Indemnity: Discussion

At the outset, I remind members, staff, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery to turn off their mobile phones. Mobile phones interfere with the sound system and make it difficult to report the meeting, and interfere with broadcasting on television and radio, web-streaming, etc. I ask all to take a moment to check their mobile telephones are switched off. I draw the attention of members and witnesses to the microphones in front of them to ensure that nothing is obstructing them.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

The committee decided to hold a hearing on the question of indemnity and participants in various State and EU-funded schemes. The committee is aware that this is a complex issue for many State and local bodies and for those involved in running and taking part in various schemes. Any activity carries within it an inherent risk. We can mitigate risks with proper training and health and safety measures, including signage, high-visibility jackets and protective clothing etc., we can transfer the risk by taking out insurance cover or we can accept the risk. There is a need for a national volunteerism strategy but in the meantime, it is important that we avoid the chilling effects that exposure to risk and liability could have on encouraging volunteerism. The same applies to various schemes supported by the State.

On behalf of the committee, I welcome the following witnesses to the committee meeting: from the State Claims Agency, Mr. Pat Kirwan, deputy director and head of enterprise risk, and Mr. Brian Larkin, senior enterprise risk manager; representatives from IPB Insurance, Mr. Michael Garvey, chief executive officer, Mr. Matt Rafferty, director of underwriting and Mr. Michael Whelehan, head of claims; and the representative from the County and City Management Association, CCMA, Mr. Tom McHugh, deputy chief executive and director of municipal services in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. It is proposed that any opening statements, submissions or other documents supplied by the witnesses or other bodies to the committee relating to the topic of this meeting be published on the committee's website. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I call on Mr. Pat Kirwan, deputy director and head of enterprise risk at the State Claims Agency, to make his opening statement.

Mr. Pat Kirwan

At the outset, I thank the Chairman and the committee for this opportunity to address the committee today on the State Claims Agency's consideration of indemnity and participants, including volunteers, in various State and EU-funded schemes. I am joined by my colleague, Mr. Brian Larkin, senior enterprise risk manager with the State Claims Agency.

My opening statement has been provided to the committee. This statement contains information on the establishment, structure and evolution of the State Claims Agency, SCA, including the two State indemnity schemes operated by the SCA, namely, the clinical indemnity scheme and the general indemnity scheme.

The SCA's activity under the general indemnity scheme, GIS, is of most relevance when discussing indemnity and insurance-related matters for rural and community development programmes and schemes under the aegis of this committee. The general indemnity scheme is provided to delegated State authorities, which are formally delegated under the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2000. Delegated State authorities, DSAs, are bodies that are typically organisations that are wholly or substantially funded by the State, the employees of which are civil or public servants and the activities of which relate to the provision of services on behalf of the State.

Currently, State indemnity does not apply to local authorities or to any of the rural and community development programmes and schemes outlined in my opening statement. While funding and some policy arrangements may derive from central government, unless a programme or scheme is being directly managed by a delegated body, State indemnity does not apply. This, for example, is the case with Tidy Towns.

The decision to statutorily delegate a body or activity under State indemnity in respect of that body's personal injury-related liability is a decision for the relevant Department, in conjunction with the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance.

I am happy to take any questions from the committee on the above.

I will now take an opening statement from Mr. Michael Garvey, chief executive officer of IPB Insurance.

Mr. Michael Garvey

I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for inviting IPB Insurance to participate in discussions on the topic of indemnity and participants, including volunteers, in various State and EU-funded schemes. I am accompanied by our director of underwriting, Mr. Matt Rafferty and our head of claims, Mr. Michael Whelehan. We look forward to engaging with the committee and hope that we can be of assistance in this morning's discussion.

By way of introduction to those who may not be familiar with IPB Insurance, I will take this opportunity to provide a brief history and background to the company. The name IPB is an acronym for "Irish Public Bodies", stemming from our position as the mutual insurer of public bodies and local authorities in Ireland. Today, IPB is the only wholly Irish-owned mutual insurer in the market.

The story of IPB's origins and early development is inextricably bound up in the challenges that faced the first Government of the Irish Free State in the 1920s. The rationale for the creation of Irish Public Bodies was the realisation by the State that profits generated from the premiums paid by a large number of Irish public bodies were resulting in net capital outflows from the State.

IPB was, therefore, established in 1926 to protect the insurable interests of its members, which have evolved over time and now consist of the State's local authorities, education and training boards, regional assemblies and the HSE. We also protect a range of State, semi-State and public service-related organisations.

As a mutual entity, our ethos and business model means that we are not motivated by growth or profit. Our motivation is to protect the insurable interests of our members and related stakeholders in a responsible and sustainable manner for their mutual benefit.

We are a specialist insurer within the liability insurance market. Our risk appetite is reflective of our members' risk profile and similar risks closely aligned to our members' activities. We operate in niche markets within our stated risk appetite, including State and semi-State organisations and agencies, such as health, education, sport, community-focused services and other areas of service to the public.

