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 Header Item Topical Issue Matters
 Header Item Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2012: Order for Second Stage
 Header Item Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2012: Second and Subsequent Stages

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 3

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Topical Issue Matters

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 27A and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Mick Wallace - the decision-making process behind the allocation of national lottery funding to sports clubs; (2) Deputy Thomas P. Broughan - the need to address the growing housing waiting lists on Dublin's north side and particularly in the Dublin City Council administrative area; (3) Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh - the impact of the changes to the PLC pupil-teacher ratio; (4) Deputy Jonathan O'Brien - the effects of the Health Service Executive’s plans to reconfigure therapy resources such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy into geographically-based teams; (5) Deputy Shane Ross - the proposed closure of Stepaside Garda station, County Dublin; (6) Deputy Ann Phelan - the need to lower the rate of VAT on nicotine replacement patches; (7) Deputy Michael McNamara - the need to give courts discretion not to allow banks that have refused offers of restructuring to repossess family homes; (8) Deputy Joan Collins - the demand in the most recent troika review for legislation to enable banks to more easily repossess properties through the courts; (9) Deputy Clare Daly - the privatisation of 10% of Dublin Bus routes; (10) Deputy Mattie McGrath - the need to debate the McCrystal judgment recently handed down by the Supreme Court; (11) Deputy Seamus Kirk - the need to reverse the cuts to home help services that have been implemented during 2012; (12) Deputy Charlie McConalogue - the impact of the increase in the pupil-teacher ratio in PLC schools and the number of posts that will be lost in 2013; and (13) Deputy Robert Troy - the provision of broadband in rural areas.

The matters raised by Deputies Jonathan O'Brien, Seamus Kirk, Ann Phelan and Thomas P. Broughan have been selected for discussion.

Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2012: Order for Second Stage

Bill entitled an Act to amend the Equal Status Act 2000; and to provide for related matters.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy Kathleen Lynch): Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2012: Second and Subsequent Stages

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy Kathleen Lynch): Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to present this Bill, which will give effect in Ireland to the mandatory introduction within the European Union of unisex premiums and benefits in private insurance to which Council Directive 2004/113/EC applies. This directive, known informally as the gender goods and services directive, implements the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services. In its decision of 1 March 2011, in case C-236/09 taken by a Belgian consumer rights organisation, the Court of Justice of the European Union declared that Article 5(2) of this directive was invalid, with effect from 21 December 2012. This decision, known as the Test-Achats ruling, is binding on all member states of the European Union. The provision thus struck down had allowed an exception from the principle of equal treatment enunciated in the regulation so that insurance companies could price life and motor insurance products differently for men and women, where this difference is reasonable and supported by actuarial or statistical data.

Ireland availed of this exemption in the Equal Status Act 2000, permitting gender differentiation to continue in the areas of motor insurance, life assurance, critical illness cover, income protection cover, and private annuities and pensions. The effect of the ruling is that Ireland is obliged to prohibit by law the selling of private insurance products which differentiate by gender on price or benefits and to have such provisions in force on or before 21 December 2012. The unisex rule will apply to all contracts concluded for the first time as and from that date. It also applies to agreements between parties, as and from 21 December 2012, to extend contracts concluded before that date which would otherwise have expired.

The European Commission has issued guidelines on the application of this judgment on national legislation transposing directive 2004/113 and on insurance industry practice. I have taken due regard to this guidance and to the intention stated in the directive to avoid sudden readjustment of the insurance market in determining the amendments to the Equal Status Acts necessary to comply with this ruling. As I will explain shortly, these amendments are largely technical in nature. For me and for my colleagues in Government, this ruling highlights the crucial importance of achieving legal clarity in the drafting of legislation at European level to ensure that such instruments are interpreted and have the intended impact.

The Government is conscious of the potential for confusion and misinformation among consumers and insurance providers alike resulting from these changes to the private insurance market. For this reason, in October the Department published an information note for consumers on the new rules on the permitted use of gender by insurance providers and sources of further information and advice. The information note is widely available through public information channels such as the Citizens Information Board. I would like to express thanks to the industry bodies - the Irish Insurance Federation, the Irish Brokers Association, the Professional Insurance Brokers Association and the Society of Actuaries in Ireland - who contributed to the preparation of this advice for consumers. I also thank the Department of Finance, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Department of Social Protection, the Central Bank, the National Consumer Agency, the Citizens' Information Board, the Pensions Board, the Equality Authority and the Financial Services Ombudsman's Bureau.

I would now like to highlight some of the main provisions of the Bill. Section 2 provides for amendment of section 5 of the Equal Status Act 2000. It limits the existing derogation from the prohibition on gender discrimination in specified insurance products, provided in section 5 of the Equal Status Act, to contracts concluded before 21 December 2012. This is to ensure the prohibition on gender-differentiated insurance, with effect from 21 December 2012, does not affect existing contracts lawfully entered into before that date. The scope of the prohibition is then expanded by providing in a new subsection (4A) that all contracts within the categories of motor or life insurance concluded for the first time as and from 21 December 2012 must comply with the unisex rule. For the avoidance of doubt and because to determine otherwise would result in a sudden readjustment of the motor insurance market, contrary to the intention of the directive, the second paragraph of the new subsection provides that mid-term adjustments to motor insurance contracts concluded before 21 December 2012 are not considered to be new contracts for this purpose.

Finally, this section provides that the obligation imposed on the Central Bank of Ireland to compile, maintain and publish data to support the existing derogation ceases to have effect from 21 December 2012, while not affecting its obligation to maintain and publish data compiled before that date. Consequential to the cessation of this obligation, section 5 provides for the amendment of section 41 of the principal Act. It has the effect of terminating the Minister's power, which is no longer required, to make regulations with regard to the data to be compiled, published and maintained by the Central Bank.

Section 3 provides for amendment of section 14 of the principal Act to clarify that insurance providers may continue to collect, store and use gender status or gender-related information which is genuinely intended for the purposes of reserving and internal pricing, reinsurance pricing, and life and health underwriting. For example, it is envisaged that insurance providers may continue to gather and use gender data in connection with offering gender-specific insurance products and options within contracts to cover conditions which exclusively or primarily concern males or females, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer.

I have also taken the opportunity afforded in this Bill to address a minor procedural issue regarding equal status complaints referred to the Equality Tribunal for mediation. Section 4 provides for amendment of section 24 of the Equal Status Acts to extend the time available to persons who have referred such complaints to apply for resumption of the hearing in instances where mediation has not resolved the dispute between the parties. The amendment will extend the period, after the issue of a notice of non-resolution, within which a complainant is allowed to make an application in writing for a resumption of the hearing, from 28 days to 42 days. This amendment applies the same conditions to complaints under the Equal Status Acts on failure of mediation as are already applicable to resumption of complaints under the Employment Equality Acts. The remaining provisions are of a standard or technical nature.

Before concluding, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the technical nature of these amendments, while reiterating that the State has no option but to ensure national law complies with the European Court of Justice interpretation of the gender goods and services directive in this instance. I thank the Members of the House for their attention and I look forward to a detailed discussion on the Bill. I commend this Bill to the House.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins Fianna Fáil supports this Bill.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch Zoom on Kathleen Lynch Sorry to interrupt, but I wish to apologise for not having a copy of what was a very technical speech available for the Deputies.

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