Perjury and Related Offences Bill [Seanad] 2018: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

The following motion was moved by Deputy Denis Naughten on Wednesday, 29 July 2020:
That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to support the immediate establishment by the House of the Select Committee on Justice and for Committee Stage of the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 [Seanad] to be the first item of business on the agenda and that this should occur no later than 31st October, 2020.

I thank the Regional Group of Deputies for moving the motion in the House this evening. I am pleased to inform the House that the Government supports the motion and is fully committed to enacting the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 as soon as possible. The importance the Government attaches to this legislation is reflected in our commitment to enact it in the current programme for Government and I look forward to working with all Deputies in the House in delivering on this commitment.

It would be remiss of me to refer to the successful passage of this important Bill through the Houses to date without acknowledging the considerable contribution of former Senator, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, and his team. As principal sponsor of the Bill when it was introduced to the Seanad as a Private Members' Bill at the end of 2018, he worked tirelessly and co-operatively with my predecessor the former Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and other stakeholders in steering the Bill through the Seanad with cross party and Government support. It is also important that I acknowledge the valuable contribution of the former Minister, Deputy Flanagan, in moving necessary amendments to the Bill and allowing it to be moved in the Dáil through its adoption as a Government Bill at the end of 2019.

The Government has been supportive of the Bill to date, in the Thirty-second Dáil and Thirty-third Dáil, and I assure the House the Government and I will continue to accord the Bill the importance and priority it merits by working to achieve its enactment as soon as possible. In this connection, my officials have consulted widely with other Departments and offices on this Bill and we are working with the Office of the Attorney General on preparing proposed Committee Stage amendments. These are mainly technical amendments to references in the Schedule to the Bill and I look forward to bringing a memorandum to the Government on this matter in advance of Committee Stage.

As the Deputies may be aware, Committee Stage was initially scheduled for the Bill in the Dáil on 22 January but the Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Thirty-second Dáil on 14 January 2020. Now that we have formed a new Government, I am delighted to confirm the Bill has been restored to the Dáil Order Paper and that it has full Government support regarding the prospect of its early passage through the House to enactment.

Of course, notwithstanding the eagerness I share with Deputies here this evening in speedily progressing the Bill, the House will appreciate that the Government and I will need to be mindful of the advice of the Attorney General in ensuring the Bill holds up to legal scrutiny as we progress it through the outstanding legislative stages.

In terms of the motion before the House, I should also note that the establishment of a select committee is a matter for the relevant House and the priority given to Committee Stage of a Bill is a matter for the relevant committee and chairperson. That said, I wish to place on record my support for the early establishment by the House of a select committee on justice. Moreover, in accordance with the motion before the House, I would welcome any decision by a newly-established select committee to afford priority to the Bill in determining the scheduling of its business in the autumn session.

It is never acceptable to lie on oath or, for that matter, when undergoing any formal legal proceeding, and the Bill is a significant legislative mechanism that will not only provide for considerable penalties against those who commit the offence of perjury or related offences but also have a substantial deterrent effect regarding the making of fraudulent claims or statements by those persons who may be minded to do so. Historically, we know the offence of perjury has proven difficult to prosecute under the common law and the number of successful prosecutions tend to be in single figures in any given year. However, history also tells us, and Deputies have clearly pointed to this, that all too frequently some people have deliberately made false statements or lied in official legal proceedings which has materially affected the course of justice. I join with Deputies throughout the House in championing the Bill as a bulwark against such deceitful and fraudulent conduct and actions.

When enacted, the Bill will provide a clear definition of perjury and, simply put, it should enable this offence and related offences to be more easily prosecuted in the courts.

The Bill will provide clear direction to the courts in respect of the necessary penalties to be applied regarding the nature of the offence that is being prosecuted. The penalties in the Bill are in line with those of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 regarding false evidence and fraudulent claims. Assuming the Bill is enacted, the maximum penalty on summary conviction is a class B fine or term of imprisonment of up to 12 months. The maximum penalty on indictment for which a person may be liable on conviction under this legislation is a term of imprisonment of ten years and-or a fine of €100,000. This sends a clear message to any potential abusers of court time that making deliberate false statements across legal and other proceedings, if it is proven to be the case, will not go unpunished and may result in serious consequences for the individual concerned. I am confident that this Bill will go a long way in deterring those who may be considering providing dishonest evidence during legal proceedings. It should be noted that the penalties provided for in section 13 of the Bill are penalty and sentencing maximum ceilings and they serve a judge in determining an appropriate sanction. The judge clearly has a discretion to impose a sanction on a person convicted under this legislation below that ceiling, depending on the judge's view of the gravity of the offence.

The Bill also consolidates other relevant legislation in the area of perjury and knowingly making false statements in formal legal proceedings. The deterrent effect of the legislation, which Deputies have mentioned, is likely to be considerable and a very welcome development, especially in the insurance area. This is one of a number of measures dealing with insurance issues, insurance fraud and exaggerated claims. Concentrating on insurance reform is one of the key priorities of the Government and for me as Minister, and addressing this area is one of the core elements of the programme for Government. The Government is keenly aware that insurance costs at present are a very significant issue for businesses, motorists, households and a range of sporting, community and voluntary groups. The Government will continue to prioritise reform of the insurance sector with particular emphasis on motor, public liability and employer liability. Recently, a number of Ministers led by the Tánaiste met with representatives in these areas to progress tackling the insurance issue across the Departments it falls under, including the Department of Justice and Equality.

The House will be aware that the programme for Government commits to establishing a Cabinet sub-committee to deal urgently with insurance reform. More specifically regarding the matter of insurance fraud, in which prosecutions may be brought upon enactment of the Perjury and Related Offences Bill, the Government has committed to increasing co-ordination and co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the insurance industry. We will seek to expand the Garda Economic Crime Bureau which deals with fraud and we will ensure the relevant fraudulent claims are forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Additionally, insurance fraud data will be published to allow us to analyse this area with a view to taking the appropriate actions to address any pertinent issues. The Bill, when enacted, will be an important measure in countering insurance fraud and the compensation culture and high cost of insurance that it fuels. Hopefully, it will support many in our constituencies who have been impacted by this in recent months.

Of course, it will also have a general application in other areas where statutory statements and declarations are required. It will serve as a clear message to anybody engaged in legal proceedings that the person must be mindful of the need to tell the truth and that any deliberate departure from the truth may have serious consequences in terms of the level of sanctions and penalties that will be at the judge's discretion to impose.

I reiterate that the Government and I share the sense of importance and priority that the Regional Group, through the motion before the House, attaches to this Bill and its early enactment. I share the objective of seeing Committee Stage scheduled and passed before 31 October this year, subject to parliamentary scheduling decisions, and I look forward to the enactment of the Bill before the end of this year.

