Thousands of jobs could be lost in the next six to eight months unless Irish rules on minor injuries insurance claims are brought in line with the rest of Europe.
The Alliance for Insurance Reform says its member companies in nightclubs, leisure clubs and childcare services have lost 400 to 500 jobs due to escalating insurance costs in recent years.
The Government has responded to the intense lobbying by the alliance for the past three years.
Chief Justice Frank Clarke recently said he is anxious to move ahead “as quickly as is possible” to form a personal injury committee under the new Judicial Council Act.
Research conducted by the Personal Injuries Commission, chaired by Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, suggests that award levels for minor injuries in Ireland are 4.4 times higher than in the UK.
“The jobs that have already been lost will be nothing compared to what will be lost next year if this situation continues,” said Peter Boland, director of the alliance.
“We haven’t time for this to be some intellectual discussion that takes six or eight months.
“We are seeing business after business, charity after charity telling us that they are facing closure.
"In Ireland, we see people getting very significant damages for minor injuries. The insurance companies are not interested in taking on any more risk until they see change.
“We’re talking about light injuries. No one has any issue with compensating people who have been seriously injured, but Ireland’s system for assessing minor injuries needs to come into line with other jurisdictions,” he said.
In assessing damages, court judges have to take their lead from a book of quantum which is leading to far higher payouts than every other European state.
In recent years, many overseas insurance companies have exited the Irish market.
The chief justice said research needs to be conducted urgently to speed up resolution of these issues.
The Personal Injuries Commission has already produced a bank of research into the market.
“We’re hoping that there won’t be any need for additional research, so we can move on to agree on new general damages guidelines for minor injuries,” said Peter Boland.
“We won’t see any improvement until the minor injuries situation changes.
“We are three years into this crisis, during which time the gardaí have not been able to make any real progress in addressing insurance fraud.
That is because there are no real sanctions available to the gardaí to deal with anyone who presents a fraudulent insurance claim. The current system is wide open to abuse.
“We are very disappointed that no progress has been made on the establishment of a fully-funded and resourced Garda response. Until this deterrent has been put in place, then the incentive to claim fraudulently or to exaggerate claims will remain,” he said.
Mr Boland has welcomed some of the steps forward, notably the chief justice’s appointment of the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee Designate of the Judicial Council. However, the Judicial Council Bill was signed into law over three months ago.
The pace of change is too slow for the thousands of community groups, charities and small businesses that are being crippled by increasing costs.
The latest group to join the Alliance for Insurance Reform’s lobbying drive is the Irish Caravan and Camping Council which represents 110 members running caravan and camping parks.
Most of the council’s members have reported insurance premium increases of 30% to 40% this year, while one campsite saw its premium jump over 200% from €5,000 to over €12,000.
“For someone with a small business, that’s a big squeeze,” said Con Quill, CEO of the council owner of Blarney Caravan and Camping Park in Co Cork.
“I have been in business for the past 20 years, and I hadn’t seen this kind of sudden jump until recent years.
"It has just become very difficult to get insurance. For the Irish Caravan and Camping Council’s members, this is just one more issue along with Vat impacting on our businesses.
“Perhaps there is a claims’ culture in Irish society generally, but our sector had been managing to get by with it up until now. Some of our members are now saying they’re being hit hard by excessive claims.
“We’ve joined with the Alliance for Insurance Reform to be part of their lobbying drive, but that really feels like a long-term call for some of our members. It will be up to every individual park to decide how to respond to the rising insurance costs.
“Some may have to increase their fees to cover costs, or perhaps reduce some of the services, activities and facilities that they offer to families. Our members have some tough immediate business decisions to make,” he said.
The council’s 110 members run caravan and camping parks, many in rural locations with limited employment opportunities.
Rising insurance costs have meant that very few are investing in their businesses in terms of expansion, improvement and employment.
The Alliance for Insurance Reform brings together 34 civic and business organisations in Ireland, representing over 37,000 members, 665,000 employees, 493,000 volunteers and 374,000 students.