against this background, and it can happen at any time that they just jack up premiums, Manitoba set up a public insurance company that provided basic insurance with third-party cover and personal injury cover at extremely affordable levels. It was a not-for-profit insurance company set up by the state. One does not have to be a socialist to subscribe to the view it would be of benefit to drivers, businesses and homeowners. I do not really see why the Government would set its face against it but certainly to date it has done so.

The other particular group I would like to shout out for with regard to insurance, and notwithstanding there has been some tailing off of the dramatic increases in car insurance which I acknowledge, is that there should be a particular specific regime for taxi drivers. The increases we have seen in recent years, even if they have tailed off, mean the level of insurance that taxi drivers must pay is extremely high. If they lose their no claims bonus they can be in very serious trouble as to the viability of operating as taxi drivers. We should recognise that taxi drivers are an important part of the public transport system, that we need them and that insurance costs can be a real struggle for them. This is something a public insurance company could do, or the Government could take measures to provide a special affordable category of insurance for taxi drivers.

The main message I want to give to the Government is it has to do something about profiteering by insurance companies. If we do not do something, all the reforms and the completion of the various measures from the working group that have not yet been done, even if they do come through and make a difference, will not be passed on to policyholders in the form of cheaper premiums.

3:00 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Rising insurance costs affect everyone across the board. We have been told time and again these increased premiums are highly linked to insurance fraud. At present, no data are collected on insurance fraud. The insurance fraud database was to be set up but the original deadline was missed and no new deadline has been put in place. This is a disgrace. Fraudulent and exaggerated claims need to be clamped down on. There should be zero tolerance for all these types of claims and we need to ensure they are pursued and tackled more aggressively by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and insurance companies. We need to prioritise getting the fraud database set up. Otherwise, insurance premiums will only rise further.

I am very concerned, with Brexit on the horizon, about the green card that will be issued for motorists if there is a no-deal Brexit. This green card will be to prove the insurance company is valid in Northern Ireland and the Republic. There is a huge lack of certainty about how the green card will operate and the general public is concerned. My office is inundated with people coming to us in fear of what will happen when Brexit hits. Some insurance companies have stated they will start to use the green card after 29 March but what will happen to motorists on 30 March who do not have a green card on time? Will they be at risk of having their cars impounded? These questions need answering.

We also need to address the problem of motor insurance for people returning home to Ireland after living abroad. These people are being quoted extremely high premiums, having left this country and worked abroad for many years. In many cases they are bringing employment back to their own country but they are being absolutely messed about by insurance companies. We should welcome back these people who have decided to return home and ensure they are not priced out of the market.

While speaking about insurance, I cannot forget the businesses in rural Ireland that are struggling to pay extremely high employer and public liability insurance premiums. I have given the example of West Cork Secret, a garden in Kilbrittain that offers an excellent amenity to the area but suffers crippling insurance costs. I have heard that amenities and playgrounds run by local communities are no longer being quoted for insurance. This is a new difficulty for community voluntary organisations.

How is any business meant to survive or grow with huge obstacles such as excessive insurance premiums landing in their way? In recent weeks, we have heard that insurance companies are making incredible profits of millions of euros. Do they have any scruples or moral conscience whereby they might consider giving them back to their customers who have been loyal to them over the years and are being fleeced left, right and centre? Is there any control over these insurance companies? It is time public representatives took back some control. Shops, pubs and nightclubs are all under increased pressure to keep their doors open, as are garages. We are grey in the face from speaking to people. We have spent enough time discussing the rising costs of insurance and it is high time we saw real action. We want to see the insurance policies of the people of Ireland reducing and not going the way they have over recent years.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank Deputy Michael McGrath and Fianna Fáil for giving us this opportunity to speak on this very important motion on insurance costs. Every one of us is affected by the cost of insurance. Public liability and employers liability insurance are very difficult to obtain because of the rising costs.

No thanks to the Minister, Deputy Ross, or to everyone in the Government and many in the House for supporting him, pubs are closing as it is and are finding it hard enough to stay open. On top of this, the cost of insurance is increasing. Between rates, levies and the rising cost of insurance, restaurants, clubs, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts are being hit. They employ people, they pay for us in here and they pay for the services of the country, including medical cards and all the grants. They are paying for the whole lot and they are being hit with the rising costs of insurance.

