Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I will take eight minutes and my party colleagues will take the remaining 12 minutes. I am delighted to speak on the Bill. To set out the parameters of why we brought it forward, there is no doubt that we have a problem in Irish society in terms of fraudulent claims. It is having a deep impact on the cost of insurance and on people who are involved in business across the country and are consistently worried about the fact that a fraudulent claim could be made against them. For that reason and after engaging with many organisations and groups representing retailers, hoteliers, publicans, those who require public liability for their everyday business, motor insurance companies, motorists themselves and just families and individuals who come to our clinics on a continual basis, we have now to accept there is an endemic problem in Ireland with regard to fraudulent claims. That is not being alarmist, it is being factual.

The work group's recommendations highlight the fact that we need to address this and penalise the cheats, to chuck out the cheats and the chancers and support the decent people who, every day of the week, get up, pay their bills, take out their insurance and go about their lawful business. At present, someone who goes into a shop, hops over the counter and takes money from the cash register will more than likely face a penalty and be sanctioned by the State. There would be a Garda investigation, potential prosecution and a conviction. However, another person can walk into that same shop, throw some water in the toilet and pretend to have fallen, feign injury and take a case. There is no sanction whatsoever for that type of fraudulent activity. That wears people down and has an impact on people. I have met families who are their wits' end because they have had several cases taken against them that were shown to be clearly fraudulent by the video evidence that was produced to me. When they went to court, the cases were eventually struck out but there was zero sanction. It is a crime that pays because if someone is found to be making a fraudulent claim, nothing happens.

The purpose of the Bill is to amend section 26 of the original Act to ensure that in the event of a case being struck out because of fraudulent evidence being presented to the court, it would be automatically referred to the DPP. That is not groundbreaking; let us be honest. If one perjures oneself in a court of law, there is a good change the judge will refer it to the DPP anyway because it is an offence. I believe this is the same principle. We have to protect the integrity of the system and of the lawful business that people conduct on a daily basis. We have to penalise and deter those who undermine the insurance concept in this country on a continual basis, which is that we all pay in and in the event of a person being genuinely hurt or injured, he or she can make a claim and receive compensation. We cannot consistently turn a blind eye almost to the point of applauding these chancers, these extortionists, as though somehow if they get away with it, it is a victimless crime. It is not.

We have young people who cannot get car insurance because of escalating costs of insurance in general and the payouts. It has an impact on people if they cannot afford car insurance. Businesses are put to the pin of their collar. In some cases, insurance costs as much as the rates themselves. That is the case for some in my constituency. Anybody who is supportive of those who are law abiding, who get up, work hard, pay their bills and taxes, pay their employees and contribute to society, who are on the front line of serving the public in many cases be it in shops, hotels, other retail facilities, will agree. Faced with a chancer, a fraudster, an extortionist or sometimes a contortionist, with the way they throw themselves around in toilets to feign injury, we must say as a Parliament and as a society that it is not acceptable because this is a crime that has victims. The victims are families running businesses the length and breadth of the country who, night in, night out, have the fear because a letter has come to them from solicitors claiming that their client slipped in a toilet and is looking for however much money in compensation. They know full well that over a period of time they will pay that compensation because their premium rates will go up anyway; that is what happens. I have met families that have been shattered by these experiences. It is blatant extortion and it is not a victimless crime.

I urge that as a House, a Parliament and a Government, we take this seriously and head-on. I ask that the Minister would support this Bill. I know there may be challenges with it but let us not be afraid to go to places we have not gone to in rooting out this endemic undermining of decency. We must support those who are injured and need compensation. However, we should not allow every chancer to undermine the basic structure and fabric of insurance, which is to lighten the burden and ensure that those who are injured receive fair compensation. Those who are undermining it have a lot to answer for. Unfortunately they are never called to book at present. There has never been a prosecution in terms of fraudulent court cases where evidence has been presented. There is no referral to the DPP and, unfortunately, because we do not have a dedicated Garda insurance fraud squad - something I also urge the Minister to address - we cannot investigate these crimes. We cannot prosecute them and, as long as we do not prosecute or sanction, we are sending out a message of encouragement to other chancers.

I genuinely believe that we owe this to those who are on the front line serving the public, whose facilities are being used by the public, to ensure that they are protected and their insurance premiums go to pay for those who are genuinely injured and are seeking redress and compensation, and to dismiss those who are chancers and extortionists - that is what they are.

There are two things to be done. A lot more must be done afterwards but these are priorities in my view. I hope the Bill gets universal support across the House. There is also a need to establish a Garda insurance fraud squad, which is also a key recommendation from the insurance group. That would be self-financing. It would be funded by the industry so there would be no cost to the Exchequer but there would be a huge saving to the insurance industry and more importantly to the policy holders. There would be integrity in the system whereby, when people who are fraudsters and chancers make a claim that is found to be fraudulent by the court, there is at least a referral to the DPP and thereafter prosecution if convicted. I commend the Bill to the House.

I commend my colleague, Deputy Kelleher, for bringing forward this Bill. There is a belief among the public that the State sides with the insurance companies. That is one argument. This Bill is really trying to side with the genuine consumer - the person who is genuinely injured - and with the insurance companies against fraud. This is a practical and long overdue piece of legislation. It beggars belief that the Government has not initiated such a Bill.

Almost from the first day of this Dáil, my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, highlighted the issue of spiralling insurance costs and it still rolls on. The Government seems to be like a rabbit stuck in headlights with its failure to bring forward real and practical solutions to the problem. The Bill before the House is a real and practical solution to part of the problem.

Business people have a litany of stories they tell public representatives with examples of fraudulent claims. These claims have often been left until the latest possible moment as the legal deadline window is about to expire. The cost to business people, which is then obviously passed on to the consumer, is profound with insurance premiums rising exponentially and dramatically. We have scandalously high insurance premiums as a result of this, in part as a result of the cost of litigating claims.

I ask the Minister to cast his mind back to March 2013. This date featured in an article penned by Peter Murtagh of The Irish Times three years later in March 2016 because that was the length of time it took for the case to be prosecuted and arrive in court. It was a pretty surgical and forensic article, entitled Anatomy of a Scam. It is the story of exactly a scam when the plaintiffs were forced by the weight of evidence to abandon their case and withdraw it. Even the judge, Judge Linnane, said it was very clear this was a set-up.

What was scandalous was that no law enforcement officers were waiting at the back of the court to take some of these plaintiffs away in handcuffs, having clearly attempted to commit fraud in court. Subsequently it was not the State that stepped in, even though there appeared to be sufficient legal backup, but it was one of the insurance companies that approached the Garda with a request to prosecute this. That took place in May 2016. The State took no action against this scam.

