Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Property Tax Review

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

38. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will introduce legislative changes in 2019 for the local property tax, LPT; the reforms he will introduce for the income thresholds for the LPT deferral; the reforms he will introduce in terms of exemptions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17998/19]

This question relates to LPT. The Minister has signalled his intention to defer the revaluation of properties which was due to take place in November 2019. However, questions need to be answered regarding other recommendations in the LPT review such as changes to the income thresholds for deferrals, as well as other exemptions which are time limited and will fall in the absence of new legislation. Will the Minister clarify if he intends to bring in local property tax legislation this year?

The review I initiated of the local property tax has been completed by the Department of Finance in conjunction with the Departments of the Taoiseach, Public Expenditure and Reform and Housing, Planning and Local Government, as well as the Revenue Commissioners. In accordance with its terms of reference, the review focused on the impact of house prices on LPT liabilities under a series of scenarios involving different rate and tax band structures. However, against a background of significant but geographically uneven increases in price levels, I believe it is necessary to engage in further consultation to identify a scenario which would deliver on the condition I set, namely, that there should be relative stability for all taxpayers in their liabilities and that any increases should be modest, affordable and fair.

I decided to defer the valuation date from 1 November 2019 to 1 November 2020. This will give sufficient time for the Oireachtas budgetary oversight committee to consider the review report in the context of the committee’s recommendations in its report of 21 March 2018. Importantly, as a result of my decision, the LPT bills of those liable for the tax will not be increasing in 2020.

On deferrals and exemptions, I do not wish to pre-empt the work of the budgetary oversight committee. However, I expect the committee can complete its consideration of the review’s findings and recommendations in a timeframe to allow me to put in place the necessary legislative proposals in advance of any change from 1 November 2020.

There are several exemptions in place which are generally open-ended. However, there are two which have a fixed statutory end date of 31 December 2019. These particular exemptions will be applied in respect of 2020 liabilities by Revenue on an administrative basis pending necessary legislation. One of these exemptions relates to properties purchased by first-time buyers between 1 January 2013 and 31 December 2013. These exemptions will be continued.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he clarify if he received any advice that not proceeding with the revaluation of properties raised some constitutional questions? There are some constitutional concerns about the validity of the LPT as a result of not doing that. Will the Minister clarify if the exemptions, which are time limited and are due to lapse at the end of October 2019, will continue on an administrative basis, even in the absence of legislation that may or may not be introduced? The key point is the 11,800 properties bought between January 2013 and 2019. The actual number may be far higher because many of the property owners did not have an obligation to register for the LPT. That figure is probably between 50,000 and 60,000. Will the Minister clarify their status as a result of these changes?

On the Deputy’s question about receiving legal advice on this course of action, yes, I had an extensive amount of engagement within the Government on this issue. I believe a deferral of one year, while showing that I intend to use that period in order to gain agreement for the future of this tax and its retention, is well inside the space of what can be deemed constitutional.

I will be doing this on the basis of an order. Accordingly, the two exemptions, to which the Deputy referred, will continue. The figures he has referred to, particularly the higher figure, is ahead of my understanding of what those figures are. In either event, by use of order in the way I have described, it will allow those exemptions to continue.

Will the Minister put on the record his understanding of the number of properties purchased since 2013 which are currently exempt and for which the exemption would normally fall later this year?

He did not really answer the question as to whether any concerns were raised. He has given us his view that he remained within the constitutional parameters in not going ahead with the revaluation.

Will he clarify his intention around the income thresholds for a deferral? The report recommended a 20% increase in the qualifying income threshold to allow those to defer. Almost 60,000 households already availed of that deferral option last year. Many more would like to do so but their current incomes are above the allowable threshold. That is an issue on which the Minister should move quickly. When does the Minister intend to bring in legislation to deal with these issues?

Three points were put to me. First, in terms of the number of properties that are covered by the exemption to which the Deputy referred, the figure he used is higher than figures that have been shared with me to date.

