Volunteerims supports some of the best human endeavours. That truth was celebrated earlier this week at the Tidy Towns awards and some weeks ago at the uplifting Paralympics in Brazil.
Vital social services — everything from Meals on Wheels to the work of the St Vincent de Paul Society, from adult literacy services to the Samaritans’ 24-hour phone services — depend on time freely given by people who recognise the obligations, the selfless interactions, inherent in the idea of a good society. There isn’t a single sporting organisation in the country that could survive for a month without the energy brought to their cause by generous, inspiring community activists — volunteers.
Like virtue, volunteerism may be its own reward but there are occasionally tragic consequences, as we all saw earlier this month when Coast Guard volunteer Caitríona Lucas was drowned off Clare during a search for a missing man. The motivations behind volunteerism, the character of most volunteers, means it is more than unlikely that even one Coast Guard crew member quit after that tragedy. Rather, many of them will strive to be better at their work, to be more accomplished as the danger in what they do was so painfully underlined.
Essentially, volunteers take over when the State is unable or unwilling to act. Therefore, it is more than unfortunate, though symptomatic of our smash-and-grab world, that some insurance companies have been accused of “putting lives at risk” by imposing levies of up to 20% on premiums for volunteers who react to medical emergencies in their community. Community first responders (CFRs) are ordinary people trained to deal with emergencies such as heart attacks or strokes. They work hand-in-hand with the National Ambulance Service. CFR Ireland say that volunteers face an extra charge for car insurance because the insurer argues that there is an extra risk involved. Insurance giant Aviva confirmed it adds 20% to premiums offered to CFR volunteers. Aviva Ireland made an underwriting profit of €5.7m last year.
Aviva has proposed that volunteers join a programme such as the RSA-sponsored Emergency Services Driving Standard. Should CFR drivers do that, Aviva promised, “not only would we drop the 20% loading, we would also give a discount”. This seems like an opportunity for volunteers to enhance the skills they need to deliver their vital service and save money. They should be offered this opportunity to help their community without incurring any cost.
There are many issues around the insurance sector that need resolving — cherry-picking on floods and impossible premiums for community events and clubs are just two. But at the root of all of these difficulties is our compo culture, one hardly driven by a hunger for justice but, in too many instances, a determination to turn misadventure into a modest Lotto win. Until that culture is changed, until our courts, insurance companies, and legal profession adopt a more hard-nosed attitude to this kind of prospecting, skewed insurance costs will have an impact right across society — and the impact those costs have on volunteerism is unacceptable.
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