Small to medium-sized enterprise, SME, is critical to the health of the Irish economy. Foreign direct investment is important but it is seen by this Government as the glamorous side of enterprise policy while small to medium-sized businesses are worthy but are treated like the poor relation. Plenty of lipservice is given to them but all it really amounts to is platitudes with no real support or help. Indigenous SMEs are represented by a junior Minister without the necessary supports or policy initiatives. Ireland has made very little effort to create a Mittelstand-type of enterprise that is indigenous but is able to compete with international firms. SMEs in this country are struggling for a number of reasons. They are struggling because of creaky or non-existent infrastructure, because business rates do not take the profits of a business into consideration and because retail is migrating to the Internet and they are not getting the proper supports with regard to it.
One of the reasons most businesses tell me they are struggling is that input costs are going through the roof. One of those input costs is insurance. Frustration is building up in the SME sector because the Government has given up on insurance reform. I have some experience of this. I was involved in a car accident about two years ago. After the accident, a solicitor said to me "Why not put in a claim as I can you ten grand for everybody who was in the car?" That worked out at €60,000 and I would not even have had to turn up at whatever decision-making process was involved. That would be very tempting for any family in the country but that money does not come from thin air. It comes from somebody's pocket. It is the process that is putting drivers, particularly young drivers in rural areas, off the road and putting businesses out of business on a regular basis.
The Government has spent the past two years doing sweet damn all on this issue. Reform has stopped dead. It is not just me saying that. ISME, which is the representative organisation for SMEs, has stated that Government reform of insurance has stopped dead. I have been told by a number of representatives that businesses simply will not last to the end of the year and that thousands of jobs are in danger of being lost. The Minister of State has met one business owner, Linda Murray, a number of times. She is involved in the Alliance for Insurance Reform and owns a small business - a play centre - in County Meath. Her insurance costs have spiralled from €2,500 to about €16,000. She represents about 60 such play areas in the country, three of which have gone bust this year. She has stated that small businesses are simply being crucified by insurance costs. Many small businesses are not having their insurance renewed even though they have made no claims while equivalent companies in Great Britain see no difference in their insurance costs. Linda Murray has told me that she knows of a play centre that is paying €50,000 for insurance. One such business in this city is paying €135,000 per year. One insurance company has stated that any business that caters for children of a certain age will soon be obsolete. Another large insurance firm has stated that it will no longer insure dance classes and outdoor playgrounds and is considering not insuring sports. Why is the Minister of State not dealing with this crisis? Why is the Government sitting on its hands and not holding vested interests in this area to account?