The Government took no action against this scam, just as the Government's response to rising insurance costs for individuals, businesses, sports clubs and charities has been appalling. The Government has yet to establish a national claims information database. The Government has yet to tackle insurance fraud. The Government has yet to establish an anti-fraud unit in An Garda Síochána. All the while businesses, taxi drivers, charities, organisations and individuals face spiralling motor insurance costs.

Deputy Kelleher mentioned young drivers. Drivers with older cars and older drivers have essentially been put off the road by the rising cost of motor insurance. This Bill is part of Fianna Fáil's response to this issue. It is not our only response; we have proposed two or three other measures. This is a very practical measure to ensure that files for those individuals who are proven to have brought fraudulent cases will be passed directly to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. Passing this Bill would represent a good day's work on the part of this House.

I thank Deputy Kelleher for introducing this highly practical Bill tonight. The country has been crying out for such legislation.

Fianna Fáil is bringing forward the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018 to the Dáil under Private Members' time to clamp down on false and fraudulent insurance claims that are happening on a daily basis. The purpose of our Bill is to amend section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 and to provide that a court that dismisses a case on the basis that it is a fraudulent action must refer the matter to the DPP.

Fianna Fáil has long called for reform of the insurance market. In 2016, the Dáil passed a Fianna Fáil motion calling on the Government to reform the insurance market, to make it more transparent and ultimately to reduce premiums. Motor insurance customers, businesses, charities, sports clubs and many more people continue to face insurance premiums that are far in excess of what is justified or fair. According to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, while premiums have reduced by 11% in 2017, since the start of 2012 premiums have increased by 31%. The Government’s response to rising insurance costs has been appalling. After nearly two years of raising this issue we have yet to see any tangible responses from the Government.

The Bill is a concrete proposal for combatting the excessive costs of insurance for businesses and customers nationwide. When seeking to lower these costs, we must take into account the issue of fraud. While we acknowledge the right of genuine claimants to fair compensation, false and misleading claims have negative consequences for Irish policyholders and further drive up the cost of insurance premiums across the nation.

The working group on insurance costs this year concluded that the major issue in the personal injuries area is the lack of investigation and prosecution for fraud where it occurs. While the working group reported earlier this year that section 26 - the section specifically tasked with dealing with fraud under the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 - is not working effectively, no specific action has been taken by the Government to address this. The Government has yet to establish a national claims information database, has yet to tackle insurance fraud and has yet to take any action on stabilising personal injury claims. The Government has not handled these issues well and I urge the Minister to take on board the measures proposed in the Bill.

While the industry needs to be heard, so too do the countless customers who have been ripped off as their insurance premiums go through the roof. The Bill aims to remedy these issues by amending the provisions of section 26 to allow that where the court has exercised its investigatory function and if it has determined there is sufficient evidence for striking out the claim on the grounds of fraud, there would be an opportunity for the DPP to take it up. The Bill is another front in the battle against the excessive costs of insurance premiums and we look forward to getting cross-party support for it.

Needless to say we have all had experience of this, as my colleagues have alluded to. Business people come to our constituency offices who are crippled with insurance costs and claims. It is bizarre that insurance companies do not liaise, consult or discuss with their policyholders when they decide to pay out on a claim. When somebody makes a claim and the insurance company takes it upon itself to make a payment, the policyholders have no inkling that is happening until after the event and, of course, they pay the ultimate price when their insurance premium goes through the roof. They should be compelled to discuss any claims or settlement with their policyholder before a settlement can be made.

I commend my colleague, Deputy Kelleher, on introducing this much-needed Bill. It is a simple and practical proposed solution to an issue that has dogged business and industry in the insurance area for some time. I sit on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation where we have considered these issues. Many delegations and interest groups from the sector have appeared before the committee to give evidence. The consensus across the board has been that this item has been long in abeyance. It is a boil that needs to be lanced and the Bill represents a step towards doing so. I hope in the spirit of new politics the Bill will progress. I do not know what support it will enjoy from around the House and from the Government in particular. I hope it will be fully supported. It is an example of sensible legislation being advanced as a Private Members' Bill. I hope it can proceed and not be bogged down as many Private Members' Bills have been in the past.

We know the cost of insurance is a huge cost preying on SMEs and the small business sector. In many cases it cripples their ability to be competitive. It also contributes to the cost-of-living increases for the average individual, along with things such as rent, mortgage interest rates, the cost of accessing education, and for younger people in particular, the uncertain work front in terms of the gig economy and uncertain contracts. Insurance is yet another piece into that mix that escalates the cost of living, makes it more difficult and generates more uncertainty in the economy.

Before becoming a Member of this House, one of the things I did was to study for the bar. I was delighted to see the Minister at the Red Mass yesterday marking the start of the new legal term. As a law student a number of years ago on court visits, I was always perplexed when I looked into courts, particularly personal injury cases, to find that while one party wins and one party loses, it was very clear that one party was lying or fabricating evidence and advancing a version of the truth that was found by a judge not to be true. I was always amazed at how those people could walk out of court again unhindered and maybe try it again somewhere else a week later if the opportunity arose.

It seemed there were no consequences relating to this kind of activity, which was rife. It was extraordinary that it was allowed to continue. This is a simple measure which has been recommended on many fronts and I believe it needs to happen.

I do not want to finish on a negative but I have to comment on the lack of action. I studied the report of the cost of insurance working group and I know many different actions were taken. However, while there were to be 11 actions for this year, only one of these appears to have been agreed and followed through on, and that action was to set up a further sub-committee. In terms of tangible actions which can deliver results, I do not believe we have yet seen any, which is unfortunate.

I commend the Bill to the House. It provides an opportunity for all of us to put aside past delays and actions and get behind something that is comprehensive, effective and can deliver results.

I thank Deputy Kelleher for introducing the Bill. I very much appreciate that the objective of the Bill is to deal with the issue of insurance fraud, particularly as it arises in cases which may come to be dismissed under the specific terms of section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. On behalf of the Government, I am, therefore, pleased to note the content of the Bill and to say it will not be opposed on Second Stage. I am doing this on the basis that substantial amendments to the Bill will be required and proposed by the Government on Committee Stage for reasons that I will outline and which Deputy Kelleher will fully appreciate. I welcome his initiative.

