Leaders' Questions

Motorists who have received their motor insurance renewal notices in the post in recent months have got quite a shock, with dramatic increases in the premiums being charged by insurance companies. In the past year premiums have gone up by 30% or more in some cases. On top of this, the insurers' representative body, Insurance Ireland, is predicting that motor insurance premiums are likely to increase by a further 25% next year. This means, for example, that a person with a premium of €400 per annum last year could be facing a premium of €650 or more next year. Many motorists are now facing an increase of between €250 and €300 per year. These increases are simply unsustainable as I am sure the Tánaiste will agree. They are placing increasing pressure on household budgets and on businesses, particularly those which depend on motor fleets to conduct their business. Evidence suggests that younger drivers and drivers with older cars are being particularly hard hit by these premium increases.

Motor insurance premiums are increasing for a variety of reasons, including an increase in the number and cost of claims as well as a rise in the number of fraudulent claims. There is a lack of transparency around the way that many claims are being settled and the true financial performance of individual insurance firms in Ireland. It is remarkable that seven out of ten claims are settled by insurance companies without going to court and there is no register kept on the overall cost of those claims. There is a complete lack of information which is necessary if we are to get a proper handle on this situation.

The €1 billion plus bailout of Quinn Insurance and the collapse of Setanta Insurance has brought into sharp focus the need for the insurance sector to be properly regulated to ensure that firms are making proper provision for future claim liabilities. We have been here before. In the late 1990s, at a time when motor insurance premiums were spiralling, the Motor Insurance Advisory Board was set up. It issued its first report in April 2002, with 67 recommendations. The implementation of many of those recommendations, including the setting up of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, led directly to six successive years in which premiums were reduced.

I am calling for the Motor Insurance Advisory Board to be re-established in order that we can have an independent examination of why premiums are increasing at the current unsustainable rate. The board would need to examine a range of issues, including how claims are settled, the true financial position of insurance companies in Ireland and the need for judicial guidelines to be introduced to bring greater consistency to awards. It should also review the operation of the PIAB and the role of the Motor Insurance Bureau of Ireland and the Insurance Compensation Fund when individual insurance companies get into difficulty. The Consumers' Association of Ireland has also called for the re-establishment of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board and I hope the Tánaiste will accede to this call today so that we can get an independent assessment of why motor insurance premiums have gone through the roof and are likely to increase even further in the coming years. We have been here before and I hope we have learned some lessons from experience.

I thank the Deputy for raising an issue which is important for many people. Anyone who owns a car is aware of the pressure from insurance companies in terms of rising premiums. That said, this is happening at a time when fuel prices have fallen substantially. In many cases, for example, people going back to work who are commuting in the greater Dublin area, notwithstanding the pressure caused by increased traffic volumes, have found that the overall cost of motoring has not risen substantially due to the significant reduction in the price of diesel and petrol. I am sure the Deputy has taken that into account.

What does that have to do with insurance premiums?

There are several factors which explain the rise in motor insurance premiums, one of which emanated from the European Union a number of years ago and involved the equalisation of charges for female and male drivers. As Deputy Michael McGrath will know, that equalisation process worked to the advantage of younger male drivers who tend, unfortunately, to feature more often in accident statistics. At the same time, a lot of women who had very safe, careful and claim-free driving histories ended up on the wrong side of the process. It could be argued that the equalisation process drove a general trend of price changes which contributed to the upward pressure on premiums.

The PIAB has been a significant force in settlements being reached which do not involve lengthy court cases. I am not sure if the statistics prove that the number of fraudulent claims has risen but there have certainly been a number of court cases where Facebook and other social media evidence was used to dismiss claims. In some cases, people had apparently suffered severe injuries but when their social media activity was shared with the court, some of them appeared to be extraordinarily fit and well and to have fully recovered from any injuries they may have sustained in accidents. In other instances it appears that accidents were pre-arranged. I am not sure whether such cases are indicative of an overall increase in fraudulent insurance claims and it is not clear whether Deputy Michael McGrath has evidence to back up his contention in that regard. It must be said, however, that the courts take such cases very seriously.