The Ministers and the Government have been at it for the past three years and nothing has improved. It is actually getting worse. The days are running out and the Government's time is running out and if it does not do something in the time it has left it will be remembered forever for doing nothing about the rising cost of insurance. Many communities and small parishes throughout the country run a fair day, a carnival or a music event to retain their identity. For example, Scartaglin has a world fiddle day. The one day in the year for which all these show committees and agricultural committees work is being hit with the crippling costs of insurance but nothing is being done for them.

With regard to playgrounds for children and vintage rallies, voluntary organisations are finding it very difficult to keep going. Civil contractors, agricultural contractors, plant hire companies and other companies are also finding it so difficult to keep going with the rising and crippling costs of insurance. Garages are being hit.

Marts are being hit and are finding it very difficult to remain open. One of the biggest marts in the country has closed.

The claim culture is responsible for much of the problem. How is an injury to a person's neck in Ireland so different to an injury to a person's neck in England? The most one will receive as compensation for a whiplash injury in the UK is £7,600. In Ireland, a person may receive anything from €19,000 to €77,000 for a similar injury. What is wrong there? Why is that not being examined? Why is the Government not discussing the matter with the Judiciary? Where is the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan? What is he doing about this? Why is he not talking to the Judiciary? What is being done? Nothing has been done thus far. A person was awarded €77,000 compensation for having a finger caught in a door, with legal costs accounting for 47%. Solicitors are advertising for claims. They tell people to claim and that they will not be charged if the case is not successful - no foal, no fee. That practice is wrong. It should be stopped because it is the height of blackguarding.

There is so much wrong. The young drivers in rural Ireland who are very important to us and need their cars to go to college, work, apprenticeships and so on have also been affected. Now that they are not allowed to drive without passing their test or being accompanied by a qualified driver, their insurance should decrease, but it is increasing. They are being quoted figures such as €3,500, €4,500 or even €5,000 for insurance to get on the road. What does the Government have against our young people? Why is it trying to keep them off the road? It is bad enough that they must wait six, seven or eight months for a driving test. Why is the Government trying so hard to keep them off the road?

Taxi drivers are paying anything from €13,000 to €17,000 or €18,000 for insurance. Driving is their livelihood. They need to stay on the road to earn a living. Hauliers are being hit with increases in public liability and employer liability insurance as well as vehicle insurance. They are receiving savagely high quotes and are under serious pressure to stay in business.

The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, is representing the Government on this motion. It is up to the Government to do something. It is no good for him to tell the House that the Government cannot interfere with the Central Bank. If it cannot, who can? If the Minister of State and the Taoiseach cannot do something about this issue, they might as well own up to that and admit that is time for them to get out of here. A salutary lesson can be learned from the Government's handling of the issue of the cost of insurance.

3:10 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Breathnach is sharing time with Deputies Aylward, Lisa Chambers, Browne and Murphy O'Mahony.

Photo of Declan BreathnachDeclan Breathnach (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to start where the Minister of State left off. He stated that a carrot-and-stick approach is being taken. That is a fine idiom, but the stick is only as good as the jockey who is holding it. I will be holding the Minister of State to account regarding the usage of that stick.

The motion clearly focuses on the crisis facing businesses, sporting clubs and community organisations across the country as a result of increases in the cost of employer and public liability insurance. I have previously stated in the House during debates on this issue that not alone are insurance costs putting people out of business, there will come a time when voluntary organisations, particularly those in leadership roles in such organisations, will no longer wish to offer their services.

Last week, I was fortunate to attend the local enterprise awards of Louth County Council which made clear the efforts being made by businesses to employ people. We, as legislators, need to assist those small businesses by reducing insurance costs. I have received representations from several businesses which are facing closure, as have many other Members of this House. The owner of a processing business contacted me with a specific problem. He was dealing with a local broker, but was precluded from dealing with an alternative broker or directly with a large insurer because his initial broker had received a quote for his company. He was stuck and not allowed to shop around for that reason.

