Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 21 Oct 1998

Vol. 156 No. 14

Compensation Claims: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann exhorts the Government to take effective steps to counter the compensation culture which is seriously damaging employment, economic activity and the capacity of Local Authorities and Voluntary Bodies to discharge their duties and, in particular, to bring forward effective proposals:

(1) to discourage fraudulent claims;

(2) to provide for more realistic duties of care for landowners, employers and owners of premises in respect of liability to the public and employees;

(3) to safeguard defendants from nuisance and trivial claims; and

(4) to provide a framework for the calculation of damages.

Ireland has received many plaudits in recent times for its rapid economic growth and the decade of cohesive social partnership which has helped to achieve that growth. As we move relentlessly towards an income per capita that surpasses many of our fellow member states in the European Union, and the problems that will bring, there is every reason for us to be proud of our performance as a small open economy on the periphery of Europe. There is one record, however, which I, and no doubt all Senators, would prefer was not ours, that civil actions for injury account for the largest number of claims and the highest settlement figures in Europe. We are in a league of our own when it comes to claims. The so-called compensation culture is alive and well. It is bleeding local authorities, businesses, voluntary organisations and taxpayers dry.

Invariably, the first item on the agenda of annual general meetings and estimate meetings of local authorities is the question of public liability insurance costs. The normal cut and thrust of public administration and community activity is infected with the malaise which shows no sign of abating. Only last week we were treated to the latest manifestation of this culture — a man, who admittedly suffered horrific injuries in a car crash, received an out of court settlement of £100,000 having sued two publicans in County Cork for contributing to his accident. Such a settlement could spawn hundreds of others. Who knows what encouragement it may give to others of a compensatory state of mind in due course?

The blame game has become endemic in our society. In some quarters, taking responsibility for one's own actions is fast becoming a thing of the past. Ireland may have the second lowest number of work place accidents in Europe, but employers here face the highest rate of insurance claims, totalling £400 million a year. In the United Kingdom, 44 per cent more accidents are recorded in the workplace, but figures show that Irish workers are twice as likely to claim compensation as their UK counterparts. The average claim in Ireland is almost two and a half times higher than in the United Kingdom. Average claim costs per employee here are £116, while the UK figure is £32. A sample survey of insurance costs carried out by IBEC showed that costs for small Irish enterprises were three times higher than in the United Kingdom, twice as high as those in Denmark and seven times as high as the Netherlands. I concur with IBEC's view that a large proportion of the claims are exaggerated, opportunistic and spurious.

As we all know, the problem is rife within the local authorities on which we serve. The claims department of Dublin Corporation anticipates that it will have paid out £20 million in costs in the three year period up to the end of this year. While personal injury claims account for only 30 per cent of the number of claims made, the costs awarded generally amount to 60 or 70 per cent of what is paid out every year. This means that the cost of personal injury claims to Dublin Corporation over the last three years will be in the region of £15 million by the end of 1998.

It is worth noting that last year Dublin Corporation on occasion received no more than a week or ten days notice of court hearings, leaving little time for adequate and proper preparation. Ironically, this difficulty arose due to the appointment of extra judges, legislation passed by the Oireachtas in respect of that — which is to be welcomed — and a greater number of court sittings to deal with cases. This helped to clear a backlog of claims, but it did not bring any better news to Dublin Corporation concerning compensation costs.

In mentioning these statistics, I am not suggesting that all the claims were fraudulent. I have no doubt many of them were genuine. However, let us take the recent evidence presented by Irish Public Bodies Mutual Insurance Limited, the company which handles public liability insurance on behalf of councils and health boards. It is that company's belief that one in five claims have a fraudulent element. At any one time the company could be dealing with as many as 10,000 such actions. The most disturbing news is that, far from levelling off, the claims are increasing by 5 per cent per annum.

Let us also remind ourselves of some of the cases that have had a successful outcome for litigants and ask ourselves about their merit. In Sligo, a drunken cyclist who rode into a pothole as he tried to balance fish and chips on the handle bars of his bike won his claim against Sligo Corporation and was awarded approximately £5,000. In another case in the north-west, a man who, while drunk, went through the warning tapes surrounding road works and was injured, received approximately £12,000. In Donegal, a person has lodged a claim against the county council, most of which relates to emotional distress caused by the council trimming back a hedge. The recent controversy surrounding Army deafness cases has led to a surge of similar claims for industrial deafness. It seems a vast reservoir of original thinking is going into the search for new compensation possibilities. Plaintiffs are not acting in isolation.

Many lawyers are happy to steer them in the right direction, to outline to them the full vista of financial opportunity which a day in court can present. Medical practitioners are also playing their role, clearly co-conspirators in some cases. I note the observations of the former Attorney General, Mr. Harry Whelehan, earlier this year, that bogus plaintiffs are getting what he described as a "lift off" for bogus claims from medical practitioners. GPs were referring patients to specialists to get them out of their hair, and indeed these referrals may arise from the fear on the general practitioner's part that if they do not do so they may be sued themselves. Mr. Whelehan concluded that if there was wholesale abuse of personal injury claims, it was on the back of "bad practice by doctors operating in a semi-political sly way rather than squaring up to the client".

I welcome the initiative taken by the Government in banning solicitors from advertising for personal injury claims. That legislation is at present going through the House. The outlawing of advertising by solicitors in inappropriate locations such as doctors' surgeries is wholly welcome. The time has come to stop the rot once and for all. As Members of the Oireachtas we must seek to create new conditions in which the culture of compensation can no longer flourish. We can talk all day about the immorality of the situation and the lack of integrity and honesty which is so prevalent in this rush to claim that we have a duty to act decisively to ensure that it is brought to an end.

That is why my party, the Progressive Democrats Party, believes there is much merit in the establishment of a personal injury compensation board to cater for all claims of this nature. There are models in other countries which can be looked at. It would be quicker, more efficient and, most important, would represent better value to the taxpayer. Let us not forget that it is the taxpayer who ultimately pays the price for the compensation culture. Traditionally taxes have been collected to fund general services for the benefit of all. Increasingly in recent times they have become insurance premia to meet the multimillion pound flood of compensation claims. In the context of recent revelations about alleged corporate tax evasion, it is time to put the ordinary taxpayer first and put a stop to the gallop of those who are unscrupulously ripping off this State. With rights come attendant responsibilities, yet increasingly responsibilities are taking second place to people claiming and exercising their rights to an unwarranted degree.

