I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I will take eight minutes and my party colleagues will take the remaining 12 minutes. I am delighted to speak on the Bill. To set out the parameters of why we brought it forward, there is no doubt that we have a problem in Irish society in terms of fraudulent claims. It is having a deep impact on the cost of insurance and on people who are involved in business across the country and are consistently worried about the fact that a fraudulent claim could be made against them. For that reason and after engaging with many organisations and groups representing retailers, hoteliers, publicans, those who require public liability for their everyday business, motor insurance companies, motorists themselves and just families and individuals who come to our clinics on a continual basis, we have now to accept there is an endemic problem in Ireland with regard to fraudulent claims. That is not being alarmist, it is being factual.
The work group's recommendations highlight the fact that we need to address this and penalise the cheats, to chuck out the cheats and the chancers and support the decent people who, every day of the week, get up, pay their bills, take out their insurance and go about their lawful business. At present, someone who goes into a shop, hops over the counter and takes money from the cash register will more than likely face a penalty and be sanctioned by the State. There would be a Garda investigation, potential prosecution and a conviction. However, another person can walk into that same shop, throw some water in the toilet and pretend to have fallen, feign injury and take a case. There is no sanction whatsoever for that type of fraudulent activity. That does wear people down and has an impact on people. I have met families who are their wits' end because they have had several cases taken against them that were shown to be clearly fraudulent by the video evidence that was produced to me. When they went to court, the cases were eventually struck out but there was zero sanction. It is a crime that pays because if someone is found to be making a fraudulent claim, nothing happens.
The purpose of the Bill is to amend section 26 of the original Act to ensure that in the event of a case being struck out because of fraudulent evidence being presented to the court, it would be automatically referred to the DPP. That is not groundbreaking; let us be honest. If one perjures oneself in a court of law, there is a good change the judge will refer it to the DPP anyway because it is an offence. I believe this is the same principle. We have to protect the integrity of the system and of the lawful business that people conduct on a daily basis. We have to penalise and deter those who undermine the insurance concept in this country on a continual basis, which is that we all pay in and in the event of a person being genuinely hurt or injured, he or she can make a claim and receive compensation. We cannot consistently turn a blind eye almost to the point of applauding these chancers, these extortionists, as though somehow if they get away with it, it is a victimless crime. It is not.
We have young people who cannot get car insurance because of escalating costs of insurance in general and the payouts. It has an impact on people if they cannot afford car insurance. Businesses are put to the pin of their collar. In some cases, insurance costs as much as the rates themselves. That is the case for some in my constituency. Anybody who is supportive of those who are law abiding, who get up, work hard, pay their bills and taxes, pay their employees and contribute to society, who are on the front line of serving the public in many cases be it in shops, hotels, other retail facilities, will agree. Faced with a chancer, a fraudster, an extortionist or sometimes a contortionist, with the way they throw themselves around in toilets to feign injury, we must say as a Parliament and as a society that it is not acceptable because this is a crime that has victims. The victims are families running businesses the length and breadth of the country who, night in, night out, have the fear because a letter has come to them from solicitors claiming that their client slipped in a toilet and is looking for however much money in compensation. They know full well that over a period of time they will pay that compensation because their premium rates will go up anyway; that is what happens. I have met families that have been shattered by these experiences. It is blatant extortion and it is not a victimless crime.
I urge that as a House, a Parliament and a Government, we take this seriously and head-on. I ask that the Minister would support this Bill. I know there may be challenges with it but let us not be afraid to go to places we have not gone to in rooting out this endemic undermining of decency. We must support those who are injured and need compensation. However, we should not allow every chancer to undermine the basic structure and fabric of insurance, which is to lighten the burden and ensure that those who are injured receive fair compensation. Those who are undermining it have a lot to answer for. Unfortunately they are never called to book at present. There has never been a prosecution in terms of fraudulent court cases where evidence has been presented. There is no referral to the DPP and, unfortunately, because we do not have a dedicated Garda insurance fraud squad - something I also urge the Minister to address - we cannot investigate these crimes. We cannot prosecute them and, as long as we do not prosecute or sanction, we are sending out a message of encouragement to other chancers.
I genuinely believe that we owe this to those who are on the front line serving the public, whose facilities are being used by the public, to ensure that they are protected and their insurance premiums go to pay for those who are genuinely injured and are seeking redress and compensation, and to dismiss those who are chancers and extortionists - that is what they are.
There are two things to be done. A lot more must be done afterwards but these are priorities in my view. I hope the Bill gets universal support across the House. There is also a need to establish a Garda insurance fraud squad, which is also a key recommendation from the insurance group. That would be self-financing. It would be funded by the industry so there would be no cost to the Exchequer but there would be a huge saving to the insurance industry and more importantly to the policy holders. There would be integrity in the system whereby, when people who are fraudsters and chancers make a claim that is found to be fraudulent by the court, there is at least a referral to the DPP and thereafter prosecution if convicted. I commend the Bill to the House.