Michael Barrett, Richard Bennett, Carol Bissett, James Buckley, Paula Byrne, Caroline Carey, John Colgan, Jacqueline Croker, Liam Dunne, Michael Farrell, David Flood, Thelma Frazer, Michael French, Josephine Glen, Michael Griffiths, Robert Hillick, Brian Hobbs, Eugene Hogan, Murtagh Kavanagh, Martina Keegan, Mary Keegan, Robert Kelly, Mary Kennedy, Mary Kenny, Margaret Kiernan, Sandra Lawless, Francis Lawlor, Maureen Lawlor, Paula Lewis, Eamon Loughman, George McDermott, Marcella McDermott, William McDermott, Julie McDonnell, Teresa McDonnell, Gerard McGrath, Caroline McHugh, Donna Mahon, Helena Mangan, James Millar, Susan Morgan, David Morton, Kathleen Muldoon, George O'Connor, Brendan O’Meara, John Stout, Margaret Thornton and Paul Wade. These are the 48 names of those who died 40 years ago in the Stardust fire. Hundreds were injured. We do not know the cost in terms of trauma, heartbreak, marriage difficulties, suicide and addiction, but it is huge. I am asking about the cost of what the families are looking for in terms of ensuring the inquiry into the Stardust fire, which cost all these lives and caused all the pain, can finally be set up.
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla — Topical Issue Debate
I would like to convey the apologies of the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, who regrets she cannot be here today due to another commitment. On her behalf, I thank Deputy Ó Ríordáin for raising this important matter and giving me the opportunity to clarify a number of issues.
The Stardust fire was a national tragedy. It has left a particular legacy of pain for many people in north Dublin. I sympathise greatly with the families of the 48 young people who were tragically killed in the Stardust fire over 40 years ago, those who were injured and those who were left traumatised. These families have suffered a terrible loss. I also recognise the impact on everyone who attended on the night, the local community and the responders.
It is important to say that the new Stardust inquests were directed by the Attorney General, and significant work has already been undertaken by the senior Dublin coroner, Dr. Myra Cullinane. She has had five pre-inquest hearings to date. I am informed that a sixth is scheduled to take place on 13 October.
As the Deputy will be aware, the conduct of Stardust inquests is entirely a matter for the senior Dublin coroner. She, like all coroners, is independent in the conduct of inquests as set out in the Coroners Acts. It is important to note that neither the Minister of State nor her Department have any role in this regard. However, I assure the Deputy and the families that the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, is committed to ensuring that the Stardust inquests and the families involved are provided with all relevant supports. In this regard, extensive work has already been undertaken. Government funding of up to €8 million has been allocated for the new inquests. This funding will help to provide free legal aid for the families concerned. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, signed the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 2021 in May. These regulations allow all families, on an exceptional basis, to gain access to legal aid for the Stardust inquests, regardless of means. The Legal Aid Board, which is independent in the conduct of its function, is, I am informed, engaging with the legal representatives of the families to agree an appropriate funding structure and schedule. The funding will also provide for other necessary supports, including the fit-out of the bespoke Covid-compliant courtrooms in the Royal Dublin Society, RDS. Remote hearing technology has also been installed to allow the inquest to be undertaken safely for all concerned.
I thank the Minister of State for the reply. Nobody, certainly not me, wants an unseemly political row over what is an intensely traumatic and sensitive issue. The families, however, feel the funding has not been made available to their satisfaction. There is the potential for 47 families not to be involved in the inquest if things continue as they currently stand. While I understand the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, is not the decision maker in this regard, I urge him to ensure that he speaks to the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, and ensure this inquest can continue and that we will not have any cloud hanging over it. We all want an inquest to begin and the truth to be found in good faith on all sides. What we do not want is to have a row over money, because money really is irrelevant when you consider the list of people who should still be alive today. All of them were young enough to be alive today. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, to make that case and for this to be resolved.