What has been shared with the Minister? He might share it with us.

I do not have the figure available to me now, but I will share it with the Deputy and I will come back to him on it. In relation to his second question on whether concerns were raised with me, the advice that I have received on this matter showed that it is within the power that is available to me to continue with the deferral for one year on the basis of an order.

In response to when I plan to introduce legislation to deal with all these matters, I will do that when I believe I have a basis of support for it, which I hope to gain in the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. That would then allow agreement on this matter within the Dáil. It will require primary legislation to change the income thresholds to which the Deputy referred. If an individual or couple go beyond the income thresholds for deferral, they are still entitled to a deferral of 50%. I have asked the Revenue Commissioners to give me an indication of the number of people that might be affected by it.

Insurance Industry

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

39. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the extent to which transparency has been introduced into insurance, pricing motor and business; when the price of business insurance will be readily measurable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18015/19]

The original report of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform focused relentlessly on transparency as a key issue to address in the crisis that we face with many businesses and individuals facing high insurance premiums, yet two and a half years on we hear from individuals, consumers and advocate groups that there is now less transparency in the system not more. A good example of that is that there is no measurement to calculate the cost of insurance for small businesses yet we hear week in, week out of the crisis many sectors face as a result of insurance premiums. When will the situation change?

A key recommendation of the cost of insurance working group, CIWG, was to establish a national claims information database. The Deputy will be aware that the Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Act 2018 was commenced on Monday, 28 January 2019. The required consultation by the Central Bank with regard to the publication of the relevant regulations to outline the scope of the database took place in mid-March and I understand that the bank is finalising arrangements to publish these regulations. The Central Bank plans to collect claims data from insurance undertakings in the first half of 2019, with a view to publishing its first annual report under the legislation in the second half of 2019.

I am confident that, in addition to the two key information reports that my Department has published in 2017 and 2018, the database will considerably increase transparency around the factors that influence the cost of motor insurance. Increasing the availability of data in relation to employer and public liability insurance is also a matter that was discussed by the CIWG and its report on the cost of employer and public liability insurance recommends a number of actions to improve transparency in this area. Recommendation 1 required the Central Statistics Office, CSO, to consider the feasibility of collecting price information on the cost of insurance to businesses, and if it considered such an index feasible, to make appropriate proposals.

The CSO submitted its report to the CIWG in January 2019. While it found that no international precedent exists for such an index, and most price information methodologies it examined were not feasible, it indicated that it wanted to further consider a particular price information method that may potentially be capable of being operationalised. I understand that this method would use a commercially available technology solution to automatically price a high volume of representative profiles, that is, customer profiles such as an office-based company with 20 employees, good safety standards and no claims history. The price quotations for these profiles would be tracked over time to estimate the overall change in premiums.

The examination is under way, and it is expected that the CSO will provide the CIWG with a determination on feasibility during the summer.

We all hear the anger among small businesses, be they grocers, soft play areas, pubs and retail outlets, at the dramatic increase they face in insurance costs. The committee heard that at first hand. In some cases over a short period premiums have increased by 1,000%. In spite of that, there is no measurement in the State to measure the increase in insurance on small businesses. The National Competitiveness Council produced a report on the cost of doing business and it said insurance costs increased rapidly between 2013 and 2016 but they have been decreasing since then. It said the price of car and other transport insurance is roughly what it was in 2015, in line with the EU average. That is the best the National Competitiveness Council can do on the cost of doing business because it has no data whatsoever on the astronomical increases faced by small businesses, which is putting some of them to the wall. Two and a half years on from all the glossy reports, we have less transparency because we did have a certain degree of transparency. The blue book was published annually by the Central Bank but it has been withdrawn. The private motor insurance statistics were also published but they are no longer available. We have action point after action point but we have less transparency. Businesses are going to the wall because insurance companies can spin and refer to figures nobody else has and nobody can ask them what they are doing and they are putting people out of business because of the astronomical increases.