As Members will be aware, section 26 of the 2004 Act deals with the issue of dismissal on the basis of false or misleading evidence given in a personal injuries action. It does this both in regard to the relevant proceedings and to any affidavit sworn in support of those proceedings under section 14 of the Act. The court shall dismiss an action in such circumstances "unless, for reasons that the court shall state in its decision, the dismissal of the action would result in injustice being done". When considering this section, we should also remember section 25. That section already makes it an offence to give or adduce false or misleading evidence in personal injuries cases. It similarly makes it an offence to give, or dishonestly cause to be given, an instruction or information to a solicitor or a person acting on behalf of a solicitor or an expert in regard to a personal injuries action. For the purposes of section 25, the act is done dishonestly if the person does it "with the intention of misleading the court".

As reflected in Deputy Kelleher's introduction, the underlying challenge is, therefore, to make sections 25 and 26 of the 2004 Act more effective in their implementation, particularly in terms of dealing with any fraud which may lie behind them. I want to assure the Deputy that this specific issue is one of which I am acutely aware. It is among those matters being considered by the cost of insurance working group established by the Minister for Finance in July 2016 and chaired by Minister of State, Deputy D’Arcy. The objective of the working group is to identify and examine the drivers of the cost of insurance, and recommend short, medium and longer-term measures to address the issue of increasing insurance costs. A significant factor identified by the working group in its reports, which are publicly available with action updates on the Department of Finance website, is the impact of fraudulent insurance claims.

The group published its report in January 2017 and its further report on the cost of employer and public liability insurance in January 2018. My own Department or An Garda Síochána are the lead entities in respect of 17 out of 48 recommendations that have arisen from these reports, and a number of them also involve the Courts Service in their delivery. The working group has brought together all the relevant Departments and offices involved with the process, for example, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and the State Claims Agency. In addition, the working group embarked on an extensive consultation process and met with the key stakeholders, including Insurance Ireland, and considered submissions received. As part of that process, the need has been highlighted for greater operational linkage between sections 25 and 26, and for greater follow-up to personal injury cases in terms of prosecuting alleged insurance fraud. Key to this approach has been the convening of a fraud round-table by the Department of Finance in late 2017, which is progressing a number of fraud-specific recommendations, including with the direct support of my Department.

In its report on the cost of motor insurance published in January 2017, the working group reviewed sections 25 and 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. It noted that the number of recorded prosecutions and convictions for the offence of false evidence in section 25 is very low and that this suggests a need for further co-operation between the insurance industry and An Garda Síochána. On the basis that much more could be done by the insurance industry and other defendants to pursue allegations of insurance fraud, and that the framework for the reporting of alleged insurance fraud cases to the Garda authorities is now being strengthened, the working group was satisfied that sections 25 and 26 did not need further review.

In its January 2018 report on the cost of employer and public liability insurance, the working group further acknowledged that the decision to apply section 26 is a difficult one. There are a range of considerations to be taken into account by the judge concerned in determining whether fraudulent or misleading evidence given in any claim is “material” to the claim on the basis of the evidence put before him or her, or whether there is any injustice that would be caused if the claim were dismissed. The working group was again of the view “that appropriate use of the legislative provisions in the 2004 Act could be facilitated by encouraging industry to make complaints to An Garda Síochána where they believed fraud to have featured in claims”.

The group also believed that more could be done to establish a nexus between the relevant stakeholders to allow for the claims of fraud to be investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted. It also considered that it was not conducive to the effective tackling of insurance fraud if there was a systematic view among defendants or their legal advisers that raising an allegation of fraud under section 26 of the 2004 Act may carry a risk of awards of aggravated damages.

As a direct result of these deliberations, a number of measures are being taken by the Government by way of ensuring that sections 25 and 26 can have their intended effect. Recommendations 11 and 12 of the working group’s January 2018 report concern the production of statistics by An Garda Síochána and the Courts Service on complaints, investigations, prosecutions and convictions relating to fraud within the personal injuries area. I understand it is anticipated that the necessary PULSE update will be in place for the end of this month. Recommendation 13 of that report recommends that Insurance Ireland, An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions agree a set of guidelines in respect of the reporting of suspected fraudulent insurance claims. As a result, I am happy to report that the new guidelines for the reporting of allegations of fraudulent insurance claims to An Garda Síochána were published yesterday, as agreed between the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and Insurance Ireland.

I also intend to introduce, as recommended, an early amendment to section 14 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, which deals with the matter of a verifying affidavit in a personal injuries action, as referred to in section 26 of that Act. The amendment, if enacted, would provide for a court hearing a personal injuries action, where there is a failure to lodge an affidavit in court by the set deadline, to draw inferences and deduct costs from the party responsible for this failure. While these are just some examples, it will be appreciated that a concerted policy approach is, therefore, being taken by the Government with the support of the cost of insurance working group and its round-table on fraud. This represents a series of mutually reinforcing measures that, in their collective implementation, will give greater effect to sections 25 and 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004.

I now turn to some specific issues that arise in regard to Deputy Kelleher's proposed amendment under the Bill that will need to be considered. While it has been the case that judges have ordered matters to be brought to the attention of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in some instances, the director would generally refer any alleged criminal matters onwards for the consideration of An Garda Síochána. The office has confirmed to my Department that it is not within the function of the director, as prescribed in the Prosecution of Offences Act of 1974, to investigate the commission of criminal offences or to direct An Garda Síochána to do so, or as to the manner in which this should be done. Accordingly, where there is a question of whether there should be an investigation into the commission of a criminal offence, in this case of alleged insurance fraud, it is considered that it should be referred to An Garda Síochána.

Another fundamental consideration is that of differing standards of proof. Where a case is dismissed under the terms of section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, this is a matter on which the court has been satisfied on the balance of probabilities that false or misleading evidence was intentionally provided. It would be for another court to decide in the context of a criminal trial whether it was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that an offence was committed under section 25 or any other relevant provision.

Consideration must be given to the mandatory referral of transcripts and evidence as proposed in the Bill as that might well be seen as an interference with the separation of powers in so far as it removed discretion from the Judiciary. A number of other concerns have been raised regarding the referral of court transcripts on practical grounds of availability, cost and the fact that there may be reasons this would be contrary to the interests of justice in particular cases. Examples might include referring an entire transcript where there is sensitive personal or medical information or transcripts involving minors or in camera proceedings. However, while further consideration will be given to these and other matters, I am happy to note that the content of the Bill proposed by Deputy Billy Kelleher is not being opposed on the understanding that serious amendment will be required and proposed by the Government on Committee Stage.

I thank the Minister.

Account must also be taken of the ongoing programme of action by the Government to address fraud and costs as they relate to the insurance sector, building on the ongoing work of the cost of insurance working group.

