Members and all others in attendance are again asked to exercise personal responsibility in respect of protecting themselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid. Will they please adhere, as they have been doing, to the guidelines?
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Storm Barra is raging outside and bringing significant disruption to families, workers and businesses, especially in those counties under red and orange warnings. Today and tonight, people need to stay safe. No one should take chances or risks. It is important that we pay tribute to our front-line workers. After 18 months of heroism, they now find themselves in the eye of the storm, again risking their own safety to keep us safe and the show on the road. We thank them.
Our children are not in school today because of this exceptional storm. We are now in winter and our children and teaching staff have been freezing in classrooms wearing hats and scarves during the school day, with windows wide open in an attempt to keep them safe. We are nearly two years into this pandemic, but the Government has still not delivered a plan for proper ventilation in our schools. It has been clear for some time that high-efficiency particulate air, HEPA, filters have an important role to play in ensuring schools have clean air. They remove contaminants and viruses from the air and help reduce airborne transmission in classrooms with poor ventilation. The WHO, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ECDC, and the Government's own expert group on ventilation have emphasised the value of HEPA filters in keeping schools safe. Instead of listening to this expert advice and installing HEPA filters in schools, the Government's approach is, as the Taoiseach put it at his press conference on Friday, to open the windows and so on.
Parents and school staff must have been shaking their heads in disbelief. This refusal to act on filtration in schools reminds us of the Government's reticence to accept the advice on mask wearing at the start of the pandemic and its failure to incorporate antigen tests until the eleventh hour in the fight against Covid. We again see no sense of urgency, no forward planning and no common sense from the Government on the issue of ventilation in schools.
It has been known for some time that Covid is an airborne virus and we knew that schools would be a greater challenge in the face of a more transmissible variant. The rates of infection among school-aged children have shot up in recent months. The writing is on the wall and the Government has had ample time and every opportunity to get things right, yet it has wasted these opportunities.
In December last year, Deputy Ó Laoghaire called on the Minister for Education to ensure that schools were provided with devices over the Christmas break to make sure children returned to safely ventilated classrooms last January. He was ignored. Indeed, it took nine months for the Government to act on CO2 monitors. These monitors are badly needed but they do not clean the air. They have to be backed up with a filtration system. We do not have another nine months to wait for the Government to get HEPA devices into classrooms.
Tá sé thar am anois chun a bheith dáiríre faoi aeráil cheart sna scoileanna agus ag coinneáil páistí agus baill fhoirne sábháilte. Tá sé thar am ag an Rialtas scagairí HEPA a fháil i seomraí ranga chomh tapa agus is féidir.
Does the Taoiseach accept we must move beyond opening windows as a plan for ventilation in school and will he commit to immediately commencing the installation of HEPA filters in classrooms?
I again put on the record of the House the Government's deep appreciation for all those in the emergency services who are doing so much across the country to protect life and limb, especially in the south west at the moment, in helping our communities to cope through Storm Barra. Our emergency services, ESB staff, council employees and community workers are all doing so at considerable personal risk and I pay tribute to the National Emergency Co-ordination Centre for the preparatory work it has been engaged in for well over the past week, planning and preparing for what is a very challenging, difficult and varied storm. To the members of that team, we owe an awful lot indeed.
On the situation pertaining to Covid, putting aside all the noise and the attempts to undermine or attack the Government, which is a legitimate position from the Opposition if it wants to pursue that road, the most important collective message we as a House can give to people today is to take their booster vaccine when they are offered it. Vaccination, more than anything else, is protecting people against severe illness, hospitalisation and admission to ICUs. The booster vaccination jabs have been shown to produce very strong antibody responses and are likely to provide protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death from most variants, including Delta and Omicron.
The reason I am saying this is that in the week commencing 22 November, 208,000 appointments were offered, of which about 80,000 turned up. Last week, of 180,000 appointments, 93,000 turned up. The same urgency does not seem to be there in respect of availing of the option to take the booster as was there when we were offered the first and second doses. In the over-75 group, where people have been taking up the offer of a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in high numbers, we are seeing a significant reduction in the incidence of the disease, so it does work. The booster vaccines will have a really significant impact on Delta. I cannot stress that enough. It is the one message I want to get across today, above and beyond everything else to do with Covid-19.
