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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen] 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.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy 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.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I thank all the Deputies for observing the time. I call the Minister of State. There are ten minutes in the Government slot.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Michael D'Arcy): Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy 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.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath That does not prevent the Government bringing in the Judicial Council Bill.

Deputy Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy I have put this on the record of the House many times.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath That does not block the Government bringing in the Bill.

Deputy Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy When it became obvious to me-----

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan That is unfair.

Deputy Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy -----that it was being delayed, I moved for an interim council, which was not acceded to. I moved to an ad hoc council, and that was not agreed to.

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary By whom? Who blocked it?

Deputy Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy 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-----

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan Why was that not done six months ago?

Deputy Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy -----everyone will be as supportive of that legislation-----

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath It was moved in November 2017.

Deputy Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy -----in order that it be concluded as quickly as possible and passed from the Seanad into this House so we can finish the legislation.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath The Government will go to Committee Stage within the month then.

Deputy Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy Before the end of this month.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath Before the end of next month.

Deputy Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy This month. That is the time schedule.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan There are three sitting days left this month.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Minister of State must be allowed to continue.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath The Bill will proceed to Committee Stage before the end of this month, even if the other Bill is still being debated.

Deputy Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy That is correct. Again, I want-----

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill was not blocking it then.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Minister of State has clarified the position.

Deputy Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy The matter had nothing to do with the Minister, Deputy Ross, as I said at the outset.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan Is that the point the Minister of State made on "Prime Time"?

Deputy Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy 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.


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