Sinn Féin will support the Bill on Second Stage although issues have been identified for examination on Committee Stage. The intention behind the Bill, which is positive, is to provide that where a court has dismissed a personal injury insurance claim on the basis that it is a fraudulent action, it will be referred automatically to the DPP. Many of us have been lobbied by businesses, community organisations, GAA clubs and so on as to the huge impact of significant insurance premiums, not only on profit-making organisations but on voluntary non-profit making organisations. It is a major issue which is causing businesses to question their viability and community organisations to raise funds which might otherwise have been applied to equipment or renovations just to keep operations on the road. The cost of insurance is a very real issue for society and where false claims are made, money is being taken indirectly or directly from the pockets of other citizens, including those making legitimate claims. Those who make false claims cause an injury to society as a whole.

As matters stands, where a personal injury claim is brought before the courts and dismissed on the basis that false or misleading evidence was given by the person taking the claim, it is rare that a prosecution for attempted insurance fraud occurs. The Bill intends to change that state of affairs and to act as a deterrent to the bringing of fraudulent claims by providing for all files to be sent to the DPP. The Minister has referred to the separation of powers and to the different burdens of proof which apply and these are reasonable. However, the legislation does not propose that this process would lead automatically to a criminal case in court. Rather, it merely contemplates the DPP receiving the file. It would be the function of the DPP thereafter to consider it. Potentially, that would require additional resources as this could be labour intensive work and that is a question of whether we are serious about tackling insurance fraud. The DPP could evaluate the merits of an individual case and state whether there was a chance of success on the basis of a burden of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt. I do not know, therefore, if the Minister's concerns are borne out in that it does not automatically follow that there would be a subsequent court case. If a second court case occurred, judges would have to take into account the nature of the evidence presented, whether there was an intention to mislead the courts in seeking or obtaining a financial settlement and whether it is proper that this happens given that we see a knock-on effect on those seeking to get insured with costs being exorbitant.

While Sinn Féin is happy to support the Bill and hopes to see it progress, it cannot be taken in isolation when it comes to the overall reform of the insurance industry. While the Bill represents a sensible step, it will not do all that much to tackle high insurance costs borne by individuals and businesses. Section 2 proposes to insert a subsection at section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, which deals with fraudulent actions. To a certain extent, section 25(2) of the Act already deals with the issue and provides:

If, after the commencement of this section, a person gives, or dishonestly causes to be given, an instruction or information, in relation to a personal injuries action, to a solicitor, or person acting on behalf of a solicitor, or an expert, that—

(a) is false or misleading in any material respect, and

(b) he or she knows to be false or misleading,

he or she shall be guilty of an offence.

The Bill appears to create a mechanism to further advance the law as it exists to ensure it is enforced on a more frequent and firm basis.

Last month, new judicial guidelines for personal injury claims were recommended as a matter of urgency in an official report of Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns who stated that while genuine claimants need adequate compensation, the negative impact of high premiums on businesses and consumers had to be recognised. According to the Personal Injuries Commission, compensation for whiplash claims in the State are running at 4.4 times the level in Britain. The commission found that the average soft-tissue award in Ireland is €17,338 compared with just €3,984 in Britain. Having said that, there is a balance to be struck in these matters. The Law Society has expressed the view that simply lowering damages will not automatically mean lower premiums. It could be that simply reducing damages in a blunt way could take money from deserving persons who have suffered injury through not fault of their own and put it in the pockets of what are already very profitable insurance companies. While we should proceed, it should be with due care for the interests of genuine claimants who I would like to think represent a substantial category if not the majority of claimants.

The Chief Justice, Mr. Frank Clarke, has signalled his agreement with the findings of the report and stated that an overall set of judge-made guidelines would contribute not only to consistency but to the proper calibration of the overall level of awards. He cautioned that new guidelines should not be too rigid, which is something that needs to be taken on board. The model referred to in the Bill might be useful and is not dissimilar to a model I have proposed more generally on sentencing guidelines in the Judicial Council Bill. Guidelines for judges are useful tools when utilised correctly and would be highly beneficial to all parties.

Regarding insurance more generally, my party received documentation under freedom of information a few months ago which revealed a series of missed deadlines by Insurance Ireland since early 2017 to progress the proposal to set up an insurance fraud unit, funded by the insurance industry, within An Garda Síochána. Unfortunately, this has led to a delay in the establishment of that unit. This unit has long been called for and Sinn Féin supports its establishment, which would be of use. However, Insurance Ireland has dragged its feet. This has been on the agenda since early 2017 and was recommended in the report on the cost of motor insurance of January 2017. An Garda Síochána submitted a mechanism for further co-operation with Insurance Ireland in the first quarter of 2017 and this was due to be discussed that year by Insurance Ireland. Insurance Ireland deferred discussion until September 2017 and was due to communicate with the Garda in October 2017. By December 2017, Insurance Ireland had come up with a proposal for a full cost-benefit analysis for a proposal it had initially proposed itself, subject to approval by the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Given that Insurance Ireland has made a point of identifying fraud as a cause of insurance premium increases, one would have thought that a cost-benefit analysis would have been relatively straightforward. It is unfortunate that we have allowed time to slip by. One has to question how serious Insurance Ireland was about the proposal in the first place. Insurance fraud is theft and should be pursued rigorously and prosecuted. However, this is not a model we should have spent time waiting on. We have serious concerns about the proposal that a section of An Garda Síochána be funded by industry. The independence of An Garda Síochána is essential but a direct funding relationship with private interests would undermine that independence.

There are, more generally, alternatives to a pure reliance on the private market. The State makes motor insurance compulsory but leaves it up to the private market to provide it. That is the deal, but the private market is not upholding its part of the deal. The State should, therefore, seriously examine alternatives. In New Zealand, for example, all drivers are covered for the basic legal requirements by paying their registration and, if they have petrol vehicles, a few cents at the pump. No young person or isolated family would face being off the road because of the whims of an industry that cannot get its story straight as to why premiums are so high and in constant flux. This is a viable alternative. Of course, there would have to be discussions with the EU, but the Central Bank in briefings has not ruled this out as contrary to EU or Irish legislation. This is the kind of thinking we need and the kind that Sinn Féin believes we must pursue.