IPB provides a wide range of products designed to protect members, such as public liability, employers' liability, property and motor fleet. We also provide additional covers to address new and emerging risks, such as cyber and data security and environmental impairment protection. A key feature of our approach is that we continuously evolve our product and risk management solutions to reflect the changing risk profile of our members and to ensure that we have the capacity to transfer all their insurance risk and exposure from their balance sheet to ours.

We also provide a range of additional services to members free of charge, including risk management solutions through our dedicated risk management team. We provide ongoing training to members and non-members through nationwide risk conferences, risk remediation supports and insurance clinics. We also provide a contractor insurance advisory service, as well as other features and benefits, including risk guides and risk training videos. Over the past six years, we have delivered risk management seminars and conferences to in excess of 10,000 delegates from member and client operations.

In relation to the topic for discussion this morning, IPB Insurance provides a range of insurance covers for State-EU funded schemes, including community employment schemes, the rural social scheme, RSS, and Tús, the community work placement scheme.

IPB Insurance has been insuring employment schemes such as the RSS and Tús since 2014. We acquired this business through a competitive process within the insurance market by an appointed insurance broker. IPB Insurance provides insurance cover to these schemes in the areas of public liability, employers' liability, personal accident, property and special types of motor insurance. Since 2017, IPB Insurance has been insuring a number of community employment schemes. Again, this business was secured following a competitive process through an insurance broker. We provide employers' liability insurance, public liability insurance, fidelity guarantee insurance, professional indemnity insurance and employers' practices liability insurance to these schemes. We insure approximately 17,000 individuals participating across all three schemes, which are broadly involved in similar community-based work activities, including clerical work, shop assistance, care work and crèche assistance. The services provided to the elderly include house and attic insulation, light repairs, DIY, day care and meals on wheels. The community projects that are supported include Tidy Towns projects, the care and maintenance of community centres and sports clubs, the upkeep of common community areas and canal or river walks, hedge cutting, wall building and light construction projects at heritage or community-owned properties.

Our mutual ethos is centred around our members. We understand the important role we play in protecting our members to give them peace of mind and the freedom to focus on delivering for their local communities. We are actively involved in supporting social and community initiatives through Government and member partnerships. We are co-funding a €1.6 million programme with the Department of Rural and Community Development to support social enterprises nationwide. This involves working with members of local authorities. I thank the Chairman again for the opportunity to attend this morning's meeting. We look forward to assisting the committee in this morning’s discussions and addressing any questions it may have.

I thank Mr. Garvey. I invite Mr. Tom McHugh, who is the deputy chief executive and director of municipal services in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, to address the joint committee.

Mr. Tom McHugh

I do not have any opening statement to make. I am here in support of the attendance of the witnesses from IPB Insurance. I represent the CCMA. If members of the joint committee have any questions that relate to local authority activities, I will do my best to address them.

I thank Mr. McHugh. I invite the members of the committee to ask questions.

I thank the witnesses for being before us. I want to express concern about insurance difficulties on behalf of the many community and voluntary groups that are in existence. I am involved in many such groups. Insurance is a significant issue for them and for their survival. I am involved in a community group that is paying over €3,000 for insurance. It is a voluntary group from start to finish. Sixteen members are elected to the community council. Nobody gets paid. Nobody gets an expense out of it. We have to sell lotto tickets every Saturday night so that we can pay our insurance and our accountants. We have difficulties in that regard. We have 15 or 16 workers on various schemes, including the RSS, the community employment scheme, Tús, JobPath and HSE schemes. The witnesses are familiar with such schemes. Some of our members are also working on Tidy Towns initiatives. Between insurance and Garda vetting, it is becoming more and more difficult. The witnesses can see this. I am sure they hear about it from people. It needs to be taken on board here today that people are leaving community and voluntary organisations because they are exhausted on the red tape side of it. They are not exhausted from the work because they appreciate the fulfilling work they do.

I know we need insurance - that is a no-brainer - but I ask the witnesses to look at the stringent rules and regulations. Payments are sometimes made to claimants on foot of claims that have been the subject of very little investigation. I am involved in a group that was affected by one of these unfortunate situations. We felt that further investigations could have been done. It seems that insurance companies find it too easier to make payouts than to go through the hassle of investigating these matters further. Many of the thousands of groups to which Mr. Garvey referred are under great difficulty as they seek to survive. If we make life more difficult for them, fewer and fewer of them will need to be insured in the future because they will not remain in existence. I would appreciate it if the witnesses would look into this matter. I remind them that each and every person on a Tidy Towns group is a volunteer. They are out there every evening cleaning in their yellow jackets. I see how carefully they carry out their work. They pull out all the stops. Extra fences are sometimes put in front of them. The very survival of many of these groups is at risk. Where can they find the money for insurance and everything else? I would like to go further into this matter but unfortunately I must go to the Dáil to raise a question. I have set out my feelings at this stage. I have set out the position on the ground.

Does the Deputy have a specific question for any of our witnesses?

No. I am generalising.

Okay. I will bring in Deputy Fitzmaurice as well.