There have been improvements in legislation. One example is landowners' liability. There is now a distinction between invitees and trespassers and the duty of care which is attendant upon landowners. There are rights and responsibilities and people must take personal responsibility for their actions.

In the case of Army deafness, new claims are arriving at a rate of 50 per week. There are now 13,600 claims outstanding. Of those, 1,900 have been settled with a bill of £54 million, £42 million of which went to the claimants while £12 million went in legal fees. One wonders about a system in which such a high proportion of the costs go to the legal profession. People who have legitimate claims are entitled to have them vindicated and dealt with but it can hardly be the case that all of the 13,600 claims which arise in the case of Army deafness are genuine claims which should be settled.

I second the motion. As a member of Cork Corporation I have watched with dismay as year after year the cost to the City of Cork of public liability insurance and personal injury claims has continued on an upward curve. In the last decade some crucial projects in the city have been seriously underfunded or grossly delayed because so much of the annual budget had to be set aside to deal with the flood of personal injury claims.

I acknowledge that not all claims are bogus but too many are. We were told recently that 20 per cent of claims to health boards are bogus. In a debate in this House last week on an amendment to the Solicitors Bill, Senator Henry outlined in detail the cost of increased insurance premia as it now hits practitioners in the medical field trying to survive in this era of compensation culture. The reality is that cost is passed on to all of us and it hits our pockets by way of increased premia for our voluntary health contributions and hits the State in increased costs. At the end of the day we carry that cost.

The problem is not exclusive to Cork Corporation. Many voluntary and sporting groups in the region have had to face the headache of snowballing public liability insurance costs and some have had their activities severely curtailed as a result. In 1995 Cork Corporation paid out £2.2 million in claims; in 1996 the figure was up to £2.5 million and last year it was just under £3 million. This figure could well be surpassed by the end of this year.

It is disturbing to note that the cost to Cork of personal injury claims represents a startling 15 per cent of all the city's income from rates. Of all claims, 80 per cent arise from alleged injuries suffered from broken footpaths, potholes or water stopcocks protruding from holes. The largest single pay out came five years ago when a woman who claimed to have injured her back after tripping and falling on a broken footpath was awarded £200,000 by the courts.

We also have the problem of serial claimants. One woman was recently exposed as having claimed three times to have fallen on the same hole on a broken footpath and she came away a winner on two occasions. It is true to say that in recent times the corporation is enjoying some measure of success in breaking a fraud ring which was operating in the city but it is still trying to hold back what appears to be an unstoppable tide.

The question of personal responsibility no longer applies and an unholy trinity of plaintiffs, lawyers and physicians is eating away at the coffers of Cork Corporation, health boards and local authorities up and down the State. As Senator Dardis said, we have a thriving compensation claims industry which provides handsome rewards for the tallest of tales. While some end up laughing all the way to the bank, it is the taxpayer who foots the bill.

This claims culture is a sickness in our society. At a time of unprecedented material well being we should be concerned at the moral deficiency which drives and fuels that culture. Everything is fair game when it comes to a claim. Slips and falls have taken on life threatening proportions. Let us not be in any doubt as to the real victims — the old for whom proper provision for care cannot be made; young people for whom sufficient pre-school and early school provision cannot be made; those with disabilities who desperately need greater State assistance to enable them to live more independently and the young children whose families do not have the means to send them to pre-school and for whom the State cannot cater because of tight finances. Every pound awarded to a plaintiff in a spurious claim against a public body is a pound less spent on the areas of greatest need in our society. Taxpayers who vote and give their money give it in the belief that better public services are being provided for the community.

The money paid out in a single claim by Cork Corporation could be used to open a branch library or equip a number of shelves in children's libraries. We are prevented from providing essential services by the insidious onset of the compensation culture. Every pound awarded to a plaintiff in a spurious claim is a pound less for good and constructive projects.

It is time for the Progressive Democrats in Government to seek immediate change. A working party is currently drafting proposals to address the issue. We have built up a huge bank of information on this subject and we can look at the experience of other countries. Initiatives have taken place in recent years primarily in the enactment of the Occupiers Liability Act, 1995, and I welcome the recent move to ban solicitors' advertisements for personal injury claims. However, evidence suggests that the cost to the State of the compensation culture continues to rise inexorably. Irish Public Bodies Mutual Insurance Limited, which is the mutual insurance for health boards and local authorities, has already been alluded to by my colleague, Senator Dardis. This afternoon it provided me with the latest depressing news on the shape of settled claims costs since 1993. In that year the figure was £14.6 million and in 1998 the cost is already £21.5 million and rising. The total cost of settled claims in the period 1993 to 1998 is just under £135 million and every week I meet voluntary groups begging on their knees for pennies who could do wonders with a fraction of that money. I acknowledge that the needs of genuine claimants must be met but it is up to the Oireachtas, through the introduction of new legislation, to get rid of this festering sore in our society.

We hear much of the increasing number of groups for whom the Celtic tiger means nothing. By confronting the compensation culture head on we can put to better use some of the millions of pounds paid out in bogus claims. This Government faces many challenges but few rank higher than this. We need a new system which will discourage fraudulent claims, safeguard defendants from nuisance and trivial claims and provide a proper framework for the calculation of damages.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:

"condemns the Government for its failure to take effective steps to counter the compensation culture which is seriously damaging employment, economic activity and the capacity of Local Authorities and Voluntary Bodies to discharge their duties and, in particular, condemns the Government for its tardiness in bringing forward effective proposals:—

(1) to discharge fraudulent claims;

(2) to provide for more realistic duties of care for landowners, employers and owners of premises in respect of liability to the public and employees;

(3) to safeguard defendants from nuisance and trivial claims; and

(4) to provide a framework for the calculation of damages.".

I welcome the Minister and trust that following this debate he will come forward with effective and sufficient proposals to address this matter. I agree with what has been outlined by Senators Quill and Dardis. The compensation culture is a huge and growing problem. Insurance costs for businesses and local authorities have long been a subject of great concern. These costs impact on competitiveness when they are passed on to the consumer.

I was very taken by the Deloitte and Touche report on the economic evaluation of insurance costs in Ireland. That study was a root and branch analytical examination of insurance cost levels in Ireland compared with other relevant economies, the cost penalty which higher insurance costs impose on the business sector, the source of higher costs in Ireland and the need for appropriate and realistic measures to reduce the burden of insurance costs on business in Ireland. The review required an extensive consultative process with insurers, the social partners, trade bodies, relevant Government organisations and the legal professions. The report concluded with a list of recommendations, many of which could have been usefully adopted but so far as I am aware nothing has been done about them. Equally, at a meeting on 8 October 1996 the Government considered an aide memoire submitted by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The Government noted the report I have just mentioned and agreed to the establishment of a working group. The working group produced a very interesting document and useful proposals but again nothing was done.

