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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 19 Feb 2019

Vol. 263 No. 14

Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018: Committee and Remaining Stages

Sections 1 to 15, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

This is a very important Bill. I wish to take this opportunity to raise a number of issues that have come to my attention in recent weeks, one of which is the large numbers of individuals and small businesses that can no longer get insurance. I am aware of one individual who has been insured for 30 years. He has a number of shops but he was the subject of three claims in the past three years. His insurance increased from €7,000 to €35,000 last year. This year, the insurance provider will not provide him with cover. I am aware of an ever-increasing number of young drivers and others who are finding it difficult to obtain motor insurance. In one case, a small scrape three years ago amounting to €400 worth of damage means that the young professional involved is off the road because he cannot get insurance. While it is aimed purely at personal injuries on one level, I hope the Bill might afford the Department an opportunity to investigate what has been happening with motor insurance and insurance for small businesses in recent months. I do not want to rehearse all of the other issues we have discussed in the context of the Bill. However, I wish to state clearly that we need a review of the practices of motor and business insurance providers in this country.

I shall be brief. I fully agree with Senator Reilly. I agree with his call for an immediate review because small businesses are feeling the brunt of the insurance squeeze. I commend the Senator on what he said.

I also wish to express my concerns regarding the rising cost of premiums. It is important that the civil law should be such that it is fair to persons who are injured through the fault of others. In particular, it should be fair to those who are trying to carry out business activities, voluntary activities, landowner activities, motorist activities, taxi-driving activities and all the rest. The burden cannot become excessive.

The Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, was piloted originally by Mary Harney when she was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I was her Cabinet colleague at the time. Her initiative had a very significant effect at the time. It was generally accepted that public liability, employer insurance and the like were the equivalent of a 10% to 15% payroll tax for many employers, on top of pay-related social insurance, PRSI, making Ireland a difficult place to carry out entrepreneurial activity.

Whether one is talking about small and medium enterprises, as Senator Reilly mentioned, or the very small enterprise of simply being a taxi driver, being confronted with a demand for €5,000 or €7,000 means one is obliged to pay €100 a week simply to put one's car on the road. That is before paying for diesel, petrol or whatever to run the vehicle. That to which I refer is a terrible imposition on an ordinary working man or woman driving a taxi. Likewise, it is really scary for small business owners to be confronted with massive increases in their premiums. When Mary Harney introduced the PIAB, it had a good impact. Obviously, some fine-tuning and improvement are required because, as Senator Reilly noted, the cost of premiums is rising. In addition, there was a change to the civil law as a result of which people are required to swear affidavits and not to cheat by putting in bogus or exaggerated claims. That has also had an effect. There was a general moderating effect on premiums when the two relevant Acts were brought into force. I hope that the effect of those two Acts has not atrophied. I am of the view that the PIAB is worth having. The Government should keep the burden of personal injuries claims within reasonable levels by whatever means is constitutionally possible and is fair to people who are genuinely injured. However, we must at all times discriminate between those who are in that position and individuals who are exploiting the system of civil justice in order to obtain compensation in a measure which exceeds what would be considered reasonable in other European countries.

I wish the Minister well with her proposals and in her commitment to ensure that the PIAB functions well.

I thank the Senators for their time, contributions and support for the Bill. It is important legislation, which is designed to enhance the role of PIAB, to strengthen its powers within the personal injuries claims environment, and to benefit claimants, insurers and society more generally.

On the issue of the cost of insurance, I am aware of the serious impacts on businesses and consumers of high insurance costs. It is important that consumers and businesses can obtain insurance cover at a reasonable and fair price.

I have met the Minister of State, Deputy D’Arcy, who is chairman of the Government's cost of insurance working group, and other stakeholders to discuss the high cost of insurance for business and consumers, and the work in my Department in this regard. The working group has undertaken a review of the factors influencing the increased cost of insurance. Its objective is to identify immediate and long-term measures that can address increasing costs, while bearing in mind the need to maintain a stable insurance sector. The first phase of this work involved an examination of the motor insurance sector. The second phase involved an examination of the employer liability and public liability insurance sectors.

The work of the cost of insurance working group is complemented by the work of the Personal Injuries Commission. I was pleased to submit the second and final report of the commission to Government on 18 September 2018. The publication of this report concluded the challenging work programme of the commission since its establishment in January 2017, on foot of a recommendation in the cost of insurance working group's motor insurance report.

Following publication of its final report, I wrote to the relevant Government colleagues, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Health, and other organisations, including the Garda Commissioner, Insurance Ireland, Law Society, Bar Council of Ireland and Law Reform Commission, LRC, seeking co-operation in advancing the implementation of the recommendations relevant to them. Their implementation will be a matter for each of the bodies responsible.

The Department of Justice and Equality has engaged with PIAB regarding a possible interim process for achieving revised guidelines on the priority soft-tissue or whiplash area. The Minister for Justice and Equality wrote to the Chief Justice on 13 February to ascertain his views as to whether it would be possible, clearly respecting the separation of powers and the independence of the Judiciary, to devise a process involving members of the Judiciary, representatives of PIAB and officials from the Department of Justice and Equality whereby interim guidelines relating to soft tissue or whiplash injuries would be delivered, and this output could be published by PIAB under its existing legislation, as a supplementary or replacement guideline.

The Judicial Council Bill has completed Second Stage in the Seanad and preparations on proposed amendments are being made by Department of Justice and Equality for Committee Stage. We know the legislation is currently going through but, as an interim measure, the Minister contacted the Chief Justice.

I believe that the cumulative effects of the implementation of all of the recommendations from the two reports of the PIC, alongside the reports of the cost of insurance working group, and the measures contained in the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2018, should bring greater consistency and predictability to awards, faster resolution of claims and, ultimately, a reduction in insurance premiums, which will benefit consumers, businesses and society as a whole.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow morning at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 20 February 2019.