I am very conscious of the difficulties being faced by certain small businesses in obtaining insurance and that a number of such businesses have had to close or are facing closure if they are unable to get cover. I believe that the issue of the rising cost of insurance and, in some cases its unavailability, is linked to high award levels particularly for soft tissue injuries, as well as what appears to be an increase in fraudulent and exaggerated claims. The result of this is that in certain parts of the economy, such as play centres, insurers are withdrawing altogether as they argue they are incurring losses in these areas
The Deputy will be aware that neither I nor the Central Bank can interfere in the provision or pricing of insurance products. However, it was recognised that the State could play a role in improving the environment within which insurers operate, thus the cost of insurance working group, CIWG, was established in July 2016.
The CIWG has produced two reports and a series of quarterly progress updates on the various recommendations made by CIWG and endorsed by Government. The difficulties facing the consumer and the voluntary and small business sector from the high cost of insurance premiums are acknowledged in these reports.
A key recommendation of the CIWG was the establishment of the personal injuries commission, PIC, which was asked to examine among other things award levels in this country compared with elsewhere. It reported in September and concluded that soft tissue injuries are significantly higher here than in England and Wales and recommended that action be taken to address this disparity through the establishment of the judicial council. The PIC recommended that this body would become responsible for preparing the guidelines on personal injury award levels, and would replace the book of quantum.
The current position is that the Minister for Justice and Equality has indicated that he hopes that the Judicial Council Bill 2017 will be enacted by the summer. It recently completed Committee Stage in the Seanad. Alongside this, the Law Reform Commission has included the subject of capping damages in personal injuries litigation in its draft fifth programme of law reform and this work will begin shortly.