Two essential measures must be taken to counteract suspect claims against local authorities and other bodies. First, the statute of limitations must be amended so that claims against local authorities must be taken within six months of the injured party becoming aware of a cause of action. This amendment would leave local authorities in the position they enjoyed prior to the passing of the Public Authorities (Judicial Proceedings) Act, 1954. It would reflect the particular exposure of local authorities given their wide ranging statutory responsibilities as the roads authority. Second, there must be an increase in the prosecution of cases which have been found to be fraudulent by the courts. We have often heard judges' comments but I am aware of only a small number of prosecutions.

I looked through the Golden Pages this afternoon and noted some of the headlines in the many full page solicitors' advertisements. They include phrases such as “accident cases”, “accident claims”, “personal injury demands personal attention”, “accidental injury — successful outcome”, “personal injury law is our business”, “we deal exclusively with personal injury claims”, “injured in an accident — most of our cases are settled out of court”, “no win, no fee”, “for accident compensation claims”, and “claim in confidence”. I respectfully submit that this style of advertising is excessive and I hope this matter will be discussed tomorrow when we debate the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, 1998.

The Law Society and the Bar Council do not publish tables of costs for personal injury cases in Ireland and the Taxing Master's office does not keep records of personal injuries cases separately from other civil and criminal cases. The Bar Council says that barristers' brief fees for both sides represent approximately 2 per cent of the value of damages or 5 per cent if the case goes to a hearing with additional costs where applicable for consultancy and advice on proofs. In addition to solicitors' and barristers' fees, payments are made to expert witnesses. The Fair Trade Commission Report for 1990 noted that while legal costs averaged 24.6 per cent of the value of total outlay, they amounted to nearly 40 per cent for smaller claims. That is borne out by information supplied by other sources.

The long lead times for settlements in personal injury cases in the courts adds significantly to the legal costs. This is another matter that should be addressed. The method of charging is governed by the Solicitors Remuneration Council Order, 1986, which lists seven criteria of which time expended is the last. Other factors include complexity, the amount of money involved, importance to the client, the skill involved, the number of documents and the place where the business is transacted.

The Deloitte and Touche report notes many factors which lead to the increase in the costs of personal injury claims, among them are special damages, including the provision for medical expenses past and future, general damage awards being a multiple of special damages awards and the growth of special damages over the period 1985-94. Legal costs increase with the rising value of compensation for special and general damages and the numbers and types of specialist expert witnesses have increased greatly in recent years — there was a Supreme Court ruling that those witnesses are entitled to their costs. The report outlines three pages of recommendations, many of which are genuinely worthwhile.

I am sure the Minister of State has this matter in mind and I would be interested to hear his views. Unfortunately, the compensation culture is alive and well.

I second the amendment.

There is a growing compensation culture, something which any fair minded individual would decry. It seriously damages employment and economic activity and is damaging to the work of local authorities and voluntary bodies. Many speakers have highlighted the cost to the State of this compensation culture. The level of damages paid by insurers in personal injury cases has been calculated at £410 million per annum.

A person with a genuine case is entitled to compensation but too many people are taking a chance and trying to get easy money. However, matters are changing and the Government strongly supports the discouragement of fraudulent claims. Our local authorities and voluntary bodies are moving in that direction.

In one case a Dublin man who was awarded £21,000 in a personal injury claim against Dublin Corporation subsequently pleaded to perjury and was ordered to repay the money by the High Court. In a recent case in Galway in which a claim was brought against Galway Corporation, the plaintiff was found to have been making an unfounded claim. The plaintiff was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay her own and Galway Corporation's costs. With such cases we see the action which is necessary to discourage fraudulent claims.

Local authorities are working together more effectively with the aid of information technology and more structured procedures to fight such cases by identifying quickly the cases which are fraudulent. With the backing of the Government and the courts they will be able to remove the opportunities for people to make fraudulent claims.

Senator Dardis referred to the case in Cork which came to light recently involving the publicans which was settled out of court. It is appalling to see insurance companies taking the easy way out by settling court cases rather than allowing them go to court. I had recent personal experience of this in an accident case. I believed I was in the right but my insurance company refused to fight the case. I took a civil action for damages to my car and I was vindicated because the judge found in my favour. Had the case been left with the insurance company it would have split liability 50:50, I would have lost my no claims bonus and the other party would have been able to make a claim for personal injury.

It is important that there be a framework for calculating damages which can be used by juries or judges to minimise the large differences in awards made for similar injuries in different areas. We must provide a framework for the calculation of damages.

It is also important that the local authorities take great care in carrying out works. The sites should be tidied up at night and those working on the sites should be aware of the dangers posed to people by the works. There is an onus on local authorities to train their staff to ensure that as many risks as possible are eliminated. However, it is impossible to eliminate all the risks all the time. Galway County Council, for example, has responsibility for a large administrative area and it cannot possibly be responsible for every road and footpath. There is a duty of care on everybody who uses the roads and green spaces to look after themselves.

Children have lost out due to the compensation culture. Many towns used to have playgrounds with roundabouts, swings and slides. However, many local authorities have removed the mechanical play equipment because of the claims which have been taken against them. Insurance companies required that playgrounds be inspected two to three times a day which is an impossibility. Local authorities had to remove the equipment to remove the risk. However, the children have lost out. This is an indication of how the compensation culture can affect the core of our society.

I support the motion and I commend the Progressive Democrat Senators for putting it before the House. I am sure the Minister of State will outline the actions which the Government will take to tackle the compensation culture.

Like my colleagues, I welcome the opportunity to put on record our distaste for what Senator Cox referred to as a growing menace. I compliment Senator Dardis and Senator Quill on their initiative in tabling the motion. The compensation disease is not unique to Ireland — the madness is international. If one wants to find out about malicious injury claims — the bizarre, unusual, extreme and downright cheeky — the Internet is the place to surf, if one has it.

