Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Ceisteanna (35, 48)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Ceist:

35. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Finance the priority measures he is putting in place to tackle the growing insurance crisis facing businesses, community groups, charities, sporting clubs and outdoor activities nationwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46565/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

48. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Finance the status of his plans to deal with the rising cost of motor, home and business insurance; the steps being taken to prevent businesses from closing and bring down premiums; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46616/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Finance)

The Minister addressed the issue of insurance earlier with my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, but I am taking the opportunity to raise it again because it is one of the biggest issues our businesses, sports clubs, community groups and crèches are facing. It has to be a priority because the cost of employer liability and public liability insurance is a direct threat to the competitiveness and sustainability of many of our businesses and community groups.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 35 and 48 together.

I am very conscious of the difficulties referred to by the Deputy. While neither I, nor the Central Bank of Ireland, can interfere in the provision or pricing of insurance products, nor compel insurers to provide cover in the first place the Government, through the work of the cost of insurance working group, has identified the key problems that need to be addressed if we are to reduce significantly the cost of business insurance in particular.

In this regard, the work of the Personal Injuries Commission, PIC, has been of critical importance.  It found that the level of awards here for soft tissue injuries were 4.4 times higher than in England and Wales.  Such a discrepancy is unjustified and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

As the Deputy is aware, with the passage of the Judicial Council Act it is now a matter for the Judiciary to put in motion the necessary process to enable the introduction of new guidelines to recalibrate award levels and replace the book of quantum.  I have allocated €1 million in budget 2020 to enable the council to be established.  I am confident that the Judiciary recognises the need to prioritise this exercise and that they will take account of the PIC’s findings.  The Law Reform Commission is currently undertaking a detailed analysis as to whether we could establish constitutionally sound legislation to cap or limit the amount of damages a court may award.  It is due to report back next year.

I accept that the Minister has identified issues, particularly around the level of awards which are 4.5 times what they are in our nearest neighbours, particularly around soft tissue issues. They are unjustified but it is one thing to identify issues, while it is another to take action on them. The Minister said the Judiciary recognises the problems but again, while recognition is good, it is another thing to take the necessary action to protect our businesses and our community and sporting clubs. The Minister mentioned the Law Reform Commission report is due to be published next year but the insurance issue did not just appear overnight and it has steadily been getting worse over many years. Fine Gael has been in Government for almost nine years so I would have hoped and thought a lot more would have been done to protect businesses, such as the ones I represent in south Kildare and parts of Laois, as well as community and sporting groups.

I am aware of the importance of this issue and I am glad to be able to tell the Deputy how much work has been done on it. The Minister of State and I are very much aware of the many issues being created for small and medium sized businesses and for the leisure sector all over the country. This is why we put in place the Personal Injuries Commission. It is why we enacted the Judicial Council Act 2019 and why the Insurance (Amendment) Act 2018 was passed. It is why we put in place the national claims information database and why we worked with An Garda Síochána, while recognising its independence, to develop a divisional focus on insurance fraud which will be guided by the Garda national economic crime bureau. We are very much aware of the cost this causes for so many across the country and the actions we have taken show our determination to make a difference. I am confident that these actions, in totality, will lead to even more progress on the issues.

I acknowledge the work that has been done, in particular the efforts of the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, who has grappled with the issue and has tried to make a difference. The Minister said that when these measures come into place in totality, we will see a shift and a change, but when will that be? Businesses are closing and the Spin Activity Centre, in my town of Newbridge, has had to close because of the cost of insurance. Community groups are not able to get the insurance they need to keep their doors open so the time element of this is absolutely crucial. We need to send a very strong message to those businesses and community groups that we are doing our very best and that the issue is at the top of our agenda. I accept the points the Minister makes but I am not sure the issue is at the top of the agenda, for Cabinet or for Government as a whole.

I wish to raise the case of the leisure industry, which is at the acute end of this crisis. With the withdrawal of Leisure-Insure from the Irish market, what steps are being taken to ensure that play centres, bouncy castle operators and outdoor activity centre owners will even have the option to renew insurance, leaving aside the question of the rate and the price which are other matters, so that they can continue their businesses? What is being done to ensure that, following the vacancy created by the departure of the dominant player in the sector, Leisure-Insure, cover will be provided?

The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, and I are well aware of the importance of this issue and that is why the Minister of State went to London a couple of weeks ago to meet key insurance underwriters and to press the case for the coverage of the sector. I am aware that the withdrawal of any form of insurance in the sector makes it difficult, if not impossible, for many to provide their services, which in turn affects the jobs they provide. Many different sectors are affected by this and I need to take care in singling out any particular one. However, the Minister of State is pressing the case for deepening coverage in particular parts of our economy where coverage is currently diminished.