It is the last thing any of the families want to be talking about and I am sure it is the last thing the Minister of State and the officials in the Department want to be talking about in terms of the Stardust fire inquest. They do not want it said that before the inquest began there was a row over money which was not forthcoming from the Department.
I agree with the Deputy that nobody wants to be having rows over funding and I will bring the Deputy's comments and sentiments to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, when she returns. Extensive work has already been undertaken. I understand that work will continue and the Legal Aid Board will continue to engage with the legal representatives of the families. Understandably, this is an extremely sensitive and tragic situation. I will bring the Deputy's concerns to the attention of the Minister of State.
Mental Health Services
I convey my gratitude to the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, for attending in her capacity as the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for mental health and older people.
An important issue in my constituency and municipal district has been prominent in the national news in recent weeks and days. It concerns the provision of mental health residential accommodation in the Owenacurra centre, which is due to be closed down by the HSE. Discussions are ongoing on the future of the day-care services being provided at the facility. In recent days, I attended a public meeting in my constituency. It was extremely well attended by members of the community, not alone from the Midleton area but from across the constituency of Cork East, particularly its southern side. The majority of the families of service users are from the towns of Cobh, Carrigtwohill, Midleton and Youghal.
I would like to convey some of the points that were made to me from the floor at that meeting, which was also attended by colleagues from Cork County Council and my fellow Deputies in the constituency, Deputies Stanton and Buckley. Many valid points were made by the families. Above all else, they would all like to see the retention, if possible, of some type of residential mental health facility in the Midleton area or at least the east Cork region. We all accept, as the Minister of State is well aware, that the building at the Owenacurra centre is in poor condition. This has been clearly shown in the reports done by the Mental Health Commission. I would like to see some thought to be given to the potential for either a full refurbishment, the demolition of the existing facility and reconstruction of a new one or finding a way to incorporate a new residential facility so that the 19 full-time residents using the Owenacurra centre will have a home in their community. It is worth noting that for the long-term residents, the Owenacurra centre is their home and Midleton is their community. It will be difficult for many of them to adjust to their new environments, some of which will be entirely different as we know. That concerns me.
I know these decisions are being made by the HSE but I am asking the Minister of State for her help and for engagement and dialogue on this issue. I hope she will work with me and my constituency colleagues to find a better solution to what is being proposed. Most important, I ask that the HSE allow us time to reflect on the decision it is making and for a full review of what it has attempted to do in closing down the Owenacurra facility.
It was crystal clear from the people in the room in the Midleton Park Hotel, where the public meeting took place, that the Owenacurra centre has been a wonderful resource to the service users who have made great progress. They are extremely happy where they are and their families are also happy that they are able to use the facility. The staff in the centre have done fantastic work. I have been lucky enough to know some of the people who have used the Owenacurra centre through the years and I know many people who work in it. It is clear to me, as a public representative and Deputy for the constituency of Cork East, that the work they have done has been wonderful and that we should try to keep the centre if we can.
I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. Significant Government funding in 2021 means that the mental health budget is now in excess of €1.1 billion. The HSE is providing approximately €139 million this year for mental health services in community healthcare organisation, CHO, 4, which includes east Cork.
I appreciate that this topic has been raised by the Deputy in the context of the closure of the Owenacurra centre, and I acknowledge that we have discussed this matter on many occasions, even as late as yesterday. I thank him for his ongoing and constructive engagement on the closure and the transfer of residents to other healthcare services. The decision to close the Owenacurra centre has not been taken lightly and has been made on the basis that it is not fit for purpose. Significant concerns have been raised by HSE estates, the Mental Health Commission and independent reports on the condition of the building.