If one thought Ireland has a major dose of this disease, it is a country on the other side of the world which holds the unenviable record. Australia, where "no worries" might be the unofficial motto, has become one of the fastest growing markets for law suits and compensation claims. A study shows that Australian workers are costing employers millions of dollars in claims for mental stress. I am concerned that in quoting some of these examples I will put ideas into the minds of those who are part of this compensation culture. Although they seem to have tried, and been successful at, every trick in the book, there are always new angles to this insidious practice.

It seems that councils in Australia are protesting at a recent High Court ruling which appears to widen municipal liabilities, which is a major concern here. A court ruled that a local council in Victoria was to blame for a chip shop fire because, although it issued a warning that the shop's fireplace was dangerous and should be repaired, it had not returned to make sure the work had been done.

It gets better. In Britain, a car thief has been granted legal aid to sue a local authority. The 15 year old is claiming about £2,000 from Devon County Council for an incident in which he lost the little finger of his left hand. He was 13 years old when he was held at the council's unit in Exeter after repeatedly taking cars without consent. He cannot be named for legal reasons, but he was recently arrested having absconded several times in the previous three months. His mother said: "On one occasion my son lost his temper and they put him in a cell and slammed the door on him, shutting it on his hand and taking his finger off". I know some people would suggest that perhaps they should have taken off more than his finger, but I do not want to sound like a right-wing fascist. One must at least acknowledge the pain the young man must have suffered.

Also in Britain, High Court bailiffs have threatened to seize and sell off the Lord Mayor of Birmingham's chain of office and ceremonial mace because the city council did not pay compensation to a former employee. The bailiffs were compiling an inventory of assets which could be seized to pay the £167,000 debt. Council officials said the bailiffs priced the mayoral chain and mace, works of art, computers and other office equipment that could be sold. They left only after Mr. Roger Burton, the Labour controlled council's finance director, signed a cheque. A local councillor said it was the ultimate day of shame for a council that had become extremely lax at paying its bills. However, it was the result of a mix-up in the accounts department and they have taken steps to ensure such an embarrassing episode does not happen again. Senator Doyle can rest easy in the Mansion House. Hopefully, the finance section of Dublin Corporation will cough up as, sadly, it has done in a number of cases and the mayoral chain will not be put at risk.

Another case that is giving rise to concern here relates to the increasing desire of local authorities, particularly in large urban centres, to slow down traffic on "rat runs" in residential areas. An article headlined "Bumps give motorists the hump" described how motorists in Britain are claiming against local authorities for providing road humps. Taxi and bus drivers have attempted to sue local authorities for back injuries they claim are caused by passing over the ramps.

A recent payout of £35 to a man in Harringay in north London is believed to be the first of its kind. His Volkswagen Polo was damaged by one of 35 road humps the council installed in streets around Archway Road, Highgate. I was particularly interested in this case as I lived in Archway Road for several years when it was a nice leafy suburb. The council has admitted that the 27 humps are in breach of Department of Transport regulations as they are too high.

Road humps have been recently installed near where I stay in Dublin, in Serpentine Avenue in Ballsbridge, which seem to be exceptionally high. They are so close together that one would be better off walking from one end of the avenue to the other. I do not know the purpose of the exercise because I do not believe traffic using the road travelled at a particularly fast speed. However, somebody in the corporation decided to put them down. I hope there will not be a rash of hump compensation claims as a result.

We should note the Senator's well chosen addresses which are far removed from the compensation culture.

I am grateful to the Library for providing most of this information. As someone who represents the Library in this House, I take this opportunity to acknowledge the excellent work of my colleagues in the Library Association of Ireland, particularly in the House where many Members avail of the Library's services. I raise these cases to add to the increasing and correctly vociferous opposition of right thinking people to the compensation culture. John Healy, the western journalist, wrote a book called Nobody Shouted Stop. It is time we shouted stop to this culture.

Perhaps the Minister should talk to those in the insurance industry, on whom he has been keeping a close eye for other reasons in the past 12 months. It seems that below a certain amount of money, insurance companies are more inclined to settle rather than fight cases. I will not embarrass the people involved, but I know of at least two spurious claims made in my local authority area. They were settled by the insurance company and the legal representatives of the plaintiff without the input of the local authority members. There is a case to be answered and insurance companies should think twice before settling claims.

I appreciate that local authorities are at last beginning to pool information. Perhaps the Minister of State, given his responsibility for technology, can ensure that local authorities can interface with each other. This should be done forthwith so they can immediately identify those who are obviously draining the system dry.

I support this motion. I have had strong feelings about the compensation culture for a long time. Who makes money from compensation? It is seldom the claimants. In many cases, they go to a solicitor who advertises the A to Z on how to get money and if the claimants are short a few pounds, the solicitor will tell them to sign a letter and go to the bank to draw out money. The claimants will then sign a letter giving authority to the solicitor to pay the bank when the claim comes through. The bank gives out the money, the claimant spends it and the day the claim comes through the solicitor takes his or her expenses and pays the bank. Very often there is not a bob left for the claimant. Barristers, doctors, lawyers, consultants and experts make the money.

Many cases are not settled before they go to court because claimants are advised they will get more money if they go to court. However, on the day of the court hearing, the barristers run like sheep in a storm, hither and thither, advising clients to settle, because they do not have time to take all their cases. They do not settle the day before because if a case is settled in court they will receive their fees. This is a huge racket.

In a recent case a taxi driver received £20,000, but there was an attempt to defraud up to £180,000 — a solicitor and a doctor were conspiring to produce the necessary documentation. I congratulate the gardaí for checking out the case and bringing the man who received the money to court, but the judge ordered that the names of the doctor and the lawyer should not be read out. These were professionals who conspired to defraud and the judge defended them. Should that be done in a court of law? Surely they should have been exposed and brought before the court for fraudulent evidence and documentation. Why were they not? Was it because they wore the same school tie, they were friends or were from the privileged class? Workers have gone to jail today over a simple issue but these two professionals did not, even though they specialised in giving documentation to prove that people were injured in car accidents, when in some cases they were not even passengers.

It is time we introduced legislation in this area. In Rome the streets and sidewalks are cobbled, and there are huge holes, but no one makes a claim. People here must take personal responsibility and it is time to draw a line between where that ends and public responsibility begins. This has wider implications. Local authorities would have far more money to spend on roads, water and sewerage if they did not have to spend millions on compensation cases. The awards are only part of the bill, engineers have to survey accident scenes, make reports and give evidence in court.

