I move amendment No. 1:
In page 8, to delete lines 13 to 29.
As we discussed on Committee Stage just before Christmas, this Bill contains a number of welcome proposals, including provisions that will see an updated book of quantum published every three years, efforts to modernise the Personal Injuries Assessment Board's system by using more electronic means of communication and changes to ensure better co-operation with the PIAB. Unfortunately, the cost of insurance for private individuals and businesses across Ireland continues to be a serious problem about which this Government is not doing enough. The Alliance for Insurance Reform recently said that while insurers and lawyers squabble over the blame game and the Government drags its feet on vital reforms, Ireland's small businesses, charities and community groups pay the price with unnecessarily excessive insurance costs. This Bill will introduce some small changes but is nowhere near the scale of action needed to tackle the problem. I ask the Minister to outline the action she intends to take in this Dáil term to address the major problem of rising insurance costs for business.
While most provisions in the Bill are welcome, we have previously registered our concern with section 13 in particular. Therefore, I have tabled one amendment which seeks to remove section 13 in its entirety from the Bill. Section 13 aims to insert a new section into the 2003 Act which would force the PIAB to remit to the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation any moneys in excess of those authorised to be retained by the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The latest figures show that the reserves of the PIAB stood at €17,449,908 in 2017.
PIAB is an independent State body which assesses personal injury compensation claims. Since its establishment, PIAB has been a successfully self-financing organisation. In 2011, it repaid the Exchequer the €6.9 million it cost to establish the organisation. The successful self-financing structure should be maintained to ensure the body remains fully independent from Government, which is particularly important given the quasi-judicial function PIAB provides.
In addition to protecting the independence of PIAB, these reserves could be re-invested by PIAB to improve the operation of the body, for example, through investments aimed at reducing the length of time it takes to assess a claim, which currently stands at 7.3 months. The Minister should also examine other areas where the funds could be used positively to extend the functions of PIAB. For example, PIAB could be given the powers to deal with Garda compensation claims. Currently, every Garda compensation claim, regardless of the value, must be heard in the High Court, resulting in considerable legal costs for the taxpayer. That is only one example of how the money could be used by PIAB to achieve overall savings for the Exchequer. Has the Minister examined any new avenues for PIAB such as this?
The reserves built up by PIAB have been through its diligent and conscientious work. We should encourage State agencies and bodies to follow this example by delivering their services on budget, and if reserves are saved they should be re-invested in the agencies to increase capacity further and improve services for citizens. The powers set out in section 13 will set a bad example for other State agencies and bodies because if they run a tight ship and deliver a valuable service for the State on budget with a surplus, they can expect their reserves to be stripped and their financial efficiency swallowed up for other projects with zero financial control.
I have a specific question on financial control that I hope the Minister will clarify. Is PIAB's €17 million in reserves, or a portion of it, intended to be used by the Government to part-finance the €50 million that needs to be found in the other Departments because of the spiralling cost of the national children's hospital? I would be concerned if that was the case. The Minister emptying the reserves of PIAB will not benefit PIAB or people using its services and, therefore, we oppose this part of the Bill. On Committee Stage, Deputy Kelleher expressed his concerns about the section and I hope he and his party will support the amendment.
I thank the Minister for bringing forward the Bill, which will bring some positive changes, and I stress the need for far greater action on premiums being charged by insurance companies as they have a detrimental impact on many businesses across the State.