It is important to talk about the timeline. On 30 March 2021, the Mental Health Commission corresponded with the chief fire officer of Cork County Council, referring the matter of fire safety issues for its consideration and sharing the Maurice Johnson & Partners report. The HSE used its own report on the building as well as two independent reports. The chief fire officer and building control officer with Cork County Council wrote to mental health services on 13 April 2021 to raise concerns. On 18 June, HSE estates warned that it had discovered that the building was in poor and unacceptable condition with major defects. It stated that even if refurbishment took place, it could not guarantee that the refurbished building would meet current building requirements or be regarded as fit for purpose. While there was no immediate danger or risk to anyone, it was made clear that no amount of expenditure could bring the building to an acceptable standard.
I have been in touch with the HSE on a regular basis regarding this matter and I reassure the Deputy that in the context of the closure, the priority of the HSE and my priority is the welfare of the 19 residents. A needs assessment has been carried out for each resident to inform discussions around relocation with residents, their families and the multidisciplinary teams. While some people may require ongoing continuing care, others will be facilitated to live in lower support settings, based on their needs. Information on this was provided at yesterday's meeting of the Sub-Committee on Mental Health, chaired by Senator Black, which the Deputy attended. The multidisciplinary teams have met all residents and their families, with the exception of one family, with whom a meeting is scheduled for this week, to discuss their options, with the will and preferences of each resident being of central importance.
I am also aware that it was acknowledged by the HSE at yesterday's meeting of the Sub-Committee on Mental Health that communication processes with residents and families will be reviewed. I discussed this with the chief officer for mental health last night and he has given me a guarantee that this area will be reviewed. A member from the independent Irish Advocacy Network is part of the project steering group, in addition to a mental health service user family member and carer engagement representative. This is to ensure that residents and families continue to have independent supports available throughout the process.
In terms of mental health services generally in the Cork area, the HSE provides a wide range of community and hospital-based mental health services. I am also aware that a day-care centre operates out of the Owenacurra facility and I made it clear again last night to the area lead for mental health in CHO 4 that a temporary premises must be found immediately while a permanent solution is being put in place.
I thank the Minister of State for her response. While I am in Dáil Éireann, I stress the point that the loss of the residential service being provided at the Owenacurra centre will have a major impact in east Cork. It will leave the entirety of the southern side of the Cork East constituency without a residential facility. That is worrying to me as a Deputy for the constituency. I ask again if a budget can be found, either now or in the future, to retain some type of residential facility in the Midleton area.
I accept the point the Minister of State made about the serious issues relating to the current facilities of the Owenacurra centre. I do not think those issues are avoidable. I would like to see an effort being made by the Department of Health, the HSE and the Mental Health Commission. The commission was aware of the deterioration of the building's condition. That is made quite clear in the commission's reports from 2017 to 2020. It is crucial that we fight for a new facility in the Midleton region. On the night of the public meeting, many people from the Midleton community made the point that they are worried the site could be used for an alternative purpose and its current capacity as a HSE facility would be lost. People want to be reassured that whatever happens with the grounds of the Owenacurra centre, it will remain a healthcare setting in some form for the future. It is a strategically located facility in the Midleton area. I will allow the Minister of State an opportunity to respond.
I thank the Deputy. Improving all aspects of mental health service delivery is a priority for me, the Government as a whole and the HSE, in line with the executive's national service plan 2021. This includes continued collaboration between relevant agencies and service users to ensure that quality and standards in our mental health facilities are further improved in line with best practice and recommendations. With regard to Owenacurra, the most important issue is the safety and welfare of the current residents first and foremost. There is clear consensus that the current building is not fit for purpose and cannot be brought to the standard required. It is a building of its time. However, I take on board the Deputy's point that this was the facility in east Cork where people with mental health illness were able to live and engage within the community.
The HSE has a plan in place to close the centre on a phased basis and ensure clear and open channels of communication are maintained with the individuals residing in the centre and their support networks. I know many concerns were raised in the sub-committee and by the Deputy about the fact that 31 October is approaching quickly and perhaps not everyone will be in the best place, facility, home, hospital or nursing home for his or her care. Last night, the mental health lead in the area informed me that 31 October is the deadline but if there are still residents in the facility on that date, the service will continue to work with families to get the right places for them.
