I do not want to be long-winded or to go off at a tangent, but I wish to state that I have been in this business since 1974, when I started as a bushy-tailed and bright young man. I did not worry about insurance companies, solicitors or anybody else at that time, as I preferred to put my head down and to work. Those around this table who know me are aware that this is what I did - I do not mention it to be boastful - and that I understood it was what I was supposed to do. Over the years, I encountered massive problems in business, with the banks, for example, but I have never experienced anything like what has happened recently.
The Griffin Hotel Group runs an honest and decent business and has always tried to do so. When one is faced with something like this, one finds it quite extraordinary. I will outline my experience of the insurance business since 2000. The group's joint premium for its two hotels was €119,000 in 2000 and there was an excess of €1,000 on employer's liability and public liability. For those who do not understand fully, this means that the group would pay the first €1,000 in relation to everybody who made a claim. Our excess on property was also €1,000, which we felt was a fair sum. We were happy to pay for the cost of repairing a broken window, for example. The joint premium increased by 49% to €178,000 for 2001 and the excess was unchanged. This figure increased to €423,000 in 2002. We were expected to pay this amount of money for the exact same level of cover. Our excess on property also increased by €5,000. The group's insurance costs increased from €119,000 to €423,000 between 2000 and 2003.
Having been in business all our lives, we were faced with an Armageddon-type situation because we had to pay such an unbelievable amount of money. An in-house meeting was held to decide what to do about this incredible problem. One must bear in mind that the Griffin Hotel Group had to pay the difference from its cash flow - nothing else had changed. I do not want to go away at a tangent, but I should stress that the group was also hit by property costs, rates, refuse collection charges and many regulations. The total cash flow that the group had to find over three years was €1.039 million. There was nothing extra in it for us - the funds were needed to pay those who were servicing us. Such a sum of money represents many large bottles of stout and ham sandwiches.
I can tell the committee that I work an 80-hour week and I have done so all my life. I have missed four days through illness since I started in business. It does not matter who is to blame - it is immaterial - but such back-up efforts are provided by my staff and me. I started off with four people working for me and I now have 300. The life of every one of these people is affected by the cash flow problems. We are assailed by the Celtic tiger press, which feels that one should be able to purchase afillet mignon with various attributes or a cappuccino for very good money. The cappuccino is obviously the item of the day - God be with the bacon and cabbage, which does not matter any more. I am faced by people who want good food and do not want to be charged for it, but I am outlining the reality of the industry for those of us on the ground. Deputy McHugh spoke of impatience, but I could do two or three cartwheels around this room if I got going. I do not mean to be flippant, as that is what I am faced with.
I sign the cheques and hand the money across the table, but the Griffin Hotel Group is an inclusive organisation. Its accounts are on the table. My staff know how much I am paid and exactly where we are coming from. The general manager of the hotel and I went on a three-day week this year - it was unpaid leave - to keep the group in operation. Nobody on the public authority side or the insurance side took such measures but we had to do so.
What did we do about these problems? It was not financially viable to pay the amount we were being charged for insurance, but a compromise was reached after much discussion. We agreed to pay a premium of €212,000 and to carry an excess of €250,000 on our employer's liability and public liability and of €10,000 on our property. That is no way to run a business - it is what is known as bungee-jumping without the rope. I have presided over this arrangement, which is an absolutely scandalous way to run a business. I ask the committee to tell me what choice I had, however. I had to find that money from our net profit in order to keep going.