On ventilation and our schools, the Minister for Education has at all times adhered to expert advice in respect of ventilation. While it may at times be tempting to lampoon the idea of fresh air, the number one item on that expert advice is that, where possible, fresh air is the most effective form of ventilation. Of course, that has limitations in the context of cold and inclement weather. The Minister for Education has provided substantial resources to schools and will continue to do so. Schools will be in a position, if they wish and if it is suitable, to buy HEPA filters for classrooms, but I point out the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, SAGE, the expert body in the UK, on HEPA filters.
It is saying there is a need for better data on real-world application to support these technologies. It may be a viable solution in spaces where it is difficult to provide good ventilation. SAGE is saying that a lot of the application of filters will depend on the configuration of rooms and certain situations.
The point I would make is this. I have noticed throughout the course of the pandemic that, every now and again, someone comes up with the magic solution. Invariably, there is no one magic silver bullet to deal with Covid. It is a combination of efforts and, right now, it seems to me, from looking at the data, that the most effective thing we can do out there is to encourage people to take their booster vaccine when it is offered.
Of course, there is no single silver bullet, more is the pity, and there is no single answer, including vaccination, although I am never one to lampoon either fresh air or the need for vaccination and for boosters, which is absolutely imperative. However, I asked the Taoiseach a different question. I asked him about ventilation and air quality in our classrooms. Between removing contact tracing from schools, a very sluggish response to teaching supply and mixed and confused messaging on children wearing masks in schools, the Government's record in dealing with staff and children in the classroom is not good. To say to staff and children that the answer is to shiver in classrooms is not acceptable. These HEPA filters are one item, an important item, in the toolbox that we have to keep people safe.
I have asked the Taoiseach a very straightforward question. I have quoted the expert advice. The World Health Organization, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and, indeed, the expert group that his own Government appointed recognise that these filters are an important intervention. Instead of taking a laissez-faire approach with schools, I want the Taoiseach to commit that the Government will ensure that these filters are rolled out. Use the Christmas break, use the opportunity of the kids being on holidays, to install these ventilators and to ensure that we have clean air and that we do not have frozen children and staff members, as one action, but an important action, in an array of things we will have to do to keep our children safe.
I do not know if the Deputy heard my initial reply but the funding will be made available if schools wish to purchase HEPA filters in given situations.
Is that a “Yes”?
I know the Deputy accused us of mixed messaging and so forth. She needs to be very careful before she accuses anyone of mixed messaging. I did watch and hear her as she was beamed in from New York in response to the Government measures, and I was none the wiser at the end of her interview as to whether she approved of those public health measures that the Government decided or not.
I did not approve of the Government’s handling of them. I am sure the Taoiseach was very clear on that. I could not have been clearer.
This is more of the mixed messaging: “I don't agree with the Government's approach and I won't go against the public health message.” Deputy McDonald could not come out clearly like Michelle O'Neill did in the North. I do not agree necessarily with the stance taken there, where Michelle O'Neill was saying there is no need for any more new restrictions. Deputy MacDonald kind of took the halfway house again. Her hallmark-----
Is the Taoiseach going to answer my question?
Her utterances and articulation, unfortunately, throughout the pandemic-----
Will he answer my question? He is the Taoiseach.
-----have been the hallmark of mixed messaging from the get-go.
Really. Okay. Thank you. It is kind of pathetic but-----
I want to ask what is going on as regards communications with NPHET. I do not want to use the phrase “gag” but that seems to be what it is. Now, all communication has to go through the Government Information Service, GIS. If that is the way the Taoiseach wants to do things, that is fine, but he is responsible for that because it reports to him and GIS is in his Department. Why is this change happening now as regards the process by which NPHET communicates with the public? The Taoiseach is responsible for it, but why now? Is it because of what happened last Thursday in regard to information coming out from a NPHET meeting before the Government made the decision? If it is, just say so.
I have a concern. The Government makes decisions and has to make the ultimate communications, but there are times when we have to hear directly from public health experts in regard to specifics. We have a storm going on outside. With all due respect to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, I would rather hear from Evelyn Cusack and Met Éireann as regards the direction of that storm than from the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage because there is a very specific need. I say that in jest but we are also in the middle of a pandemic.
There are specific needs as regards information that has to be communicated. Going through GIS in order to have to make media appearances is worrying from a transparency point of view.
