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Varadkar told insurance reform must be top priority as he takes questions on his new brief

Treatment of businesses by insurance companies is “appalling”, Dáil told.

Image: Oireachtas.ie

INSURANCE REFORM MUST be a top priority for the new government, the Dáil heard today.

A number of TDs spoke out today about how the insurance industry has treated small and medium businesses throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

Speaking about his new brief, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar said the July jobs stimulus package “will have to be radical and far-reaching”.

“We need to consider government investment in labour-intensive sectors in which we can get people back to work quickly,” he said.

Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy said the insurance reform has to be top of the agenda for the government”, stating that the manner in which insurance companies have been dealing with their customers “is simply appalling”.

“We have a situation where businesses in the hospitality sector are having to go to the High Court to get what they are entitled to. FBD Insurance, for example, had previously written to business customers telling them they were covered for business interruption, but the company is now resisting all attempts to pay out on those policies. It is not good enough,” he said. 

“Where is the Central Bank in all of this?

“It has issued letters and said what it would like to be done but where is it in terms of enforcement? It is not good enough that people who have paid excess premiums to have a policy in place are being forced into the courts system to get what they deserve,” said Troy. 

Changes need to be seen by businesses early on in this government, said the Fianna Fáil TD.

On the issue of Covid insurance and businesses being worried about the lack of cover, Varadkar said he is not of the view that a business is liable for somebody contracting Covid on its premises “unless it was somehow responsible or grossly negligent”.

Concerns had previously been raised in the Dáil about businesses and hoteliers being concerned that they could be sued by staff members or customers who contract the virus.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has confirmed that his officials will examine the issues around liability and insurability of claims made as a result of contracting Covid-19 while on a premises.

Labour’s Brendan Howlin previously said businesses will not be able to reopen after restrictions are lifted if they cannot avail of Covid-19 insurance.

“To my knowledge, nobody has every successfully sued a business or crèche because they or their kid got chickenpox or the flu on its premises. I do not see why that would apply to Covid but stranger things have happened in the courts with regard to compensation claim,” said Varadkar.

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The Tánaiste also said there are some questions as to why construction activity is not revving up quicker.

“Even though construction activity has been back for six weeks and we are told that 80% of sites are now open, there are still 45,000 construction workers in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment. There is something not right there.

“I do not know what it is but we need to dig down into that and get people back on site. We also need to provide alternative construction employment for those who cannot return to sites for various reasons. Retrofitting would certainly be top of the list of such alternative jobs.”

In terms of bailouts for large companies in Ireland who have been impacted by the public health emergency, Varadkar said the State has not yet had to bail out any big companies.

However, he added: “If we get into that space, as other countries have done, in particular on continental Europe, for airlines or other big industries, then I think in such circumstances there should be social and environmental obligations.”

Varadkar also said that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit remains and further funding for businesses may be required in the months ahead.

He also told the Dáil that in the early days of the Covid crisis, the government was worried about food supply chains, but he said they have proven to be very robust.

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