There would be war if my wife were overcharged for a loaf of bread in a supermarket in this country of populism. People would tut-tut and say that it was a terrible thing. Someone would be brought to court in such circumstances, but where can I go? I have come to Dublin today to make my case before the governors of the State. I will not survive in business if somebody does not do something for me. We are facing Armageddon because an accident is waiting to happen. I cannot handle such difficulties. I paid €212,000 last year, but a man with a balaclava might as well have asked me to hand over the money, because I did not receive a single cent in return. The Griffin Hotel Group carried an excess of €5,000 on its property and €250,000 on any claim from an individual employee or a person who might fall. That is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I received a telephone call from a solicitor in Dublin about two years ago. It seemed unusual to me that he had a broad Dublin accent. He said to me that a woman had fallen in the toilet of my hotel about two and a half years previously and that her claims liability period was about to expire. He asked me if I could sort the matter out as the woman was about to change house. That is exactly what happened and God may strike me down if it happened differently. I told him that he could do the other thing, which I will not mention here, and I said, "How dare you ring me up and ask me to be part of a fraudulent claim?" Although I am absolutely certain that the woman never stepped inside our door, she got the money, despite my best protestations to the insurance company. I threatened to come to Dublin to blow the office up if the company paid her a penny. A woman in Wexford received €10,000 because a sausage exploded in her frying pan some weeks ago. It was fired out by Peter Kelly, who seems, from my dealings with him, to be an eminently sensible man. This is not usual, to be quite honest.
I am living in such a world and I am assailed by all these costs, but I have been told that I can wait for another year. I have waited for two years. My insurance cover will expire on Monday and the cost for next year will be €328,000, with an excess of €5,000 on employer's liability and public liability. I will have to continue to pay the €250,000 if I want to go the whole way. They have brought it back to some extent. I am now the J. P. McManus of the hotel industry, as I am backing horses every week. I never realised that I would have to get up in the morning and decide how to hedge my bets.
I cannot begin to express my impatience in relation to this issue. I am really sorry that I was not here when the Minister, Deputy Harney, was present this morning. I had hoped that she would be here so that I could tell her straight that my business does not have time to wait for people to sit on committees. I am sick and tired of committees, quite frankly, as I think they are used to defuse problems. I do not wish to be disrespectful to the members of the committee, as I deeply appreciate the fact that they have given time to the Irish Hotels Federation. I am fed up with committees and I no longer sit on them as they are used to defuse problems. Nothing seems to get done quickly. The sense of urgency in our business is so great, we have moved beyond breaking point.
The Government is making money by imposing a 2% levy on my insurance payments. The State, which is supposed to support me, demands 2% and my broker doubles his money through the increase in his fees, while I am caught in the middle having to pay the Government, the broker and the insurance company. With everybody's hand in my till, I want to slam it shut. I am still working when others are off duty. I am still worried about my business in the middle of the night, at weekends and every day.
This issue is urgent. My only role in the submission is to address the committee as an individual, which is probably the reason I am so vociferous. My comments are heartfelt and sincere and my figures are open to be checked.
The issue of video evidence was raised. This country is like Palermo without the advantage of good weather. People will dive into toilet bowls next because placing a video in toilets is regarded as an intrusion on privacy. Cameras will not work unless our culture changes. People have to be honourable, decent and dignified. We have legislated ourselves into a position in which the undignified are living on insurance claims. I could point out people in my community who have decided to live in this way.
Three weeks before my premises in Kilkenny were due to open, two people broke in and burned them to the ground. I still parade around the forecourt here trying to get heard while members seek adjournments on ridiculous issues. I am being led on a merry dance. Given that my insurance policies have nothing to do with the previous case in which the hotel was burned down, the increase in my premium must be normal for the sector.
I cannot get a hearing in the Four Courts despite having a premises burned to the ground because the officials there have decided to keep on pushing the matter out of the courts. We have been waiting for five years to have our case heard and in the meantime are paying premiums of the order I mentioned.
I am conscious of the time and do not wish to delay the committee any longer. The pace of change is much too slow. If my business followed the pace of change in the insurance sector, it would vanish. What would happen if people like us decided to withdraw from the market? We need support from the State. Where do I go for help?
I am glad I had a rant. I have told the committee the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Members are welcome to inspect any of my books at any time at one hour's notice. I am the owner of a small business and have nothing to hide.