I have been informed that many insurance companies now use large call centres which deal with many of the largest players in the industry. The call centre staff can see previous quotes given to customers and are offering quotes based thereon. If that is not a cartel, I do not know what is.

A responsible employer notified his insurance company because one of his staff cut a finger and went to an accident and emergency department. The staff member had no intention of claiming but the employer made sure to notify his insurance company. His premium increased by €2,000 that year. No claim was ever lodged and no money was ever paid out. This issue is crippling businesses and local organisations. We need to get to grips with it.

Photo of Bobby AylwardBobby Aylward (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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Fianna Fáil has long called for reform of the insurance market. It put forward this motion to highlight the unsustainable increases in business insurance. Small businesses across the country have been crippled by significant increases in insurance costs. Pubs, farms and marts have all seen their premiums rise by thousands of euro in recent years. Sadly, many such companies are no more, while the future is uncertain for many others.

Many of my Fianna Fáil colleagues have rightly pointed to the fact that the Minister of State has shown the political will to tackle this issue, but we rarely hear a whisper on it from his Government colleagues. Shame on them. Fianna Fáil has consistently raised this issue over the past three years and has tabled motion after motion which have effectively been ignored. We introduced Bills aimed at tackling this issue but they have been stalled, as highlighted by my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath. There has been zero progress on the national claims information database and little or no progress on tackling insurance fraud. There is no sign of a publicly funded anti-fraud unit in the Garda and no action has been taken to tackle fraudulent insurance claims. Those are all achievable steps which the Government has failed to take on behalf of small and medium-sized enterprises around the country.

The Government has been similarly inactive on the issue of motor insurance. Current motor insurance premiums are 32% higher than those charged in 2014, representing an average annual increase of 6.4%. Young drivers, returning emigrants and drivers of old cars continue to be unfairly treated by a dysfunctional market. Why are judges in this country handing out payments of up to €20,000 for minor whiplash claims, or up to 400% higher than the average payout for similar injuries in the UK?

SMEs are also dealing with significant increases in commercial rates which are crippling towns and villages across Ireland. The ordinary men and women of this country have been fleeced by insurance companies for years and action by this Government is badly needed to tackle the insurance industry which has mistreated them. I ask the Minister of State to wake up and do something about insurance costs for the people of this country once and for all.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I commend my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, on his work to try to tackle what is essentially the robbery of our citizens through excessive business and car insurance premiums. The cost of public and employer liability insurance is out of control and closing down businesses. The Government has paid this issue a lot of lip service but failed to address it, while ignoring businesses time and again to the point where many are now closing. The personal injuries commission reported nine months ago, but no action has been taken by the Government.

We know that we need to tackle the high cost of whiplash claims and establish a judicial council to compile guidelines on appropriate damages. It is very easy to blame lawyers, but insurance companies are not even engaging with the judicial process. Instead, they are paying out on many claims and informing their business clients of that afterwards. The businesses ultimately pay the cost through higher insurance premiums thereafter. Two minor claims were paid out on by the insurance company of a business in my town of Castlebar, County Mayo, without consulting the business owner. That business has closed. It was a profitable business and a local employer. Insurance premiums are going sky high. They are closing businesses and increasing every year. The Government needs to do something about this immediately.

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I commend Deputy Michael McGrath on tabling the motion. Employer liability insurance, public liability insurance and even motor insurance have reached unsustainable levels. In spite of that fact, little is being done about it. As the Minister of State is aware, businesses throughout County Wexford, in places such as Gorey, Enniscorthy, Wexford town, New Ross, Ferns and Bunclody, have seen their insurance premiums rise significantly. Sports clubs, community groups, charities, crèches, play zones and other organisations are all being hit hard.

I wish to mention taxis in particular, because many people, especially those in the disability sector, are dependent on taxis to bring them from A to B. However, taxi drivers have experienced massive increases in insurance costs which are causing them significant difficulties.

