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'We keep our local graveyard closed' - How the insurance crisis is hitting Ireland's communities

Almost half of community groups say they have had to cut activities due to insurance costs.

Community events are said to be at risk due to increasing premiums.
Community events are said to be at risk due to increasing premiums.
Image: RollingNews.ie

THE IMPACT OF the “insurance crisis” on Ireland’s community sector has been laid bare in new research which found that almost half of the voluntary groups surveyed have been forced to curtail their activities.

The survey of 770 different groups included local organisations such sports teams, Tidy Towns, community centres and animal and mental health charities.

It was primarily aimed at finding out if the cost of public and employer liability insurance was affecting their activities and whether their work is being put at risk.

The research found that 83% of the community groups have seen insurance costs rise in last three years, with over a third saying they now pay more than €1,500 per year.

The vast majority (80%) say it is “very hard” to find enough funding to meet insurance costs and the same proportion said that they are “very concerned” about the future.

The effect of insurance hikes on the delivery of services is already evident however, with 45% saying that have had to reduce the services they provide.

Some of the community groups provided examples of how insurance costs are hurting their work.

They included stories like:

We would like to run water activities/tours for community groups but cannot get insurance at all for these. Also, struggling with insurance for bouncing castles, family activities for fun days etc.
The cost of funding insurance has meant that we have considerably cut back on extra activities, reduced external coaching inputs and stopped hiring external indoor facilities for winter training.
We used to run a French conversation class but because the insurance was around €600 we couldn’t continue.
We keep our local graveyard closed.
For our community fun day and BBQ, our insurers refuse to cover “inflatables”, bouncy castles and similar because they are high risk.
It’s very difficult to cater for some children’s activities where climbing or playing outside is involved.

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Last month, it was announced that a major review into the public liability insurance market was be carried out by the country’s competition watchdog.

It comes following an increased focus on the cost of insurance, particularly in the leisure and recreation industry which is said to be “on its knees” due to increasing premiums.

This latest survey was carried out by Ireland’s Public Participation Networks(PPN), which collectively represent some 15,000 local voluntary groups and advocates for their interests.

Sarah Wetherald of Sligo PPN said that the results of the survey “merely confirm what we are hearing from them every day of the week”.

“The infrastructure of volunteering in Ireland is being threatened by spiralling insurance costs, unavailability of insurance cover and increasingly unreasonable exclusions and conditions,” she said.

Wetherald adds that the problem is actually worse than it seems because volunteer groups are more reluctant to close than a business would be in similar circumstances.

While SME’s typically close if they are hit with massive premium increases, community groups tend to wind down key activities and soldier on. This means much of the impact of this crisis has being hidden up to now because they are not closing. In this context it is shocking to see 47% of survey respondents saying they may have to close up.

The government has said that it is constitutionally barred from directly setting pricing levels in the insurance sector but has passed the Judicial Council Bill which it is hoped will produce guidelines on personal injury awards.

Peter Boland of the Alliance for Insurance Reform said that this bill must take effect quickly.

“If the government is serious about protecting voluntary and community groups, they must accelerate the process of establishing the Judicial Council and do everything in their control to facilitate the judiciary in addressing this crucial issue,” he said.

“Equally, we would urge the judiciary to proceed with the general damages review process as a matter of urgency and reflect the common good in using the guiding principles of recent court decisions to set damages for minor injuries at moderate, proportionate and common-sense levels.”

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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