I thank the witnesses for coming in. Mr. Garvey was originally down my neck of the woods on the insurance side of things. The witnesses have been brought in today because a problem is accruing. We have seen it in Galway. It seems to be spreading to other areas. The witnesses will be familiar with the amount of work done by voluntary groups like Tidy Towns committees in towns like Ballintubber and Glenamaddy. These groups are active in County Clare and right around the country. Over recent months, some county councils have sent out letters explaining the new construction and non-construction system they are implementing. Grass cutting is a non-construction activity, whereas wall building is a construction activity. The councils are looking for an indemnity for those people who are out doing the work. It has to be borne in mind that in many little villages - some of them are small one-horse towns, to be quite honest - two or three people go out to keep the place looking better. They have made Ireland look an awful lot cleaner over recent years.

The witnesses will be familiar with Galway Rural Development, GRD, in County Galway. Such groups tend to do the bigger jobs like building stone walls or working on bends. Those jobs help local areas and make them better. I will explain the situation we are facing at the moment. GRD is responsible for the likes of Tús. There is a body over all of that. I am not picking on that group on its own. In smaller towns like Glenamaddy, Dunmore and Ballintubber, the Tidy Towns group has to give an indemnity to the council. In fairness, the council has the insurance to facilitate that. The RSS and the Tús scheme, which were mentioned by Mr. Garvey, are looking for an indemnity for the same thing from the Tidy Towns committee. The Tidy Towns committee has to send its insurance into Galway County Council or whatever the relevant council is. It has to compile lists under the construction and non-construction system. Groups like GRD look at the list and say "we can do this, that and the other, but we have to get a method statement". I will explain where the big problem is. It is not confined to places where groups like GRD are active. If volunteers from a Tidy Towns group, or two people in a one-horse village, go out with their lawnmower, they are expected to have signage and lighting. They are expected to put out signs 200 m, 400 m and 600 m from where they are working, but they do not have the gear.

I have a question for Mr. McHugh of the CCMA about the county and city councils. Things might be different in cities where local authorities have many workers to do work for them in parks, etc. Some of the witnesses may be familiar with the situation in small towns. If we are going to put this onus on ordinary people, we are codding ourselves. The voluntary sector in Ireland is unique and extraordinary, but if we continue to frighten the living daylights out of people with paperwork and indemnities, it is going to be left there.

No council has the funding to do this work. No one seems to want to address the issue. Everyone wants an indemnity but at the end of the day this work is being done for the benefit of rural Ireland.

There is another issue that is very unclear. We need a different category for towns that have more than 1,000 cars passing through daily, for example, Milltown in County Galway. It is a bit easier when the number of cars passing through is less than 1,000. I saw it in Ballinamore Bridge where I was talking to Pádraig O'Brien the other day. The village does not have a shop and no longer has a post office. It is a reminiscence of a village. There are two grass verges to be cut but volunteers do not know what to do to keep the village tidy. They are now expected to do a three day course. These volunteers are working at other jobs and they will not do this. They are also expected to buy signs and put them up and take them down every evening. They have no money to buy signs. Organisations such as Galway Rural Development, GRD, are saying they will assess jobs they are involved in through Tús and the rural social scheme, RSS. They will explain how the job can be done but they do not have enough supervisors to get out to every job. The volunteers must have a three day course done to set up all the signs. That is the greatest load of codswallop.

This is not political. In fairness to the Minister, Deputy Ring, he has given funding to the Tidy Towns groups, which are active in every county. It is lovely to drive through towns and see that they now look better, even since the bust. However, volunteers are now walking away because of bureaucracy. Mr. Garvey knows what is being done in Ballintubber. There was a meeting in Claregalway about various types of insurance, indemnities and so on. People are walking away from doing this work because they do not have the three day or one day course done. They do not have time to do these courses which also cost them money. As for the Tidy Towns groups, if it is a big town the group may have a few quid but where there are two people involved in a place that gets €1,000 a year, they end up paying to cut the bit of grass. They get a lawnmower and go out at night to cut the grass. We had the spring clean-up a few weeks ago where councils supplied gloves and stuff but at the same time the Tidy Towns groups are basically asked now to take all the risk.

People will walk away and if that happens, there will be no funding available. It does not matter which Government is in power because no Government will have the funding to provide manpower to cut all the grass and do everything else in a town. That might happen in a city. The spirit of volunteerism is under threat and I want the witnesses, as a group, to come up with a way of resolving this issue. IPB Insurance or someone could liaise with the various groups. Insurance bureaucracy and the requirement on people to sign their name mean we are at serious risk, in rural areas especially, of losing the millions of hours of work done by these great people because they take pride in their parish. Imagine going out every day picking up litter, cleaning the streets with a power hose and cutting the grass. These people are being asked to sign their life away and indemnify everyone. It is not on. As I said, there is a fair difference between cities and rural areas and between a big town and a small one. I do not fully understand the rule that applies to villages where over 1,000 cars pass through daily but they seem to be in a pure quagmire altogether. Anyone cutting grass within so many metres of the road in these villages has to put up a sign, even though there is no interference with traffic.