I have an open mind on the question of the re-establishment of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board. However, that mechanism was used quite a long time ago and the industry has changed considerably since.

There have been a lot more amalgamations and mergers and the industry is much more concentrated among a few players. There are also far fewer brokers than would have been the case at the time it was originally established and many people would have used brokers in shopping around for the best price. The difficulty nowadays is that a lot of best-price shopping is done online and, sometimes, the variations in the different online offers make it extremely difficult to work out the best price. While I do not have a particular problem with the Motor Insurance Advisory Board, it would be appropriate for the Dáil committee that covers this area to have a discussion on this issue with a view to scoping out the factors which lead to change and undertaking research into the impacts. The Deputy talked about younger drivers. The problem with them, from an insurance point of view, is that, unfortunately for themselves and the industry, they have a higher rate of accidents and, therefore, a higher risk. That is why they are bearing the brunt. The appropriate Dáil committee would be the venue to have this issue scoped and examined, with a view to bringing forward a modern mechanism for more up-to-date regulation which reflects the online nature of much of the industry nowadays, as opposed to what it was when the original board was established.

For somebody receiving a motor insurance renewal premium notice today showing an increase of €150 or €200, burying this issue in a Dáil committee is not a satisfactory answer. The truth of the matter is that we have been here before. The establishment of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board which examined independently the reasons premiums were rising so significantly in the late 1990s and early 2000s led to a series of recommendations which, when implemented, directly resulted in insurance premiums falling. The Tánaiste has raised a number of issues that essentially are irrelevant to this debate, including falling fuel prices. It is of little consolation to somebody who receives his or her motor insurance renewal notice in the post to see that the price of diesel on the nearest forecourt is down by a few cent. That is not the issue. Similarly, the changes introduced at EU level are not the reason insurance premiums have gone through the roof.

The Deputy is not familiar with the views of women on this issue.

The reality is that it does not explain the issue about which we are talking. The industry will state it is caused essentially by the rising cost of claims, but we do not have a handle on that issue because seven out of ten claims are settled outside the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, and a court environment. Therefore, we do not have the published records and, in the absence of that information, it is very difficult to reach any definitive conclusion as to why the cost of premiums is escalating at its current rate. The bottom line for motorists watching at home who have received their renewal notices in the post or who are expecting to receive them in the next few months is that they are looking at increases of hundreds of euro. Shopping around is not the answer. People are doing this and finding that the quotations from all other firms have gone up correspondingly and that there is no saving to be achieved. The Minister for Finance raised the issue of the insurance sector generally with the Central Bank. The then Governor, Mr. Honohan, wrote to the Minister in August, to make a series of recommendations, including the introduction of judicial guidelines for when cases get to court in order that there would a degree of consistency in the level of court awards made.

The Tánaiste would be doing consumers a service if, today in the House, she committed to re-establishing the Motor Insurance Advisory Board in order that it could sit down with all stakeholders to get a handle on the true facts and arrive at an understanding of what is driving the unsustainable level of increase in motor insurance premiums. I cannot for the life of me see why she would have a problem with this. Why would she not immediately commit to re-establishing the advisory board in order that we could identify the recommendations which would make a real impact on the money in the pockets of consumers? The increase was 30% last year and the industry is predicting a further increase of 25% next year. This means that a bill of €400 will increase to €650 or €700, which is not sustainable. There are issues driving the increase which could be dealt with by way of legislation and other initiatives. Let us deal with it. Let us get the Motor Insurance Advisory Board back up and running in order that it could start to examine this issue quickly, not just refer it to another Dáil committee which, as the Tánaiste knows, would not have time to deal with it before the general election.

We should reflect before we re-establish another entity which was in place in different times before the industry changed dramatically. By the way, the Deputy would not dismiss the higher insurance premiums charged to women out of hand if he was a woman looking at her insurance bill.

That is not driving the increase.

The Deputy did not dismiss it.

The Tánaiste is trying to divide us.

Deputy Michael McGrath needs to talk to some of the women in his life who will tell him about it. Let me tell him: it is a very sore point.