Insurance companies have played a big role in the "compo culture" because they let it be known they will settle any case under £10,000 without difficulty. Solicitors are telling people to make their cases and they will get money without going to court. It is like winning the lottery or getting money from America. All a person has to do is tell a lawyer that he or she fell and has a sore ankle. One solicitor told me he did not know why people went to Lourdes because there were more miraculous cures in courthouses than ever happened there. We see this every day of the week. People go into court on crutches and with neck collars, but a week later they are in the disco as if they came back from Tír na nÓg.

It is high time people spoke out because it is ordinary punters who have to pay. Some young people cannot get car insurance and the latest trend is to blame young men for all the accidents. Some of them may be responsible, but a higher percentage of older people are to blame. I am annoyed at how young people are being targeted because there are many good youngsters. They are being blamed for everything, including drugs, when only a small percentage of them are involved in that. It is popular and fashionable to make outlandish statements about them. The reason young people cannot get insurance is that older people are robbing the kitty by making false claims.

When I was in the garage business in the sixties, the first thing people did after an accident was thank God no one was injured. A garda would tell those involved they would both be summonsed if they did not settle the case between them, and it was done without courts or compensation. In the fifties I bought my first car for £25 and taxed and insured it for £20, but no one could do that now. People must take the veils from their eyes and speak out, particularly the youth because they are the real sufferers. If they have to pay up to £2,000 for insurance now, what will they pay in a few years' time?

It is time a few rules were introduced. No one should receive a big lump sum in compensation. A person who is badly injured should receive money to cope with the disability and a weekly amount of compensation for life, which should be assessed and raised with inflation, but not a lump sum of £1 million. Whiplash awards should be abolished. Headrests were put into cars to get rid of it. Spurious claims should be punished. In a recent case, a man who received a spurious award of £20,000 had to pay back only £5,000 because he said that was all he could afford. Who met the rest of the bill? We must come to grips with the "compo culture" and I appeal to the Minister to introduce stern rules and regulations to put an end to it, because it is destroying the country and destroying lives, particularly for young people.

Perhaps the Senator will vote for my amendment.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus gabhaim comhghairdeas leis an Páirtí Daonlathach faoi a chur an rún seo íos comhair. I welcome the Minister and commend the Progressive Democrats on bringing the motion before the House. I was taken aback by Fine Gael's amendment. The only difference between the motion and the amendment is that the motion exhorts the Government to take effective steps to counter fraudulent claims, while the Opposition amendment condemns the Government. My fellow countyman, Senator Coghlan, should remember that the Government has been in office for only about a year and his party had ample opportunity, for three years prior to that, to do something.

I have been here for just over a year myself as a freshman Senator.

We want to keep the Senator.

The previous Government, including his party, did very little; at least we are trying to address it.

What about the Occupiers' Liability Act, 1995?

I hope Senator Coghlan will not push his amendment to a vote——

Surely that is the purpose?

——because of the little interest it has generated on the other side of the House. We should note the crowds over there.

Am I not present?

The Senator is worth ten of those who are absent.

To return to the content of the motion and, in part, the amendment, the compensation culture is rampant. When we refer to this culture we must recognise that there are people who have been injured, maimed or crippled whose claims are genuine. On this week's "Questions and Answers" a person who stated that he represented the insurance companies asserted that quite a number of claims are settled out of court because the insurance companies believe that is the way it should be, in other words, if these claims went to court they would be lost.

It is wrong that an insurance company should settle out of court without giving notice to the insured person or organisation. Such settlements point the finger at that person or organisation and states that they were guilty of negligence in some shape or form. That type of behaviour on the part of an insurance company proves that the insured person is guilty of negligence and was at fault without that person having the opportunity to put their case in court. That is wrong. Every claim should go before the courts and both sides of the story should be heard. Senator Coghlan and I serve on a committee — I cannot name it for obvious reasons — which was sued for damages and the insurance company involved wanted to settle out of court. That meant that the committee was responsible and that it was negligent; that was wrong.

As other speakers stated, recent newspaper reports regarding the number of claims being brought against local authorities are unbelievable. I accept that these may be small claims but should county councils be held responsible for potholes, stones on the road, trees that fall down during storms or for people who fall over and twist their ankles?

Members would be amazed at the level of compensation paid out in respect of trivial claims that reach the courts. When a claim goes to court, the fees charged by people who are called in as expert witnesses by insurance companies and by judges are enormous. I read a newspaper article yesterday which stated that if a judge believes a person is an expert in a particular field that person will be called as a witness to give his or her view on the rights or wrongs of a case. Doctors, architects and members of other professions, who are supposed to be experts, are often called into court as witnesses. I accept that they may be experts but the cost involved in bringing three such witnesses into court for one day would amount to over £1,000. That is unbelievable.

Senator Henry disagrees but how can a doctor called on as an expert witness attest to a person's fitness prior to or their level of pain after an accident? It must be established whether a person's level of pain, deafness, etc., existed before an accident. When the House debated hearing impairment claims in the Army a number of months ago I stated that I suffer from deafness, a fact of which Members are aware. I have no hearing in my left ear and I am obliged to use headphones to hear other Members' contributions clearly. What my colleagues may not know is that I was a member of the FCÁ. I fired many shots and heard many loud noises and I could put in a claim for damages. However, as I stated when the debate on hearing impairment took place, neither my mother nor my sister were members of the FCÁ but suffered with the same hearing problem. It would be easy for me to concoct a claim for compensation.

I commend the motion to the House. I hope that the aspirations it contains will be implemented by the Government in the near future.

I remind Senator Fitzgerald that a doctor cannot initiate a claim by a plaintiff, who must approach a solicitor before anything can be written about them. I am not aware of any expert witness who charges £1,000 per day for a court appearance. The level of fees is very strict and £400 is the highest amount paid out.

I stated it would cost over £1,000 to employ three experts for one day.

The hearing in the Senator's left ear is not so bad after all.

As with the Seanad, Senator Fitzgerald is keeping a close eye on the courts.

I welcome the recent development whereby expert witness reports are exchanged before cases come to court because unusual evidence cannot be sprung upon a person on the day of a hearing. I agree that there are difficulties in respect of doctors' reports, which are supposed to be objective. As I stated on Second Stage of the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, some doctors favour working on behalf of insurance companies while others work for plaintiffs. Doctors must be objective and they do not know the state of health of a plaintiff before they appear in court.