I want to know how we are going to solve this for people in Glenamaddy, Creggs, Milltown and places like that because they do not know what they are doing. Then we have the bodies that are over the RSS and Tús saying they will look at a job but they need the group doing it to indemnify them. I am wondering why the GRDs of this world have insurance at all when they are being indemnified by the local group and Galway County Council. Lord Jesus, nothing could go wrong with all the indemnification they have. Someone needs to step up to the mark and take the pressure off the ordinary people who go out in the evening after coming home from work. They are not getting paid. They get absolutely nothing for it. Such is the responsibility being put on them now that they are afraid of their lives because of this insurance.

I am sorry that I missed the first part of the meeting. This place is a little crazy at the moment. We are like a school that has exams coming up next week. We are focusing on the studying but this week that is happening on the doorsteps of Ireland, not in the committee rooms, unfortunately. We are being pulled hither and thither.

This issue is terribly important. State bodies often function as if they are independent republics rather than the servants of the people. I have seen this over many years but it is getting worse. Everyone is trying to throw it over on the next person instead of recognising that there is only one Government and only one Oireachtas. All State bodies are answerable to us and we are all answerable to the people. The State should, therefore, have a coherent view. People should sit down at tables and sort this out no matter how long it takes. I am not as familiar with community employment schemes as I am with the RSS and Tús for very obvious reasons. When the RSS was introduced, it was a very particular scheme because we were employing farmers and farmers are not unemployed. They were great workers who had a lot of experience doing things. Most of them were experienced in doing farm work. They were very handy and their productivity was incredibly high in terms of scheme work. The issue of indemnity came up. I have double checked with the Department of Rural and Community Development and a very high insurance indemnity is required by the employer, that is, the partnerships. I think public liability insurance is set at €8 million or something and employers' liability insurance is also high. That is a condition of the scheme from the centre. That is my understanding and my memory of the RSS. The employers are, therefore, well insured. They are also funded by the State in that we tell them they must get these insurances but we give them money to buy them because otherwise the scheme will not work. I hope nothing has changed in that regard.

Local authorities have been stripped of permanent staff. I was in a constant battle with officials over the years about why they did not allow participants in community employment schemes to stay on for more than three years. I used to argue that the public parks here in Dublin, whether they were OPW parks like St. Stephen's Green and the Phoenix Park or local authority parks like Herbert Park, had full-time paid staff who would work until the age of 65 or 66. The RSS used to be a permanent scheme but the current Government unfortunately changed it to a six year scheme. The reason it was permanent was that farmers were not unemployed so job activation did not come into the game. The theory behind it was that we would get a cohort of workers.

No outdoor workers are available at present. That is certainly the case in County Galway and in many other counties as well. It is impossible to keep tar on the roads, not to mention cutting bushes, tidying up grass and working on Tidy Towns activities. I will give my view of what would happen if all of the RSS, Tús and CE workers were taken out of rural Ireland over the summer months. The grass would grow, every football pitch would be covered in three feet of grass and every town and village would end up looking like a ragbag. Fáilte Ireland and the public would go absolutely crazy. Many public spaces are owned by communities in the area where I live. If all of those community spaces were allowed to go wild, if litter was not picked up and similar work was not undertaken, people would soon be shocked by how much we rely on these schemes to keep Ireland looking the way it does.

The other advantage we would derive from being able to keep these schemes in operation for longer is that we could train our people. They could get the Safe Pass as well other similar qualifications and renew them, but not as frequently. A Tús scheme, however, has to start afresh every year. Imagine what it is like to employ people in that situation. All of the agencies need to get together and agree on what it is they need. The State will have to pay for that because nobody else will do it. The reality is, however, that the State - the Oireachtas, the public service and the people - will be getting the services of people who are more than willing to work at a very low cost. The current rate is €20 in addition to the welfare payment.

We also need national guidelines - based on Safe Pass or whatever - setting out what everybody is required to do to go out on the road. It is crazy to have short-term workers for a year and then be required to train an entirely new group the following year. The length of time for which it is possible to stay on the scheme has a major bearing on the efficiency of this entire operation. The RSS scheme has some permanent employees as well as some who are retained for six years. It is at least possible to have those people for six years. If they are trained and get the Safe Pass, the only renewal necessary is that which a local authority worker would also do to upgrade his or her skills.

We need this situation resolved in the context of insurance and other requirements. There has to be a clear message that if the prescriptions regarding signage and other similar stipulations are followed, then these workers will be able to work adjacent to roads. Many private contractors already do that, as do local authority workers. I cannot understand why these people cannot do that as well as long as they adhere to the same standards. All of this has to be paid for by the State. There is no other option because there is no other source of income. Look at the public service being provided in return and compare it with the same service being provided by full-time employees in every city in Ireland. We will see that we are getting absolutely great value for money.

I missed the first part of the meeting. What processes are in place to get all of different interests represented here around a table? I suggest that Fáilte Ireland be involved, particularly as it has a major interest in ensuring that we do not remove all these people from the equation. If the latter were to happen, everybody would be shouting and roaring and asking what the hell has gone wrong with Ireland. Every village and town would become an utter disgrace if we took these workers away.