The Deputy is saying the insurance companies are overcharging for motor insurance cover and that he wants to see motor insurance premiums come down. I have no difficulty in agreeing with him. He is his party's finance spokesperson. We provided for regulation, both prudential regulation and the regulation of the insurance industry, including motor insurance, within the Central Bank. At the last count, it was employing in or around 1,400 people, or it proposes to employ that number. Let us be reasonable about this. Some very fine studies have been carried out by the bands of economists who work on our behalf in the Central Bank. It is possible to arrange to have a study carried out to find out what the issues for the motor insurance industry are-----

That is what I suggested.

-----before we set up what the Deputy is proposing which, effectively, would be a quango. I do not have a problem with-----

It would not be a quango.

The PIAB, for instance, has done very good work, which I acknowledge, in cutting the cost of claims and keeping them out of court. However, with all of the people working in the Central Bank, we should be able, through the members of the finance committee, to receive a detailed report from the Central Bank-----

The Tánaiste is passing the buck; that is all she is doing.

I am sorry, but the Central Bank is the regulator in terms of both prudential regulation and the regulation of the insurance industry in general.

They are doing a great job.

They have all of the figures. I will write to the new Governor of the Central Bank to say this is a very important consumer issue.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, has already done that.

The Deputy talked about something slightly different in the case of the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan. I am perfectly happy to and will write to the new Governor who only took up office two weeks ago to ask him, given that he has a lot of economists working for him, to undertake a detailed review of the matter, as the Central Bank has done in a series of other areas in quarterly reports that are published in the Central Bank's bulletin. We will receive that report and then make a decision on whether another new board is needed or whether an old one needs to be re-established.

We also have to take account of the current online nature of the insurance industry. On a final point, shopping around for insurance, even in a time of higher premiums, does pay.

One might save a fiver.

The Deputy should not say to consumers that they should not shop around.

I did not say that.

The single biggest failure of the Government has been its failure to reform the health system. In 2011 the Labour Party stated in its manifesto that in government it would deliver better, more effective care for every patient. The Fine Gael-Labour Party programme for Government described the coalition as the first in the history of the State that was committed to developing a universal health care system.

The Government promised to create a single-tier health service, guaranteeing access to medical care based on need, not income. They were very big promises. Five years on, the hope it gave to hundreds of thousands of families has been cruelly dashed. Not only is the two-tier health system still in place, but the Government has, in fact, also made it worse, with 4,000 fewer nurses, 68,000 waiting for inpatient treatment and 400,000 for outpatient appointments.

As if all of this was not enough, the Government has now imposed a service plan on the HSE that is €150 million short of what it requires. Mr. Tony O'Brien, the man it put in charge of the HSE, has told the Government that the health service has been starved of resources since 2011. Other senior medics have warned openly that the lack of funding for 2016 will hurt patient care. Given the scale of the failure to reform the health system in the past five years and given the hardship and suffering the Government's decisions have imposed on families right across the State, will it now apologise for that failure? Will it now admit it has no plan or vision for the health care system? Will it finally commit to providing the level of funding and staffing required to provide people with the health care they so urgently need?

The health service and its staff have considerable achievements to show, particularly in the context of four or seven years ago when they were subject to the trials and difficulties of an economy crashed by Fianna Fáil through the bank guarantee and the collapse of the construction industry and resources were tight. Notwithstanding that, as patients throughout the country will verify, once people gain admittance to our health services, the level of attention and service from the doctors and nurses we employ in hospitals is world class and of a high standard.

If they manage to get in.

This does not mean the health service does not have problems or that it is not requesting additional funds. The scale of the challenge for the health service was acknowledged when, as part of the budget for next year, an extra €900 million was allocated to our health service. Performance reports indicate that waiting lists had reduced by the end of August. We are also developing a more responsive reporting structure for the HSE involving clinicians and consultants and we have a great deal of work done on the hospital groups. This means we now have reporting on hospitals on a regional basis. Furthermore, the Revised Estimate which is being published today provides an extra €20 million for mental health services. The provision of GP cards for children under six and for people over 70 has been warmly welcomed by parents and older people throughout the country. One of the biggest problems in our hospitals has been the issue of step-down facilities. Applications for the fair deal scheme are now being dealt with within a period of four weeks or less on average. These are significant achievements by our health services. We have also seen the development of more than 40 new primary care centres, where people can get a diagnosis and treatment for chronic illness without having to attend an acute hospital. They can also avail of ordinary GP services, after care services and other patient care services at these centres. Another 20 of these centres are in the process of construction. These facilities are changing the landscape of health care here. All of this is a tribute to those in the service, particularly to nurses, doctors and paramedical staff.

