Senator Coghlan's remarks are very helpful because they reduce this to a simple issue. For the past four or five years, Senator Coghlan has been a supporter of the work of the PIAB in reforming this area.
I wish to focus on the issue of access to the courts. I reiterate the point I made in 2004, namely, that if the PIAB was doing anything to curtail the rights, constitutional or otherwise, of any citizen, I would be opposed to it. Not only has this matter been examined by two Attorneys General, the board's lawyers have considered it. I assure Senator Coghlan that if there were the slightest indication that the board was curtailing people's right of access to the courts, its members would be unhappy.
The entire point of the PIAB is conflict resolution. It represents a method of doing business without conflict. It offers a mechanism to resolve all those cases in which it was asked why those involved did not settle and in which people were afraid to settle because of issues of liability, etc. Anyone who is unhappy with the PIAB should have no second thoughts about taking a case before the courts. The important thing to remember is that people will not lose anything by doing so.
We were previously obliged to reassure people that if they took the PIAB route, they would not lose anything, including time. We asked the Government to reduce the Statute of Limitations from three years to two so that even if it took nine months to deal with a matter and someone was then obliged to go through a slow courts system, he or she would be no worse off than previously. As matters stand, people are a great deal better off. We took the action I have outlined to reassure those who raised issues such as that to which Senator Coghlan referred.
The next issue that arose was whether the PIAB would make matters more difficult for people. There is no indication that this is the case.
Another aspect of this matter is whether the PIAB is blocking people from accessing the courts. The answer is "No". I assure Senator Coghlan that if that matter is brought to the attention of the board, the Minister will not be obliged to wait because its members will approach him and highlight the fact that a flaw exists and must be dealt with. It will not happen and, under current structures, it is not happening.
If anyone peruses the contributions I have made in the House over the past 20 years, they will discover that I am one of the few Members who does not criticise lawyers in respect of the fees they charge. I never heard of a person who was in trouble seeking a cheap lawyer. Lawyers earn their money when they go into court and I do not have a difficulty with that. They are entitled to whatever fees they command. That is not the issue. The issue is about being awarded costs of, for example, €1,800, to do something we would carry out in our office at a cost of €80. That is a major mismatch. This is all we are trying to deal with here. It is no more than that.
It is important that Senator Coghlan raised the points because if he is concerned about access to the courts, it is our duty to reassure him and give him an absolute commitment that were that to be the case, it would be part of our assessment when we came to reassess and look at this, perhaps towards the end of next year. We always said that we should look at it after it had been in operation for five years and see whether things needed to be tightened up.
In the meantime, the board is now dealing with the issues and I am certain that the proper and understandable concerns of Senator Coghlan are not justified. They do not stand up and it is not a problem. The board is working very well. Perhaps Senator Coghlan has been given some examples of people who had difficulty getting into the courts. We do not know of any.
We should remember that what we are doing in respect of the PIAB and what this legislation is doing falls far short of what I and Senators Coghlan, Cassidy and Leyden asked for in the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. We asked that if somebody went to court to appeal the ruling of the PIAB and was awarded less, he or she should get no costs at all. That was the unanimous view of our committee. It is important to put on record that this does not go as far as that. This meets the need of the day, does not go further by curtailing the rights of people or cutting across them, and leaves them better off than they were before.