I thank Deputy Ó Cuív.

I will make one other point. In the old days, I could decide on a Tuesday to ask the local community council to get people out and about to pick up the rubbish at the side of the road. Community groups are afraid to do that type of work now, so please do not suggest that there is a voluntary solution to this issue. It does not work any more because the same rules and vulnerabilities apply. There is no insurance and, in any event, there is nobody to pay insurance costs for every small community group. My local community group or GAA club cannot go out and pick up all of the litter on the roads because they have not done the required training for Safe Pass, etc. Nobody should believe that we can do this on a voluntary basis any longer because we would run into even worse trouble.

This issue was brought to the attention of the committee by Deputy Fitzmaurice. He outlined the situation, in Galway in particular, with passion and with the facts. The group to which he referred in Galway, GRD, is the local development company.

The same problem is found with Údarás na Gaeltachta's schemes in the west of the county. All of Galway is affected and my research has shown that this situation is affecting other counties.

I will talk about another problem that has emerged this year. Galway County Council is seeking indemnity from voluntary groups. Deputy Ó Cuív might be lucky in having Tús or RSS to do such work. Local people in towns and villages, such as Ballinamore Bridge and similar places, voluntarily cut the grass and pick up litter. Those people are expected to do three days of training on signing, lighting and guarding of roadworks, as well as one day of Safe Pass training. Plans have to be drawn up for everything. All of this is just going to drive those volunteers away. That is fine if somebody is then going to pay for everything to be done. It is difficult to get people involved in these schemes at the moment. It is hard to get Tús workers in certain areas.

This is a problem that could be solved by allowing the schemes to be extended. The current difficulties are exacerbated by the fact more people are in employment, but that is a great thing. No one could put a figure on the value of the work done by the people on the schemes in question. Fáilte Ireland was mentioned. It has benefited enormously from the work the people to whom I refer have done. I refer to tourists visiting clean and tidy towns and the enthusiasm of people in those areas. I also want to address the situation where more than 1,000 cars are present in a town or village. I do not know the details, but there is some stipulation in respect of having more than 1,000 cars in a town or village.

I thank Deputy Fitzmaurice. A genuine issue is arising here and we want to nip it in the bud. Tidy Towns committees perform amazing work. I am a former treasurer of my local Tidy Towns committee in Clarecastle, which has recently been awarded community of the year by Clare County Council for its work on various projects over the years. Pride in the village is at the heart of everything done to try to make the place more presentable. It is also a social activity. We will drive those people away, however, if we put all of these barriers and red tape in the way of such work.

Deputies Ó Cuív and Fitzmaurice are putting forward a very sensible suggestion in the context of gathering together a working group, for want of a better term, of all the participants and stakeholders here today. We raised this issue with the Minister, Deputy Ring, when he appeared before the committee some weeks ago. He was totally opposed to putting any barriers in the way of Tidy Towns committees. Mr. Garvey made reference to the fact that insurance is provided to Tidy Towns groups for their activities. He made particular reference to community projects, including Tidy Towns committees, care and maintenance of community centres, etc.

Deputy Fitzmaurice has put his finger on a grey area, however. It seems that in Galway there is a requirement for people to have done courses for a certain period and to have obtained particular certificates before they can erect signage and lighting. The people we are referring to are volunteers who are only cutting grass verges. County councils should be doing that work but it would probably never be done if we relied on them. All of the voluntary work being done will come to a halt if these types of burdens are placed on community groups. That is the perspective from which we are approaching this.

Perhaps Mr. Garvey will answer the points that Deputies Fitzmaurice and Ó Cuív and I have raised. I will bring in Mr. Kirwan and Mr. McHugh as well.

Mr. Michael Garvey

I acknowledge the great work that the Tidy Towns associations and other voluntary groups are doing in local communities. I witness that work every day. It is important to state that we do not insure Tidy Towns associations. We insure RSS, Tús and the CE schemes. We insure the employees who work with those voluntary groups. If anything happens to any of those individuals, we cover the costs associated with any injury that might occur. There is a great deal of health and safety regulation with which people must comply. We know that if we are dealing with a personal injury claim and our insured entity or individual has not complied with health and safety regulations, our defence is gone before we start. The regulations exist for good reason and their purpose is to protect individuals. It is no different from somebody driving a car needing to have insurance. A person can be knocked down while working at the side of a road or injured while using equipment, even if it is being used a voluntary purpose. We are here to see what we can do to help. It is important to state that we have changed nothing in our insurance policies relating to any of these employment groups. We have not changed anything in terms of the insurance we provide to the local authorities. All we do with any of these groups is make them aware of what legislation and regulation they need to be aware of and observe for the purpose of protecting themselves. That is where we stand at present.

