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Government admits its hands are tied even as leisure sector warns of insurance 'crisis'

The leisure and tourism sectors have expressed serious concerns over the withdrawal of a major insurance provider from the market.

Minister of State in the Department of Finance Michael D'Arcy with Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe last month.
Minister of State in the Department of Finance Michael D'Arcy with Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe last month.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE GOVERNMENT HAS admitted that it has limited options to help secure the future of the Irish leisure industry, after insurance provider Leisure Insure announced that it was withdrawing from the Irish market.

The UK-based provider announced last week that it would no longer be offering insurance to Irish businesses and from August it will honour, but not renew, current policies.  

The decision has caused shock in the leisure sector, which has struggled in recent years to afford insurance – especially in an Irish insurance industry that has typically been unenthusiastic about offering insurance to such companies. 

Brendan Kenny, the CEO of Ireland’s Association for Adventure Tourism, called the decision “another blow to the leisure sector”. 

The move has had a “big impact” on the association’s members, he said. At least two businesses, Kenny said, were worried that the withdrawal of Leisure Insure could force their business to close. 

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the Department of Finance said that Brexit was the primary reason Leisure Insure had decided to leave Ireland. 

Minister of State in the Department of Finance Michael D’Arcy had spoken with AXA XL, the underwriter of Leisure Insurance, to discuss the issue.

The minister, the spokesperson said, “acknowledges that the level of awards and the inconsistency in such awards is undoubtedly a factor in Leisure Insure’s decision not to continue in the Irish market”. 

“There is unfortunately no single policy or legislative initiative which the Government can take to persuade insurers to provide cover to the leisure sector as it would appear that insurers have not had a positive experience with this sector over the last number of years,” the spokesperson added. 

“The Government is constrained as to what it can do as for constitutional reasons, it cannot direct the courts as to the award levels that should be applied, and for legal reasons it cannot direct insurance companies as to the pricing level which they should apply in respect of consumers or businesses seeking insurance.”

The government’s main hope is that the Judicial Council Bill, which has passed through the Oireachtas and will become soon become legislation, might in the future produce guidelines on personal injury award levels and subsequently lower the costs involved in personal injury claims. 

The government, the spokesperson said, is “doing everything it can to improve the environment within which insurers operate”. 

‘Crisis’

“If we don’t have insurance, we don’t operate. If insurance is too high, we don’t operate,” Derek Binchy from Fota Island Adventure told TheJournal.ie

Binchy, who employs 15 people during peak season, said his insurance will run out on 31 August. After several years with Leisure Insure, Binchy doesn’t think it’ll be “easy” to find a new insurance provider. 

He has until 31 August to find a new provider – if there isn’t a provider in place by then, he said, his business won’t be able to open. 

The news has triggered calls for the government to step in. Michael McGrath, Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesperson, called on the government to hold an emergency meeting with the insurance industry.  

“We are facing a full blown insurance crisis with thousands of jobs immediately on the line,” McGrath said. 

“The simple fact is that public liability insurance for the leisure industry is not an attractive business. Not one of the main insurers in the Irish market will provide cover to parts of the leisure industry,” he added. 

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Miriam O’Callaghan programme, Linda Murray, the Director of Alliance for Insurance Reform, said the news was ”the biggest blow we could have got in the leisure industry in Ireland”. 

While she acknowledged that reforms were taking place to reduce personal injuries claims, Murray said “urgent” changes to compensation payments were needed to attract European insurance companies to Ireland. 

“If they saw we had this reform as a matter of urgency they’d be much more likely to come into our country and insure us,” she said. 

Gerry Frawley, Head of the Irish Inflatable Hirers Federation, echoed these concerns when he spoke on the same programme. ”Being insured is fundamental to any business and without insurance it is definitely a bad situation,” he warned. 

Frawley warned the lack of alternatives could force companies to risk operating without insurance and called on the government to take action. 

“Politicians need to do something. Varadkar said that he likes people who get up in the morning and I tell you there’s no better people than bouncy castle people at communion time to be running around at 6am and 10pm at night.”

“They deserve not to be abandoned in this situation,” he added. 

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