My officials consulted with the Central Bank of Ireland on the Deputy’s question. In response, the Bank indicated that it does not have a role in monitoring the number of businesses that cannot obtain a quote for public and employer liability insurance and therefore does not have such data.
I am very much aware that there are certain businesses that are having difficulties arising from either the affordability or even the availability of insurance, particularly in specific sectors such as leisure, hospitality and recreation. In this regard, the work of the Cost of Insurance Working Group (CIWG), particularly its Cost of Employer and Public Liability Insurance Report highlights these difficulties. Therefore, there is a clear understanding of the impact of this problem on businesses across the country.
As the Deputy is aware, neither I, nor the Central Bank, have any influence over the pricing of insurance products. This position is reinforced by the EU framework for insurance, which expressly prohibits Member States from adopting rules, which require insurance companies to obtain prior approval of the pricing or terms and conditions of insurance products. A further constraint is the fact that, for constitutional reasons, the Government cannot direct the courts as to the award levels that should be applied.
The Deputy should note however that through the work of the CIWG, there is a recognition that the single most essential challenge, which must be addressed if we are to overcome the current cost and availability problems, is to provide for a sustainable reduction in insurance costs. As you are aware, the Government with the support of all parties in the Oireachtas prioritised the passing of the Judicial Council Act 2019. This Act provides for the establishment of a Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee upon the formal establishment of the Judicial Council. This Committee is tasked with introducing new guidelines to replace the Book of Quantum.
A key step to moving this matter forward is for the Chief Justice to make the necessary appointments to the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee. I therefore welcome last week’s announcement by Chief Justice Clarke that he has designated the seven judges that will sit on this Committee. I understand that the designate committee will commence its activities on an informal basis shortly. This is an important development as it demonstrates that the Judiciary are giving this matter the priority I believe it deserves. I also understand that PIAB has written to the Judiciary to offer its expertise and assistance for the purpose of this recalibration exercise.
In conclusion, I would like to assure the Deputy that important reforms are taking place and that I am confident that if the level of awards are reduced as a result of the work of the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee, then the insurance premium and coverage issues that are being experienced by certain businesses should recede.