Mr. Garvey states that IPB Insurance covers RSS and Tús. There are different names of groups in different counties. Deputy Ó Cuív referred to Údarás, for example. Why are those groups stating that they want an indemnity from the Tidy Towns associations and an indemnity from county councils? What change has led to them seeking such indemnity this year? Is it not that they do the work that is required under their current insurance cover and in compliance with the health and safety regulations? Why are they indicating that supervisors who have completed the three-day course necessary to allow them to erect signage and lighting will now be required to oversee the various works that are done? Let us remember that this all relates to cutting grass. I worked in the construction sector so I understand that a method statement must be compiled and that proper procedures to build walls, erect traffic lights, erect barriers and all of that must be followed. I am talking about a lawn along a kerb located within the 50 km/h zone of a town or village. Before a voluntary person or a Tús person can use a lawnmower at the location, someone must now travel 600 m out along the road and erect signs. Why is the body that IPB insures seeking this new thing? In fairness, there could be 50 towns in County Galway or 20 towns in County Roscommon, Mayo, Clare or wherever but there will not be a supervisor to drive around with a pick-up truck to erect and dismantle signs. In addition, the councils - which are insured - want the Tidy Towns committees to do everything in compliance with health and safety regulations. This means that even if a Tidy Towns committee does not have a Tús or RSS worker and is doing everything voluntarily, it must get its own van – if a committee had a supervisor, at least it might get a few quid for the van – buy its own signs and have somebody do a three-day or one-day course in order that the grass at the side of the road that it has been cutting for the past 15 or 20 years without a word being said about it might continue to be cut. Why are we being put in this position?

The matter of councils and their insurers indemnifying groups needs to be dealt with quickly. I would not want the working group suggested by the Chairman and Deputy Ó Cuív to just be a talking shop involving the representative bodies of the Tidy Towns committees and local authorities - there will need to be an input from those responsible for roads - insurance bodies and the groups that run the RSS. Heads need to be banged together in order to resolve the problem. Down the years, the difficulties with obtaining insurance have left people afraid of their lives. A volunteer is hardly going to insure his or her car and then sign a form - and send it to the council and the bodies that run the RSS and Tús - stating that he or she is doing the work involved on a voluntary basis and for the betterment of his or her village or town. If people think that individuals are going to keep doing this, they have another thing coming. The councils will be responsible for cutting the grass and doing work like that, but none of it will happen.

The grass will not be cut.

Councils cannot even fill potholes in places, never mind cut grass or clean streets. The amount of work that people in every little village are putting in might not seem like much to those in certain parts of the country, but they have pride in their places. Despite this, we are telling them that they must comply with the usual health and safety regulations in what they do.

During the heavy snow a few years ago, we went along our roads with our fertiliser spreaders. Later, we found out that doing so had been against the law and that we were not covered by our insurance. Finally, however, the penny dropped after one of the storms down south and the State indicated that farmers who went out to do that work were covered by insurance because they were doing a public good. Can the same not be done in respect of Tidy Towns groups? I am not stating that people should be able to stand in the middle of the road waiting for a car to hit them, but if we are telling people who are cutting the verge with a lawnmower that they must erect a sign 600 m down the road, something is wrong. There must be some indemnity for those individuals.

I agree with the Chairman. I thank him and his staff for arranging this meeting. We need the delegates to put their heads together. I do not want a talking shop that lasts for months, as the ball is being dropped in many villages and towns and people are sick to the teeth of being handed rules and regulations. They will walk away.

Given that we are responsible for introducing safety laws and so on, we cannot state that the delegates do not have to comply with them. First, we need the bodies opposite to develop a manual outlining what circumstances require training, signage, safety equipment and so on. Having decided that, the next question is how groups, including voluntary ones, will comply – we have problems with the schemes in certain places – with those requirements. It is fair to say that, with voluntary workers, training can be a problem.

That is a fair point. With Tús workers it should simply be done.

They say they do not have the money.

I will come to that in a minute. It is the third item on my list.

As far as I am concerned, we need to arrange for the training to be carried out and to get the required people. I do not know if this is still the case but in the original rural social scheme, RSS, the working time did not have to be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. if the workers agreed. People used to come to football pitches at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. to clean up the dressing rooms after matches and so on. As long the 19.5 hours per week were provided, we were flexible. If a mixture of Tús and voluntary workers is needed to do certain things, by having Tús handle safety for example, so be it. It should at least be written into the scheme that it is acceptable for the local Tús, RSS or community employment, CE, worker to work those hours, which is when people are free in the evening, rather than the standard ones, if he or she is willing.

The next issue is how all of this is funded. I do not care who funds it because I know one thing; the only one group of people who can fund it are the taxpayers. State agencies are like the Nile Delta now. Funding comes in from one source and then breaks up into thousands of streams across all the agencies. Sometimes there are wars between the agencies but it is all State money anyway. It must be voted on by the Oireachtas no matter which agency funds it. The agencies must decide among themselves who will fund this and get it funded. As I said, volunteers contribute enough by giving their time and effort, without having to fund equipment and so on as well.

