The Minister for Justice has confirmed that plans for a dedicated Garda insurance fraud unit have been shelved.
Blueprints for the unit had been in the works since early 2017 and were fully endorsed by the Personal Injuries Commission.
It was planned as a key response to what has been labelled an “ongoing insurance crisis”, but has been abandoned in favour of a more general anti-fraud approach.
Businesses across a number of industries have expressed concerns about increases in insurance premiums over the past year, with fraud cited as one of the factors leading to high insurance costs.
In April, Neil McDonnell, chief executive of the Irish SME Association (ISME), told the Oireachtas Finance Committee that spiralling insurance costs were forcing businesses to close.
Linda Murray, who owns a play centre in Navan, Co Meath, told the committee her insurance premium has increased by more than 1,000% in the last six years.
Responding to a written question from Fianna Fail’s John Curran, minister Charlie Flanagan said: “The Garda commissioner is of the view, with regard to fraud investigations including insurance fraud, that a divisional focus is preferable rather than the establishment of a centralised investigation unit.
“This approach is aligned with a general divisional-focused Garda model.
“It is the intention of the commissioner that the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) will guide divisions and provide training in the investigation of insurance fraud.”
The announcement was condemned by critics who accuse the Government of not taking the issue seriously enough.
Peter Boland, director of the Alliance for Insurance Reform, said a properly funded unit is essential to tackle the issue.
As momentum for real #InsuranceReform builds, @InsuranceRefIre briefed representatives of @heartof_galway @GalwayLatinQtr @GalwayChamber and Galway Business Watch at the @kingsheadgalway on our campaign. With thanks to @niall_mcnelis for organising. pic.twitter.com/miQ0LTu4JC— Alliance For Insurance Reform (@InsuranceRefIre) May 20, 2019
“After two years of delay, it now appears that a fudge is being developed by way of generalised divisional fraud units.
“If the highly specialised and technical crime of insurance fraud is to be properly tackled, this structure must at very least have a properly funded, specialised unit at headquarters level co-ordinating a specific response to insurance fraud.
“Not only would such a structure provide a dedicated channel for complaints and prosecutions regarding insurance fraud, but it would act as a clear deterrent to anyone considering lodging a fraudulent or exaggerated insurance claim.
“If what has been announced is just part of a restructuring with no new resources, then we can have little confidence that insurance fraud will get the priority it deserves.
“The Personal Injuries Assessment Board has reserves of over 17 million euro which consists primarily of fees paid by policyholders against whom claims have been lodged.
“So it would make absolute sense that the Government use these funds to establish a dedicated Garda unit that would be central to the fight against fraudulent claims.”
The Government’s political opponents claim the department has wasted two years on the plans.
Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath said: “For over two years now the Government has held up the establishment of an insurance fraud unit as the key reform in tackling fraudulent insurance claims.
“All the while, businesses the length and breadth of the country are facing massive increases in their insurance premium. Insurance fraud is one of the factors leading to high insurance costs. Insurance fraud continues to be a major issue and the Government is not taking it seriously enough.
“To this day, we have no idea how many complaints have been made to An Garda Siochana in relation to insurance fraud.
“Insurance fraud is not a victimless or a costless crime. Not only does it cost the business or motorist against whom a fraudulent claim is being made, but it also costs the rest of us by way of higher premiums.
“It is critical that this issue is tackled head-on.”
The Department of Justice has been contacted for comment.