It is imperative that a temporary premises is found immediately so that people who use the day-care centre will be able to receive supports in the community.
The health and well-being of the people of Wexford have been compromised by the actions and inability of the management of Wexford County Council. On 19 August, there was a breakdown at the Creagh water treatment plant in Gorey. People were drinking poisonous water in their homes from the Creagh treatment plant for a week without any boil water notice. Fifty-three people have been reported as affected. Some have been hospitalised while many more have become very seriously ill. It is commensurate with the first scene in the film "Erin Brockovich".
I attended a meeting of Wexford County Council on 13 September at which the director of services occupying the CEO's chair confirmed Wexford County Council first became aware of the contamination on 23 August but no boil water notice was issued. It is unclear what actions, if any, were taken. On South East Radio on Monday, the same director of services said that the first Wexford County Council knew about it was on 26 August. Those stories clearly do not match. The delineation between Wexford County Council and Irish Water is clear. Wexford County Council is responsible for the day-to-day risk management of the plant at Creagh and that risk management failed.
We in Wexford are left with a crisis of confidence in our drinking water. This has been described by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, as an abject failure of management, oversight, operational control and responsiveness by Irish Water and local authorities. In all circumstances, the public must have confidence when they turn on their taps that they can drink the water from the public supply. We are not Spain during the reign of Franco. It is the most basic human right and one that has been compromised by the mismanagement of senior officials at Wexford County Council. Will the Minister of State appoint an independent forensic investigator with proper terms of reference, to include the allocation of engineering resources within Wexford County Council, and of sufficient standing to instil public support and bring back confidence in the water supply?
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this important issue on behalf of the people of County Wexford. Last night, I met online with a number of people who have been affected by this issue. We are aware that more than 50 people have been affected by the Gorey outbreak. These are confirmed cases of illnesses associated with it. I ask the Minister of State to expedite the report of the independent investigation and, as quickly as possible, give people full confidence in the water supply from the Creagh plant in the Gorey area.
I know there have been issues relating to power cuts, pumps, water, alarm failures and heavy rainfall. Those issues amalgamated and the result was water infected with e-coli which, in turn, caused an awful lot of people to become sick. The most important outcome of this debate would be for the people of Gorey to regain confidence in their water supplies. It is easy to point fingers but we must look to the future. People must have confidence in the water supply and it is up to the Minister of State and his Department to make sure the report is expedited to give the people that confidence as soon as possible.
It is unfortunate that this issue happened. It is not good enough. I know an awful lot of people expect clean, safe water. It is incumbent on everybody, including Irish Water and Wexford County Council, to provide it. It is timely that we will now accelerate the establishment of Irish Water as a single water utility company. Dual responsibility has been going on for long enough. There needs to be one responsible entity and it is incumbent on the Government and Irish Water to establish Irish Water as the single water utility company.
I understand a serious investigation into this incident is under way. I ask the Minister of State to ensure the findings of the investigation are published as soon as possible and made available to the public. I ask him to ensure time is given for engagement with public representatives on the findings.
The Minister of State needs to give a clear outline of what will happen from now on and what actions he is preparing to take to guarantee this will not happen again in any of our water treatment plants. Serious questions need to be answered about who knew what and when, how this happened and why it was not reported for two days.
The focus needs also to be on those who got sick. Are they going to be compensated for the hurt, torment and trauma they have experienced? We need to ensure they are fully looked after following this abject failure of the system.
In a letter to the Secretary General of the Department last week, the EPA outlined two serious incidents in recent weeks in drinking water plants serving parts of Dublin city and surrounding areas, which occurred in the Ballymore Eustace water treatment plant and in Gorey, County Wexford. This included, in the case of Gorey, illnesses detected by the HSE in the community served by that water supply, as the three Deputies have outlined. It is important to note that Irish Water reports that these incidents have been rectified and the water supply from the two plants is now safe to drink, although that is cold comfort to the many who fell ill.