The next issue is insurance. It seems that today every State agency is an adviser. The advice is not to make that agency liable. Údarás na Gaeltachta, county councils and all these bodies are always looking for indemnity. I know what happens. Someone unfortunately gets injured - it does happen - and the person suing will sue everybody in sight. He or she will probably be not too bothered about the individual concerned, as he or she will not get the money that way. Rather, the litigant will sue the local community group, the CE scheme, the local partnership, the seed company, the county council and anyone he or she can sue. My understanding is often the award must be paid by strongest financial entity. In this case it is irrelevant. If the case is won, assuming that the individual involved in the injury is not liable, the taxpayer ends up funding the award, through whichever stream of the Nile Delta. These concerns must be cross-indemnified in whatever way necessary. One would imagine that justice would mean the liability should lie with whatever party is culpable, as opposed to the strongest player. If an employee makes a mistake, it is the employer who takes the rap. That is the system. However, assuming the individual will not be held liable as long as they are covered by insurance, the bodies involved here must decide these indemnities will work.

It should be simply sorted out between the groups. Instead, body A demands that the weakest body, that is, the community body, gets indemnity from body B or else gives body A indemnity. This is despite the fact that body A, a local authority, partnership or whatever, is much stronger. Things should be arranged for recognised community groups in order that it is clear that the indemnities are part of the package. They should be agreed. It is ridiculous to ask a community group to go through a local authority to get indemnity. The community group is the weakest player in this. It would be much better if the State arranged matters so that if it is satisfied with the standard of a community group, it agrees a package of indemnities and funds it accordingly.

I see four steps in this regard. A working group should address these four steps systematically. First, what is needed should be ascertained; manual, training equipment, flexibility in the Tús scheme, RSS and so on, and indemnities. The working group should produce a clear ten-page leaflet on what must be done. That would resolve the problem. I am absolutely convinced that the one thing that cannot be done is for the law or safety standards to be ignored. To do that we would have to come back here and change the law. As long as the law is the law, the law is the law. Any injured person will go to court on the basis of the law, not on the basis of any arrangement.

I forgot to say one thing. There is a situation with the partnership group. They are saying that at the moment if a Tús worker is cutting grass, the volunteer worker down the road asks the voluntary group in that area to get the signage and put it out. Johnny from Tús will come along with his lawnmower, and Joe from the voluntary body has to go back again and take all the signs down.

It should be the other way round.

That is not feasible in any world. Councils need to get involved in this for the simple reason that work is being done in that town. To put it bluntly, it is council work. Could a witness from the councils address the 1,000-car rule? What is the difference between being under and over that limit?

There are several questions for Mr. McHugh about the role of the councils in all of this. Mr. Garvey's opening statement made reference to Tidy Towns activities. Obviously the councils are insured by IPB Insurance. Could the councils take local Tidy Towns groups under their wing and extend their indemnity to them? Does Mr. McHugh have a view on that? He might also address the questions put by Deputies Fitzmaurice and Ó Cuív. Then we will hear from Mr. Garvey and Mr. Kirwan.

Mr. Tom McHugh

I am not best placed to comment on rural towns and villages because my authority does not really have them. A few questions were raised about insurance. Most local authorities operate a community grant scheme. There is normally a scheme of grants to assist community organisations that incur insurance costs or overheads, including in my own authority in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.

Other issues were raised. We have a direct labour force and contract for various services. All of our grass-cutting and roadside work is done by a combination of directly employed labour and contractors acting on our behalf. Our Tidy Towns people do community clean-ups and litter clean-ups. We assist them with that activity. We do not require insurance indemnity or whatever. We issue guidelines on the use of equipment and how people should operate on roadsides. We do not ordinarily allow people to work on our live carriageways.

I understand what Mr. McHugh is saying. I apologise for interrupting him but we are talking bout chalk and cheese here.

Is Mr. McHugh speaking for all the managers or just himself?

Mr. Tom McHugh

I was asked to come here to support IPB Insurance on any questions relating to local authority services. I was not aware of this particular instance and I am not familiar with the situation in Galway.

Perhaps Mr. McHugh could come back to us on this point. I understand the issues concerning parks and so on. In the countryside, we have small towns of 50, 100 or 300 people. Those people volunteer because there are no council or park workers. They have their own little insurance. They call themselves Tidy Towns groups, and in fairness the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, gives them money each year to pay for grass-cutting, insurance and so on. They are voluntary. They are not like Mr. McHugh's set-up in Dublin, where the local authority has its own staff or employs subcontractors. We are talking about apples and oranges here.

Mr. Tom McHugh

The one thing I would add is-----

Does Mr. McHugh know anything about the 1,000-car rule?

Mr. Tom McHugh

No, but I am aware of the signing, lighting and guarding requirements that apply to both our own staff and contractor staff. There are very stringent requirements for that. In the event of something going wrong, there are not only the insurance consequences. There are also criminal consequences regarding the person who has put those situations in place. It is not simply an insurance cover element because in the event of something going wrong, the HSA would ordinarily get involved and there are potential criminal prosecutions and investigations involved.

At the time of a storm such as Storm Emma, as I pointed out at the time of the snow, we headed off ourselves and just had the work done. When Storm Emma came along, however, there was an announcement from the State. In the case of people doing goodwill work or good deeds, do the councils or IPB Insurance provide insurance cover? If, for example, somebody was choking and one went to save him or her but the person then died, one would not be prosecuted for such a good deed. In the same way, if one is doing goodwill work in a small village or town, clipping the grass or some such work, how can we arrive at a position that such people will be covered for doing such a goodwill gesture?