The Taoiseach needs to clear this up because, from my perspective and from that of the Labour Party, the main confusion over the past week has not been from NPHET but from the Government. When it came to antigen testing, the Government indicated there were going to be subsidies but then all of a sudden the Minister announced on television that there would not be. A missive was sent out at 6.15 p.m. on Tuesday last regarding masks being mandatory. There was a U-turn on Monday because I challenged the Government in the Dáil on the legality of this for principals. In some cases, principals were unwilling to do it. That changed as a result. There were changes in respect of those arriving into the country. Aer Lingus informed the country that a change had taken place between Friday and Sunday as regards the requirement for PCR and antigen tests on arrival. We see a pattern here.
I also raised the issue of the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and Ministers were touting different schemes until yesterday when the Minister for Social Protection gave us some, but not all, of the information. We now know that information will not be fully out there until Thursday or Friday. We have the issues of HEPA filters, and I agree with the previous speaker that this has been going on forever. I have no understanding whatsoever as to why this has not been put forward and dealt with.
I want to ask the Taoiseach the following questions. Who is responsible for the change in policy of how NPHET is to communicate with the public on specific public health issues? Why was that decided? Does the Taoiseach accept that it is Ministers and their failures as regards communication that have created the omnishambles over the five issues I have pointed out in the past week alone? For those workers who are so impacted by the restrictions that have been brought about, including those who are servicing the hospitality industry - taxi drivers and others - what bespoke measures will be put in place in order to support them during this difficult time?
I agree with the Deputy’s comments on the centrality and importance of the public health advice during the global pandemic. From the outset of this pandemic, when I was on the Opposition benches in the immediate aftermath of the general election, at the first meeting with public health officials I stated - Deputy Shortall would have been present at that meeting and would have said exactly the same thing - that all of us in this House must accept the centrality of public health advice as a guide to dealing and coping with the pandemic. That remains my position. It is extremely important that public health advice is independent and transparent and is seen to be so. I will give the following commitment: as long as I am Taoiseach, there will never be an attempt, in any shape or form, to undermine the independence or transparency of public health advice.
The Deputy may have overstated the degree to which there has been a change in communications. All press officers in all Departments have been asked to make sure that NPHET spokespeople are facilitated in going forward to the public media to do interviews, make media appearances and communicate public health advices in the context of Government policy and to explain to people the rationale for the advice that is given. The Government also decided that we will co-ordinate this so that we do not have six spokespeople out on the one day as opposed to two or three and that there is a synchronising and a proper co-ordination of those appearances. That is not something anybody can quibble with. That is the position. I have checked back on what happened over the weekend and nobody was stopped from going on any show from what I have garnered. I said what I said at a press outing on Sunday morning in good faith. This matters to me too and I believe in the independence of NPHET.
I want to make the following point while reflecting on what has happened in recent months.
I have come to the conclusion that, more often than not, referring to mixed messaging is a good way of saying "I actually don't like the message". That seems to me to be the position. In the House from time to time, people have said that we have not done antigen testing but everyone knows that public health advisers have not been, from the earliest days, the strongest advocates of antigen testing. There is a robust debate about antigen testing and there is also a robust debate about ventilation. I believe we should do everything we possibly can on ventilation, and we will, but people move on very quickly from the public health advice and say that the Government is not doing this or that when, on many occasions, it can be because that is the advice. All of us need to be careful not to fall prey to the inevitable human failing of always seeking to blame the messenger when we do not quite like the message.
I presume the Taoiseach is not referring to my party because, as he knows, uniquely among Opposition parties, we have supported the emergency measures. It is very hard to take the Taoiseach seriously when he says that the message is sometimes lost in translation. What happened in relation to schools was not lost in translation; it was a direct contradiction. I have been raising antigen testing in the House for 14 months.
I am worried about GIS and the spokespeople from NPHET, a considerable percentage of whom are public servants. Some of those involved with NPHET and NIAC are not public servants, but some are. I have a concern that they feel that they need to go through GIS in order to appear on radio or TV shows or speak to the print media. Will the Taoiseach confirm that they do not have to go through GIS? Mr. Gavan Reilly said last Sunday that a senior member of NPHET was supposed to appear on his show but then he was told that the person was not available. The Taoiseach is now saying that is not the case. Will he confirm to the House that anybody from NPHET who wants to appear on any show or give an interview to the print media does not have to go through GIS or any spokespeople?
Journalists should continue to contact the HSE or the Department of Health to request interviews with public health officials.
What if they contact them directly?
Then they should notify the grid and make sure that everyone knows who is appearing on what show at a given time.
To co-ordinate. We need co-ordination, obviously.
All of a sudden, two years later.