With regard to the Labour Party amendment that has been put forward, I have no difficulty if the House wishes to support it. It calls for the inclusion of the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 with the current Bill proposed here this evening. That Bill has been progressed by Deputy Howlin and there has been constructive engagement with Deputy Howlin and the Labour Party on it. I would like to see this enacted too as a matter of priority before the end of the year. However, I stress that the establishment of the relevant committee is obviously not in my gift, nor is how a chairman of that committee might identify what is first, second or third on the agenda, but I strongly support bringing forward both Bills to Committee Stage and their enactment before the end of the year.

I thank the Regional Group for tabling this important motion. It has the Government's support and I look forward to updating the House on future developments on this and many other areas, in particular with regard to our objectives in tackling insurance concerns.

I believe this Bill is very relevant and will have a significant impact on people's decisions when contemplating an action through the legal system in the future. SMEs ranging from haulage operators to crèches, community and voluntary groups, GAA, soccer and sports clubs, hotels, clubs, pubs and restaurants are dealing with the lack of insurance reform every day. Their unsustainable insurance costs continue to trend upwards and they fear for the future of their organisations. Now the insurance crisis hampers their recovery from the pandemic.

Parents of young adults who have just qualified to drive but who are unable to get insurance contact me every day. They find it incomprehensible that time after time there is no adequate reform of the insurance sector to stop the gouging by all, bar none. Premiums of thousands of euro are being requested for their young adult children to start their independence.

In my former role as president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, IRHA, I led a delegation to meet the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in Dublin to discuss cartel behaviour in the insurance sector. The meeting lasted more than two and a half hours and the result was a blank request to come back with the evidence. The evidence it required was unobtainable even though every haulage operator was having the same experience of the premiums being quoted increasing by as much as 300% on the previous year, in many cases regardless of claims history. As a result, I contacted the EU competition arm, DG Competition, and led a delegation from the IRHA to Brussels to meet it. It was more than interested in the same details that did not interest the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. DG Competition held many more meetings and what was described as a dawn raid took place in Ireland in July 2017.

I never envisaged that it would take so long to get a result from what we thought might help competition in the insurance market. It did not happen. What did happen, however, is that hundreds of haulage operators moved their operations abroad, mainly to eastern European countries where premiums for their fleets were half the price they were charged in Ireland. There has been little or no action to curb the continuing rise in the cost of premiums, which can still only be described as gouging.

I thank the former Senator, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, for drafting the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018. I believe it is essential and it will be the missing link in too many claims being made based on fiction, not fact. It should and will deter persons willing to lie on affidavit or under oath by putting that on a statutory criminal footing, in line with our nearest neighbour, Northern Ireland. I implore the House to support the Bill and nourish those suffering from the lack of sanction on those who lie in order to gain under false pretences.

It is important that the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018, which was introduced by the former Senator, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, and which lapsed with the Thirty-second Dáil be reinstated. I am glad to hear the Minister say it is to be restored to the Order Paper. Somebody once said, "Never argue with someone who believes their own lies". That mantra should never be allowed in our legal system.

Perjury is an offence. In essence, it is lying for personal gain or advancement, and it is rarely a victimless crime. It inflicts damage on our economy, social fabric, society and way of life. Although it is a common law offence, it has always been difficult to prosecute. It arises in civil disputes, family law cases, compensation claims, tribunals and often where a deposition or affidavit is given.

We have all heard of court comments in which the veracity of statements, evidence and testimony has been questioned by judges, but we rarely hear of follow-up for wilful and deliberate misleading of courts or the deliberate attempt to extort compensation for personal financial gain.

The issue of insurance has been raised, and one Deputy referred to Pat McDonagh's business, which was on national TV. We also remember the staged car crashes that have taken place in past years, extorting moneys again through insurance fraud.

Family law cases are not exempt from perjury either, with people making statements diminishing their means to avoid payments they should be making.

When witness or evidential statements that are clearly untrue or contrived are proven to be so but are not prosecuted, that diminishes our rule of law and encourages others to follow suit. Swearing a false affidavit in a personal injuries action was codified as a criminal offence in section 14 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. Review of prosecutions in the years since reveals that minimal prosecutions have taken place for this offence. We must expect and demand more from our Judiciary and our insurance industry.

We need to ask the insurance sector to accelerate a book of quantum to look at the compensation payouts occurring as insurance will be one of the major stumbling blocks for businesses in 2020 and beyond. Deliberate lies made under oath or through affidavit can have terrible lifelong consequences for those against whom they are made. Exaggerated and false personal injuries claims place onerous burdens on businesses, public bodies, homeowners, motorists and insurers. Any entity can be found legally liable where no liability should exist but for the act of perjury being perpetrated against them.

Perjury is never a victimless crime. This motion attempts to bolster our laws to ensure our courts deliver just outcomes, not unjust rewards. I commend the motion to the House and hope that if it is adopted, any resulting legislation will empower insurance companies to test properly the veracity of damages claims before deciding appropriate compensation. I hope it will stimulate our Judiciary, our DPP and our gardaí to pursue vigorously those proven to have laid false evidence and defend those who are the victims of it. I hope it will lead to higher standards and examination of evidence in our courts rulings to provide more equitable outcomes for those pursuing a claim or a just finding. Most of all, I hope it will send a message that lying under oath has consequences, is a criminal offence and will be prosecuted.

I commend the Regional Group on bringing this motion before the Dáil. It was, I think, in December 2019 that we last debated this legislation in the House. It is badly wanted legislation and has been talked about for a considerable length of time.

Much has been made of how the insurance industry has been impacted by perjury, false statements and false affidavits and of how this has resulted in an increase in premiums. I have a house full of teenagers at home, and when they go looking to get car insurance I realise immediately the huge impact of this. That is the case across the country. It is very positive for young people to learn to drive and to be able to drive at a young age. It gives them great confidence in life. They find, however, that insurance is a massive obstacle to their progression. Many of them who try to get summer work, particularly if they live in rural areas, need transport, specifically a car. They cannot afford that because of the cost of insurance.

In the area of commercial insurance, for various small shop owners and other businesses out there, the escalating cost of insurance has become one of the biggest costs they have to endure. While there are many reasons for this, the insurance industry continues to tell us this is because of the high premiums being paid. They point to fraudulent activity. Many of us, however, wonder whether the level of fraudulent activity is as extensive as the insurance industry claims it to be. Many of us doubt it is so high. When representatives of the insurance industry were before the finance committee last year, my colleague, Deputy Doherty, made it very clear to them that while they claimed that 20% of insurance claims were fraudulent, when they were asked whether they had reported those 20% of insurance claims to be fraudulent to An Garda Síochána, they had reported practically none of them. There is therefore a certain amount of exaggeration on the part of the insurance industry in that respect.

