The reason I raise this matter should be clear. Ar an chéad dul síos, I thank the Ceann Comhairle and Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise the matter in the Topical Issue debate. Each day we hear of a new business or community group that has to close because of skyrocketing insurance premiums. It is happening across the board. Recently, Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns, chair of the Personal Injuries Commission, said that claims arising at the lower end of the scale, namely, whiplash and soft tissue injuries, of the compensating personal injuries, account for more than 70% or almost three quarters of all injury claims in Ireland. Moreover, as the second report of the Personal Injuries Commission clarified beyond any doubt, we compensate claimants here at a rate 4.4 times greater than in the UK and at rates far in excess of most EU member states. One could ask what is happening here. In recent years the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, outlined what he was doing and he produced a report with 70 different actions. If we had seven actions that would have been fine and there would have been progress, but that report is probably gathering dust. There is evidently an unwillingness on the part of the Government, the system and the legal system to tackle the issue.
Mr. Justice Kearns went on to say:
Closure is now the order of the day for many other small businesses besieged by personal injury claims and rising premiums. This crisis has spread across many small businesses, leisure facilities, shops, places of employment and is now causing people to lose their jobs in areas where, but for this market distortion, would be thriving and prosperous. Those in a position to do something about [this] must now finally get up and do the right thing.
However, the Government is not getting up and doing the right thing. It is appalling that we cannot have a book of quantum, as in other jurisdictions, that is reasonable and sensible. I have no issue with somebody who suffers a serious injury making a claim but I take serious issue with frivolous and fraudulent claims. The recent exposure about a colleague in this House is shocking. It sends out a completely wrong message. Questions also arise about certain legal firms connected with this House representing the person concerned. What is going on is despicable and it is time to stop. It makes it worse that the example was given by the Chair of an Oireachtas committee. Often, people who have genuine injuries do not claim because they want to get back into work and into the community. The Minister of State does not seem to be doing anything whatsoever about it.
I am a small business man who employs up to 20 people. I just renewed my insurance recently and it has gone up by 30%. That is 30% on top of 30% on top of 30% on top of 30%. It is just not funny anymore.
Settlements are made out of court for frivolous claims. It is time that the gravy train in the Four Courts was stopped in its tracks. We should have a book of quantum which outlines what one should receive for a broken limb or broken finger. The fat cats, the gravy train and the lawyers should be taken out of the equation, as should the no foal, no fee approach and advertising for cases. We did not have such advertising 29 years ago but we have it now. The fraudulent claims industry is sick and despicable, and it is time the Government did something about it.
Companies and businesses contact me every day of the week. A voluntary community group in Cahir recently had its playground closed down because it was grappling with insurance costs. The county council will not take it in charge unless it is given a guarantee that it will be inspected every morning and that it will open and close at certain times. Community groups raise funds and the Government contributes to their efforts. They are being closed now and many activities are affected. There is a fabulous walking festival and rhododendron festival in Clogheen next weekend but it is also facing issues with insurance. I wish the organisers well. The festival is good for exercise and the physical and mental health of people. However, this sick culture of claims is being propagated and a Member of this House got involved in such a situation. There is a suggestion that adults should be supervised when taking part in some leisure activities. What will be next? Will children be left to mind adults? In this House it seems that the animals are minding the zoo.