Thursday, 7 November 2019
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
This morning, the Committee of Public Accounts received a letter from David Gunning, the chief officer of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board - the famous children’s hospital - updating it on project costs. In his letter, Mr. Gunning states that while things are on budget, there are a number of exceptions which have always been outside of the approved budget for which there cannot be price certainty at this point or for the duration of the project. That is the chief operating officer and it sounds like a blank cheque. What brakes has the Government put in place for this blank cheque? How can it be that certain in its assertions around the budget when this provision is in place?
The letter to the Committee of Public Accounts contains exactly the same information that the chairman of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board gave to the Joint Committee on Health in July. That is the reality, as the Deputy, his party and every other Member knows well. There are several issues, including those relating to claims that can be made by a contractor in respect of any capital project. Obviously, there is also the issue of inflation and that needs to be reformulated next year. The Government has only approved €1.433 billion of taxpayers’ money for this project. The total project cost is €1.7 billion. It is a reality that as this construction project continues, claims will continue to come in. The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board will continue to robustly defend those claims. That is the point the chief executive officer was making honestly to the Committee of Public Accounts this morning.
Across the State, insurance costs are continuing to rise to unaffordable levels. This is putting serious pressure on motorists and businesses are closing in every sector of the State. From 2014 to 2018, the value of personal injury claims paid out through the courts and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board fell by 15%. Between 2013 and 2017, the total number of motor insurance claims fell by 22%. At the same time, however, the average motor insurance premium increased by 53%. We accept that there is serious issue with some of the levels of personal injury awards and that it needs to be dealt with. The House, including our party, facilitated with the Government in ensuring the Judicial Council Act was signed into law as quickly as possible. The Act was signed into law on 23 July, three months ago, yet the Minister for Justice and Equality has not implemented section 5, under which the council will be set up. When it is set up, the council will establish an advisory committee that will look at the level of awards, which will take to up to a year.
I acknowledge the deliberations in this House which gave rise to the passage of the legislation in question in the course of the summer months. I had a meeting with the Courts Service this morning. Obviously, there are issues involved in the setting up of a new board. In this regard, I assure Deputy Pearse Doherty and the House that the council will be set up by the end of the year.
I want to raise another aspect of the insurance cost issue. It is crippling businesses but it is also causing festivals and community events to be cancelled. I am told from a variety of locations across the country that Christmas markets and festivals are also cancelled or affected by high insurance costs. It was reported the Government has established a cross-departmental committee to compile a report on the potential impact of insurance on Galway 2020, the European Capital of Culture event. Will the Tánaiste confirm if such a review has taken place, as I cannot find any reference to it in the public media? One possible solution to the issue of looking after festivals and community events is to recharge the Irish Public Bodies Mutual Insurance company, a wholly State-owned entity, to provide insurance cover in respect of these events. The Labour Party is exploring this possibility. In the event that it proves a viable move, will the Government look at amending the relevant Act to allow the company in question to do that?
Public liability insurance has been an issue and a problem for many festivals for quite some time. While we have taken a whole series of actions to respond to that, the Government is open all the time to new approaches. The Minister of State, Deputy D’Arcy, is focused on driving down insurance costs, including public liability costs. I am not aware there has been any specific examination of cover for Galway 2020. I will come back to the Deputy on that matter. If the Labour Party has proposals in respect of insurance cover, I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy D’Arcy, to look at them.