Another aspect of this is that there are people out there who go before the courts to claim insurance fraudulently and in other aspects of life use the courts and other measures to enrich themselves and others around them. They often lie in that context. That simply has to be stopped, and we must have a clear mechanism of doing so. The law to date does not do that. Going back hundreds of years, the idea of perjury has always been there. Previous generations held more store in swearing on the Bible, perhaps, than present generations have. Be that as it may, at the same time the reality is that when people go before a court they swear to tell the truth to their peers and to everyone around them. They should have the honour and the integrity to follow through on that but, unfortunately, many do not. It is important we have a clear definition of perjury and a clear set of penalties as to what stands if people do go down that road. This legislation does that.

I commend the former Senator, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, who brought this legislation to the Seanad previously and advanced it a long way along the road. But for the dissolution of the previous Dáil, it would probably be law by now. That is unfortunate, but we are back where we are, and I commend and thank the Government and the Minister for saying they will provide the opportunity to progress this as quickly as possible and, it is hoped, bring it into being.

There are also situations, not just in the insurance industry but in other circumstances, in which false accusations and falsehoods are brought about to damage people. We see this in various parts of life. Very often people are traumatised, and deep hurt can result in these circumstances. It is important we have a deterrent which is strong and ensures this does not happen. I am sure many Members of the Oireachtas dealing with the public will have come across such circumstances.

There is another aspect to this. People in the public are often talked about as being the ones who engage in this kind of activity. Of course, there is also perjury in the commercial sense. This is often described as white-collar crime and is a part of the criminal sector which gets little attention in this State or indeed in the western world in general. That aspect of perjury needs to be dealt with as well because many people suffer a lot of financial loss and huge trauma as a consequence of white-collar crime. I think much of that happens in the context of false affidavits, false documents being produced and so on. This leads us into the whole area of perjury when it comes before a court.

Finally, I commend the work that has been done in the past on all of this. When we all come together and work together to try to progress matters, we have a great power in this place. This Bill is an example of that, and I again commend it to the House. I hope we will move forward with due speed to bring it into law.

I will follow up on the comments of my colleague, Deputy Martin Kenny. I welcome the motion. I thank the Regional Group. This legislation is one of the pieces of the jigsaw that we need to deal with the whole insurance fiasco we have in this State. I accept what others have said. If somebody goes before a court and perjures himself or herself, whether in respect of a false claim or claiming an injury to be worse than it is or whether it relates to something that can be incredibly hurtful or painful to somebody, that needs to be seen as a crime and action needs to be taken. I also welcome what the Minister for Justice and Equality said about increasing the powers of the Garda in dealing with such types of fraud. That is absolutely required.

We have been talking about the insurance problem in this State for a considerable amount of time.

Deputy Pearse Doherty made the point about the dysfunction in the motor insurance industry. A major tenet of what he said was that there were false and exaggerated claims but that the motor insurance industry was able to play on these from the point of view of jacking up people's premiums. This is where we need Government action, accountability and oversight. We also need to see Deputy Doherty's Consumer Insurance Contracts Bill 2017 enacted as soon as possible. It is a failing on the part of the Government that it has not already done that.

A number of solutions have been proposed in relation to dealing with the book of quantum. The Judicial Council got off to a rocky enough start, so we are not sure where that goes. I had conversations with the former Deputy, Gerry Adams, and with the former Minister of State, Senator Michael D'Arcy, who seemed to be on top of his brief and was looking at possible solutions in this regard and at the possible necessity for constitutional change.

There are two things here. There is the fact that there are exaggerated claims and the fact that this is sometimes used by the industry. There are also sectors where we have absolute dysfunction. I refer to the leisure and entertainment industry and to the community sector, which is about to get absolutely hammered. In my town of Dundalk, in the past fortnight I have been dealing with the case of Muirhevnamor community centre, a community facility that has done fine work in the recent period and through its long history in an area that suffers from severe disadvantage. Community facilities like this do brilliant work but this facility was charged around €3,000 for insurance two years ago. It then went up to around €6,000 and this year it was told it could not be insured. Initially, it was because it made use of bouncy castles, which are necessary for children's parties and so on. When it removed these, it still could not get cover. I commend the work of Ms Mandy Fee of Pelican Promotions, who we have worked with for a considerable amount of time and who met the then Minister of State, Senator Michael D'Arcy, in relation to the Irish Leisure Industry Standards Association, ILISA, and self-regulation within the leisure and entertainment industry, particularly companies which have bouncy castles. It is an idea that has huge merit. Ms Fee has built a good relationship with insurance companies and underwriters. Due to that, we were able to get a really good quote for Muirhevnamor community centre. If it were not for that relationship and that work, we were in disaster territory.

From speaking to those involved, the information coming back is that this will move beyond community centres, the community sector, the leisure and entertainment industry and into all facets of our society. Underwriters in Britain are, at this point, very slow to quote for anything that exists in this State. That is due to fear of the big claims, of somebody going to court and obtaining a huge payout. I accept the necessity of this where people are genuinely injured or have genuine problems and insurance exists to cover for such problems but we have absolute dysfunction.

The way we live our lives and the society we have is threatened by the straitened circumstances that community facilities and community resources, such as this community centre one in Muirhevnamor, are facing due to the pandemic and consequent reduction in moneys coming in. We all knew about the insurance problem but it is going from being an insurance problem to a no-insurance problem. In that eventuality, we need to ensure we have facilities where our kids can go for sports training or other activities, and where their parents can go for yoga, dancing and so forth. People need breaks. We know the damage done in the past while in relation to mental health and the lack of mental health services so we need to ensure these facilities are available to us.

I call on the Minister, Deputy McEntee, to speak to her colleagues. I will have a follow-up meeting. I have already had initial conversations with the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, in relation to moving on some of these parts. We can speak of ILISA, of the possibility of regulation within the industry, of block-buying of insurance for sectoral groups and so forth but we also need the Government to take action, to take the insurance groups to task and to ensure we have the legislative back-up and other requirements to ensure companies, community groups and community facilities can get insurance and we can go about living our lives the way we have done over the past while. Otherwise, we will not only impact on businesses and put people out of work, but we will also reduce the opportunities we have to carry out the extra-curricular activities we all engage in. This will impact on sports clubs and sports groups, including GAA, karate and other martial arts clubs, boxing, and so on. They will all be impacted. We need to ensure we have solutions as quickly as possible.

The other problem is that it is moving into other sectors and will eventually impact on retail and other areas we see as low risk. This pandemic in insurance is spreading throughout the entire industry and will impact on every sector. We need to ensure it is arrested as soon as possible and that solutions, such as that found by Ms Mandy Fee and Pelican Promotions in regard to ILISA, are taken up by Government and supported and that the action required is taken by Government to deal with high payouts and enacting all necessary legislation.