The insurance industry is under investigation by the competition authorities not only domestically but also at EU level over anti-competitive practices, so any such Garda fraud unit should be funded by the State and at the cost of approximately €1 million. I believe this is within the capacity of Government. This has been allowed to slip off the agenda or at least has been slowed down by an abdication of the State's responsibility in allowing Insurance Ireland to string the rest of it along. If we are serious about tackling fraud, sound bites will not suffice. The lack of action in this area is unfortunate. Insurance fraud is not to be taken lightly and has wider ramifications for society as a whole. I outlined at the start of my contribution that it has serious implications not only for employers but also for voluntary organisations and community associations. It must be tackled head-on using a suite of measures. I hope all parties can commit to this on a legislative basis and in a broader policy sense. It is time for a serious discussion on where we go from here regarding the insurance sector more generally. I also hope all parties and stakeholders will come together to tackle an industry on which the softly-softly approach has not worked. We must act in the interests of people rather than the interests of the industry, and I hope this legislation falls within that approach.

I thank Deputy Kelleher for bringing forward this Bill. As my colleague, Deputy Ó Laoghaire, said, Sinn Féin will support it.

The Bill seeks to amend the 2004 Act such that when a court has dismissed a case on the basis of it being a fraudulent action, it is automatically referred to the DPP. The current situation, whereby someone appears before a court and tells what can be clearly proven to be blatant lies in trying to get compensation and whereby the defendant must take it upon himself or herself to seek justice, is simply not acceptable. Such cases should be automatically referred to the DPP. I am a member of the business committee, as Deputy Lawless said earlier. As part of the recent report we did on the cost of doing business in this country, we had many stakeholders and businesses before the committee and we talked about the issues affecting them such as rates, pay and so on. The biggest issue, however, and the one that dominated our discussion was insurance: the ever-increasing cost of insurance premiums and the cost borne by people having to defend cases that are clearly false.

The Alliance for Insurance Reform has done sterling work on this issue. The alliance is a non-political group that brings together 20 civic and business organisations from across Ireland, including charities, representing 35,000 members, more than 633,000 employees and 41,000 volunteers in community groups throughout the State. The alliance has been at the fore in campaigning for action to be taken on escalating insurance costs for businesses and charities. It has cited amendment of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 as one of its ten asks in addressing the problem of escalating insurance costs. As part of the presentation - not the business presentation, but the outreach to different groups and so on - we saw various videos in which people basically staged fraudulent future claims. They were busying themselves falling in shops and restaurants and they were throwing water on the ground and then suddenly slipping on it. The person who threw the water on the ground for the other person to slip on was the witness. These cases were brought to court and there was no prosecution of the people involved when the cases were subsequently discovered to be fraudulent. In some cases, insurance companies did not pursue the fraudulent person but the insurance premium of the company increased massively.

The alliance has expressed its huge and intense disappointment with the slow pace of reform and has said policyholders have been thrown to the wolves by the Government, with which I agree. Over many years, the cost of public liability insurance has been a consistent problem. Not alone does it affect small and medium-sized businesses, pubs and other local sites of social activities throughout Ireland, in particular rural Ireland, but it also affects things like children's playgrounds, GAA social club centres and taxi drivers. It has the effect of closing down many small enterprises, with the consequence that people become unemployed. Businesses are being bled dry by outrageous increases in insurance premiums, which are forcing some low-margin enterprises out of business. I am sure all Deputies have heard the same stories from businesses and community groups that I have heard again and again about the large premium increases, which are hampering their growth and forcing some businesses to close down.

We need a serious, far-reaching and radical shake-up of the insurance system in Ireland. The recently announced Garda fraud unit is welcome, but there is significant concern that it will be funded directly by insurers, which should not be the case. Earlier Sinn Féin launched its pre-budget proposals, which contained provisions to fund the Garda fraud unit from public sources. There is a clear need for such a unit. However, it is the role of An Garda Síochána to form such a unit, and it should be funded from State resources. Fine Gael has been in government for seven years, and it seems all we have got so far is the cost of insurance working group. This group, however, has not brought about any reduction whatsoever in insurance costs. The Government's approach has been described as death by 1,000 consultations, which is an accurate portrayal. Every time we raise this issue we are referred to some new report, consultation, discussion or working group. We do not need any more of this; we need real, tangible and far-reaching action.

I again thank Deputy Kelleher for bringing forward this Bill. I hope Fianna Fáil will use some of its influence in the coalition deal to ensure that insurance costs are tackled to help businesses across Ireland.

Bogfaimid ar aghaidh anois chuig na rural Independents. Glaoim ar an Teachta Michael Collins. He has nine minutes.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate, as it will have an effect on lowering the price of insurance, which I fully support. The purpose of the Bill is that in the future, when a court has dismissed a case on the basis of it being a fraudulent action, it is automatically referred to the DPP. I welcome this change because, currently, our system allows people to get away with fraudulent cases in the courts. If an insurance claim is taken to court and the evidence presented shows it to be fraudulent, it is often the case that no action is taken against the claimant. Our insurance companies tell us that to factor in fraudulent claims, a cost is built into insurance premiums. We are too well aware of the crippling insurance costs being experienced by anyone who has car, home, farm or business insurance. The list is endless because the bottom line is that right across the board, insurance costs have risen to an all-time high and it is clear that these increased premiums are because of insurance companies having to factor in fraudulent claims.

I am inundated with representations from constituents who are distressed and upset because of the quotes they are getting for motor insurance. Why should the honest, everyday person have to suffer these high premiums because of the illegal activities of others? It is time we stood up and took action. I welcome this Bill as it is a step in the right direction. I support any individuals and business owners who go about their day-to-day lives and business lawfully. We have seen businesses suffer greatly with crippling insurance costs, with their public liability insurance increasing by as much as 70% in the past four years. An example of this is a wonderful business in my constituency that had to go public on this matter. I refer to the West Cork Secret gardens in Kilbrittain, an important amenity in west Cork. It is used by people far and wide and provides much needed employment in a rural area. It has found its insurance premium going from under €5,000 a year to more than €20,000, which is outrageous. How does the Minister or anyone else expect any business to cover an insurance hike as high as that?

The rising cost of insurance premiums is putting significant pressure on businesses and is not in any way helping any business to keep its doors open. It is clear that fraudulent insurance claims are having a negative impact on businesses and their owners. Can this Government put its hand on its heart and say it has considered the emotional and psychological impact of this on small business owners? I have met constituents who are business owners, such as garage owners, self-employed people, tradespeople, publicans, nightclub owners, hoteliers - the list goes on. These business owners can often be threatened by being taken to court by fraudsters, and what normally happens is that the insurance company settles out of court because fighting the claim in court is not worth the hassle.