Actions have been set out by the cost of insurance working group at the Oireachtas finance committee and by Deputy Michael McGrath in respect of what can be done, yet we have seen a litany of Government failures to take those necessary actions. It has yet to establish a national claims information database to track the level of claims, tackle insurance fraud, establish the judicial council, establish a publicly funded anti-fraud unit within An Garda Síochána, set up a business insurance premium index that would track prices, and take action on stabilising personal injury claims. Meanwhile, the European Commission and Competition and Consumer Protection Commission continue to investigate here. Ordinary, decent people are setting up businesses and going out of business. Jobs are being lost. Community services and public schemes are being lost. Everybody is suffering as a result of the claims.

If steps are taken to reduce the overall cost of claims, steps also need to be made to ensure the savings are passed on to those taking out insurance. There should not simply be necessary actions to reduce the cost of insurance claims if insurance is not made more affordable.

3:20 pm

Photo of Margaret Murphy O'MahonyMargaret Murphy O'Mahony (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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I, too, commend my colleague Deputy Michael McGrath on introducing this motion. We in Fianna Fáil do not just talk the talk; we actually walk the walk. This motion is to highlight the unsustainable increases in the cost of business insurance. The Ministers of State must remember all the businesses create employment and thus help local economies. The insurance cost of West Cork Secret, which is in Kilbritten in west Cork, has risen from €7,500 to €25,000 this year despite the company having no claims. This cannot be justified.

Over the past few days, I have had calls from the organisers of St. Patrick's Day parades right across west Cork. The insurance costs of all of them have gone up by several hundred euro. The committees involved work voluntarily trying to promote west Cork for St. Patrick's Day, yet they now have to find the money to pay the increased cost of insurance.

Another topic I wish to raise is the lack of flood insurance. In many towns across west Cork where flood relief work has been carried out, businesses are failing to obtain any flood insurance cover. This is wrong. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, to support the motion.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I wish to share my time with the Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions on the motion, which was introduced by Fianna Fáil. I thank Deputy Michael McGrath, in particular. The Government, and the Minister in particular, is aware that the issue of the cost and availability of business insurance, particularly employer and public liability insurance, is an important one for large and small businesses and community organisations in all counties. The contributions made today are acknowledged by the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, who is the chairman of the cost of insurance working group. He is doing everything in his power to try to address the concerns, which I too have raised with him on many occasions. Many of my colleagues, both Ministers and Deputies, have raised these concerns across the board.

A number of questions were asked. Deputies Jan O'Sullivan, Broughan, Lisa Chambers and others asked about policyholders notifying insurance companies. Insurance companies should notify policyholders of claims made before settlement, the amount a claim is settled for and the reason the claim is settled. The Government is fully aware of the negative impact that a lack of appropriate communication in this regard can have on a business. We have heard about this from many Deputies. This exact issue forms the basis of recommendation 10 in the report on the cost of employer and public liability insurance. In addition, a similar recommendation in respect of motor insurance policyholders was included in the motor report. Having been unable to reach agreement with Insurance Ireland on a new set of guidelines based on those drawn up by IBEC and the Irish Insurance Federation in 2012, the Department of Finance is considering the merits of addressing this through primary legislation, specifically by an amendment to a Private Members' Bill on consumer insurance contracts.

A question was asked about the timeline for a recommendation made in the employer public liability report, namely, that the Central Bank conduct an analysis of the feasibility and merit of extending the database to employer and public liability insurance. I am informed that this will most likely be considered in the second half of 2019. That is the most likely time.

Let me touch on the Minister's powers. While the Minister for Finance is not in a position to direct insurers to provide cover or provide it at a particular price, he does have a role in setting out a roadmap for reform of the sector as a whole. That is exactly what he is doing. The recommendations in both the motor report and employer and public liability report are designed to do this. Ultimately, the overarching aim of the working group's reports is to make insurance more affordable and accessible to consumers, businesses and community organisations.