I agree with the last part of the motion which refers to providing a framework for the calculation of damages. I have only ever had to go to court as an expert witness, but if one visits the courts it is astonishing to see the lack of notice given to scientific evidence. If the plaintiff and his wife seem to be decent people, this often weighs more than scientific facts and measurements. I do not know if the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, had time to read any deafness cases carefully but this was particularly striking in some of them. I took a lot of notice of what was said in the Green Book and everything possible was done to go along with accepted international practice. However much seemed to hinge on the judge's opinion of the plaintiff and perhaps the statement by the plaintiff's wife about his hearing difficulty rather than objective audiometer tests. That is rather depressing.

During the debate on the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, 1998, I said that doctors in Ireland were four times more likely to be sued than doctors in the United Kingdom. Also the damages awarded here for similar injuries are approximately four times as high, and not just compared to the United Kingdom. On a European scale we grant very high damages, particularly for pain and suffering. In many countries pain and suffering are not taken into account. It is important that we address this. There is a wide disparity between awards by different judges. In the deafness cases they vary from about £3,500 to £80,000 for what appears — from a distance, I was not at the court cases — to be the same type of injury.

Senator Fitzgerald pointed out that he is deaf. We are all getting deafer. As one gets older, one gets deafer. When the aging process is taken into account, awards for deafness could be astronomical. People could be awarded damages for something which happens naturally.

People thought that with juries no longer assessing damages and judges making awards, the awards would be lower, but they are not. I wish the media would report the number of cases which fail and those which win small awards because this is important. Cases which win huge awards are reported and people are inclined to think it is a soft way of getting money. If one has a genuine case it is not. If someone has had a serious injury an adversarial case in court is very hard on him.

I was delighted to hear Senator Tom Fitzgerald say there was not much difference between the motion and the amendment. There is a difference — it is slightly different to exhort on one hand and condemn on the other. However I feel I could support both the motion and the amendment. Seanad Éireann could exhort the Government to take effective steps and as a preliminary to that it might be no harm to condemn the Government for not having done so already. There is a slight logical connection which the Government side might take on board and incorporate into the motion. The motion and the amendment are not incompatible.

A compensation culture exists. Earlier we discussed the carnage on the roads and road safety but there is also a drink driving culture. On the Order of Business we discussed the issue of the banks. There is a white collar crime culture too. In an insidious fashion a blind eye is turned towards certain types of behaviour and activity. Compensation has pervaded the country, as has drunk driving and the manner with which it is dealt. White collar crime in financial institutions has been allowed without any effective sanctions. We have cultures in this country which are perhaps part of what we are and the manner in which we have developed as a society. Many sacred cows have not been questioned. We have allowed such things to infiltrate and permeate the life and institutions of our society.

We were told that juries were the problem in personal injury claims as they were granting enormous damages and that when they were abolished the problem would be solved. They were abolished but nothing happened. The same level of damages is being handed out by judges as in the past. Perhaps it comes down to issuing sentencing guidelines for judges, which we touched on earlier. Having abolished juries we did not provide a structure, framework or guidelines for the Judiciary.

I am glad the last part of the motion and the amendment provide a framework for the calculation of damages. The Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, has attempted to do this in relation to the Army deafness claims. I hope he is successful in providing a rational framework and structure for different types and categories. I believe he is. We must do that for the Judiciary.

In many areas the Judiciary must be aware of the context in which they operate when they hand out sentences which seem to be out of line with other offences. A minor larceny offence received an enormous prison sentence and a sentence relating to a fatality resulting from drink driving was quashed. All this should be addressed. If it had been addressed when the jury system were abolished, perhaps we would have more to show now.

Senator Dardis referred to Dublin Corporation and quoted the huge sum spent annually on compensation claims. There is no doubt this is causing a major problem for local authorities. However there is another side. As in the Army deafness cases, there is a duty of care and there are cases of negligence. The Army deafness cases would not have occurred if there had not been major negligence on the part of the authorities over many decades. We must balance this before we cut loose on those seeking compensation.

There are some very valid claims for compensation. On any day in Dublin there is a street being dug up by a local public utility. There are currently 14 Telecom companies in Ireland and all of them are looking to install equipment in ducts and pipes under pavements. Many subcontractors operate and, as far as I can gather in dealing with many residents' complaints, they are not made aware of local authority by-laws on permitted hours of work and noise levels. However the main problem is that after the street is dug up, tarmacadam is used to repair the pavement. This means there is a concrete pavement with lumpy and bumpy tarmacadam which results in pools of water and hazards. A person walking on a street, particularly in the winter and at night could very easily trip and seriously injure themselves. This situation is getting worse as there are more utilities digging up the streets now than there were ten years ago and that could mean that the number of compensation claims will also increase. I do not see why any utility which has finished digging up a street, even if it is the local authority, cannot immediately put in place a covering or surface to the same standard that was in place prior to the street being dug up. This should be part of the work of any utility. If one team is digging up a road, that team or a follow-up team should replace the surface. This would reduce a very large proportion of compensation claims taken against local authorities.

Local authorities also suffer a lot. For example, we have had to close down virtually all the play centres or playgrounds in Dublin because we cannot allow children to play there as Dublin corporation is not in a position to provide sufficient staff to undertake the supervisory role that would satisfy insurance claims which amount to huge sums. Ten or 11 playgrounds in the city are now closed and children living in those areas are unable to use them because we cannot insure them. Everyone in terms of the community at large is losing out because this is happening and it behoves us to take steps to improve the situation.

I am delighted that the Progressive Democratics Party has tabled this motion and I hope it is taken on board. I understand there is work afoot in relation to the matter. I support the amendment but I would like to put more emphasis on the proactive side. In other words, we should try to get our house in order in relation to this matter; we can condemn doctors, lawyers, consultants, experts, insurance people, etc. until the cows come home, but measures need to be taken and we are the people who should be taking the initiative to ensure that proper measures are put in place.

Tá mé lánsásta an deis seo a bheith agam freagra oifigúil a thabhairt ar an rún an-tábhachtach seo.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to address Seanad Éireann on the important issues being discussed this evening. While some of these issues are outside my remit, which covers insurance costs, I propose to respond in some measure to the wider issues raised.

The system of compensation for personal injury which we operate in Ireland could be described as reflecting a "claim and blame" culture. It is grounded in the law of tort which entitles the individual to seek monetary compensation for damage to person or property caused by the acts of another and has been validated by the courts' recognition of the constitutional right of the individual to bodily integrity. This compensation system is underpinned by the capacity of the insurance industry to indemnify tortfeasors against liability for damage and personal injury over a wide spectrum including employers, occupiers, producers, motorists and the professions.