The Bill is important as laws protect our general safety and ensure our rights as citizens against abuses by other people and organisations. In order that they work, laws should be effective, capable of implementation and carry weight. Otherwise, what is the point of the law? This is why I and Sinn Féin will be supporting this motion.

Perjury is defined as the offence of wilfully telling an untruth or making a misrepresentation under oath. The High Court recently stated that it is "a sworn statement that the maker knows to be false". It is intended to protect the integrity of trials. It is referred to across a range of legislation in this country and yet there are deficiencies in how it is defined, its position in the statutory framework and the penalties that would be applied as a consequence. If the citizens of this country are to have faith in our legal system, then they need to know there will be penalties imposed on those who go counter to legal directives.

The purpose of this Bill, to place perjury on a statutory footing, is to be commended as it would make the offence easier to prosecute. I also welcome the inclusion in this Bill of the subornation of perjury, which makes it an offence to persuade, induce or otherwise cause another person to make false statements while under oath. This could help to protect those who may be under pressure from elsewhere to make a misleading statement for the purposes of misleading a court or damaging another individual's reputation. The fact that people are not penalised more is damaging to our faith in the justice system. This is because the sins of some, if not punished, will have an effect on the many. In today's society, we are all aware of the challenges that present themselves in this regard. The issue of insurance claims, whether in regard to policies which are domestic in nature, like home or care insurance, or applicable to the wider public, like public liability insurance or insurance for businesses, high-cost policies have limited our ability to carry on with everyday life safe in the knowledge we are fully covered. Why is this? There are many reasons and the blame lies primarily with the insurance industry.

Deputy Pearse Doherty has pursued the issue of high insurance costs for some time. While fraudulent claims contribute to the cost of insurance policies, they are nowhere near being the cause of the insurance rip-off that has become all too apparent in recent years.

Before making my next point, let me emphasise that the insurance industry is broken because of the industry itself. Any notion that unjustifiable increases in people's policies are mainly due to fraudulent claims, as has been suggested in the past, is misleading, to say the very least. Insurance fraud is an issue but the industry's way of dealing with it apportions blame to people who bear no responsibility at all. Fraud is unjust, damaging to reputations, costly for those targeted and it is against the values we in this House seek to promote. There are a number of cases of insurance fraud that are so blatant and deliberately false that they have come to public attention at a national level. If cases of suspected insurance fraud makes it to the courts, something that emboldens those engaging in the suspected fraud is their ability to make untrue statements. If there is little punishment for people uttering untruths under oath, what is to stop them from doing so? They may subsequently be hit with costs if they are found to be in the wrong, but they will take that chance, at a cost to the State in many cases, because false statements are rarely subject to penalties. One could say that the consequences of this situation fall to the general public through the taxes they pay but also through the insurance policy prices charged to each and every one of us. These are just some of the implications for society of toothless perjury laws.

Criminal prosecution is another issue in which this matter has relevance. Blatant disregard for truth is something that those who have no respect for the law rely on to evade the charges against them. The absence of sanctions for perjury for those who have sought to evade prosecution does little to improve public confidence in a successful prosecution being made. If we allow people to lie, how can we possibly expect them to stop? I want the public to know that this Bill will address false declarations in other areas, including the world of finance, where misleading statements on balance sheets, accounts, reports, returns and similar declarations can have vast implications. These provisions will help to address instances of so-called white-collar crime. The outcomes of those types of cases can be frustrating for the public, leading to the assumption that those who are in a financial position to engage in this kind of unlawful activity can hide behind misleading details. Such details can often be used to confuse the examination process. We are no longer in a world where a person's moral code can be relied upon to ensure that he or she will tell the truth under oath. That is unfortunate but true.

I commend all those who have contributed to the Bill in the course of its way through the Houses. I give it my full support.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"calls on the Government to support the immediate establishment by the House of the Select Committee on Justice and for the first items of business on the agenda to be the taking of Committee Stage of the following Bills:

- Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 [Seanad]; and

- Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017;

and that this should occur no later than 31st October, 2020."

This is an unusual motion to be debating in Private Members' time. It is not the Second Reading of a Bill or a motion on a particular issue. Rather, it is an instruction or at least a request regarding a committee of the House. The first part of the request is that the committee be established expeditiously. That formed part of the Ceann Comhairle's work earlier this evening and I hope, therefore, that the first part of the request is in train. The second part of the resolution is to ask the committee to take Committee Stage of a particular Bill, namely, the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018, as a priority. I heartily commend Deputy Naughten and his colleagues in the Regional Independent Group on their statement, by way of this motion, that this is an important Bill. As every speaker thus far has argued, it most certainly is an important piece of legislation. I join others in commending former Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh on the work he did in putting it forward.

The last Oireachtas was an unusual one in that a lot of Private Members' legislation was brought forward. Unfortunately, much of it did not progress to enactment. In fact, more than 200 Bills were introduced by Members, availing of the new facility we had to do so because the Government was a minority one and could not kill off every piece of legislation at birth. That allowed individual Members a real capacity, for the first time, to bring forward legislation. Very meaningful legislation was debated and some of it reached conclusion. One such Bill, which was not enacted, was the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018. We have heard very eloquent testimony from a range of people as to why this Bill should be enacted. It came as a surprise to many of us to realise that the act of perjury is not a statutory offence. It is quite extraordinary that this would be the case. I assumed it was a statutory offence and I agree that it certainly should be. For all the reasons laid out by other speakers, I think it will be done, by way of the speedy enactment of this Bill.

I have tabled an amendment to the motion and I am asking for the indulgence of the Regional Independent Group in so doing. My purpose is not to dislodge the priority this House should give to the Bill which the colleagues from that group have rightly placed on the agenda, but to ask them to allow me to request that in addition to their Bill, the new committee would also take as a priority another really important piece of legislation, namely, the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill. This, too, is a Bill that has been going around for some time since I introduced it in the last Dáil, in 2018. It is a fundamentally important piece of legislation which seeks to address a situation that is affecting thousands of people every day in our communities, particularly younger people, and causes an extraordinary degree of unseen hurt and harm. I refer to online bullying, which is so intense in some instances that it is leading people, especially young people, to suicide. It includes the issue of so-called revenge porn and the incredible harm that is being done in that regard. Our existing legislation is hopelessly inadequate and hopelessly outdated when it comes to dealing with these matters.

I made a commitment to the family of the late Nicole Fox Fenlon, known as Coco to her family, a young woman who was bullied so badly that she took her own life. She suffered from a campaign of online bullying that was unrelenting, but her situation is not unique. The same thing is happening to people all over the country right now. Nicole's mother, Jackie Fox, has been an extraordinary champion for the enactment of legislation that would, as our Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill seeks to do, modernise the law and thereby protect precious children like her beloved Coco. One of the commitments I made to Jackie is that before the Bill is enacted, we would include a reference to "Coco's law" in the Long Title in memory of the beautiful daughter she lost. As I said, there are many others suffering as Nicole did. I have been contacted by scores if not hundreds of individuals who have endured and are enduring incredible hardship because of online bullying and because there is no way of stopping it. We need to make the online platforms accountable. We need robust laws that will make them remove harmful and hurtful communications and postings. We need to be able to follow through, in the strictest legal terms, on actions against those who are carrying out this incredibly harmful activity.