That was a truly amazing answer. The achievement of the Government is: 4,000 fewer nurses. Bualadh bos. There are 68,000 people waiting for inpatient treatment. Well done; good job. There are 400,000 people waiting for outpatient appointments. This is before we come to the absolute chaos in accident and emergency units. The Tánaiste should not attempt to hide behind the valiant efforts of staff within the health system to get the Government off the hook. In fact, the achievements of staff in the health service stand in stark contrast to the abject failure of the Government. The contrast could not be more dramatic. I have no doubt that if any of those workers watched this exchange and heard what the Tánaiste said, they would, to say the least, find it ironic that the Tánaiste would laud them for their efforts, having left them so badly in the lurch.

The Tánaiste's claims about new money for health are entirely bogus. She knows well that only €97 million of the money referred to is new money and that most of that was already committed. She knows that funding for hospitals - this is a matter of public record - is €100 million less than required. She knows that there is €1.5 billion less in the health budget now than there was in 2008. She may also know there are campaigners for medical cards for chronically sick children outside the Dáil today. They do not buy or believe for a minute the Tánaiste's attempt at propaganda that the Government has made the system better. That is manifestly not the case.

The 405 patients who are on trolleys in hospitals today are not convinced either. Who could blame them? Thousands of people with chronic conditions who cannot get access to the treatment they badly need do not believe the Tánaiste either.

Does the Deputy have a question, please?

In regard to the Government's largesse in respect of older citizens, let me tell the Tánaiste something. The greatest concern raised by older citizens in respect of health is the prescription charge because it puts them to the pins of their collars and forces them to make a decision on any prescription as to which medicines they will take and which to leave behind. In many cases, they take advice from their pharmacists on that. Did the Tánaiste know that?

It being Christmas time and the season of goodwill, I am going to give the Tánaiste the opportunity to apologise to all of those people she has failed.

(Interruptions).

Please, the Deputy has the floor.

Make no mistake, she has failed them.

The Deputy has almost got through her script now.

More importantly, the Tánaiste should do the decent thing and take the opportunity and accept the Government has got things badly wrong and should change course now. This means that it should provide resources, staff, a plan and a new beginning for the health service.

The Deputy may have sought to read her scripted remarks with some force, but she utterly lacked any sense of conviction, as if she would know, as a member of a party led by somebody who had to hop across to America for his private health treatment, or as if she would have any idea of what the health service in this country is about.

I will send the Tánaiste a copy of our plan for the health service for Christmas for her to read.

A Deputy

On a point of order------

I am sorry, Deputy, but there are no points of order during Leaders' Questions.

The Deputy's condescension and patronising remarks towards the hard-working staff of the health service-----

The Tánaiste is an absolutely disgraceful cynic. We are defending front-line staff. They have no sympathy for the Tánaiste and her nonsense today.

Order please. The Tánaiste has the floor.

The Deputy's condescending and patronising remarks-----

The only person who is condescending and patronising is the Tánaiste.

It is between condescension and cynicism.

The Deputy failed to recognise-----

Are you able to keep them under control, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle?

Get on to the army council to keep them under control.

This is Leaders' Questions. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked a question and the Tánaiste is replying.

Notwithstanding the Deputy's remarks about Christmas being the season of goodwill, which I presume were thrown into the comments in order to make a joke of people wanting to have a happy Christmas and season of goodwill-----

Cop on to yourself.

The Tánaiste needs somebody to write a script for her.

The Deputies are so focused on aggression.

The Tánaiste is embarrassing herself.

This is a serious issue.

What is their policy for the health service?

Their policy for the health service-----

Is that the man behind the wire?

The Deputy cannot display those documents.

The little red book.

The Deputy cannot display books.

In fairness, the Tánaiste asked and I have it here.