Given the adversarial nature of the tort system, the cost of establishing or contesting claims is high, particularly in terms of legal costs and the expenses of expert witnesses. The high settlement costs of claims are reflected in the levels of premiums being charged by the insurance industry. Successive Governments have sought to contain the rising cost of insurance premiums while recognising that, for prudential reasons, insurers must be free to set their premium rates based on their claims experience in order to ensure that the projected level of future claims costs can be met.

In 1995, a major indepth consultancy study by Deloitte and Touche of insurance costs in Ireland was commissioned by my Department to identify the key factors contributing to high insurance costs, to evaluate their economic impact and to make recommendations aimed at reducing these costs. The consultants' 1996 report found that the main contributory factors in rising premium costs were the high legal costs component of small claim settlements, the faster rate of medical cost inflation and the high level of general damages awards relative to special damages in smaller claims. The consultants also found, based on a survey of about 500 small and medium size enterprises, that the economic impact of high employers and public liability premiums fell on small firms which were categorised, in general, by insurers as high risk in not having sophisticated risk management systems in place.

Following the consultants' report and recommendations, a special working group was established under the aegis of my Department with two substantive terms of reference — first, to advise on the establishment of a personal injuries tribunal and, second, to examine alternative systems of personal injury compensation in operation in other jurisdictions. The special working group completed the first part of its remit and recommended a structure for a voluntary mediation system for occupational injuries which could be operated within the reformed courts system. The working group is currently proceeding with the second phase of its remit. Given the wideranging and detailed nature of the examination of alternative compensation systems I will expect the special working group's report in mid-1999. However, I would caution in advance against the expectation that no-fault systems in operation elsewhere offer a more cost effective alternative to our own insurance based compensation system. There is a wide variation in no-fault systems with the State operated welfare based system in New Zealand at one extreme and the mix of no-fault and tort systems in operation in some States of the USA at the other. A social welfare approach to compensating accident victims for loss of income, medical expenses, etc., could generate a dependency culture and increase the claims burden on the State as has been the experience in New Zealand. On the other hand, the experience in the United States has been that the no-fault monetary compensation threshold has been diluted by litigants' stratagems to enable them to pursue their claims in tort.

There is no single quick-fix solution to the matters raised by the Senators this evening. As a society we should examine our own values with regard to our expectations of what we regard as adequate levels of compensation as accident victims and what we are prepared to pay as motorists, employers, etc. in terms of insurance premiums to meet those levels of compensation. The general public, the insurance industry, the legal profession, trade unions as well as employers, employees and their representative organisations all have a role to play in tackling the many problems of high claims costs.

Successive Governments, including the present Government, have endeavoured to address these issues through a variety of measures, both legislative and administrative, including the establishment of the Health and Safety Authority, road traffic legislation dealing with drink driving and various other road safety enforcement issues, increase in jurisdiction of the courts for adjudicating claims, the enactment of the Courts and Courts Officers Act and the enactment of the Occupiers Liability Act, 1995.

At a public gathering and press conference held in Dublin in June of this year I was delighted to formally launch the voluntary code adopted by the Initiative on Workplace Safety Group established in May 1996. Under the chairmanship of IBEC, the group represents the key players in the area of accident prevention and claims mitigation and includes representatives from my Department, ICTU, the Health and Safety Authority and IBEC. I understand that regional launches of the code are to begin in Cork tomorrow.

The group has developed some of the themes referred to in the Deloitte and Touche report in the areas of accident prevention, responsibility for health and safety issues, training and a special approach for SMEs. The group has adopted a twin-track approach — health and safety and accident prevention, on the one hand, and the compensation process on the other hand.

The code of practice has been agreed between IBEC and ICTU and has the support of the Irish Insurance Federation. The proposed code provides for agreement between employers and employees on actions without prejudice in the event of an accident occurring in the workplace. It is proposed, for example, that all necessary fees/medical costs be borne by the employer whose best endeavours will be pursued to find an internal settlement among the parties without recourse to the courts. The object is to have in place a set of agreed steps to be followed through by agreement where injury or accidents occur in the workplace. This approach, by working from management to shop floor level, will inculcate a new partnership approach to health and safety in the workplace and provide a fruitful climate for voluntary mediation of claims.

In relation to local authorities and semi-State bodies, reduced public liability insurance costs have been achieved through a combination of safety training, reform of work practices and vigorous challenging of dubious claims. I want to salute many local authorities throughout the country which have appointed key officials to deal on a permanent basis with dubious claims. This has helped reduce insurance premia. I congratulate everybody involved in this initiative which I hope will be extended to all local authorities.

I understand that strenuous efforts have been made on the part of Irish Public Bodies Mutual Insurance Company and the local authorities themselves in identifying potential accident zones and by aggressive defence of claims in court. Special units in, for example, Cork Corporation have managed to wipe out "fraud rings" and have generally made it more difficult for the fraudsters.

The insurance industry itself has established Insurance Link, a claims matching computer database which helps insurers identify possible fraudulent claims. Details of claims are entered into the system and a programme is run to identify any "matches"— for example, if the claimant has made multiple claims or if there are any similarities between claims. While matches do not necessarily imply that fraud has taken place, they will alert the insurer to take a closer look at the claims involved. All claims involving personal injury in motor accidents, employer's and public liability insurance, as well as written-off vehicles, household, personal accident and travel insurance are run through the Insurance Link system.

Insurance Link has been in operation since 1990 and it is estimated that in the first six years of operation, it netted participating insurance companies over £1.34 million in savings. The number of cases under investigation has been steadily rising. In the period to the end of March 1996, there were 563 cases under investigation as a result of the Insurance Link system.

I would remind the House that the position of proprietors of recreational and tourist facilities, landowners and owners of premises was strengthened by the enactment in July 1995 by the Oireachtas of the Occupiers Liability Act, 1995. The Act obliges the occupier to take reasonable precautions for the safety of recreational users and visitors. The provisions of the Act address many of the concerns of those engaged in tourism and in the admittance of the public to their premises. It lessens their potential exposure to public liability claims by modifying the previous onerous common law duty of care owed to visitors, recreational users and trespassers. It is expected that this legislation will, in the course of time, have a downward impact on the cost of claims and on liability premiums. In drawing up the Bill, a wide consultative process was engaged in at the time by the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Indeed, members of the farming community had a particular input into its provisions and I understand that it was found possible to accommodate many of their concerns.