In its letter, the EPA stated that an abject failure in management oversight, operational control and responsiveness at two public drinking water treatment plants had allowed unsafe water to enter the public drinking water supply and endanger public health. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and I find the failures identified by the EPA concerning and unacceptable. People's safety and public health are paramount.
Our drinking water must be wholesome, clean and delivered by supply systems that are secure, safe and reliable.
Following receipt of the EPA’s letter, the Minister acted swiftly and met with the managing director of Irish Water, as well as the chief executives of Dublin City Council and Wexford County Council at the weekend. He has requested that Irish Water immediately undertake an audit of each of the water treatment plants across the country. Irish Water will prioritise the 20 largest water treatment plants and will visit each to ensure that proper processes are in place in terms of dealing with and escalating any incidents which may arise. Irish Water’s managing director and the local authority chief executives each assured the Minister directly of their full co-operation and indicated that their respective organisations are working closely together to put in place urgent and necessary corrective measures. Irish Water will also work with each local authority over coming two weeks and will conduct refresher training on incident reporting for all plants. Where appropriate, Irish Water will put its own staff on-site to ensure the continued safety of water treatment plants. The Minister has also requested that the local authorities work with Irish Water to improve linkages with the Irish Water national control centre.
Ultimately, there are limitations to the current working arrangements between Irish Water and local authorities. This is impacting on the delivery of services, a matter highlighted by Deputy Kehoe. A process is under way in the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, to deliver the transformation of the service, but the Minister has also requested that Irish Water and local authorities take further steps to improve Irish Water's control of all water service plants in the immediate term, pending the implementation of the agreed longer term operational and staffing arrangements. The Minister will again meet Irish Water and the local authorities in question on Monday, 4 October, to assess the issues that led to these incidents. Again, we will make the reports available, as the Deputies have outlined, in a timely manner.
Yesterday in the Seanad, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, endorsed the CEO. He regaled us with great stories of his skills as CEO of Wexford County Council. The Minister of State, Deputy Burke, might want to read this week's edition of the Wexford People. He might also need to stop listening to the civil servants who are feeding him yet another "Yes, Minister" moment. The EPA has come out with what is an abject failure of managerial oversight and, yet, we have a Minister of State endorsing the CEO who presided over it.
The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, will appreciate that all too often we experience the division of responsibility of the various organs of the State to the extent that nobody is accountable. We pay senior management in our public service comfortable six-figure sums to ensure that the very safety of the public is the cornerstone of our democracy. As a result of the malpractice of senior management of Wexford County Council, the State Claims Agency will be faced with claims in the tens of thousands, if not millions. Yet, those responsible will still be paid on Friday-----
-----and they will still receive their pensions on retirement. They may even be promoted.
We are over time.
In short, there is no accountability in the public service. Until there is, we cannot be certain that issues such as this will not come up again. I will raise this matter again and again.
I would appreciate if the Deputy could raise issue within her own time.
I welcome the Minister of State's response. The review that has been carried out must be published as soon as possible. The most important message that must go out from this Chamber today - I repeat the words of Irish Water and Wexford County Council in this regard - is that the water supply is safe to drink at this time.
I become very concerned when Members of this House have personal vendettas against the management of Wexford County Council. This is not a new attack by the Deputy opposite on the management of Wexford County Council-----
Sorry, Leas-Cheann Comhairle-----
I have known Tom Enright, who is chief executive Wexford County Council, for many years. He is a fine public servant. I know that there has been a previous attack on their director of services, Tony Larkin, who is another fine public servant.
This is not relevant.
It is completely absurd that a Member of his House-----
It is relevant, Leas-Cheann Comhairle, because 52 people are sick.
That a Member of this House would use parliamentary privilege to attack public servant-----
We are over time.