The Deputy has been complaining about-----
Yes, about Ministers.
Deputies on the opposite side have been complaining about so many messages and so many people speaking. That has been a common refrain.
It is because of the pandemic, basically, if we are honest about it. The pandemic has necessitated very frequent interviews and commentary, particularly with regard to Omicron. Let us be clear. The reason there was a significant range of announcements in the past ten days was because Omicron was a big factor. Let us be honest. We had to make a call in terms of travel. The rise in cases of Delta among five- to 11-year-olds necessitated a response from public health and a Government decision on 9- to 11-year-olds and masks. We have to move quickly at times in respect of public health advice on new developments. Omicron was one of those new developments. It looks like it will be a significant element in the next phase of the pandemic, which is why I said what I said at the outset about the absolute necessity and importance of people getting the booster vaccine.
When you are explaining, you are losing.
It will really protect people to a much greater degree than they are protected now against either Delta or Omicron.
Deputy Kelly made the point that he has been raising antigen testing but he would be the first to admit that he is not a public health expert, no more than I am.
I am not saying that I am.
I know that and neither am I. There we go again. What I am saying is that there is a difference of opinion on antigen tests and there always has been.
Of course people should take up their vaccine boosters and of course there is no silver bullet for Covid-19, but I am shocked at the Taoiseach's complacency, inaction and, quite frankly, denial of science when it comes to the issue of air quality and ventilation.
That is what it is. We now know that Covid-19 is an airborne disease. It hangs around in the air. In particular, it hangs around in buildings that are of poor quality and in which there are poor levels of ventilation or a lack of filtration of air to ensure air purity. The science is building up rapidly on this but the Government is doing nothing about it.
People Before Profit has been talking about this for months. Last week, we brought forward a Bill in which we are looking for the Government to establish minimum standards on ventilation and air quality. We did so on the basis of science and public health expertise. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established that two HEPA filters in a room will reduce exposure to Covid-19 and other infectious diseases such as flu by 65%. In November, the University of Cambridge completed a study at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, where HEPA filters were put in for five days. The filters removed all traces of Covid-19 from the air. They then tested for five days in the same hospital without HEPA filters and Covid-19 returned. That is very strong evidence. Orla Hegarty demonstrated the startling fact that half of all those who have died in this country as a result of infection were infected in fewer than 400 buildings. That is less than 1% of buildings. I am talking about nursing homes, hospitals and industrial and workplace settings - meat factories and so on - in which there was poor-quality ventilation. The evidence is very strong. It is not a silver bullet, but it may be a significant game changer. Against that background, the Government is talking about using the minor works grant, which is probably just existing money instead of, as New Zealand has done, putting HEPA filters and air monitoring in every classroom. It should provide the money to purchase them up front and take the necessary action over Christmas. The Government should add to that hospitals, in respect of which the question of air quality is absolutely critical for the protection of the health workers who the Taoiseach was just praising. This is what the nurses and medical unions have been calling for for some time.
The Government acts on science all the time in respect of anything we do with regard to Covid-19. The Minister for Education acted on expert advice. A working group was formed and advice was given to the Minister for Education on schools. There is expert guidance regarding workplaces which was issued in the early stages of the pandemic. Public health officials have been arguing about good ventilation from the get-go. I quoted SAGE to the Deputy earlier. It says that it may be of help but it qualifies it significantly. We issued approximately 35,000 CO2 monitors to schools. In second level schools there is vaccination of students from 12 to 17 years of age. There has been a significant wave of Delta in primary schools. Funding will be made available but there could be different solutions for different schools around ventilation and air quality. Some may be more medium term. The immediate short-term solution is portable HEPA filters or some improvement of that kind. Funding will be made available for that. However, it is not a silver bullet by any means.
The Deputy seems to ignore the advice that public health has given to schools or that the expert working group gave to the Minister in respect of ventilation.
The Minister got expert advice. Different publications come along from time to time. I do not think the evidence about the 400 buildings would stand the test of all public health officials or public health expertise, in terms of narrowing it down to that. Obviously, in nursing homes where people are resident for a number of years, you are unfortunately going to get a high preponderance and we found that out in the earlier part of the pandemic. However, that has been much improved because of vaccination, as opposed to having to lock down and stopping people from visiting and so on. The one game-changer for nursing homes has been vaccination. Let us call a spade a spade.