The House will be aware that the provision of a statutory framework for the calculation of damages has recently been effected in relation to Army deafness claims. This particular framework is the Green Book system of measuring hearing loss which was drawn up by a committee of experts. As Senators will also be aware, the application of the Green Book principles in the determination of damages awards in any particular case is regarded by the Judiciary as a matter for the courts. I would also point out that, in the Deloitte and Touche report on insurance costs, the consultants recommended that the Judiciary should be respectfully requested to draw up guidelines for general damages awards in personal injury cases which would be appropriate in the context of Irish tradition and case law.

The Senators will know that much controversy and debate surrounds the question of advertising by solicitors in respect of personal injury compensation. The Law Society has modified its rules in that regard and, as Senators will recall, my Government colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, introduced the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, 1998, in this House recently. The Bill, which I understand has the support of the Law Society, provides a clear statutory framework which will ensure that solicitors' advertising will be balanced while, at the same time, geared towards informing the public of the range of services provided by the profession.

I sincerely thank the Senators for giving me, as Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with responsibility for Commerce, with responsibility for insurance, the opportunity to address key issues affecting the level of compensation claims cost and to apprise the House of the progress being made in my area in seeking to reduce the burden of insurance costs on our growing national economy.

Earlier this year I established a revamped Motor Insurance Advisory Body of 17 members taken from the motor insurance area, the insurance area itself and the legal area to see what we can do to reach a consensus on how we can achieve a reasonable, rational and practical application of costing of premia for young drivers in particular and to see if we can reduce the cost of those premia for all motorists across the country. It is a reflection on society that today there are 50,000 people driving without insurance cover and that they cost on average £25 million per annum to the nation, to the people who pay insurance and to the taxpayer. This affects the bona fide genuine decent people who pay their insurance premia on time, accept their loadings if there are loadings and make their contribution. As a result of all that, the insurance companies make their contribution to creating the fund which creates the Motor Insurance Advisory Board. This is indicative of the society in which we live. It is a bad reflection on us. We, as public representatives and Members of the national Parliament, must ensure that we work together and give leadership and that we have a collective attitude that we abhor this type of situation.

The Government has set up a committee involving the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, the Minister for Finance, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and me to work together with our officials to ensure that all agencies and organs of the State operate with unity of purpose, that the laws are implemented and that we minimise and eliminate the possibility of people who are operating outside the law. These people are making a major contribution to the disastrous situation which imposes such a terrible burden on society in general, individual citizens and decent consumers who pay their way.

I am grateful to have had this opportunity to speak on this important topic. I congratulate Senator Dardis for tabling this motion and I thank all who spoke so sincerely and openly on this important, difficult and complex area. Ireland is a small open economy with a small population and a small revenue base. Unless there are strict parameters and criteria within which we all behave as individuals within society, then the cost of living in this society will be greater than at present. We, as public representatives, must create the legislative structure by way of primary and secondary legislation which will make all of us better citizens.

I thank the Minister for dealing with the motion, for the proposals which he brought before the House and for the enunciation of the measures which have been introduced over recent years. I also thank all who contributed to the debate.

There seems to be a general consensus among Members that this culture exists, that it must be dealt with and that it is for the Oireachtas to find ways of dealing with it. The Minister made a good point at the end of his speech when he spoke of the defects in society. Many of the problems we experience in this area are because of the defects of modern society. It is for the law to deal with those defects, and making laws is our job.

Another important point made by Senator Costello, was that nobody denies that people who have had serious injuries and who genuinely have been hurt, should be compensated. Nobody would say otherwise.

One of the characteristics of modern society is that people are prepared to go to court and lie; 30 or 40 years ago that would have been incomprehensible. Certainly, people of our parents' generation could not even contemplate somebody being prepared to lie under oath, but it is evident that now some citizens are prepared to lie under oath.

We have come up with quite a few good practical recommendations; Senator Coghlan made several. The amendment of the statute of limitations could be looked at as could the setting up of a personal injuries compensation. The whole presentation of fraudulent cases and the resistance which needs to be applied in that area requires examination.

One of the difficulties perceived in many quarters is that the courts or the insurance industry are a soft touch. That is part of the fundamental problem here. The Minister of State alluded to cases where local authorities have taken on expert officials to deal with dubious claims.

There is also the matter of employing private detectives. A publican in my local town had a claim from somebody who alleged he fell down the stairs and injured himself. The publican employed a private detective who found the claimant playing football, which put paid to the claim. More of that could be done.

The recommendations of the Law Reform Commission, the published tables of costs and fees payable to expert witnesses in the Four Courts, need to be considered. Instinctively each group defends itself. Account must be taken of the fact that there are good and bad doctors, lawyers, politicians and judges.

Senator Cox made a good point about the responsibilities of insurance companies. Settling because of the financial benefit in so doing and ignoring the moral imperative in contesting a case is regrettable. Senator Farrell also spoke a lot of common sense; he always does.

There are establishments at work, for example in law and politics, which tend to be self-protecting and not to see the mote in their own eye. There is also a culture of greed in certain quarters, which it is our duty as legislators to resist. I welcome the remarks by the Minister of State on the special working group and I look forward to its report.

The Occupiers' Liability Act, 1995, was a major step forward. As a landowner I can confirm that it greatly clarified matters. The position of trespassers who trip over a harrow in the corner of a field has changed fundamentally.

It is unfortunate that sporting bodies are totally restricted by the level of claims which are made. I am a trustee of an angling club and a rugby club. At each AGM I must ask to see the insurance policy because if it is not in order there is a contingent liability on the trustees of the club. It is unfortunate that should be the case. Of course there is a duty of care on clubs, who have a responsibility to look after their members and visitors to their grounds or if they are fishing on their waters. However, it is wrong that individuals who are prepared to become involved in a voluntary organisation might find themselves having to bear significant costs because of their voluntary efforts.

I have raised the matter of playgrounds several times at meetings of Kildare County Council. Senator Cox and Senator Costello also alluded to this. It is wrong that local authorities, who want to provide playground facilities for children, especially in disadvantaged areas, are unable to do so because there may be a very significant public liability claim against them. Something needs to be done urgently about this.

The question of feasance and non-feasance can arise when people who are public spirited enough to try to improve their locality by, for example, making an effort to repair a pothole outside their gate or adjacent to their property, find themselves liable. That is crazy and something needs to be done about it.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply and I look forward to initiatives which will help to alleviate this problem. When we next look at this matter I hope progress will have been made.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Motion agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 tomorrow morning.