I have one message. The Deputy opposite went over time. Fair is fair. I ask the Minister of State to indicate that the public water supply from the Creagh Plant to Gorey, County Wexford, is safe to drink. That is the most positive message. I do not want to echo the negativity of some Members of the House; I just want to make sure that the water is safe to drink.
The Deputy’s blatant ignoring of the Chair is not acceptable. He referred to personal vendettas. I leave him to reflect on that type of language. The next speaker is Deputy Mythen.
It is important that the Department ensures that public trust is restored, that safeguards be copper-fastened into the water treatment system, that compulsory communication systems are automatically built in to inform the EPA and HSE of problems and that the public is immediately informed of any danger. This is an important issue. Some 52 people are extremely ill and that should be taken very seriously.
I thank the Deputy for his brevity.
I again thank the Deputies for their comments. I appreciate their ongoing worries about the serious incidents that occurred in the water treatment plant at Gorey and in Dublin. The safety and security of our water supply, as the Deputies have said, is paramount. There is a need to rebuild any trust that has been lost. I give the assurance that tap water is safe to drink in both situations.
One of the first initiatives that the Minister advanced on taking office was to develop a Government policy paper on the steps required to transform Irish Water into a proper, unified national public utility. This paper was progressed precisely because of the type of issues that emerged in the wake of the Leixlip incident in late 2019. The policy paper stated that despite owning the assets and paying for service delivery through service-level agreements with local authorities, Irish Water did not have direct control over the majority of service staff or assets. It also indicated that the separation between responsibility and control needed to be addressed as a priority. The paper made it clear that while the current working arrangement with local authorities had worked effectively to get Irish Water up and running, the limitations of this way of working was beginning to impact on service delivery and were increasingly seen as adding to the risk of service failure, as we have seen in these incidents.
A process is under way with the WRC to deliver the transformation of this service. The Minister has also requested that Irish Water and local authorities take further steps to improve Irish Water’s control of all water service plants in the immediate term, pending the implementation of the agreed long-term operation and staffing arrangements. I again assure the House that the report will be published in a timely manner.
I disagree with the contention that there is no accountability. There is accountability. That is what the Minister will ensure will happen with the local authorities concerned. As all the Deputies said, this is about restoring confidence. That can only be done through collaboration and through ensuring that we move towards a single utility to ensure that we have clean, safe drinking water as a human right for everyone in this country.
The final matter is in the names of Deputies Jennifer Whitmore and John Brady, and it is to discuss the closure of an outdoor recreational business due to increasing insurance costs.
I would like to raise the issue of spiralling insurance costs for small businesses, especially recreational businesses. In particular, I want to talk to about a company in north Wicklow, called Squirrel’s Scramble.
Squirrel’s Scramble is an extremely successful business in north Wicklow. It has operated for many years. It provides a key part of family life in the north Wicklow area. I would imagine most children have been through the facility. Those who own it offer a fun and challenging outdoor experience for children, which is exactly what parents want. Unfortunately, Squirrel’s Scramble has notified the community that it is being forced to close because of spiralling insurance costs. Those costs have risen from €26,000 to €88,000. That has happened without any change in the facility's operations and without any claims being made on its insurance. This is a real sign that there is a dysfunction in the insurance market at the moment. These costs are crippling this company and forcing it out of business, which is not acceptable.
This is a much broader issue and it is not just recreational businesses that are affected. Charities are also facing these crippling insurance costs. Something needs to be done because these are sorts of businesses and charities that hold our communities together and provide major services.
My understanding is that the Minister of State has agreed to meet with the company over the next couple of weeks. I wonder what tangible actions he can put in place to make sure that this company can reopen next spring. I know that the Government has put measures in place and that there have been changes to the insurance regime, but those changes are not trickling down and making an impact for businesses on the ground. They are also not impacting on the insurance premiums they are being charged.
I also want to raise with the Minister of State the serious issue of the escalating cost of providing insurance cover and the negative impact it is having on communities right across the State. I am speaking specifically here about County Wicklow and the impact it is having on a small successful business, Squirrel's Scramble, which had to take the difficult decision to close down temporarily because of the escalating insurance cost.