A question was asked by the Deputy.

That is a complete abuse of the Dáil.

Could we settle down, please?

It is fully costed for the terms-----

The Tánaiste asked about it.

The Tánaiste is giving a reply. Under Standing Orders, the Deputy is not meant to display those documents.

My apologies. It has been fully costed.

We are not buying it.

It is not. There are no costs in it at all.

It deals with bringing about proper universal access.

We are not buying it from the Deputy.

I can give it to the Tánaiste for Christmas. I insist.

This is like the "Antiques Roadshow" at this stage.

That is fantastic. I call on the Tánaiste to conclude.

That document has no costings in it at all.

It has no mechanism for paying.

What page is it on?

It is a bare document.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald should resume her seat.

We can have a debate on it.

Let me conclude on this.

Perhaps those opposite would like to debate the costings.

The Deputies are looking for cheap advertising.

That is no problem. We can make time to fully debate the costings.

Did the Deputies get approval for it?

The Tánaiste should conclude. There should be no more interruptions.

Insert it into the RTE Guide. It is a work of fiction.

Please, no more interruptions.

It is just as good as Brooklyn.

One of Sinn Féin's proposals, in a position where we are seeking to recruit hospital consultants, is to slash their wages.

In how many extra hospital consultants-----

The Tánaiste has not read it.

-----would the Sinn Féin proposal result?

Would they have extra taxes if earning more than €100,000?

Go back to sleep, Dinny.

I am sorry, but I ask the Deputies-----

They would be chased out of the country if they were taxed like that.

(Interruptions).

Half of west Donegal is in Australia thanks to the Fine Gael policies.

(Interruptions).

At least the people would be here to pay taxes.

Please settle down. I want to call Deputy Mick Wallace.

After the Government's actions, people have left the country.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle-----

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh should sit down and stop being a bully.

Some 250,000 people have left the country. The dole was cut also.

Settle down. It is more than the dole that Sinn Féin would cut.

I ask the Deputies to, please, settle down. I must call Deputy Mick Wallace shortly.

Deputy Dinny McGinley-----

The Deputy can put his name on the ballot paper to be elected again and see how he gets on.

When the Deputy is here in 35 years, he can-----

The Tánaiste is going to conclude.

I challenge Deputy Dinny McGinley to put his name on the ballot paper.

Settle down, please.

We want to see more women in the Dáil precisely in order that we can avoid the kind of behaviour in which the Deputy opposite has just indulged.

Is the Tánaiste serious?

A bar room brawler. You are a disgrace.

I call Deputy Mick Wallace. May we, please, have some order?

Has she ever seen a tape of herself during Leaders' Questions?

I do not want any more disorder. Deputy Mick Wallace has the floor.

In March 2003, a backbench Deputy stated here, "How can anyone say that an aeroplane loaded with military equipment flying through Shannon Airport to a war situation in Iraq, without a UN mandate, does not contribute to, if not represent, participation in that activity?" He went on to add that "one of those possible consequences is the possibility that Shannon and Ireland will become targets for terrorist counter-strikes". That individual was Deputy Enda Kenny, who is now the Taoiseach. In June 2006 a backbench Deputy stated "It is wrong for the Government to have a two-faced approach" and went on to say that "from the troop levels going through Shannon Airport and the worldwide documentation on extraordinary rendition, we know in our hearts it is wrong. It is regrettable the Government avoids discussing these proposals in a serious way." That was the Tánaiste.

I remember it well.

Put it in the manifesto.

When she started in politics, did the Tánaiste think she would be deputy leader of a Government that promotes a war campaign that has led to the deaths of almost 2 million innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq alone? Is the Tánaiste prepared to take any action to stop Shannon Airport being used to facilitate the war-mongering and violent ends of the US war machine? Across the water, there is a Labour leader who does not agree with war. He does not agree with the militarisation of the planet or the mindless destruction caused by the US military war machine and its western allies. Does the Tánaiste have any support for Jeremy Corbyn's position?