Without doing any harm at all to the primary and understandable objective of the Regional Group in putting forward this motion, I am seeking in my amendment to add the Labour Party Bill to the priority list of the new committee. I hope both Bills can be enacted before the end of this year. I understand that is the commitment the new Minister, Deputy McEntee, has given. I acknowledge not only her supportive words in regard to both Bills tonight but also in the meeting I had with her, where she gave me a firm commitment that the legislation that is on the Order Paper in my name and those of my Labour Party colleagues would be enacted speedily. It is unfortunate that both Bills did not fully progress in the last Oireachtas. In the case of the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018, it had passed all Stages in the Seanad and was on the verge of enactment, but it fell with the falling of the last Oireachtas. It is good that we can restore both Bills at the Stage they left off and put both of them directly into committee. A lot of work has been done in the Department of Justice and Equality on both Bills. The proposed amendments to both are ready to be submitted and we can do an enormously positive thing by getting these two important Bills enacted.

Finally, colleagues referred to the impact of the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 on the insurance business. The Bill is a very important part of a suite of measures we need to introduce to reform the punitive charges being imposed on all sectors, not just motorists, who were particularly instanced tonight, but also small businesses and many others trying to do business in this country.

We need a robust analysis of the insurance business. The former Minister of State, Michael D'Arcy, had done an enormous amount of work in this area and we need to complete it for him. Part of that work is the enactment of the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018, which it is hoped will happen as quickly as possible. I hope my colleagues and friends in the Regional Group understand my reasoning in trying to advance my own Bill as well as theirs and that they will allow the amendment to be passed in order that both Bills are enacted speedily. I ask the House to support the amendment.

I commend the Regional Group on using its Private Members' time to reintroduce this Bill to the House and for giving us the opportunity to debate it. When it previously passed through the Seanad, it was seen as a positive sign that the Government of the day was giving proper consideration to Opposition legislation. In the previous Dáil, the legal services section of the Houses of the Oireachtas was enhanced. I think we will benefit from that and that a constructive approach will be taken by virtue of the fact that the Government will accept legislation from the Opposition and will work constructively with us.

Perjury is a somewhat unique concept insofar as it is a legal term that is widely understood by the public yet lacks a dedicated legislative underpinning. While the provisions of this Bill have existed within common law for quite some time, the organic manner in which they have developed has resulted in this area of law being in a somewhat "haphazard state", as described by Mr. Justice Peter Charleton. As a result, I fully support codifying the courts' existing practices by placing perjury on a statutory footing. Not only does doing so bring greater clarity to the law in this area, but it also demonstrates the seriousness with which we must treat cases of intentionally misleading the courts. It is particularly welcome that the initial legislation has been amended to clarify that the remit of the legislation goes beyond the courts and is equally applicable to tribunals of inquiry and commissions of investigation. While the specific offence of giving false evidence to a commission or tribunal already exists under section 18 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 and section 3 of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence)(Amendment) Act 1979, this Bill makes it clear that there is no distinction between those forums and the courts. That is right and proper and I hope it acts as a deterrent to those who might consider misleading such proceedings.

It is important to note that this Bill is just one of a number of things that need to be done to deal with the insurance industry. It is not a silver bullet. I am not entirely sure to what extent it will make a difference. Indeed the value of this legislation may end up being more symbolic than practical. England and Wales have codified perjury legislation which has been on their statute books since 1911 and perjury convictions there have averaged around 100 per year. This figure might sound quite high, but in the context of 1.19 million convictions in the same jurisdiction last year, it is a fairly rare offence. We should not take our eye off the ball regarding the range of things that must happen to address insurance costs.

As regards proof, I think the right balance has been struck in the legislation. Under the common law tradition, conviction usually requires the corroboration of at least two witnesses. This legislation retains the corroboration requirement but clarifies that convictions can be handed down on the basis of one witness's testimony where there is clear corroborating material that implicates the accused.

My only major concern is not with the legislation itself but with the discussion around it, especially it being framed as a tool to drive down insurance premiums. As I have said, it is just one small part of a much bigger piece of work that needs to be done, not least within the insurance companies themselves. First, I am against making sweeping changes to the law surrounding perjury in all cases to address insurance costs alone. That would be akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Second, I fail to see how it would have such an immediate and material impact when fraudulent insurance claims are already criminalised under section 25 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004. It is an offence under that Act to give false or misleading evidence in personal injury actions, but the number of prosecutions brought under that section has been minuscule. Whether this is the result of a lack of cases or of a lack of Garda resources to pursue such matters is not entirely clear. The suggestion that this Bill will change the situation is a bit of a smokescreen which has been promoted by the insurance industry. It is worth remembering that figures used by the industry to support the idea that fraudulent claims are an epidemic are not reflected in the number of cases referred by the Garda each year. Whether the legislation will materially lead to a greater number of convictions for perjury generally will depend on whether the resources will be available to pursue cases. That said, I believe the legislation stands on its own merits.

We will be supporting the Labour Party amendment, as that Bill must also be enacted quite urgently. The different kinds of interactions young people have nowadays in their use of digital media is astonishing. Some sort of mechanism is needed to bring balance there.

The book of quantum, which has been discussed in reference to insurance claims, must also be delivered on quickly. A lot of work has been done and many promises have been made in recent years, and they must be brought to fruition if we are going to address the insurance issue in a comprehensive way. I commend the former Senator, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, on bringing this legislation to the floor of the Seanad. No one will be happier than him to see it progress further.

I, too, support this very important legislation and I compliment the Regional Group on bringing it forward. The Minister has left and I cannot see which Minister of State is here, but it is important that we deal with this issue for many reasons. Many other countries have legislation in this area and have brought successful prosecutions. However, it seems to be a free-for-all here. I question the legal profession because, while its members have to act on the information given to them, they often know full well that it is not truthful or proper and that many of the claims are fraudulent.

Community halls, GAA and soccer pitches, voluntary organisations, meals on wheels, community employment schemes and mountaineering and kayaking groups have shut down because of high insurance costs, which are a result, according to the insurance companies, of fraudulent claims. That is shameful. Many volunteers, or enablers as I call them, do a huge amount of work to put those community activities in place.

