'We're absolutely heartbroken' - dozens of jobs lost as play centres forced to close over 300pc insurance hike
- Play centres on 'brink of extinction' as insurance costs surge
- 'I asked why insurance was increasing and was told I'm lucky to be getting a quote at all'
- Many play centre owners unable to get insurance quote and fear closure in the next few months
TWO play centres in Dublin and Co Carlow have been forced to close this week after their insurance costs soared by 300pc, resulting in the loss of dozens of jobs.
Claire Doyle and Tracy Smullen, owners of Kidspace in Rathfarnham, Dublin, announced the news to their "heartbroken" staff and customers on Tuesday night.
Kidspace's insurance is up for renewal this weekend and they received a quote representing a €25,000 increase on last year's premium.
Only one broker, Leisure Insure, which is based in the United Kingdom, would give them a quote.
They are now left with no option but to close down the business as they simply can't afford the insurance.
The pair run another play centre in Rathcoole, Co Wicklow, where the premium only increased by a couple of thousand, despite being a much bigger premises.
Kidspace in Rathcoole will continue to operate but they fear it is only a matter of time before it too will shut down.
Speaking to Independent.ie, Ms Doyle slammed the lack of consistency and transparency in the insurance industry.
"We've ran this business for five years and have only had one claim in that time, which involved an adult, not a child," she said.
"There is absolutely no reason why our insurance should have went up €25,000. It's so sad... My dad works there doing maintenance and my husband was also helping out. It was our little baby and now it's been taken from us."
Over 25 staff at the Rathfarnham branch now face being out of work due to the closure.
Ms Doyle warned that hundreds more face losing their jobs as play centres are on the brink of extinction.
"There's a lot of people going to be out of work, we could only give them a week's notice and it's horrible.
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"Our customers are just going crazy, you see the comments on Facebook, there'll be nothing for children to do soon."
Another play centre which closed its doors this week after 15 years in business is Kiddies Kingdom in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow.
Owner Josie Daly has decided to run in the local election for Fianna Fáil as she believes Ireland "is heading for disastrous times" due a "compo culture".
"This government does not seem to care that businesses are closing down across the country and it makes me so angry," she said.
"My insurance went from €8,500 a few years ago to €47,000 and I've endured months of stress over all this, it has tormented me.
"Maybe the government will care when thousands are unemployed and everyone has to sign-on. There is no future for people in the play centre business at the moment.
"I've had two claims in 15 years so why would my insurance go up so high? It makes me so mad... you can't even be honest about these things as they'll sue you for that aswell," she said.
A new group made up of the operators of 86 play centres, facilities for special needs children and pet farms has been formed to lobby for radical reform to deal with the claims culture operators say is strangling their businesses.
Businesswoman Linda Murray, who is heading up the group, says she is currently unable to get a quote for her play centre Huckleberry's Den in Navan, Co Meath.
Her insurance increased from €2,500 to €16,500 and with only 37 days to go until her next renewal, no company will give her a quote.
"I can't get insurance at the minute due to an ongoing claim... that's what one claim can do to a business," she said.
Other play centre owners who have had no claims against them say they are "living in fear" as "it can be the difference in getting a quote and not getting a quote."
Elaine Mullally opened Clown Around in Portarlington, Co Offaly in 2008 and has had no claims in 11 years of business, yet her insurance increased from €3,500 to €14,500.
"We're being held over a barrel as there's a monopoly in the insurance industry as nobody in Ireland will insure us," she said.
"We're a vital resource for the area and it's a safe environment for kids to come and have fun in. We have lots of groups with special needs and people with disabilities and it is vital.
"This year when I asked a broker why insurance was going up so much, I was told 'you're lucky to be getting anything'.
"The figures just do not add up. I have two teenage daughters, they have grown up in that business, it's part of their lives, they were only three and four and now they're teenagers and working there and helping out. People rely on play centres and the government just doesn't seem to care."
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- Read more: 'There won't be any play centres left if this continues' - owners in 'state of panic' over rising cover