Insurance (Life Assurance and Life Insurance) (Amendment) Bill 2019: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to prohibit insurers, insurance providers, brokers or other such undertakings from failing or refusing to make payments under life insurance or assurance policies, including death benefit, where the person insured dies by suicide.

This is a Bill to prohibit so-called suicide clauses in life assurance and life insurance policies. The purpose of the Bill is to prevent insurance companies from failing or refusing to execute or pay out on an insurance policy, including a death benefit policy, in respect of a person who dies by suicide. For a long time, a discriminatory practice of refusing to pay out on insurance policies in cases of death by suicide has existed in Ireland. I believe this is wrong and is based on an outdated understanding of suicide. Its origins were based on the idea that suicide was a crime and that a person should not benefit from his or her own wrongdoing. Many families were the victims of this outdated view and policy. Families that suffered the lost of a loved one, and very often the loss of an income, only to be met with a refusal of financial support from an insurance company, had their loss compounded by hardship, uncertainty and financial instability. The insurance companies sought to benefit by wrongdoing, refusing to pay out.

Families that could afford to had to hire solicitors and barristers to challenge the refusal of insurance companies to honour their agreements. The legal teams of families had to put forward technical legal points that the insurance companies should pay out, with arguments such as appealing that people did not intend to kill themselves, but rather that it was a cry for help that went too far and, therefore, did not have the requisite intention to take their own lives, or that they were suffering from a mental illness and, therefore, were not capable of forming the requisite intention to take their own lives. Those arguments only added further to the distress of families. Perhaps if the insurance company was afraid it might lose in court, it might pay out some of the money, usually only a certain percentage, but it often paid out none. It is acknowledged that many insurance companies have recently voluntarily adopted a policy of not applying the suicide clauses 12 months after the date the policy was taken out. This is in line with UK legislation. Nonetheless, insurance companies are not bound to do so. It is, therefore, important to codify the law to ensure that no insurance company attempts to benefit from this outdated concept and understanding of mental health.

It is 26 years since suicide was decriminalised by the then Fianna Fáil Minister, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. This Bill is another step to ending the stigma that still pervades many aspects of our society with regard to suicide. Much work has been done on this journey but there is still a long way to go. I understand that the Government supports the legislation going to Second Stage and has supported the principle behind the Bill. I thank the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, who has worked with me on this Bill. This is the fourth Bill that I have introduced to this House since being elected to the Dáil three and a half years ago. I was honoured by the support that I secured across the House for the other Bills, especially the Mental Health (Amendment) Act 2018, which was signed into law by the President. I was elected in part to legislate and propose solutions to the challenges that society has. I hope that I am doing that. I hope to have cross-party support for this Bill when it comes before the House on Second Stage. The Bill aims to prevent insurance companies from failing to provide financial compensation under a legitimate insurance policy when a person dies by suicide.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.