This has to stop. Going forward, if an insurance claim is taken to court and the evidence presented shows it to be fraudulent, the Director of Public Prosecutions needs to prosecute these fraudsters. There is an opportunity here for the Garda and an insurance fraud squad to be employed to investigate these fraudsters. It is high time we stopped allowing these fraudulent claims to continue. I have not seen this Government make a meaningful effort to address this issue. Under the programme for Government there is an obligation on the Government to act on this issue, particularly given that the cost of insurance working group was established with that purpose in mind. I urge this Government to address this matter in a meaningful way. There should be no more pussyfooting around. It is time real action was taken. I commend Deputy Kelleher for tabling this motion.

I am delighted to be able to speak on the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018. I thank Deputy Kelleher for bringing it forward. The provision for the transfer of court transcripts to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in cases where individuals have made fraudulent claims is long overdue and very welcome. I only hope that the Director of Public Prosecutions will have the resources, staff and appetite to deal with it. As Deputy Kelleher noted when introducing the Bill on First Stage, there is good evidence to suggest that, in order to factor in the cost of fraudulent claims, a large cost is built into the insurance premiums of businesses across the State, which leads to uncompetitiveness.

I have to declare that I am a businessman myself. I have insurance and it is just out of control. One pays for everything. One gets less and less cover while paying more and more. If the insurance companies were proactive and challenged the fraudsters they would do a lot better. Deputy Kelleher also reminded the House that evidence provided by Insurance Ireland and many other groups dealing with the matter indicates a systematic abuse of the courts process by fraudulent claimants and that businesses throughout the country have seen their public liability insurance increase by as much as 70% in the past four years. Some have seen increases of 100% and a startling 150%.

While all this is true, I still think the focus of the Bill is misplaced. Of course we need to challenge those who make fraudulent claims, but what of the insurance companies themselves that seek to manipulate the level of risk to justify exorbitant and scandalous increases in premiums? Deputy Stanton is a Government Minister of State. There was a report compiled; it went on for nearly two years and came up with something like 70 recommendations. A maximum of five would have done. That was passing the buck and diluting it further, so nothing came out of it. Who is going to challenge these people or these organisations when they submit highly misleading data on the nature of the risks they face in order to squeeze the last drop of financial blood from young drivers or from those seeking to renew their insurance cover? It is a cartel. If it looks like a cartel and walks like a cartel, it is a cartel. That is what it is. Whether someone is a young driver or an old driver, a haulier or working in plant hire, a shopkeeper or an undertaker, a hairdresser or a chemist, everyone is facing it. It is just beyond a joke. We are standing idly by while these people are forced out of business. They really are persecuted by these exorbitant rates and they have nowhere else to go.

I accept that the Bill before us needed to be targeted and specific, but it remains the case that we urgently need to introduce a system in this State whereby, when insurance companies cannot verify their pricing levels, a file should be prepared and sent to something akin to the fraud squad for investigation. Of course, the fraud squad is understaffed. There is no appetite across all the regulators and other bodies to deal with this. A blind person could see what is going on.

Last year we saw motor insurance providers in Ireland being subjected to a series of raids - which we welcome - as part of an investigation into suspected anti-competitive practices by agents from the European competition authorities. Europeans had to come in. It was not our own regulators or our own agents. They all seem to be - I will not say complicit - ignoring what is going on. The agents were accompanied by their counterparts from the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, during the operation. It is a case of bringing a horse to water but not being able to make it drink. Why did the CCPC not do this itself? Why did we have to have the Europeans come in? Everybody knows it is a scam.

In a statement the European Commission said it had "concerns that the companies involved may have engaged in anti-competitive practices in breach of EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices and/or abuse of a dominant market position". Anti-competitiveness is exactly what Deputy Kelleher said he hoped this Bill would tackle. It is just a pity it does not include the insurance companies as well as those who seek to rip them off, because they are all part of it. We saw the advertisement about the fraudulent claimants with their hands in our pockets on RTÉ for a long time, but the insurance companies have their hands in our pockets and they have the lining burst. They have gone down to the bottom of the cuffs of the trousers. They are just piling on the premiums and they do not care about the people they are hurting. As I have said, there are excesses for this and that and they will not challenge these cases. They will settle them on the steps of the court. One ends up paying out for a huge legal bill from both the insurance company and the claimant. It is farcical. The lawyers, the fat cats, have to take their share of the blame as well.

This stinks to high heaven. It is crippling our fledgling businesses, it is turning off entrepreneurs and it is destroying community groups, GAA clubs and whatever else one could name. There were nightclub owners in here telling us about 200% increases in their premiums. We cannot afford it. When people are intoxicated and fall down steps in a nightclub, cognisance must be taken of such things. We cannot have a kindergarten minding people inside the nightclub. We must have realpolitik here. We must tackle the insurance companies as well as the fraudsters because they are all in it together. Money is going around but he who pays the piper calls the tune. People are tired of paying the piper. They cannot afford to do it any more. This is damaging jobs.

I am sharing time with my colleagues. As we know, this Bill seeks to reduce the number of fraudulent insurance claims by ensuring that false claims are dealt with under the law, and rightly so. I commend my colleague, Deputy Kelleher, on bringing this forward. Fraudulent insurance claims are costing each and every consumer hundreds of euro. They add to the costs of businesses, car owners, house owners, and sports and community buildings. They are all impacted. One of the most effective and visual advertisements that I have ever seen on our screens is that particular advertisement that shows people taking money out of our pockets. That is absolutely what fraudulent insurance claims are doing and that is why insurance premiums are continuing to rise. It is absolutely down to fraudulent claims.

We know from the CSO that since the start of 2012 premiums have increased by 31%. It was even higher, but last year there was a slight reduction. Unfortunately we do not know by how much business insurance has increased because no index is kept. That is also wrong because we need to be able to measure these things in order to be able to help and support businesses when they are in crisis. This is one of the things that puts them into crisis. We simply must make would-be fraudsters think twice about making false claims. We absolutely must clamp down on false insurance claims because they are driving up the premiums for everyone else and adding to the rising cost of living.

Currently, even when false claims are identified, legal action against them most often does not ensue. This absolutely needs to be dealt with. That is why Deputy Kelleher drafted this Bill. If passed, this Bill will ensure that those who engage in this criminal activity - and let us not for a second think it is anything else - will be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. We need to make it absolutely clear to would-be false claimants that if their claim is determined to be false they will face consequences. Anyone who suffers injury or harm resulting from an accident is, of course, deserving of fair compensation. We absolutely acknowledge the right of genuine claimants to fair compensation. However, many criminals are making false claims for compensation and, very unfortunately, insurers in Ireland have a habit of paying out compensation without appropriate investigations and without any consultation with those who are paying their insurance premiums. In many cases, the person who has had a claim made against him or her only finds out when his or her premium rises the following year.