I understand and accept that there is anger. Everything that I am doing is to try to ensure that we give businesses the opportunity to stay in business and trade in the way they should be trading. Deputy Pearse Doherty was correct to say there is no measurement in the State. There is also no measurement internationally for what we are trying to do. The CSO came to us last January with a number of options. We considered that four of them were not feasible as we could not make them operational. The CSO is to report back to us over the summer months with a structure that we believe we can apply and put into operation. I will not tell the CSO how to do it. It has the best people to do it.

I will not pretend that the insurance companies are white knights. They have been unhelpful in terms of how they hold their information. Deputies Pearse Doherty and Michael McGrath are aware of that from their interactions with them in the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. We are doing everything we can to try to ensure that small and medium enterprises the length and breadth of this country get a fair pricing structure and regime from insurance companies.

I hear what the Minister of State says and I take it at face value but the reality is that we have less transparency now within the system. The blue book and the private motor insurance statistics, PMIS, should have been published in recent years. We should not allow the insurance industry to do what it has done, namely, allow our agencies to take away the little transparency that existed. This is the same entity that was investigated in dawn raids by European authorities because of its cartel-like behaviour. It is the same entity that is refusing to insure soft play areas the length and breadth of the State. We will see them close down one by one. An entrepreneur in the soft play area broke down before the committee as she had put her ambitions and hopes into her business and she will be out of business because no insurance company in the State will insure her. They say it is too costly and we cannot dispute that because no data are available. The reality is that the national claims information database is a closed book that only gives information to the industry, and only on claims, not costs. The Alliance for Insurance Reform said that confirms its view that official Ireland is in no hurry to resolve this crisis despite the damage insurance costs are doing to small businesses. Unfortunately, it is right, because there is a lack of urgency and a clear lack of transparency which is affecting jobs and businesses to a considerable extent.

Anybody who says there is no urgency in relation to insurance is wrong. Deputy Pearse Doherty is wrong. It is very rare but everybody in this House, the other House, those in government and in opposition, is putting his or her shoulder to the wheel to try to rectify the insurance sector. I have complimented every Member in this House and in the other House for the co-operation that exists on insurance. I do that on all occasions because it is fair and right. Everyone wants this matter concluded but the biggest issue remains to be addressed, namely, the level of awards. The Judicial Council Bill has moved from Committee Stage in Seanad Éireann to Report Stage.

I mixed up the date on the last occasion, saying that it would be done before the end of March. The matter moved back into the Seanad on 2 April. I have set a date by which I want to achieve this, and it can be achieved with the help of the Members of the Houses, by getting the judicial council Bill through Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann prior to end of the summer session. I have asked for an early signature motion on this so that we can move towards the establishment of the judicial council and allow for the establishment of a committee to consider personal injury assessment guidelines for that legislation.

This is crucial legislation and will impact on awards. High awards mean high premiums. I am asking that the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, before we conclude the legislation in both Houses, asks all the insurance companies to appear before it. The committee should put hard questions to those companies if we do our bit to put the structure and legislation in place to allow the re-calibration of the book of quantum guidelines in line with the recommendations of the personal injuries commission. I will do it in private, but I am asking the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, to do it in public.

Central Bank of Ireland Reports

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

40. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance when he plans to introduce the central bank (amendment) Bill to address the recommendations of the Central Bank on banking culture and accountability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17999/19]

This question concerns the Central Bank's report on behaviour and culture within the main retail banks. One of the key recommendations in the report was that a senior individual accountability regime would be introduced in Ireland for senior executives within the banking system. There already is such a regime in the UK. This recommendation was contained in the report issued by the Central Bank in July of last year. It requires legislation, which I believe will be supported in this House. Can the Minister update the House on this issue? When does he expect to bring this legislation forward?

