I propose to take Questions Nos. 142 and 143 together.
At the outset, the Deputy will be aware that as Minister for Finance, I am responsible for the development of the legal framework governing financial regulation, and neither I nor the Central Bank of Ireland can interfere in the pricing or provision of insurance products, as these are matters of a commercial nature, and are determined by insurance companies based on an assessment of the risks they are willing to accept. These matters are considered by insurance companies on a case-by-case basis. This position is reinforced by the EU framework for insurance which expressly prohibits Member States from adopting rules which require insurance companies to obtain prior approval of the pricing or terms and conditions of insurance products. I am also not in a position to comment on individual cases, however both I and the Minister of State for Financial Services and Insurance, Deputy Michael D’Arcy, are very conscious of the difficulties in respect of the cost and availability of insurance that many small businesses are facing in this country, in particular in the leisure and tourism sector.
Consequently, following the publication of its Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance in 2017, the Cost of Insurance Working Group undertook an examination of the employer liability and public liability insurance sectors. This second phase culminated in the publication in January 2018 of the Report on the Cost of Employer and Public Liability Insurance. The Report makes 15 recommendations with 29 associated actions, detailed in an Action Plan with agreed timelines for implementation.
The most recent Progress Update was published at the beginning of March and shows that 24 out of the total of 26 action points which were due for completion during 2018 overall have been accomplished. I am confident that the two outstanding actions will be completed in the coming months, along with the three remaining action points with deadlines set for various quarters throughout 2019.
The actions implemented to date cut across a number of different areas and include:
- The publication of by An Garda Síochána of the Guidelines for the Reporting of Suspected Fraudulent Insurance Claims by Insurance Entities to An Garda Síochána;
- The recommendation that the Law Reform Commission (LRC) undertake a detailed analysis of the possibility of developing constitutionally sound legislation to delimit or cap the amounts of damages which a court may award in respect of some or all categories of personal injuries, as part of its Fifth
Programme of Law Reform has commenced;
-Sections 8 and 14 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 have been amended to ensure defendants are appropriately notified of a claim having been submitted against their policy and to make it easier for businesses and insurers to challenge cases where fraud or exaggeration is suspected, respectively;
-An Garda Síochána has commenced the collection of statistics under the new “insurance fraud” category which has been added to the PULSE system; and
-The Courts Service has confirmed that it will publish a more detailed breakdown of awards in personal injury cases in its Annual Reports.
Undoubtedly the single most essential challenge which must be overcome if there is to be a sustainable reduction in insurance costs is to bring the levels of personal injury damages awarded in this country more in line with those awarded in other jurisdictions. In this regard, the Personal Injuries Commission has highlighted the significant differential between award levels in this country and other jurisdictions, and has made a number of recommendations to address this issue, in particular the establishment of a Judicial Council to compile guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury. Both I and Minister of State D’Arcy believe that this awards gap needs to be significantly closed and we are working with the Minister for Justice and Equality Mr Charlie Flanagan TD to ensure that this happens at the earliest opportunity.
Finally, I think it is worth noting that Minister of State D’Arcy has met with a number of relevant businesses impacted, including those from the leisure and tourism sectors and their relevant representative bodies, to understand the issues they have experienced in their particular sectors. In addition, the Minister of State has held meetings with Insurance Ireland, and some relevant insurers, on these issues. I would like to assure the Deputy that the Cost of Insurance Working Group will continue to focus on implementing the recommendations of the Report on the Cost of Employer and Public Liability Insurance in parallel with implementing those from the Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance. I am hopeful that the cumulative effects of the completion of the two Reports’ recommendations will include increased stability in the pricing of insurance for businesses and a more competitive insurance market.