There is no doubt that false and misleading claims have very many negative consequences for Irish policyholders and further drive up the cost of insurance premiums. We absolutely need to make sure that we stop that and show the decent people of this country that we are on their side and are doing our best to stop these fraudulent claims.

Fianna Fáil has long called for reform of the insurance market. In June 2016, a Dáil motion was successfully passed by our party calling on the Government to reform the market, make it more transparent and reduce the cost of premiums. However, the Government's response to rising insurance costs for individuals, businesses, sporting clubs and charities has been appalling. After two years of raising this issue, we have yet to see any tangible responses from the Government. The Government has yet to establish a national claims information database, tackle insurance fraud, establish an anti-fraud unit in An Garda Síochána, establish an index to track business insurance premiums and take any action on stabilising personal injury claims.

This is another front in the battle against the excessive costs of insurance premiums. We look forward to getting cross-party support for this Bill on Second Stage. I commend it to the House.

This Bill highlights a further example of Fianna Fáil trying to tackle rising insurance premiums. I commend my party colleague, Deputy Kelleher, on his work in this area. For the past several years, premiums for motor, public liability, house and health insurance have all risen. I have dealt with many small businesses in Enniscorthy, Gorey, New Ross and Wexford where insurance costs are crippling their opportunities to trade. Individuals, charities, community groups and sports clubs are also badly affected. Their insurance bills are a kick in the teeth for their honest hard work and, even more so, when those bills are going up because of fraud.

I want to specifically address the growing scam of cash-for-crash cases. They involve a set-up where a car is rolled into a wall or deliberately driven into the back of a friend's car to allow all involved put in claims. These manufactured collisions put other people's livelihoods at risk, risk injuries and drive up premiums. It is dangerous, reckless and relies on intimidation, theft, fraud, perjury and conspiracy. Those involved are not worried about being caught because, even if they are, there is no follow-up. The Garda claims it does not have the resources to follow up on these types of fraud.

Effectively, the con is on because these people are getting away with it. Until individuals are sent to prison, it will not stop. We need to see more action in this area to tackle those fraudsters, to see them brought before the courts and going to prison.

The complaint from motorists, businesses, charities and sports clubs is that their insurance costs are rising. Deputy Kelleher is bang on the button with the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018. The public is frustrated by the Government's slow response in respect of this issue. While I acknowledge that certain actions have been taken, the reality is that addressing this needs to be speeded up and we need to get results.

I have raised before in this Chamber the example of a local family hotel in my constituency. Several years ago, its public liability insurance cost €12,500. When it was reassessed, it increased to €21,000. It is now at €50,000 because the hotel had two small claims made against it. Only last night, a family member told me that they will not be able to continue in business if this continues. There is not a realisation as to how many groups and businesses are on the brink because of massive insurance costs.

The organising committee of one of the country's most famous and oldest fairs, the Ballinasloe horse fair, had to have several meetings this year to see if it could obtain insurance cover. Its insurance this year to cover a few days came to a whopping €14,000. This is a voluntary group in Ballinasloe town that has been organising the fair for many years. It had asked public representatives to help but there was little we could do. To fork out €14,000, before even covering other costs, is a high price for a community group.

GAA clubs and other voluntary groups are telling us that their insurance costs have increased. Many involved are asking whether, in light of rising insurance costs, their community groups can remain in existence. Festivals add to the economy. If we did not have them in many counties, local economic activity would be reduced. The organising committees involved are asking serious questions regarding what they can do about rising insurance costs.

The Government seems to roll over on certain issues and is moving slowly. We must leap into action, get decisions quickly and deal with these fraudsters and others who, without question, have got away with unacceptable behaviour for many years. The European Commission is continuing its investigation into alleged anti-competitive behaviour in the Irish insurance market. That inquiry has been going on for some time now. Surely some results should be coming from that. We hope that in the near future we will get those results.

I commend the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018 to the House. I hope we can move forward in bringing reductions to insurance costs to the many groups and organisations to which I have referred.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, I thank Deputy Kelleher for the further responses he has provided on this proposed Bill. I also thank those Members who have participated in enriching our debate on Second Stage. As the Minister stated, there is a common objective shared by Deputy Kelleher's Bill and the Government's initiative of establishing the cost of insurance working group and its round-table on fraud to reform the insurance sector. I also acknowledge the various concerns expressed by Deputies about the high cost of insurance in this jurisdiction and the adverse impacts of such high insurance costs on private citizens and enterprise. I have had discussions with businesses and concerned citizens about this. The Government is taking this matter seriously, as are all Members who spoke tonight.

Every effort is being made to address these issues and what is colloquially described as the claims culture that drives them. As has been outlined, the Department of Justice and Equality is doing its part in addressing these matters under 17 of the 48 recommendations made in the reports of the cost of insurance working group. These reports cover in their scope motor insurance, personal liability insurance and employer insurance as areas which give rise to particular concern. Along with the Minister for Finance and the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, who chairs the working group, all members of the Government are determined that real headway now be made in addressing these matters with lasting effect.

The reform measures recommended by the cost of insurance working group extend beyond those which fall under the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality or Deputy Kelleher's proposed amendment. For example, the Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Bill 2018, introduced by the Minister for Finance, passed Second Stage on 20 September 2018. This is a product of the work of the cost of insurance working group where it emerged that it was essential that there be an improvement in transparency around what was causing premiums to be so volatile, both up and down, over relatively short periods. The group, therefore, recommended the establishment of a national claims information database on a legislative basis to facilitate a more in-depth analysis of annual claims trends of motor insurance claims. This will be key to developing an understanding of how claims costs are impacting premiums, in particular understanding the relationship between the price paid by a customer for motor insurance and the cost to insurance undertakings.

A key component of these overall reform efforts is the need to tackle insurance fraud. This includes giving renewed focus and effective follow-up in the courts to the provisions of sections 25 and 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, which lies at the root of Deputy Kelleher's Bill. It is fair to say that we are on the same road in this regard.

To bring these initiatives to their shared destination, we just need to adjust some of the signposts along the way.