As the Deputy will be aware, I am committed to introducing a Central Bank (amendment) Bill that will increase individual accountability in the financial sector. As I have stated previously, the need to rebuild trust in the banking sector is a priority for this Government. Indeed, international evidence illustrates that improvements in banking culture, through increased individual accountability, lead to better consumer protection and financial stability outcomes.

In 2017, I asked the Central Bank to prepare a report on the current cultures, behaviours and the associated risks in the retail banks and the actions that may be taken to ensure that banks prioritise customer issues in the future.  Following my request, in July of last year the Central Bank published the report, Behaviour and Culture of the Irish Retail Banks.

My officials have been working on the details of a Central Bank (amendment) Bill, which will address the recommendations made in the report and a number of other policy matters, including statutory changes following on from the banking Inquiry, potential changes related to Private Member’s Bills and other matters.

The main proposals by the Central Bank in the report to enhance individual accountability include conduct standards, a senior executive accountability regime and enhancements to the Central Bank's current fitness and probity regime and the enforcement regime.

In preparing its report the Central Bank cooperated extensively with the Dutch Central Bank as it is one of the leaders in the field of financial services culture sphere. Separately, my Department has focused on the implementation and lessons from the UK’s senior managers’ regime and conduct standards given the close relationship between the two financial sectors.  This is particularly valid given the similar common law legal system so we can learn from the experiences of the UK.

The ongoing work between the Central Bank and my officials has focused on developing possible wording for legislative amendments and considering this wording in the context of constitutional protections and existing legal provisions.

I have previously stated in this House that I intended to seek Government approval to draft the heads of a Bill by the end of quarter one this year.  Notwithstanding that Brexit-related issues have caused this timeline to be adjusted, my intention is to progress this matter expeditiously so that I can seek approval to draft the heads of the Bill before the summer recess.

That reply is deeply disappointing. The reality is that the Central Bank has asked for these powers to hold senior executives in our banking system accountable, and the Minister is talking about going to the Government to seek approval to draft the heads of a Bill. He has not done that yet and is hoping to do that in the coming months. That does not sound to me like it is a Government priority or that we are likely to see this senior executive accountability regime introduced any time soon. The Minister knows well what the catalyst for all of this was. It was, of course, the tracker mortgage scandal, which continues to this day. The single largest outstanding issue in that tracker scandal relates to AIB. There are 6,000 customers in what is known as the prevailing rate group. I am sure the Minister is familiar with it and I encourage him to read over the transcript of our questioning of AIB's executives at the committee last week. That issue is going to go the full distance. The Minister should look at it and if he has a view on it - I hope he does - he should express that view. The measure of culture change is whether or not the banks, when decisions can go either way, make decisions in favour of the consumer.

My message to the House is very clear. I am going to bring in this legislation as soon as possible. There are many delicate constitutional matters that we have to deal with and I am determined that we will deal with them. I refer in particular to Articles 37 and 38 of the Constitution, which concern the limits to which judicial powers can be exercised other than by the courts and the right of an individual to earn a living and related property rights. There are other elements of our Constitution which are equally important, for example the common good. There is also a need to learn from the grave difficulties we have had in recent years in the operation of our banking system.

The commitment I had given to date was that I would bring the heads of the Bill to the Government before the end of the first quarter. I am now indicating to the House that it is going to take a little bit longer to do. The only reason for that delay is that all of my officials who have been involved in this area have also been involved in all of the issues which arose in the context of our Brexit omnibus Bill. That matter is now dealt with and I am going to move this matter forward as quickly as I can.

People want to know when this Bill will be introduced, not when the Minister is going to seek approval to draft the heads of a Bill. People want to know when it will be the law of the land that senior executives who are making critical decisions about the future of their consumers can be held to account in the manner recommended by the Central Bank. I would like to hear when the Minister expects that this regime will actually be put in place. Of course it is the case that the regime has to be constitutional, but the question of the constitutional rights of the 40,000 tracker mortgage customers who had their money taken from them also arises. Many of those people are still waiting to get that money back. There are 6,000 customers in AIB who, in my view, are still being wronged. That issue, as I said, is going to go the full distance. The Minister needs personally to examine that issue and convey a view, if he has one. Otherwise it will end up in the High Court and could be very embarrassing indeed for AIB, which is a bank in which the State continues to hold a majority share.

