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Q+A: Here's where Ireland's political parties stand on insurance ahead of GE2020

Anti-fraud gardaí, pooled insurance schemes and a potential referendum are all part of the parties’ plans on insurance.

WITH THE GENERAL Election now less than a week away,  TheJournal.ie has been asking each political party for their positions on a variety of issues affecting people across Ireland. 

Throughout the rest of the campaign we’ll be publishing their responses on the issues that matter, including homelessness and housing, health and transport.   

Next we have one of the hottest topics – insurance.

Insurance was a pressing issue the last time we had a general election too, when it become apparent that something needed to be done to address the high cost of insurance.

The government set up the Cost of Insurance Working Group in 2016 to try develop solutions. Fast forward four years, and businesses and individuals are still struggling to meet the cost of insurance. 

According to Central Bank figures, the average cost of motor insurance in Ireland has risen by 42% in the last decade despite a 2.5% reduction in the average cost of individual claims over the same period. At the same, businesses in a variety of sectors are struggling to meet the cost of insurance to keep themselves operating. 

We asked the parties a number of questions related to insurance. Here’s what they said.

What action would your party take in government to tackle the cost of insurance

Many of the assurances given by the parties fall along similar lines.

Fine Gael: The party didn’t respond to TheJournal.ie‘s audit, but does have a section on what it says it will do regarding insurance if it’s return to government. 

It says it would: 

  • “Extend the transparency” of the claims database to cover public/employer liability insurance.
  • Create an office within the government tasked with encouraging the entry of international insurers into the Irish market. 
  • Make perjury a statutory offence and easier to prosecute to discourage false and misleading evidence.
  • Prevent individuals with a history of fraudulent claims from bringing new claims.
  • Changes to legislation to increase protections for consumers, businesses, sporting clubs and community groups.

Fianna Fáil: It also didn’t respond to our queries. 

However, in the “tackling insurance costs” section of their manifesto, the party promises to tackle costs, “get tough” on insurance fraud and increase transparency. 

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Some of those measures include:

  • Regulating claims management companies and claims harvesters.
  • Reviewing the balance of “Duty of Care” in legislation.
  • Ensuring that fraudulent claims are forwarded to the DPP.
  • Working to remove dual pricing from the market.
  • Establishing a Public Liability and Employer Liability price index.

Sinn Féin: This party also lists a number of actions it would take in its manifesto that it says would “drive radical reform of the insurance market”. 

It says it would: 

  • Introduce legislation to ban unfair pricing in the insurance market
  • Put €230 million back into policyholders’ pockets through abolishing levies paid on non-life insurance policies.
  • Force companies to show how they set their prices to the Central Bank.
  • Establish a review of the common duty of care to ensure a fair and proportionate balance between the responsibilities of individuals, small businesses and community groups.

Labour: The party didn’t respond to queries but it also outlines a number of measures in its manifesto.

Labour promises to:

  • Introduce a national claims information database on claims costs and awards for injuries.
  • Establish an independent Insurance Fraud Unit to be funded by insurance companies who would be obliged to automatically refer exaggerated or misleading claims to gardaí.
  • Require lawyers to comply with the duties of candour, to ensure they don’t seek to win litigation by any improper means.
  • Promote “pooled group” insurance schemes to ensure “significantly cheaper premiums” for businesses and others to act together to negotiate lower costs. 

Social Democrats: In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Social Democrats said that “affordable insurance is fundamental to the long-term interests of our country”. 

It wants steps taken such as:

  • Changing the Book of Quantum which it says is “not fit for purpose”. They want it recalibrated so that court awards are benchmarked against international evidence.
  • Setting up an Oireachtas Consumer Affairs Committee to help ensure regulators have to answer far more regularly for their actions or inaction. 
  • Promoting co-operative or group insurance to allow businesses, sport or community groups could enjoy stable and affordable insurance cover if this was promoted. 

The Green Party: Did not respond to requests for comment, and there were few details on insurance in its manifesto.