Many of these cases in recent years have concerned playgrounds. My local playground in Caisleán Nua na Siúire is dúnta - closed up - because of two fraudulent claims. I was proud to be the chairperson of the committee that established that playground, but now it is locked up and unavailable to the children who need it because of unscrupulous, scurrilous, low and mean-spirited people who think they can take advantage of a soft touch.

As a business person, the cost of insurance to businesses is frightening. I have experience over the years where claims went in and it was expected that the insurance company would fight those claims. It is thought that the claims are being fought, but then we find out that a settlement was made on the steps of the courthouse. Many a time, we might not even know that has happened.

I have a big family and it costs a fortune to get car insurance to get on the road. Many young people can purchase a car for €1,500 which has passed its NCT, yet the cost of insurance can be anywhere from €5,000 to €8,000. Insurance should be cheaper now because we did not have the NCT years ago. The cost of insurance is crippling, devastating and is destroying our economy. It will become more apparent now in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis because people will not be able to pay.

False and exaggerated claims are devastating businesses and there are few, if any, sanctions against those who make those claims. We saw advertisements on television for some time referring to "Your hand in my pocket" and requesting people to report suspected fraudulent claims. We have seen such claims and the resultant costs in respect of our own county council in Tipperary recently. I do not have the exact figures to hand, but a staggering amount was paid out in one year for accidents. There are definitely some genuine cases, and it is often found that those people seriously injured or, even worse, the families of those killed in accidents do not get half of the compensation they should. It is the same situation with medical insurance and claims regarding medical negligence. In hospitals, it is mainly taxpayers who foot the bill and the payouts are also staggering.

We must get to grips with and tough on those people who are serial claimants. We see and hear about them and we all know about them, and it is just not acceptable or good enough. I am glad the Minister gave a positive answer earlier regarding the acceptance of this legislation. I am also glad to see that it is in the programme for Government. There were, however, similar aspirations in the last programme for Government and the former Minister of State, Senator Michael D'Arcy, spoke frequently in many debates here on this issue. We thought we were going to make progress with that, but we did not.

The interests of the insurance companies are too powerful. We might as well have nobody as have the regulators. Across a wide spectrum of areas, we have regulators for this, that and the other but they are toothless, useless and fruitless in most cases. I mean that and I do not say it lightly. The regulators are all talk and no action. They have fine salaries, for which we pay a levy, and a big board, but they might as well be rubbing butter on a fat sow's behind. They all have their snouts in the trough, and more than that. I refer to the experience of ordinary communities, ordinary people, ordinary business people, ordinary self-employed people and many of the people whom we spoke about tonight. When they get going in the spirit of the dance hall with the siege of Ennis, the foxtrot or the fast dance, there are injuries and claims in those circumstances as well. Those kinds of events are crippled as well and insurance to cover such situations has gone up greatly as well. Insurance has been paid this year, but those venues cannot even operate.

Insurance does not give any credibility and the discounts given for the lockdown were paltry. The Taoiseach told me one day that insurance companies have to make money and cannot pay out to everybody. The Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 goes to show what Private Members' legislation can do. Deputy Verona Murphy was hopeful and I heard Deputy Pringle chuckling, as I was, about this new Government. In the last Dáil, several Bills were introduced, of which some were taken and some were not. We had some hope then with a minority Government being sustained by a lifeline from Fianna Fáil. If Dáil reform, the Business Committee and the smash and grab with the committees are anything to go by, this Government means we have no hope of getting any legislation enacted. The current Ceann Comhairle is the fourth Ceann Comhairle since I came into this House and he has been extremely fair. Every member of the House is entitled to bring forward legislation and it should not be rejected because it comes from an Opposition Deputy. If the Government means to go on in the way it is treating the Opposition now, it will be a poor outcome for this Dáil.

The Government is limping home into the summer recess tomorrow and it will be very glad to get there. It is like a scalded cat going out the window, because after another week or two it would not have survived and we would have been into an election. I mean that seriously because that is the way this Government is. There is U-turn after U-turn, and it is like the road to Damascus, the road to Kildare or whatever it is. We hope this legislation will hold the Government to account.

I have no issue with Deputy Howlin's amendment because the issue of cyberbullying is very important. It is up to the Regional Group to decide if the amendment can be encompassed in this legislation. I hope that can be done, but we need to deal with this issue. People are losing faith in the whole system and especially voluntary committees and voluntary boards, which are required by guarantee to have limited liability. In the olden days and until quite recently, trustees of GAA clubs, halls and different institutions had sleepless nights because they did not know how they would manage.

I commend this legislation and I am glad it has come from the Regional Group. We will see if the Government will live up to its words and ensure it is accepted and embraced, and amended if necessary. Nothing is perfect, but we can get this legislation into committee, as soon as the committees have been established, and have it examined, passed and put into law. We can then ask the Judiciary to wake up and implement the legislation, and ask our legal eagle friends to back off as well. Everyone has their hands in our pockets and we just cannot survive.

We move now to Deputies Fitzmaurice and Pringle, who are sharing time. I call Deputy Pringle.

The Ceann Comhairle is right. I am sharing time with Deputy Fitzmaurice. This legislation was first brought forward in December 2019. The Government was accepting it and pushing it forward at that stage. The Regional Group has found a good way to bring this legislation forward again and at least now the group will be associated with it. The Government will bring the legislation forward in this way and it will be enacted. Unfortunately, I think this is now the only way that Opposition groups will get to put forward legislation. The days of the last Government when legislation could be put forward and passed by Opposition Deputies are long gone now.

A ten-year jail sentence and a fine of up to €100,000 will probably deter people from committing perjury. This Bill concerns the insurance industry, but we know that many other groups have also perjured themselves and are on the record as having done, including gardaí, business people and State employees. When this Bill is passed and the law enacted, I hope that it will be used to deter everybody from committing perjury and used to investigate everybody suspected of having done so, whether in court, in tribunals or in commissions of investigation.

The creation of a specific criminal offence of perjury has been hailed as a way of combating personal injury fraud and, consequently, bringing down soaring insurance costs. That is a bit disingenuous because I do not believe it will actually reduce insurance premiums. As we saw in the finance committee towards the end of last year, large insurance firms are either exaggerating the number of fraudulent personal injury claims they receive to hike up premiums or are grossly under-reporting them to An Garda Síochána.

FBD Insurance, AXA Insurance, Allianz and AIG are all on the record as estimating that one in five personal injury claims is fraudulent. This 20% figure is the one that dominates the headlines, giving the impression that one fifth of all claims are fraudulent. When we dig deeper into the numbers, however, quite a different picture is painted. From a total of 2,500 personal injury claims in 2018, AIG flagged 18%, or approximately 450, as suspicious, but only reported four, that is less than 1%, to the gardaí. If it is a case of failing to report suspicions of fraud, then insurance companies could themselves be breaking the law.