I will reaffirm again my determination that this Bill be implemented as soon as possible. The Deputy mentioned what citizens want to hear about the ability of such legislation to be effectively implemented. This has to be done in a way that is fully consistent with our Constitution. When the legislation is used, it must be capable of withstanding legal challenge. That is what we are going to do. I have explained why it has taken a little bit longer to do than I had previously indicated, but I am determined that we will move this legislation through.

On the implementation of this legislation, if I get co-operation from the House on this matter, which I am sure I will given the interest people have in it, and get agreement to the heads of the Bill well in advance of the summer recess, we can publish it, move to drafting and have the legislation available to go to the House after the summer. Thereafter I hope we can pass it as soon as possible.

On the Deputy's final point about the group of citizens affected by AIB, I wish to assure the Deputy that I am well aware of the issue.

I am equally aware that the investigation of this matter is being carried out by the Central Bank and I have to recognise its right to do that work.

Insurance Costs

Joan Burton

Ceist:

41. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance his plans for insurance reforms in view of the fact that the issue of rising insurance costs and high compensation has created a market distortion that is now causing persons to lose their jobs across many small businesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17869/19]

Is the Minister aware that small and medium sized businesses around the country are being threatened with job losses and closures because of rising insurance costs which are only advised to them at the last minute but are not documented and detailed?

I am very conscious of the difficulties being faced by certain small businesses in obtaining insurance and that a number of such businesses have had to close or are facing closure if they are unable to get cover. I believe that the issue of the rising cost of insurance and, in some cases its unavailability, is linked to high award levels particularly for soft tissue injuries, as well as what appears to be an increase in fraudulent and exaggerated claims. The result of this is that in certain parts of the economy, such as play centres, insurers are withdrawing altogether as they argue they are incurring losses in these areas

The Deputy will be aware that neither I nor the Central Bank can interfere in the provision or pricing of insurance products. However, it was recognised that the State could play a role in improving the environment within which insurers operate, thus the cost of insurance working group, CIWG, was established in July 2016.

The CIWG has produced two reports and a series of quarterly progress updates on the various recommendations made by CIWG and endorsed by Government. The difficulties facing the consumer and the voluntary and small business sector from the high cost of insurance premiums are acknowledged in these reports.

A key recommendation of the CIWG was the establishment of the personal injuries commission, PIC, which was asked to examine among other things award levels in this country compared with elsewhere. It reported in September and concluded that soft tissue injuries are significantly higher here than in England and Wales and recommended that action be taken to address this disparity through the establishment of the judicial council. The PIC recommended that this body would become responsible for preparing the guidelines on personal injury award levels, and would replace the book of quantum.

The current position is that the Minister for Justice and Equality has indicated that he hopes that the Judicial Council Bill 2017 will be enacted by the summer. It recently completed Committee Stage in the Seanad. Alongside this, the Law Reform Commission has included the subject of capping damages in personal injuries litigation in its draft fifth programme of law reform and this work will begin shortly.

I have heard about the different measures that are being taken, announced and re-announced and discussed at various committees. At the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach we had the privilege of meeting Ms Linda Murray who operates a play centre. It is one of many which, despite no claims, now face huge increases in their premiums. There is market failure or distortion whereby insurance companies are coming out of the blue and imposing enormous premium increases on people. They have been doing this with car insurance for young people and are now doing it on a widespread basis to businesses.

Effectively it is an attack on our cultural and family life as well as business life because for instance play centres, venues, pubs, music and sports events, all of the things that we enjoy are coming under attack and possible closure in the case of small venues because of the extraordinary premiums being charged to business operators.