Mr. Tom McHugh

There was a particular occasion, post-Storm Emma, but my understanding is that once the local farmers or community operated within the guidelines that were issued at national and local level, an insurance cover was provided by the local authorities. I do not know if that is possible in respect of Tidy Towns groups. I am speaking from a different perspective entirely because although we have very active Tidy Towns associations and groupings within my own local authority, they do not do the types of works to which the Deputy was referring earlier. I cannot comment on that.

Unfortunately I have to leave but my view is that there is a lot of technical material here under different headings. An emergency is different from an ongoing situation. I cannot see one avoiding, legally and from an insurance point of view, compliance. To comply is a no-brainer, that is the end of the story and it is the law of the land.

I make a plea that we have a working group of all of the parties: local authorities, partnerships, Departments, insurers, and whatever appropriate parties, to sort out the manual that we need, in order that everybody can get the resources and training to comply. The world, it seems to me, is on its head. If it does require sophisticated signage, that is the way it is but the Tús workers should provide that and the voluntary workers should cut the grass.

Would each group be interested in participating in a working group to address the issues that have been outlined or do they feel it is an issue at all?

Mr. Michael Garvey

Clearly, it is an issue. We would not have been called in here today if it was not. As I have said before, we have not changed anything. The big challenge here is that there is perhaps a far greater onus in certain quarters regarding compliance with regulations on health and safety. That results from the awards in the courts for injuries being a challenge and we have a cost-of-insurance review group looking at this at the moment. That situation has not gone away. We will have a challenge for as long as we see awards of the scale that are being made and until we see criminal prosecutions for failure to observe health and safety regulation. As insurers to the local authorities, we certainly are happy to sit down with our local authority members to discuss the fact that we were here today. It seems to me that the practice is not consistent across the country. Clearly, in the area represented by Deputy Fitzmaurice, there seems to a challenge. I was not aware of these issues until we came in here today. It is very hard, therefore, for me to say what needs to be done in that regard. From IPB Insurance's position, we are happy to sit down with our local authority members. We insure the groups that provide a lot of this employment and we will see what we can do to help that situation.

This point is by way of a proposal to the committee here. Would IPB Insurance be willing to sit on and be part of a group including a representative from the county managers, as well as representatives of the partnerships, Tidy Towns associations and the groups mentioned, together with one or two members of our committee? Such a representative of the county managers would need to be - with no disrespect to anybody from Dublin, because a different system is used in Dublin - somebody who is au fait with the arrangements down the country. Would the Chairman be prepared to work with such a group, including the different people here, and to write to the partnership bodies, to sit down and thrash out where it needs to be?

In fairness to what Deputy Ó Cuív said, if the Tús worker did the signage and lighting, the voluntary worker would do the work but we are left in a quagmire at the moment. Only paperwork is going over and back now to councils giving lists of construction and non-construction work. It will then be looked at by the partnership and if the non-construction work, which is cutting grass, is on the side of the road, then it will say signage and lighting are needed and signs must be erected. We are not making headway on this. We need be clear and precise and I would recommend, through the Chairman, that representatives from the Departments of Rural and Community Development and Employment and Social Protection should be on this group, if there is need for some funding. I note this also is within the remit of the Minister for Employment and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, who is responsible for Tús and, presumably, the rural social scheme, RSS, scheme as well.

There is a willingness there to co-operate with a working group. We have not heard from Mr. Kirwan on that point and we should not be making assumptions but would the State Claims Agency be happy to be involved in that?

Mr. Pat Kirwan

In reality, we get tangentially involved in many of these matters. State indemnity does not cover the Tidy Towns groups and nor does it cover many of these schemes. However, to address Deputy Fitzmaurice's point, there sometimes is a level of misunderstanding and bureaucracy that a working group could probably cut through. We are involved tangentially, as I stated, with programmes like the CE schemes and some of the other schemes whereby some of the delegated State authorities we indemnify take on a volunteer worker. In such a case, State indemnity probably works to an advantage where there is not a renewal of policy once we can get those people to fully understand that in the case of an employee working for the HSE or a voluntary body on a temporary basis, State indemnity covers the activities they are doing for the period they are working there. It simplifies the process in a way. I am not sure what we would have to contribute to such a working group but we are absolutely willing to be involved in any initiative of that sort.

That is very good. To answer Deputy Fitzmaurice, there would have to be representatives from the Departments of Rural and Community Development and Employment and Social Protection.

I thank the witnesses for their contributions and we will be in touch and will set up a working group. There is an urgency in this regard because we are coming into a very busy time for Tidy Towns groups. This is happening in Galway, as we speak. The last thing we want to do is to see people being forced to stop the voluntary activity they do in their community because of red tape. We will set up this working group. I wish to thank all the witnesses for their attendance and their evidence to the committee. We will be in touch in due course.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.39 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 29 May 2019.