It was also interesting that one of the senior judges in the personal injuries section of the High Court recently stated that "it is fundamentally dishonest to blame supposedly fraudulent claims for the cost of insurance". It will be interesting to see if this Bill will lead to change, although legislation was already enacted in this area.

Section 25 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 provides that where a person gives, or dishonestly causes to be given, evidence in a personal injuries action that is false or misleading in any material respect and which he or she knows to be false or misleading, he or she will be guilty of an offence. Section 14 of the same Act requires the plaintiff to swear an affidavit as to the truth of all assertions, allegations and information provided to the defendant. The cost of insurance working group looked at the use of this legislation to date and found no prosecutions or convictions under section 14.

I believe that the problem is not the offence of perjury but the lack of will to act on it and implement legislation. I hope that will not happen here but we are great at passing laws in this State. We have a very good suite of laws but very poor follow-up and, that is the problem.

I welcome the legislation and hope that it will prevent people from lying in court to gain a personal advantage but I am sceptical as to whether it will lead to lower insurance premiums.

I compliment former Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh on drafting this Bill. He is a business person who sees the torment of insurance claims at the moment. We should also mention Mr. Pat McDonagh, who has done a lot of work on insurance claims down through the years. I also compliment the Regional Group for bringing forward this motion.

Do we want to solve this problem? There are many vested interests at the moment. If someone has a tip in his or her car, the insurance company will pay out even if someone was trying to do something fraudulent. We have seen many people on the television over recent months who have gone to the courts and nothing has been done.

I have become aware of an incident over the past week where a young guy, Mr. Justin Harney, has been in hospital in Georgia. He is fully insured. Three days were spent debating and arguing that matter, and even though it was got over, the likes of Laya Healthcare are delaying bringing him home. That is a disgraceful thing to do in genuine cases.

We must nail down the bill of quantum so that certain figures are agreed for settlements, as is the case in England. There is a hell of a difference between the costs of settlement for whiplash in England and Ireland. In saying that, there are people who are genuinely injured and no one is saying that they are not entitled to a settlement, but fraudulent claims are destroying this country.

I have talked to people in the past week whose insurance premiums have gone from €18,000 to €50,000. Businesses cannot afford this. One insurance company with which I deal offered a voucher back to its customers in the amount of €35. What use is that to businesses that are paying thousands of euro for insurance every year?

There are steps we can take, including the bill of quantum, this Bill or whatever else ought to be done. I understand that the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, is going to become involved in this matter. We must make sure that the levels of settlement are brought back or we will not have jobs in the country for the simple reason that businesses will not be able to employ people.

I have seen time and again incidents where it seems as if an injured party is making the most out of it. I spoke to a reputable doctor two days ago. He told me that he had three or four cases where he examined people. He told the different bodies that the person in question was entitled to no money in his opinion and nobody ever came back to him. He does not know whether the claimant was paid. He does not know what happened. Are the insurance companies interested in following this up? Are they interested in employing personal investigators or whatever they need to do to ensure that claims are checked out to the last? Would they rather just screw the business people of this country and make sure that they keep paying?

Insurance policies for marts have increased, as they have for businesses throughout the country. Premiums cannot be allowed just to rise and rise because businesses will not survive.

I welcome this Bill and the Labour Party amendment. Regardless of politics, we must work together. This is about employment, businesses and the difference between the next generation in this country having work and not having it. Employers are being screwed with insurance premiums. They are throwing their hands up in the air as they look at people with sore backs, necks, whiplash and every single excuse that can be made up. I do not think that is acceptable and we must get tough on it.

I thank the Regional Group for bringing this motion before the House and facilitating a debate on the matter. It has provided an opportunity for the Minister and me to outline the Government's position and support for this motion. I thank all of the Members who have spoken for their contributions and I know that the Minister and the Government are grateful that this Bill has such a high level of cross-party support.

The motion before us calls for the immediate establishment of the Select Committee on Justice and that the Committee Stage of the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 be the first item of business on the agenda for that committee. Notwithstanding the strong Government support for this Bill, reflected in its restoration to the Dáil Order Paper as a Government Bill this week, this House will note that the establishment of select committees is a matter for the House at large and not a function of the Government. The scheduling of business in any given select committee is a matter for the committee and not one in which the Government has a function.

Having said that, this House can rest assured, as the Minister said earlier, that the Government is committed to progressing this Bill to enactment as soon as may be practicable. I would like to think that the House is largely as one on this issue and that we all wish to see the offence of perjury and its related offences placed on a statutory footing as soon as possible.

Of course, this Bill must be subject to the rigorous level of legal scrutiny that applies to any Government Bill so that there are no unintended consequences and that it is fit for purpose upon enactment. To that end, I understand from the Minister that officials in her Department have consulted other Departments and are liaising with the office of the Attorney General to ensure that the Bill is legally robust and technically sound in meeting its objectives.

Deputies are aware that the programme for Government makes a firm commitment to enacting this legislation. The degree of Government commitment to this Bill is underscored by the fact that the Minister intends to be in a position to bring this Bill to Committee Stage in the House in the autumn session so that it may be enacted before the end of the year. The law on perjury in this country needs to be addressed and updated, and the Government is very much committed to doing so.

Unlike the United Kingdom and many other countries, Ireland does not have a modern, statute-based offence of perjury. There are two laws on the Statute Book that mention perjury in their Title and they date back to 1586 and 1729. There was a perjury Act passed by the British Parliament in 1911, but it was never enacted here after independence. There is a clear case to be made that the law on perjury needs to be updated and consolidated in this country so that we can have a clear legal framework to assist criminal justice and law enforcement authorities to do their jobs more effectively when offences of this nature are committed.

The intention of this Bill is to provide for perjury in all of its forms, whether in judicial or other proceedings as defined in section 1, relating to false statements made on oath otherwise than in judicial or other proceedings, or relating to false statutory declarations or false statements and declarations made without oath that may be required under any relevant Act. Furthermore, this Bill provides for the offences of subordination and fabrication of evidence. Simply put, if a person makes a statement or provides information on oath in respect of any statutory instrument that is false and that he or she knows to be untrue, then he or she may be liable to be prosecuted under this legislation.

Codifying the offence of perjury for the first time in this State will be an act of historical import. I wish to acknowledge, therefore, the immense contribution of former Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh as the principal sponsor of this Bill in introducing it to the Seanad as a Private Members' Bill just under two years ago. I also acknowledge the important contributions of his co-sponsors of this Bill in the Seanad - Senators Boyhan and McDowell, and former Senator Ian Marshall. The former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, also deserves much credit for working collaboratively with former Senator Ó Céidigh in passing the Bill in the Seanad and moving it as a Government Bill in the Dáil.

They have all done the State a great service in getting us to this point. I am confident that this historic Bill, when enacted, will go a long way towards counteracting all forms of malicious and deliberate dishonest conduct across legal and other official proceedings.