It is clear from the difficulties that small leisure-based businesses face in getting insurance that the Irish employer and public liability insurance market is not considered an attractive one for existing insurers or potential entrants. That is reflected in the very limited selection of insurers available to provide cover to them. In some instances, there is just one company and the companies are often based outside the State. As a consequence of this lack of competition, the price of cover being charged is in some cases exorbitant and it is not possible for businesses to pay. They have no choice but to accept the high costs or, as we have heard in many instances, go out of business. I have met many affected companies in my constituency, Meath East, and elsewhere in Meath, some of whose representatives are in the Visitors Gallery. They include play centres and businesses providing local employment and services for local people. Committees of parades that are to take place across the county this weekend have all faced increases in costs. This is not acceptable. I do not agree with it, nor does the Minister. Many have mentioned the awards and number of claims here by comparison with other jurisdictions. While it is hard to have much sympathy for the insurance companies when they made large profits last year, they feel they have to withdraw from areas they regard as loss-making. As we know, however, this is not the case.

The Minister is trying to create an environment in which the market is considered more attractive to new entrants. If this is accomplished, there will be more capacity in the market, which in turn means the risk will be distributed more widely across a larger number of companies, resulting in more competition and more affordable pricing. The problem is that once companies start to withdraw from a sector, it creates more exposure for those remaining, resulting in higher prices due to the greater concentration of risk on their books. We now see the higher prices and the limited scope in the market for so many who need insurance to provide services. It is important that we address this problem.

To make the Irish market more attractive, we must bring personal injuries awards more into line with awards elsewhere. The Personal Injuries Commission report has been very helpful in pointing out the disparity with England and Wales. If we achieve our objective, insurers will have greater certainty and predictability in regard to reserving. This type of stability should encourage more companies, domestic and from outside the State, back into the market and should be reflected in more competitive pricing. There is an onus on the insurance industry and legal profession to play their parts in changing things for the better.

The insurance industry is now once again highly profitable. While we want new entrants to the market, we need to see the current players displaying greater willingness to re-engage with areas of the economy where it has not been possible to obtain cover at a reasonable cost. The legal profession needs to acknowledge that a small number of solicitor firms seem, as a matter of practice, to advise their clients not to accept PIAB awards and that this type of conduct in many respects exacerbates the problem in an already difficult personal injuries environment.

I acknowledge that we have seen some tangible progress in addressing the cost of motor insurance, in no small part due to the Minister of State and support and collaboration from this Chamber and the Seanad. The increases seen prior to the reports' publications have ceased, and there appears to have been greater stability in that market over recent months. While we do not have similar data with regard to business insurance, including small business insurance, the reforms that are being made with regard to motor insurance, taken together with those contained in the employer and public liability report, complement each other. Their implementation should have a positive impact on the cost of insurance cover in the longer term.

I am concerned about small businesses and those who face a deadline at the moment, who do not have the ability to cover the increasing costs they are facing. That is the reason we must conclude the Judicial Council Bill so that we can recalibrate the book of quantum and address this issue and that the Minister and everybody in this Chamber can ensure the businesses that support local industry and employment can continue to prosper in their respective communities.

3:30 pm

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I thank everybody who participated in this debate. We all have a single objective, that is, to reduce the cost of insurance to businesses so that people are not impacted by the higher premium that is being charged.

I am not afraid to challenge the vested interests. I am not afraid to challenge the Garda if the Garda is not doing its job in pursuing fraudulent claims that have been presented in civil courts. I am not afraid to challenge the Judiciary if the level of awards are too high. The level of awards in the State are far too high, in particular for the lower levels of claim, namely, claims below €30,000 and between €30,000 to €50,000. Three bodies of work have shown the compensation here is multiples of what is paid in England and Wales. I am not afraid to take on other vested interests such as the insurance companies themselves. Eight companies have between 89% and 92% of this market, which is a decent market that is profitable right now. I am not afraid to take on anyone else in relation to these matters.

