Tuesday, 5 November 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Minister of State for being available for this debate. The House is well aware the traders in Douglas Village Shopping Centre have had a tumultuous time over recent years. There was a flood and then a fire that affected more than 30 independent traders in Douglas Village Shopping Centre.
I think the Leas-Chathaoirleach did. Engagement with the insurance companies has been complex and requires a solution from the point of view that not all of them have paid out. As the Minister of State knows quite well, the majority of the people have coverage to protect them from unexpected events. This fire was an unexpected event. To say the least, there has been obfuscation, foot dragging and a less than complete outcome in terms of payment to the traders. It has been piecemeal and laborious. This is a very complex matter because the shopping centre owner is dealing with his issues and the individual traders are dealing with theirs. There is also the issue of the insurance companies telling the traders many different things. The important point is there is a need for the insurance companies to pay out to the individual traders under the business interruption charge so if a business is closed for a period of time a mechanism is available. Cork City Council has waived the fees and rates for those businesses that have shut down. The business interruption charge is about the traders being able to have that money paid out to them through their insurance.
Something that has been very vexing for the traders is that the insurance companies are telling them to go to the owner of the shopping centre to get a letter of comfort stating it will open on, for example, 1 July 2020, which is just a date I have picked. As we all know, the owner of the shopping centre cannot give an exact date because there is a myriad issues. It is just in the past week and a half that we have seen the last remaining cars removed from the roof. This has been kicked down the road. There is a sense that everyone is waiting for someone else to make the first move. I hope that through his good offices the Minister of State will be able to call in the insurance industry to ask it to ensure these traders, who were vulnerable before the fire and are even more vulnerable now, are able to find a solution to their issue. In fairness, some of them received an initial downpayment of 10%, 8% or 15% but payments need to be made and we need to give certainty to the traders.
I thank the Senator for providing me with an opportunity to discuss this issue. I extend my sympathy to all those affected by the fire and the fact the shopping centre remains closed. However, it is a relief that nobody was injured during the fire. Of course, it is less than ideal to have a shopping centre such as Douglas Village Shopping Centre closed for an indefinite period of time, particularly for businesses and employees coming up to the Christmas season.
I understand there are a number of issues relevant to the centre remaining closed, including establishing the cause of the fire, the structural soundness of the building itself and other matters. While there are active insurance claims involved, it is clear there are other issues that may need to be resolved.The Senator will appreciate that the Minister for Finance and I are not responsible for issues arising in individual cases. Rather, we are responsible for the legal framework for insurance. That said, a public interest arises in this situation and I am happy to speak to Insurance Ireland and seek further information about the matter. However, some of the insurers in question might not be members of Insurance Ireland.
I rarely get involved in individual claims, but I am sufficiently satisfied to try to help on this occasion. I am not certain what level of help that will be, but I will speak to Insurance Ireland and try to reach a position that will expedite the matter.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. This is a matter of public interest and needs to be resolved. I welcome the Minister of State's commitment to speak to Insurance Ireland. This is a question of ensuring that the small to medium-sized shopkeeper or business owner is looked after. I look forward to the engagement of the Minister of State and Insurance Ireland in what is a matter of public interest. The Leas-Chathaoirleach saw the aftermath of the devastation in Douglas.
Insurance exists to put people back into the positions they were in before the event. I have been stringent with insurance companies. People have heard me say that insurance companies sometimes do not treat their clients properly and do not move quickly enough. While it is important that we not get caught underestimating the complexity of this individual matter, it is important that companies act in the interests of their clients, who are their customers, as quickly as possible to try to ensure that people can get back to trading and making a living, and their employees can get back in situ. I am open to trying to do what I can. I am not certain how much or little that will be, but I am here to help if possible.