I wish to reaffirm the Government's commitment to the Bill and its early enactment. I wish to place on the record of the House the Government's support for the motion and attest to the willingness of the Government and Ministers to progress the Bill to enactment as soon as possible. I am pleased to place on the record of the House the gratitude of the Government for the Regional Group for bringing the motion forward.

I have no difficulty in supporting the Labour Party's amendment to the motion which calls for the inclusion of the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 and the Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 as priority and first items of proposed legislation to be scheduled by the newly-established select committee on justice. As we know, it is usually a matter for a new committee to consider what its work programme should be.

The House will be aware that enacting the Bill is a commitment in the programme for Government. I understand amendments are being drafted so the Minister may be in a position to move them on Committee Stage in the autumn session. There has been very constructive engagement with the Labour Party on this Bill and I acknowledge the efforts of Deputy Howlin and his party colleagues in presenting the Bill to the Dáil for consideration. We are all grateful to them for doing so. That being said, Members will appreciate that the scheduling of select committee business is not a function of the Government. We are happy to lend our support to the amendment nonetheless.

Tá cúig nóiméad agam agus táim ag roinnt an ama sin leis an Teachta Naughten. Gabhaim míle buíochas le mo chomhghleacaithe sa Ghrúpa Réigiúnach as an mBille seo a chur os comhair na Dála. Gabhaim míle buíochas leis an iarSheanadóir, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, a chum an Bille seo, agus le Cáit Nic Amhlaidh as an gcabhair a thug sí dó. Is Bille an-tábhachtach é gan dabht.

I thank Ms Linda Murray who owns a small business in my home town of Navan. She is one of the many businesspeople throughout the country who have been forced over the past five or ten years to become campaigners in their particular sector. Businesspeople are busy. Ms Murray is a mother and had no intent or interest in getting involved in any level of campaigning. However, she found herself in a simple situation. She was running a good business but saw her insurance costs spiral from €2,000 per year to about €16,000 per year within a short period of time. She had no option but to start to make a case for people like her around the country.

What is happening in Ireland is incredible. Ms Murray has told me about sectors, especially those dealing with children, which are in bits. She is a representative for the soft play area sector which, thankfully, has managed to find an insurer. Many other businesses have already gone to the wall. Businesses that have never had a single claim are now being refused insurance by insurance companies. Businesses which are operating in the same sector as those in Britain, and are being insured by the same companies in Britain, are being refused insurance or have seen their insurance costs jacked up while their British counterparts have not experienced that in any way.

The insurance costs for one soft play business increased from €50,000 to €150,000 within a short period of time. Some insurance companies have said that anything to do with children will be obsolete in the future because of insurance. Irish dancing classes, football, hurling, etc., will be affected. The leisure industry is stuffed. It is incredible that swathes of our society are in danger of closure or being unable to function in the future because of the massive dysfunction that exists within insurance companies in Ireland. I will be straight. Reform of this dysfunctional sector has been glacial.

The European Commission and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission felt it necessary to investigate the insurance industry in Ireland. The Central Bank issued a report on the insurance industry in Ireland. In all of this time, very little has happened from a Government perspective. This is a highly profitable sector. A couple of years ago it made hundreds of millions of euro by fleecing Irish people up and down the country. However, that dysfunction has not been tackled.

There are a number of major problems. High legal fees are an issue. I know of an insurance case where the claim was €6,000, but the legal fees for the case were €26,000. We also know that this incentivises the insurance industry. I was involved in a car crash about two years ago when a drunk driver smashed into our people carrier. There were six of us in the car and we were shunted back about ten yards. We received head injuries, bruises and cuts. I spoke to a solicitor who told me he could get €10,000 for each of us in the car and we would not even have to turn up in court. I was raised with the idea that claiming money to which one was not entitled was bad money, and one should not do that because there was a cost and somebody somewhere would have to pay. We did not proceed with a case. The fact of the matter is that there are claims right across the country.

There is also the idea of a duty of care. People can go into a nightclub half cut, can slip and fall and then make a large claim. People can jump on the back of a truck, hitch a ride, fall off and sue the individual who is driving the truck. So much is wrong. This motion focuses on one element of this. Some Deputies stated that the motion may not have a big effect. A person will think long and hard before he or she perjures himself or herself in a court case in the future because of the penalty in the Bill. It would be interesting if we brought about such a law for Deputies in the House.

Yesterday, the 2020 long list for the Booker Prize for fiction was published. Sadly, some affidavits that go before the courts would be in competition for the prize. This has implications, particularly for young people looking for car insurance and many small businesses across the country.

We are not claiming that the Bill is a panacea for all of the ills in the insurance industry, and have never promised that it is. However, it will put it up to the insurance industry because it cannot say that there are a plethora of fraudulent claims when there is a clear piece of legislation under which people can be directly prosecuted. It will be a case of put up or shut up for the insurance industry.

This is not just about insurance. Rather, it is about people literally getting away with murder. It is about consumers and businesses losing money due to white-collar crime. It concerns family law matters which have, in some cases, very serious consequences. It involves false declarations to obtain registration for the carrying out of a vocation or profession, in particular medical registrations, an issue I have raised in the House and which came before the courts quite recently in a case where a person claimed to be a medical professional.

People need to remember that the courts are a very formal process and should be a point of last resort. If someone gives evidence in court, that can have very serious consequences for other people. Today, evidence given in court can result in a person losing his or her liberty, and in the civil courts can result in a person having a significant award of damages made against him or her.

Evidence given under oath in court can have significant consequences. That is why it is always important to recognise if someone is wrong and is telling lies, and prosecute them for that.

I want to thank former Senator, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, agus Cáit Nic Amhlaoibh for their efforts on this legislation. I also want to put on record that Deputies from the Regional Group are supportive of the amendment tabled by the Labour Party on online bullying. It is equally important that we send out a clear message on that. Every single one of us in this House has been the victim of online bullying, sometimes under the guise of political debate. A clear message needs to be sent out in that area and we will support that.

This Bill is about is about sending out a clear statement in terms of the definition of perjury. To perjure one's self is, first, to make a statement, either verbally or in writing, that has been lawfully sworn and the person so swearing it knows it is false. The second condition is that that statement must have a material impact on the proceedings before the court. Those two tests provide a huge level of protection but they also ensure there is a clear, unambiguous definition on the issue of perjury.

I thank the Aire agus an tAire Stáit for their commitment to both pieces of legislation and I hope this legislation will be expedited. As a member of the Business Committee, I will work to ensure this committee is established as quickly as possible. I hope all colleagues here who are members of that committee ensure this legislation, along with the commitments of the Ministers, is expedited and enacted as quickly as possible.

Amendment agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.

Is it not great to be heading towards the end of term with such an outbreak of collegiality? Well done to all involved in this initiative.