18 December 2019
By Elaine Murphy
Remarks by Cork-based Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin on rising insurance costs during Leaders’ Questions
The Central Bank’s report on private motor insurance reveals a shocking story of continuous rip-off of the people of Ireland, in particular young people, by the insurance industry. It is also a damning indictment of the Government’s weakness, paralysis and failure to protect people from a greedy and exploitative industry and the Government’s inability to change the story over the past eight years.
At times, the Government seemed to side with the industry and accept its explanations. This is the first comprehensive study of premiums and cost claims in Ireland and it undermines the narrative of the companies and their claims about spiralling pay-outs and increased claims being the major factor underpinning growing premium increases.
It found that between 2009 and 2018, the average cost of claims per policy fell by 2.5%, while average premiums jumped by 42%. It is even more alarming that in the past five years, from 2013 to 2018, average premiums went up by 62%. Meanwhile, the industry generated an average operating profit of 9%, twice the level of profitability seen in the United Kingdom.
We know personal injuries claims, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, and legal costs are also factors. Last week, the Taoiseach told me in the Dáil that motor insurance had come down by 20% or 30%.
This report says they went up in the past five years by 62%. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Justice and Equality have had a hands-off policy on this for years. Was the Government’s response due to ignorance or gross incompetence?
Did the Government know what was going on in recent years and the degree to which people, in particular young people, were being ripped off while the Government failed to protect them from this industry and to take the measures and the decisive intervention that would have made a difference?
The Taoiseach’s comments to me last week reveal a level of disconnect with the reality on the ground that is quite shocking. Does the Taoiseach accept that the Government has failed to protect people from a greedy industry that has spun a false narrative to maximise profits?
Why has the Government not intervened to strengthen and restore the Personal Injuries Assessment Board to centre stage in moderating the cost of claims?
The Government did not protect that institution against vested legal interests which sought to undermine it. Was the Government aware of the scale of the rip-off? Why have change and reform to deal with this been so slow in recent years?
This is a definitive study. It is not what the Government has been doing, namely, coming in here last week stating complacently that it is all sorted and that costs are going down by 20% to 30%. The cost went up 62% in five years. What in the name of God was the Taoiseach doing? What were his Ministers doing?
It is not just the motor industry that is affected. All week, it has been about crèches and childcare facilities, some of which will be closing this week because of inaction. The Minister of State claimed to be shocked over premiums increasing. Businesses have been ringing alarm bells because of the excessive rip-off in insurance that has been occurring with no rational explanation.
Of course, there are fraudulent claims and issues arising over the high cost of litigation in the courts but, again, the Taoiseach did nothing about it. He failed to protect the PIAB from the vested interests that sought to undermine it. The PIAB was an effective intervention brought in by Mary Harney well over a decade and a half ago. It dramatically upset vested interests and brought costs down, but the current Government has stood by. It has taken a hands-off approach. The situation is now that, right across the board, from crèches to childcare, we are in crisis in terms of the capacity of businesses and people to survive.