I opposed the war in Iraq and continue to seek, in so far as it is possible, a solution to the dreadful violence, in particular right across the Arab countries, the Middle East and Syria. My record relating to peace making, peace promotion and the ending of war is very clear and on a series of public records, including here. I worked in Africa and in the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda to bring peace to that country, where the greatest genocide since that of the Jews in the Second World War took place. My record on peace making is very clear. I absolutely stand by it.

If the Deputy is asking whether I favour war, of course I do not favour war. Ireland is a neutral country.

It is not if we support the American war machine.

We restated our neutrality as recently as in the White Paper on Defence. As the Deputy well knows, we are committed to a process of triple lock with any decisions that involve our troops, who serve with distinction in peace making and conflict prevention right around the world. That is the record of the Government and the Deputy is seeking to make allegations that do not stand up.

They stand up. The Tánaiste is running away from them.

I stand over my record on promoting peace and peace making.

We do not know what atrocities some of those Americans carried out in Iraq having flown through Shannon Airport.

If the Deputy is suggesting there has been a policy change on my part, he is entirely wrong. It is important that all Deputies on all sides of the House should use their good offices to seek to make peace in Syria and Iraq as soon as possible in order that the people fleeing those war zones may return, as they wish, to their homes and begin to rebuild their lives.

That will not happen when warplanes are going through Shannon Airport.

As we come close to Christmas, it is an incredibly important task facing everyone who is involved with politics at this time.

The Tánaiste has said she is in favour of peace. She has been in government for five years. When Labour were in opposition, they were in favour of searching US military planes in case they were carrying arms and munitions through Shannon. Not one plane has been checked since the Government came to power. How can the Tánaiste say she is promoting peace and not war? Last year alone, we gave permits for US civilian charter planes to carry 190 tonnes of bullets; they flew over Ireland to go to Afghanistan. Is that working for peace?

Is the Tánaiste prepared to stop Shannon Airport being used as a US military aircraft base? The dogs on the street know we are not neutral any more and we have taken sides. We facilitate the war-mongering of the Americans, as 2.5 million troops have passed through Shannon Airport, with arms and munitions of a quantity we cannot even imagine because we are not searching the planes.

They have caused untold destruction. Conservative research has put the deaths of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 at 2 million - 2 million innocent civilians. Many of those troops, bullets and bombs came through Shannon Airport. Why will the Government not search the planes and why will the Tánaiste not take a position on it? If she says that we are for peace and neutrality, we would not allow one of our airports to be used as a military base by anybody. We are allowing Shannon Airport to be used as a US military base to bomb the homes of people and destroy untold lives and countries. A total of 33 million people have been displaced today because of war and whether the Tánaiste likes it or not, the US military machine and the western allies are the cause of most of it. We are complicit by allowing them to use Shannon Airport to do so. Before the election, will the Tánaiste promise that if she is re-elected, she will insist on US military planes being searched? We need Shannon Airport to be a civilian airport again. The Irish people do not want it to be a military base for the US war machine.

Ireland is a neutral country. The Deputy may choose to interpret the role of the Irish Army, Irish peacekeepers and Irish gardaí in a different way but what our armed forces are used for-----

(Interruptions).

Hold on, I did not interrupt Deputy Mick Wallace. What we do as a neutral country is take part in peacekeeping missions and conflict prevention missions around the world at the request of the United Nations, subject to the triple lock. To a degree, some of the language used by Deputy Mick Wallace is what would be called "dog whistle politics" in Australia. In other words, he is basically implying that there are utterly illegal actions by authorities in Ireland. He is suggesting that Shannon is a military airport, which is fanciful in the extreme. Does he understand what the consequences of his statements might be in terms of the safety of people in Ireland? I ask him to-----

(Interruptions).

In fairness to Deputy Mick Wallace-----

(Interruptions).

This is Deputy Mick Wallace's question.

In fairness to him, I am just saying it is to be considered in the language used by him about Irish airports, people, troops and facilities. If he has any information that leads him to believe that Shannon has become a military airport, will he make that information available? I ask him to be careful. As an island nation, we are neutral and we use the Army and our troops for peacekeeping and conflict prevention. For the Deputy to suggest just for the sake of some potential media coverage that this is other than a neutral country may end up putting Irish people and institutions at risk, something I am sure he would not wish for.

(Interruptions).