I absolutely understand the severity of the issues Deputy Burton is referring to. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, has outlined the different steps that Government is taking to respond to what I know is a very serious matter in our economy and society. He has been in very regular contact with An Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner about many aspects of this issue. He and I have received assurances that the Garda Síochána is looking to increase capacity in this area to deal with some of the issues Deputy Burton has referred to. I and the Minister of State expect further public announcements and developments in this area to deal with some of the issues the Deputy has referred to.

The Deputy will be aware of the recent statement from Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns who noted, in his second report on personal injuries, their effect on premiums and the various challenges we are discussing this morning, that insurance industry representatives have repeatedly stated that award levels and costs would come down if claims costs come down. The Minister of State and I are calling on the industry to repeat that statement.

We have had discussions about the Garda Síochána perhaps having a dedicated fraud unit. We have seen extraordinary cases repeatedly detailed in the newspapers where many insurance claims made in respect of relatively minor car crashes have failed. Does the Minister know, following his conversations with the Minister for Justice and Equality whether anyone has been charged with fraud in respect of any of these claims? Has any action been taken? It really is affecting every stream of Irish life in a destructive way. Children will not be able to run in school playgrounds, or play in play centres. Water parks are being charged massive increases in premiums. The Minister is talking the talk but we are not getting any sense of a Government that is able to deal comprehensively with this. I have read Mr. Justice Kearns's remarks. He has been very frank and open and willing to reform but is the Government willing to?

The Government is willing to reform. I am aware for example that one sentence has already been handed down for some of the criminal activity that has caused the difficulties facing citizens. I fully accept that this issue is having a very strong effect on the operation of business within our society and the delivery of services and activities that matter to our citizens. I refer to the legislative measures being implemented by Government, the work An Garda Síochána is doing, the expectation of further activity and commitments and when all this will be in place, and this will be in place. Those who lead the insurance industry have given a commitment to adjust their premiums if the issues they refer to are addressed, and a public statement will be made again by the industry on this issue. We will play our part in dealing with an issue that we acknowledge is causing the degree of worry and harm that Deputy Burton has referred to and we are fully committed to doing all we can in that area.

Insurance Industry

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

42. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance his legislative and policy priorities in the area of insurance reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18000/19]

The fact that three of the five priority questions have been dedicated to insurance underlines just how grave the current situation is. It really is a crisis point for many businesses throughout the country. Many have closed and others are on the brink of closure. This House needs to offer some solutions and we need to be clear and specific about when these solutions will be in place. For example, the Minister said he hopes to have the Judicial Council Bill 2017 enacted this summer. When will the revised guidelines be in place and when will they influence the level of awards being granted in cases that go all the way through the court system? Will the Minister indicate when that one practical measure will be in place?

I will refer to the actions that have been taken because the Deputy is correct that this is a matter that has dominated priority questions but as I am sure he will appreciate regardless of whether it is dominating these questions I am aware of how serious the issue is and of the work that the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, is doing to tackle this issue.

Before I answer the Deputy's specific question I want to point to what has already happened. I refer to the work the Garda Síochána is continuing to do in this area of which there will be more in that space. The Minister has engaged with the Garda Commissioner on that. I refer to the work the Garda Síochána is doing in collecting statistics regarding a new insurance fraud category to further aid our analysis of what we can do to tackle this issue. I refer also to the amendment of sections 8 and 14 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act of 2004 to ensure defendants are appropriately notified of a claim having been submitted. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Act 2019 commenced at the start of April. I refer to the work that has been done on the Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Act, which has been commenced. While its initial focus is on motor insurance, the information being generated will be of help in dealing with this broad area.

To answer the question the Deputy put to me, the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, has already stated and I share his view that if and when the judicial council Bill is implemented and passed by the Seanad before the summer recess, we hope the guidelines the Deputy is referring to will be in place by the end of this year. However, I have to recognise that this is a judicial council. It is independent in its work and if we begin to be perceived to be interfering with that independence, let alone do it, we undermine its independence and therefore its effectiveness. Neither I nor I am sure the Deputy want to do that but we hope that soon after the passage of this Bill the issuing of guidelines can be dealt with by the council.