The Deputy can be shocked all he likes about other aspects. I am open to everything that works. I am for proven means of ventilation. I am also in favour of the principle of doing no harm in respect of whatever we provide or we put in. The resources will be provided where schools feel it is necessary. I was in a school recently which actually had another alternative solution which was working for it. It has not had a single transmission. It was Larkin Community College. I was shown the particular, unique construction of the school and the kind of defences there. The 35,400 CO2 monitors are in 4,000 schools across the country. We will continue to work with the schools. There is also a technical team available to work with schools as well.
Of course the vaccine has made an enormous difference. We have actively encouraged people to take it up, as has everybody in this House. However, it is still not enough. It is clearly not enough because we are asking entertainment, music, taxi drivers and all sorts of people to take the hit once again as we head into Christmas and asking people to reduce their social contacts. Maybe that is necessary but the Taoiseach cannot absolve himself of the responsibility to do absolutely everything he possibly can to reduce the impact of this virus and the Government is not doing it when it comes to air quality. When you go into a hospital for surgery, the air in the operating theatre is filtered precisely to prevent the transmission of infection in the theatre. Why does the Taoiseach think that is done? It is done because it works. It stops the transmission of infectious disease through the air. So the science is clear on this. It will definitely help. It could be a game-changer but it will definitely help significantly, yet the Government is delaying. Why is the Taoiseach not demanding minimum air quality standards and providing the resources, like filters, that will be necessary? By the way the cost of HEPA facilities in every school, in hospitals and in nursing homes as well as other places we know the disease has hit disproportionately would be a fraction of the money the Government is having to pour out on income supports.
I do not think the Deputy is listening to me. We are not against HEPA filters. We are for them and will provide resources for them. I have said this three times today already.
There are 50,000 classrooms across the country, between primary and post-primary schools. The Department and the Minister are adopting a targeted approach to address ventilation issues, which may include air cleaners, where required. We are looking here at air cleaners costing between €1,500 and €1,800, which we think are what is required for classrooms.
Why hold back?
These will not be the domestic-standard ones some people are talking about. They must be of sufficient quality and grade. The funding is there. Funding will be provided for it.
For every classroom.
Again, where it is necessary. It may not be necessary in every classroom. That is the point. I have just noticed-----
What of the restaurants, bars and hospitals?
I am sorry but we have given unprecedented resources to hospitals, to the economy and to sector after sector.
I thank the Taoiseach. The time is up.
Deputy Boyd Barrett must acknowledge that. He never has, but he should.
I am saying this could help get us out of this.
I call Deputy Shanahan.
I thank the Taoiseach's officials for their behind-the-scenes engagement over continuing recruitment anomalies for our cardiology services at University Hospital Waterford, UHW. Hopefully, there will be no further snafus with building on the Taoiseach's promise to the people of the south east.
It is fair to say that we had all better keep a beady eye on the delivery of these future approved appointments.
With that in hand for the moment, it allows me to use my time to address an issue of national importance, that is, our dysfunctional insurance market. Insurance, the contributions of the many for the losses of the few, is supposed to make our society more resilient. Our Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, was not wrong when he observed that we do things in life, such as playing sport or throwing a child onto a trampoline, that inherently carry a risk. We have got to manage that risk. Increasingly, commercial business, not-for-profits, schools, the Government and families are finding it hard, and that they can do less in life, because insurance is not working. This is déjà vu from 20 years ago.
Occupiers' liability remains extraordinarily onerous. If something happens on your premises, you are to blame, irrespective of the circumstances. Nothing has happened on the reform of occupiers' liability, despite it being in the justice action plan. The ink is barely dry on the personal injuries guidelines committee award levels and they are already being circumvented. There appear to be no repercussions for making persistent nuisance, or even downright fraudulent, claims. Cases take too long and take too much out of the people involved in them. Simply put, insurance costs too much and for many it is becoming impossible to obtain at any reasonable economic cost. Indeed, what is becoming a parasitical insurance-medical-legal industry crushes the social, cultural and economic vitality of our society. It is no surprise that that honeypot crushed the troika back in the day.
It is surely time to grab the nettle and stop tinkering with tort reform but replace tort compensation with a sturdy social security framework that serves victims without respect to cause or fault. Tort reform was legislated for in Australia a decade ago and has delivered for that society. We must do something similar in Ireland.
I thank the Deputy for his query. I noted his comments regarding the cardiac situation in Waterford, which we will continue to pursue vigorously. I am conscious another Waterford Deputy and Minister is sitting adjacent to me, who is also advocating strongly for that. I take the Deputy's point on the issue.