Given the broad range of challenges being faced, section 26 of the 2004 Act will not solve all our problems on its own; even if amended, it can only give rise to a limited number of outcomes in terms of alleged insurance fraud. In making these remarks I would therefore draw renewed attention to the fact that in its report on the cost of employer and public liability insurance, the working group expressed the belief that "in order for section 26 to achieve more effectively its aim of tackling personal injury fraud, there is a major onus on defendants to challenge misleading evidence, where appropriate by taking it to court, rather than settling on the court steps for fear of an unsatisfactory outcome”. As mentioned by the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, the working group was also of the view "that appropriate use of the legislative provisions in the 2004 Act could be facilitated by encouraging industry to make complaints to An Garda Síochána where they believe fraud to have featured in claims". Yesterday's publication of the new guidelines for the reporting of allegations of fraudulent insurance claims to An Garda Síochána, which have been agreed between the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and Insurance Ireland, is, I believe Members will agree, a good example of the kind of encouraging measures that we need in this regard.

These concerted reform initiatives represent a series of mutually reinforcing measures that, in their collective implementation, will strengthen sections 25 and 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act. I look forward with the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, to our ongoing consideration of Deputy Kelleher's amendment Bill, including the substantial amendments to the Bill that will be required and which I expect will be proposed by the Government on Committee Stage. As the Minister said earlier, we are not opposing this proposed legislation.

Fianna Fáil has tabled this Bill in an effort to alleviate the crippling costs of insurance for homeowners, individuals and businesses, which is ultimately brought on as a result of false insurance claims. As the Minister is aware, the cost of living is very high and part of that is attributable to the cost of insurance. It is crippling people. Therefore, anything that can be done to alleviate this problem is very welcome.

Spiralling business and motor insurance costs are undermining the competitiveness of the State and putting businesses and households under severe pressure. In my constituency of Cork South-West, I have been inundated with people contacting me who quite simply cannot cover the cost of insurance for their property, be it their car, house or business, and often those who do manage to come up with the money are struggling financially in other parts of their lives.

As my colleague pointed out, anyone who suffers injury as a result of an accident is entitled to fair compensation. However, criminals who are all but making a career from false insurance claims need to feel the full force of the law. The very fact that premiums have increased by 31% since 2012 is indicative of a system that is lawless and without recourse. That coupled with the lack of any reasonable interactive method of recording information relating to those who make false claims is simply unbelievable in this day and age.

As the law stands, even those with false claim allegations levied against them may not face a legal action. This amendment will go a long way towards remedying this as a fundamental claim may be referred by the court to the DPP. I am glad that the Minister of State is supporting this Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. I commend my colleague, Deputy Kelleher, on once again highlighting it, as well as Deputy Michael McGrath, who has been working on this topic for many years.

A consistent question I am asked in constituency clinics and when I meet the people of Kerry is: "Why are insurance costs so high?" They find the costs very difficult to comprehend. They also ask why we, as legislators, cannot do something about it. There is an onus on us, once and for all, to do something about the spiralling insurance costs that are crippling many businesses.

I attended a briefing given by the Alliance for Insurance Reform in the audiovisual room a few months ago. More than 20 different industry groups were represented, including hoteliers, the car rental sector, the Construction Industry Federation, the Galway City Business Association and so on. A person attending that briefing who, I believe, was from a Galway fast-food chain showed a video of an individual setting himself up for a false insurance claim. He went into the washroom area of one of the facilities, threw water on the floor, broke up his mobile phone, put water on himself and then went out and claimed he had fallen and broken his phone, and looked for €500. Thankfully, the owner has closed circuit television, CCTV, footage of the incident and that cleared him. He brought the footage to the Garda but decided not to proceed because of what it would cost him to bring the individual to court and the almost inevitable outcome of the individual being given a warning or a fine which would not deter him from carrying out such fraud.

Legislation is needed to make sure that false insurance claims are adequately dealt with. The enactment of this legislation would go a long way towards achieving that. We also need to examine closely the compensation levels that are paid in Ireland. Why are we paying up to four times more than our UK counterparts for minor injuries such as whiplash? I believe the very high compensation levels that are available in this country are attracting people inclined to engage in fraud and something needs to be done about that also.

I believe there is a willingness in the House, once and for all, to tackle this scourge. The business people, homeowners and law-abiding citizens of this country deserve fair insurance rates. By introducing this measure, it will be one element of reforming the industry that we all need but unfortunately few of us can now afford.

I welcome the contributions from all sides of the House. There is unanimity in the House that something has to be done to address the issue of fraudulent claims.

I am not a fount of knowledge on this issue. The only expertise I can claim is that I am bringing the messages that have been clearly outlined to me by business associations, farmers' organisations, those in the retail sector, individuals who come to my clinic or those I meet in my constituency on a daily and weekly basis. They are saying they can no longer function in a market that is weighing them down with costs, one of the biggest costs being insurance. From public liability to health insurance to motor insurance, it is a major issue across the board.

This Bill is about sending out a strong message that if someone goes about making a fraudulent claim, there will be a consequence. To date, unfortunately, there has not been a consequence. There have not been any prosecutions of people who went to court and fraudulently claimed they had been injured. It is important to send out a signal that the apparatus of the State, in terms of its prosecutorial arm, will step in to protect those people who are lawfully paying their insurance, the payment of which provides protection to the public using their facilities, in the context of public liability. This provides for a person to claim and to seek compensation and redress in the event of there being an injury. The idea that somebody can pretend he or she was injured in a premises and there be no consequence is wholly unacceptable. It undermines the basic decency of society. We have to protect those who, through taking out insurance, are protecting others. That is what they are doing, and we must be very conscious of that.

Reference was made to the fact that public liability insurance has increased to €50,000 for rural hoteliers. These are country hotels in the middle tier; not at the high end. We now have a situation where insurance costs more than rates in some parts of the State. That undermines the competitiveness of industry and commerce and puts jobs at risk.

There is a final area where it is evident. Deputy Ó Laoghaire and others raised the issue of motor insurance for young people Younger drivers who live in rural or isolated areas simply cannot go to work or college because they cannot afford the motor insurance. An element of the cost built into motor insurance premia is the scam artists, chancers and criminals who go about this country plying their trade knowing that there is no sanction whatsoever. It is the same as going into a shop and robbing the till, but if one was to do that, there would be a sanction, a Garda investigation, a file to the DPP and a potential prosecution. One can, however, throw water on the floor or empty a Lucozade bottle onto the floor of a premises and pretend to fall around the place. It can be blatantly obvious through video and CCTV that a real fall never took place, yet nothing happens. That same person will go to another shop or another retail outlet the following day and do the same thing. This eats people up because they do not like being wronged. They would like the State to protect them when they have been wronged. Chancers and fraudsters who continually go to courts on a fraudulent basis are doing this in spades in the State.

I thank the Minister of State for his words of support. I also thank the Minister for Justice and Equality. I am open and amendable to amendments but the general principle has to be that we must do something to protect businesses and individuals from chancers and cheats.

Question put and agreed to.