This is primarily down to the greed of the insurance industry but it is also a stark failure of the Government to get to grips with this rip-off industry. In 2017, Squirrel's Scramble's insurance costs were €3,000. Last year, they were €26,000. This year, the company was being quoted a price of €88,000 to provide the same cover. It is a crippling and unnecessary blow to a small business, a local community and the thousands of customers who avail of the excellent facilities at the adventure park throughout the year. It is also a devastating blow to the 20 staff who work in the facility.
The Minister of State previously stated that he promised to get additional competition into the Irish insurance market. He has failed to do that. I ask him to address this failure to bring in additional competition. I also want to repeat the call to introduce reform in relation to the insurance industry, including legislative changes to the duty of care provisions. If customers are to continue to enjoy the services offered by adventure parks such as Squirrel's Scramble, they will also have to share in the responsibility for their own safety. The legislation, as it currently stands, is simply not fit for purpose. All that is required is a straightforward amendment to the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 in order to allow the Government to improve the legislation around waivers so that there is a knowledge and understanding that when you sign a form, it is strong, solid and will stand up in court. That is something that the Minister of State committed to doing in the programme for Government a year and a half ago. Perhaps he can clarify where that is.
At the outset, I wish to acknowledge the issues raised by Deputies Whitmore and Brady regarding the difficulties being experienced by businesses in the leisure and outdoor recreational sector in obtaining public liability insurance, including the specific company that has been mentioned by the Deputies in the north Wicklow area. Such SMEs play a key role from an economic perspective and serve to enrich the quality of life in communities. The company mentioned by the Deputies did that for thousands of children and kids who used the facilities in recent years.
In response to Deputy Brady, who spoke generally on the insurance industry and referred to the rip-off industry and the lack of competition in the area, I was here last night in the Chamber when the Sinn Féin finance spokesperson spoke, during Question Time for the Minister for Finance, in relation to insurance when he was dealing with me on the matter. He said that he shopped around for his own personal car insurance this year and got it for €300 cheaper. Sinn Féin's own spokesperson on finance talked about the value of shopping around. Therefore, I do not accept the Deputy's claim here regarding rip-off insurance. It flies in the face of what his own party's spokesperson on finance described as his own personal experience.
How many insurance companies are providing this form of insurance?
As the Deputy has brought up the issue, I will not let it go, because what the Deputy said is utterly inconsistent with what his party spokesperson on finance said here last night. That is a reflection of the increased competition that we are seeing. However, both Deputies will know that I cannot comment on individual cases and speak to the insurance costs of individual companies due to many relevant factors that I am not privy to, such as the existence of open claims or other material information to the risk being insured that I would not consciously be aware of.
I also wish to acknowledge, and I say it genuinely, that it is good that the two Deputies have raised this issue today. The Minister of Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has made direct contact with me. I told him yesterday that I would be happy to meet with the company. I am happy to arrange that as soon as possible. I have had no direct personal contact with the company but I am sure that it can be arranged. I will be guided by the people involved as to who attends that meeting. If the Deputies want to be part of that meeting, I am happy with that. I have no problem with that.
In relation to the specifics, the answer is that I cannot write an insurance policy for the company directly. I think everybody knows that. However, what I will endeavour to do is talk to Insurance Ireland and Brokers Ireland in particular, because perhaps some broker in another part of the country entirely may have some knowledge in this area. I am not offering any panacea but we will put the relevant parties in touch with the right people in relation to the issue.
That brings us back to the issue that has been mentioned, namely, the duty of care legislation. I agree with Deputy Brady that the legislation needs to be amended. People do sign forms accepting responsibility and they are in at their own risk but when push comes to shove, the courts take a different view and the insurance companies often have to make settlements. The duty of care provisions that we have do not stand up as the way the Deputy and I would want them to. It is in our action plan for insurance to deal with that specific issue by legislating, which we will be so doing. I will come back with a timetable on the issues. I will issue a regular update in relation to the insurance issue on a quarterly basis, with the next update being issued in the coming weeks.
