I propose to take Questions Nos. 628 to 634, inclusive, together.
The Garda Commissioner has responsibility for management of An Garda Síochána and for the allocation of Garda resources, in light of identified operational demands. The Deputy will appreciate that the Commissioner is solely responsible for the allocation of personnel as well as organisational matters including the nature/number of Garda units involved in investigating any given criminal matter, including insurance fraud, and the resourcing of criminal investigations.
I can inform the Deputy that the Commissioner is of the view that a Divisional focus on insurance fraud is preferable to the establishment of a centralised investigation unit. This approach is aligned with the divisional-focussed Garda model. It is the intention of the Commissioner that the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) will guide Divisions and provide training in the investigation of insurance fraud.
The Cost of Insurance Working Group specifically called for An Garda Síochána to explore the potential for further cooperation between it and the insurance sector in relation to insurance fraud investigation. An industry-funded Garda insurance fraud unit was just one option considered in this regard. While the Commissioner has indicated that he does not support industry funding of Garda units, he is open to considering other industry-funded proposals to combat insurance fraud.
Reports of insurance-related fraud are received by An Garda Síochána and statistics are not held by my Department. I have been advised by the Garda authorities that changes were made to the Garda PULSE system last year to provide An Garda Síochána with the facility to more efficiently record insurance-related criminality. In relation to the scale of insurance fraud reported to An Garda Síochána, the most recent figures available to my Department are available in the ninth progress report published by the Cost of Insurance Working Group in July, a copy of which is available at the following link: https://assets.gov.ie/19322/8404160a5cc44b53b482c34ac1316f3b.pdf.
In the period 1 November 2018 (i.e. the date on which the new statistical category of ‘insurance fraud’ came into being) to end May 2019, 50 incidents of insurance fraud were recorded on PULSE It should be noted that this data is correct as at 6 June 2019, however the data is operational and is therefore subject to change.
More recently, each Garda Síochána Division has been requested to provide information regarding the extent of insurance-related fraud. This information is being examined at the GNECB and will be utilised to determine investigative activity, which will be undertaken in future ‘days of action’ under Operation Coatee.
Operation Coatee was launched in April 2019, its focus being the prevention of insurance-related fraud and associated crimes on a coordinated basis throughout Ireland. In circumstances where insurance fraud has already occurred, Operation Coatee is designed to maximise the prospect of identifying suspected culprits, and, where possible and appropriate, to initiate criminal proceedings.
A ‘day of action’ was undertaken at the commencement of Operation Coatee on 24 April 2019. The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) engaged in operational activity associated with an investigation relating to over 20 insurance claims which have been made and which, in some cases, have already involved payment being made to claimants. Arising from the ‘day of action’, 6 high-value cars and jewellery with a value in excess of €300,000 were seized, along with a substantial amount of documentation and financial records. The evidence seized continues to be analysed.
On a wider level, I have previously referred to the constructive engagement that has taken place between An Garda Síochána and the insurance industry under the cost of insurance review. This includes a commitment by An Garda Síochána and Insurance Ireland’s Anti-Fraud Forum to meet on a regular basis in order to discuss and act upon current and ongoing general issues which arise in the area of insurance fraud.