Likewise, I am not afraid to challenge myself in this Chamber to ensure that we conclude the Judicial Council Bill. Neither am I afraid to challenge each and every person here to help me to try to ensure that we get the Judicial Council Bill finished before the summer break. I asked Deputy Michael McGrath last year to assist me in ensuring the Insurance (Amendment) Bill was completed as soon as possible. His help was crucial to ensure that happened, which it did, and the Bill was enacted. I challenge this House and the other House as well to do the same for the Judicial Council Bill, to ensure that it is finished so that members of the Judiciary can do their work over the summer in an expedient manner in terms of reforming the guidelines for the book of quantum. I have been asked what will happen and why premiums for employers' liability and public liability have not decreased. It is because we have not reduced the awards and we must do that. If we do not do that, everything else will amount to nothing. Legislation to protect consumers in the insurance sector must also be pursued in order to protect the clients of insurance companies because the insurance companies are big fish who are there to make profit. I want to recalibrate their mindset to ensure that the most important people for them are their clients. They will not exist without there being clients to buy their product. I thank Members for the constructive nature of the debate. No mud has been thrown across the Chamber, for which I am grateful. We can all work together to achieve better for consumers.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share time with Deputies O'Rourke, Scanlon and Michael McGrath.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy. I welcome all the businesses that are present and the members of the Alliance for Insurance Reform who are in the Public Gallery for the debate this afternoon. I pay tribute to Deputy Michael McGrath for all his work on this issue and for tabling the motion today. From his extensive work in the Department, the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy knows what a significant issue this is for so many businesses in this country, to the extent that the issue arises as to whether they can survive in business in the first place.

When I was a member of a local authority I recall that the most burdensome cost facing most businesses was commercial rates charged by councils, but they pale into insignificance compared to the crucifying cost of insurance, which is affecting existing businesses and is also having a negative effect on the spirit of entrepreneurship. When young entrepreneurs look at the potential costs they are totally disheartened. One such young entrepreneur from my home town of Navan is sitting in the Public Gallery, Linda Murray. She is here with the Alliance for Insurance Reform, including Peter Boland, Stephen Carthy from Clonmel and Stephanie Reid from Galway. Linda's business in Navan is a play centre called Huckleberry's Den. Her leisure activity centre, The Zone, won a national award this week. She has brought employment and value to the town. Her premium has gone from €2,500 when she opened six years ago to approximately €16,500 and now she cannot even get a quote because of the way insurance companies consider the market in this country. Some 20,000 children went through her centre without incident last year. Deputy Kelleher put it best when he spoke about the pace at which we are attempting to tackle this issue. Everyone accepts the Minister of State's genuinely positive attitude in tackling this issue and his acknowledgement of Deputy Michael McGrath's work, but the Government as a whole must advance the legislative issues highlighted this afternoon in the debate because the axe is falling on Linda's business and so many others because of the gouging that is going on in the insurance industry.

Photo of Frank O'RourkeFrank O'Rourke (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate this evening on the rising cost of business insurance. I thank my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, for tabling the motion this evening as well as for many other positive measures in this area to try to alleviate the problems that arise.

Just like motor insurance and home insurance, business insurance is getting out of control and we have had many contributions on that in the debate thus far. However, increased business insurance is another added cost for businesses, like so many other costs that are crippling the SME sector, which is the lifeblood of the economy. SMEs make such a contribution to the economy but increased business insurance is adding to the other increased costs they have encountered in recent years, having emerged from a very difficult time.

As we heard in the course of the debate, businesses are closing down and some businesses are operating without the appropriate insurance cover because they cannot afford it. When a business closes down because it cannot afford insurance, that means there are job losses. Like my colleague, Deputy Cassells, I have spoken to businesses, in my case to members of Kildare Chamber of Commerce, and they told me the insurance premiums for some of their members have increased by a multiple of eight. That is completely unacceptable and is not sustainable. That is what is crippling businesses at the moment. The reason the situation is out of control is due to the lack of delivery by the Government, not by the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, as an individual, as we know he is fully committed of the recommendations made by the working group and the Oireachtas committee.

After so many years, what is preventing reductions in business insurance in addition to home insurance and motor insurance? There has been no real reduction, although the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, said there has been some levelling out. Some of the businesses have indicated to Kildare Chamber of Commerce that the reason they have been given increased premiums relates to Storm Emma. This is a significant problem and there is no rationale for it. What is the cause of the delay in the Government reacting to the issue and delivering a solution, which we need?

Photo of Eamon ScanlonEamon Scanlon (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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Like other speakers, I thank Deputy Michael McGrath for bringing this motion before the House today. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, but there are a few things we could do to try to get the issue resolved. The first is to tackle insurance fraud. There are no significant penalties for fraudsters. We see cases thrown out every week but, unfortunately, those cases cost €50,000 or €60,000 and nobody is responsible other than the insurance company or the State. We must also establish a judicial council to compile guidelines for general damages relating to personal injuries. That should be done straight away.