The duty of care is a big issue and it affects many leisure industries around the country, where, on the face of it, there is high risk, but where there should also be parental supervision. People have to watch what they are doing, know what is appropriate for them and take care.
I am offering to meet representatives from the company mentioned by the Deputies and whoever else if they so wish.
I welcome the Minister of State's response. I would also welcome the opportunity to attend the meeting. I will contact the company and ask representatives to reach out to the Minister of State directly to set up that meeting.
In relation to the duty of care legislation, I ask the Minister of State to expedite it because there is a real risk that companies will go under while these reforms are taking place. County Wicklow really prides itself on being a recreational centre for the east coast. It is a key element of the offering that we have as a county. We cannot afford for these small local businesses to go under while the reforms are going through the bureaucratic process. That is a real risk. As we have seen, the Minister of State has started that process but as I said earlier, it is not trickling down to the ground to where these businesses are being affected.
In relation to the comments about shopping around, it is my understanding that only one insurer deals with this area, so I would welcome it if the Minister of State would contact the brokers to see if there is any other insurance company or mechanism that could be available to this company.
To use the Minister of State's own words, he is not offering any panacea. Indeed, he is not offering any hope either. That is what is needed here. Unfortunately, it is the dragging of heels by this Government and its predecessors that has resulted in the crisis we see on the ground. The Minister of State is out of touch. Brokers are trying to shop around. Indeed, the insurance provider that provided the cover to the company last year has pulled out of the Irish market. There is no competition there. Virtually zero companies are offering it. Brokers are trying to shop around. That is how they came up with the quote of €88,000, which nobody can defend.
The Minister of State has stated that the Minister for Justice is leading on the duty of care legislation. It was a commitment in the programme for Government 18 months ago. Yet, we are being told that it is an advanced stage but there is no commitment to actually move it through. While the Minister of State is sitting there offering no panacea, hope or solution-----
-----businesses are closing right across the State, including Squirrel's Scramble. I look forward to attending that meeting with representatives of Squirrel's Scramble and the Minister of State-----
Hopefully, the Minister of State will have solutions at that stage.
Deputy, we are over time and we are eating into Private Members' Business.
I will conclude as quickly as I can. I understand the comments being made. There a few points on which I would like to elaborate. Everybody knows that the insurance industry is regulated by the Central Bank. Nobody in the Department of Finance is trying to tell the Central Bank and individual companies how to run their individual policies. The Deputy across from me now would be the first to say that I was interfering in an area in which I should not interfere. That said, we want to ensure that the industry works the way it should.
Second, the judicial guidelines that came out earlier this year have brought about a reduction in settlements so far. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, issued a preliminary report before the summer showing a reduction in the cost of claims. What the insurance companies in Ireland and those coming to Ireland want is a bit of certainty on how much it will cost if there is an accident.
We did not have that up to now but we have had it since April of this year. That helps attract businesses into Ireland, perhaps including businesses that left as a result of Brexit, which was not our decision. In light of that, I have also had regular meetings with IDA Ireland with a view to getting new insurance companies to enter the Irish market. At least two major international companies are seriously looking at the Irish market now that they have a bit of certainty regarding the cost of doing business here.
With regard to duty of care, this is one of the actions listed in the action plan for insurance which we published approximately 12 months ago. Two thirds of those commitments have already been implemented in those 12 months. I look forward to bringing that particular matter to a conclusion in the months ahead through the introduction of robust legislation in that area which will make it safer for businesses to operate in difficult situations such as this. I know there is certainty regarding the cost of claims.
I have met a number of Deputies here in the House in recent days who have said that their personal motor insurance quotes have gone down in the last 12 months. I know some will have had different experiences but many people are experiencing reductions in their insurance costs.