It is great to see the Minister answering questions on insurance because it seemed to me at times that the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, has been a lone voice in Government talking about insurance. I am glad to see the Minister taking these questions as the Minister serving in Cabinet with responsibility.

The bottom line here is that there are sectors of business in this country to which an Irish insurer is not willing to offer cover. It is all very fine for people to bash the insurance companies, and I will do that too when I need to do it, but that they will not even provide insurance to certain sectors tells us there is something fundamentally wrong. The nub of this is when those award levels, particularly for soft tissue injuries, will come more into line with other jurisdictions as set out in the Personal Injuries Commission report.

When it comes to fraud, notwithstanding the reference the Minister made to one case which I am not familiar with, the general view is that there is no deterrent to somebody taking a bogus claim. I am certainly not aware of cases that have been brought right through the system. We have tried to get data from the Courts Service and the Minister for Justice and Equality. There is no data. We cannot get any data whatsoever as to the number of cases brought before the courts relating to alleged insurance fraud, not least the number of actual convictions. Could we start by getting some useful data because there seems to be no down side to people chancing their arm and taking a fraudulent claim? It seems to be a no-lose situation.

I agree with the Deputy that the matter has to move beyond simply attacking those within the industry. That is why the work the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, has done is so important because he is looking to tackle some of the root issues that are contributing to this problem. I also agree with the Deputy that if costs in this area for those who are providing insurance are high, and higher versus elsewhere in Europe, that will have an effect on the pricing and availability of policies. We need to call out areas in the industry that we believe need to change. We are doing that but we also need to address issues they are raising in an effective and fair manner.

On the point the Deputy put to me regarding information on deterrents within our court system, I believe we will have information available on that in an accessible manner within the next number of weeks. We will then share that with the Oireachtas committee so that the Deputy will be able to see it.

In terms of my role on this issue, I am absolutely committed to making further progress on this matter to support the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, in his efforts and to addressing this issue further myself, not only because of the issues Deputy McGrath and other Deputies have raised but also because of the issue this presents to our economy overall.

In terms of specifics, the Minister is expecting some announcement shortly on the work of An Garda Síochána around insurance fraud. We do not know the nature of that but this has been long promised and we are expecting some announcement. Let us hope it is tangible and positive.

The Minister is expecting and taking the caveat on board that it depends on the speed at which the judicial council, once established, gets its work done but he is hoping and expecting that by the end of this year there will be revised guidelines, which the Judiciary will have to reflect in the level of awards. I say to the Minister, and I have had this discussion with the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, that when he is bringing forward the details of the judicial council Bill in the Seanad and when it completes its journey in this House, if he allows too much wriggle room for the Judiciary and if they only have to have regard to these new guidelines then it will be a waste of time. There will always be a certain degree of discretion allowed but we know what happens in cases where there is too much discretion. Essentially, the guidelines become redundant very quickly. This has to be tightly framed to make sure that the new levels of awards set out in the guidelines are reflected in actual award levels.

Regarding the timelines the Deputy restated on the basis of what I said to him a moment ago, that is correct. However, to be clear again it is a matter for the judicial council, when implemented, and the content of its guidelines. If the House or I as Minister begin to determine or look to influence its work it would set us down a path of undermining the council and the effect it may have on an issue on which we all want to see progress. All of the comments I make about this issue recognise the independence of the Judiciary and the contribution it may make to progress on this issue.

That allows me to address the point the Deputy has raised about wriggle room. The legislation we bring forward has to respect the independence of the Judiciary but the Government is committed to respecting its independence and looking to make progress on an issue we know is of huge importance by use of peer review and trying to develop more expertise regarding the effect of these rulings on vital matters in our economy and our society.