LAOIS is joining the fight against soaring insurance costs that are crippling small businesses all over the county.
Laois Co Council has sent a letter to the government, stressing the urgent need to speed up the national insurance reform programme. The letter highlights the damage caused to community groups, businesses, sports clubs, voluntary organisations and other bodies due to excessive insurance premiums. It also calls on the government to bring the ‘Book of Quantum’ (amounts paid out for personal injuries) into line with international norms.
The letter was sent following a proposal by independent councillor James Kelly at the latest county council meeting.
Cllr Kelly pointed out that personal injury payouts are four times higher in Ireland than in the UK. An injury payment of €3,000 in Spain has a corresponding payment of €15,000 in Ireland. He said that the issue is causing serious problems for the hospitality sector, which generated €31m in Laois last year. He also believed it was a major factor in the closure of Mountrath Mart earlier this year, after its insurance premium increased from €36,000 to a whopping €86,000.
Cllr Kelly said: “This is being kicked down the road, but it is a very serious and urgent issue. There has to be a zero tolerance approach to insurance fraud and we need a special garda focus on that.”
Cathaoirleach cllr Willie Aird strongly disagreed that it was spiralling insurance costs that closed Mountrath Mart. Cllr Aird (FG) declared: “I am passionate about this – it was not insurance that closed Mountrath Mart. I am a shareholder in the mart and it was not insurance that closed it.”
Cllr Kelly shot back: “That’s your opinion, but I don’t agree.”
Cllr Mary Sweeney (FG) agreed that high insurance premiums were “crippling” shops, pubs and small businesses all over Laois and the issue must be tackled urgently.
Cllr Aidan Mullins (SF) highlighted the fact that insurance companies in Ireland made a profit of €100m last year. He said: “I know a company that was on the verge of closing recently in Portarlington. It had no claims and yet its insurance premium doubled.”
Meanwhile, cllr Aisling Moran (FG) recalled an incident that happened in a branch of Debenham’s department store. Cllr Moran said: “A woman told me that she slipped in the store and she went up just to inform them that the floor needed to be cleaned. She had no intention of making a claim, but straight away they asked her if she wanted a claim form. So, to some extent it is coming from the businesses. It is the mentality that has to change, too.”
Cllr Thomasina Connell (FG) said insurance companies were penalising small businesses and some would “go under” unless the issue was resolved immediately. She said: “A full report needs to be done. It is not as if claims just started a few years ago. It is not just claims that are causing the problem. It is also the insurance companies, because they are getting traction.”
Labour councillor Noel Tuohy felt it was important “not to throw the baby out with the bath water” and to ensure that people with genuine cases are able to claim for personal injuries.
Councillors unanimously agreed to support cllr Kelly’s proposal that a letter be sent to the government, calling for acceleration of the national insurance reform programme that is currently underway.