On insurance inform, I have a lot of sympathy with the Deputy's comments on the impact of insurance costs on employment, business and enterprise. That is why it is a key priority for the Government. The action plan for insurance reform was published in December 2020. It sets out 66 actions to bring down costs for consumers and businesses, introduce more competition into the market, prevent fraud and reduce the burden on enterprises and community and voluntary organisations. Some 95% of the actions are due to be completed by the end of 2021.
The first action plan implementation report, published in July, shows that tangible progress has been made. The introduction of new personal injury guidelines is one example. Early data from the Personal Injuries Assessment Board demonstrates that award levels have declined by an average of 40%. I take the Deputy's point that we need to see that translated into premium reductions. An office to promote competition in the insurance market has been established, chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for financial services, credit unions and insurance, Deputy Sean Fleming, who is doing exceptional work on this topic. The Criminal Justice (Perjury and Related Offences) Act 2021 passed all Stages on 15 June. This will make perjury an offence for the first time and will, therefore, help tackle insurance fraud. An insurance fraud co-ordination office has been established within An Garda Síochána.
The Deputy identified the issue of occupiers' liability. He will know that the Department of Justice has recently completed a review of the Occupiers' Liability Act, which included the issues of duty of care, notices and waivers. The Minister for Justice, Deputy Helen McEntee, has noted to Government the intention to bring forward legislative proposals to reform the law in this area. Those proposals are at a very advanced stage. The Minister has indicated that the heads of the relevant amendments have been drafted and advice has been sought from the Office of the Attorney General. The planned rebalancing of duty of care with a view to applying a common sense approach to risk is of particular relevance to leisure and high-footfall activities, as it will help to address so-called slips, trips and falls.
The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, is progressing development of a general scheme of legislative amendments to increase the number of cases which are settled by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, without recourse to litigation and he is working in consultation with the Attorney General on the reform of PIAB and legislative reforms in that regard. A comprehensive programme of action is under way.
The issue will be, as those reforms are implemented and given effect to, whether we can translate those reforms. We need to ensure the translation of those reforms into reduced costs for people, such as households, community and voluntary groups and businesses.
Insurance is not working, as the Taoiseach knows. It is becoming unaffordable and unavailable for a significant number of sectors. Many only have recourse to one underwriter and they have to pay whatever is being asked of them. The Taoiseach mentioned PIAB and he knows PIAB claims are being circumvented with the attachment of post traumatic stress to soft tissue injuries. That was never meant to be where we were going in terms of the personal injuries guidelines committee, PIGC. There has been no attachment of costs to solicitors' practices bringing nuisance cases. I have not seen any and, in fact, there was one high profile case recently where the judge explicitly refused to do this. It related to GAA insurance.
The insurance companies are not settling. They are settling low-pay costs because they do not want to go to the High Court and even when they are getting awards, they cannot recover the costs from the other side. This is leading to this large level of dysfunction. When the Taoiseach talks about claims falling, what he is really talking about is the motor insurance industry. That is the only heading where insurance claims appear to be falling and where premiums are falling. They are not falling anywhere else. I have a friend in the sports amenity business who is facing a claim from somebody who broke through a fence, came into the property at night and injured themselves. My friend is facing a personal injuries claim, as an occupier.
Unfortunately, this is endemic throughout the country if one looks at where the courts are going. It is being supported, unfortunately, by many in the legal profession and we will have to legislate again and properly on insurance reform beyond what we are doing.
I thank the Deputy for raising what is a very important issue for people and it is part of a wider agenda within Government to reduce costs for people in their ordinary lives. Insurance is a significant cost, whether one is in a household, motoring or in a business. The Deputy was correct to point to the reduction in motor insurance. This morning, the Government again adopted a significant road safety strategy for the coming years. It is interesting when one looks at the number of people who died on our roads 20 years ago compared to now. The number is stark - in other words, it is far fewer now. I stand corrected on the figures but it was something like 450 per annum but it is approximately 150 now, which is still too many. However, it illustrates what good strategies and reforms can achieve. I recall the howling in the House when the then Minister was introducing drink driving laws and so on. Deputies were opposing them. Noel Dempsey was the Minister at the time and the late Gay Byrne headed up the RSA. However, the results are there to be seen in reduced road fatalities and accidents. Strategies work. The agenda we have for insurance reform is comprehensive and will work, but we have to keep the focus on it and make sure it works and translates into reduced costs.