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Business Insurance: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 980 No. 8

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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath] 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.

Deputy Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry 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 or 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.

Deputy John Curran: Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran 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.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan 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.

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary 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.

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen 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 or that 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.

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