Solidarity-PBP: In response to TheJournal.ie‘s audit, a People Before Profit spokesperson said: “The insurance cartel has used all sort of fake excuses to justify the rip off. They blame the cost of awards for accidents.

“We have to change this system by creating a publicly owned, not for profit insurance company.

“The Canadian province of Manitoba has had a public not-for-profit insurance company since 1971 that provides cheap third-party insurance.

“People Before Profit wants to follow this example:

  • Create a national not-for-profit Irish Public Car Insurance company to provide basic third-party insurance at the cheapest rates.
  • Those who want additional insurance can apply to the private insurance industry.
  • Make it illegal to discriminate against young drivers or charge extra for older cars.”

Aontú: It says in its manifesto that “thousands of jobs are at risk from rising insurance costs”. It said it supports the Alliance for Insurance Reform against exaggerated and misleading claims.

It also seeks “consistency in the calculation of awards at realistic level and also transparency on how premiums are calculated and claims are settled”.

The National Party: It also responded to TheJournal.ie‘s audit. 

It said: “We are committed to bringing down the price of insurance and denounce the “rip-off culture” that the data suggests has been operative in the motor insurance sector for some years.”

It said it was broadly supportive of actions put in place over the last government but that they’d been done in a “piecemeal fashion”. It was critical, however, of the government’s refusal to tackle the issue of dual pricing, and said it needed to be outlawed.

Would you support the set up of a dedicated garda anti-fraud unit

A dedicated garda anti-fraud unit was one of the recommendations of the Cost of Insurance Working Group which was initially set up in 2016. To date, it has not been set up. 

The following parties have said they support the set-up of a dedicated garda anti-fraud unit:

  • Fianna Fáil – and it stressed they wanted the unit publicly funded.
  • Sinn Féin - this party specified it would have a dedicated team of detectives, garda staff and financial investigators. It would be funded with reserves from Piab.
  • Social Democrats - it said this was needed to ”bring prosecutions against those who exaggerate or make outright false claims”.
  • Aontú – it said exaggerated and misleading claims should be pursued through a dedicated unit.

The National Party: It also told TheJournal.ie it did in principle.

People Before Profit: It said ”The main issue is not fraud and there is already legislation to deal with this. The central issue is the greed for profit.”

Fine Gael: While not advocating a dedicated unit, Fine Gael reference work the gardaí would do on insurance in its manifesto. It said garda reform would mean every division in the country will soon have expertise in economic crime, including insurance fraud.

“New measures also include a new special categorisation on the Garda Pulse system and a new Garda divisional approach to tackling fraud,” it said.

Would you support a referendum on capping insurance payouts

Fine Gael: It has said that it would consider bringing forward “a new constitutional amendment to allow the Oireachtas to set down guidelines on premiums”.

People Before Profit: It said “yes, this is a good idea”.

Sinn Féin: The other parties didn’t specifically mention this in their manifestos but some, such as Sinn Féin, referenced introducing legislation aimed at lowering prices in the market.

Would you offer targeted supports to specific sectors affected by high insurance costs

All of the parties pledge to lower the cost of insurance for businesses, but a couple of them single out targeted supports.

Labour and the Social Democrats advocate pooled group or cooperative insurance schemes whereby a different groups and businesses come together to secure lower premiums.

In Labour’s case, it said: “The Department of Enterprise will be tasked with supporting and facilitating sectors such as childcare operators or tourism businesses who wish to pool together to seek insurance.”

Sinn Féin: It said it would aim to provide “stability to our small business and community/voluntary sector”.

“Our policy proposal to transform childcare into a public service will guarantee insurance cover for childcare providers under Irish Public Bodies, just like our schools and hospitals,” it said.

People Before Profit said: “We need more radical change than simply throwing more money over to private providers. We need a public not-for profit insurance company.”

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil don’t single out specific sectors, but both say their proposals will benefit businesses, community groups and consumers.

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Sean Murray

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