We should also establish a publicly funded anti-fraud unit in An Garda Síochána. In addition, we should set up a business insurance premium index that would track prices over time and see exactly what is happening. There is no proof, as we cannot access figures and we do not know what is going on.

Another con job is ongoing that we should be able to deal with concerning returning emigrants. Last week somebody came to my office who had a full licence and a no-claims bonus in this country for 13 years. The person went to England for six years and had a no-claims bonus there during that time but was told they must start at the very top of the scale again. The quote they received for motor insurance was €4,500. That is happening every day and affects many people. We want people to come back to create employment and such people are being affected in that way all the time.

The Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, was set up in 2008 by Fianna Fáil and at the time it made a lot of difference. Insurance costs came down as a result of it, but over time the effect has worn off. The legal profession did not encourage it at the time. Previously, up to 80% of insurance cases were dealt with by the board but I understand the rate has reduced to approximately 30%. We need to give PIAB more teeth, power and resources to deal with insurance cases.

3:40 pm

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank all Deputies who contributed to the debate. The debate is not what is important. What is important is what follows. I want the Minister of State to use this debate as leverage to get more support and more movement on some of the key issues involved. It is a concern that there were no Ministers from the Departments of Justice and Equality or Business, Enterprise and Innovation. Only the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, spoke while Deputy Neville was here for some of the debate. There was little evidence of the Minister of State's Government colleagues from the key Departments which he needs on board to bring about these reforms.

Getting down to brass tacks, what the Minister of State said about the Judicial Council Bill is new and I welcome that it will go to Committee Stage in the Seanad by the end of this month. He challenged all of us to have the Bill enacted by the summer. We will certainly play our part on this side of the House.

The Minister of State’s speech, which was circulated to Members earlier, does not inspire me with confidence. It states:

Legislative proposals in relation to this matter are at an early stage of development and when that developmental work has been finalised, it is envisaged that any resulting amendments will be the subject of consultation with the Judiciary in keeping with the collaborative approach which has marked the development of the Judicial Council Bill.

Will we get this done by the summer? We have to because we have no choice.

These guidelines which will eventually emerge cannot be too loose. If they are not tight, then this will not work. One person, who happens to be in the Gallery this afternoon, told me that going before the Judiciary to defend against a personal injury claim is like a lucky dip. That is not good enough. If these guidelines are too loose, then this simply will not work. They have to be tight in respect of their scope and application. We will work with the Minister of State to get that done. We will not accept any further delay in dealing with that.

The Minister of State did not have any good news on insurance fraud and the establishment of a Garda fraud unit. I know the Garda is operationally independent. However, the Minister for Justice and Equality needs to engage with An Garda Síochána to establish its views on this issue. It is not good enough that we cannot get information on whether files relating to alleged insurance fraud go to the Director of Public Prosecutions, whether any prosecutions are taken or whether convictions occur. No reports are provided in this regard. That is not good enough and this information must be made available.

There are people in the Gallery, as well as others at home and at work, who are facing the closure of their businesses. I am as able to criticise insurance companies as anybody else. It is justified in many instances. However, there is a problem when none of the insurance companies operating in Ireland is willing to provide cover in certain sectors. We have play centres reliant on Axa XL and nightclubs reliant on Lloyds in the UK. These areas are particularly exposed because there is only one insurance company, UK-based, providing cover. As these businesses face closure, will the Minister of State seek to engage directly with these insurance firms? It is a small number of firms but they have significant sway in respect of the continuation of insurance cover at reasonable rates for these sectors. I will work with the Minister of State in doing that but we need to engage with those insurance firms immediately. Otherwise, inherently good, profitable and viable businesses will be shut down as a result of the cost of insurance. None of us wants that. We must use this debate to bring about change. The sense of urgency cannot be lost. The fact some businesses have closed is regrettable. Many more will follow. We need to deal with this issue.

Amendment put and declared carried.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.