Plans 'at advanced stage' for new insurance fraud unit in gardaí
Plans to set up a specialist unit within the gardaí to fight insurance fraud are at an advanced stage.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the new unit would be paid for by insurance firms.
"While this proposal is not without its challenges, I understand that talks between Insurance Ireland and the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau about the initial proposal are at an advanced stage," he told the Insurance Ireland annual fraud conference.
The idea is to set up a counter-fraud unit modelled on the UK's industry-funded Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department at the City of London Police.
Former President of the High Court Nicholas Kearns told the conference he supported the idea of a dedicated anti-insurance fraud division being set up within the gardaí.
Any fears that an outside body would end up with some influence or control over the gardaí could be overcome with a levy imposed on insurers to pay for this, and this money then used by the State to fund the new garda unit.
Mr Kearns, who has been appointed by the Government to head up the Personal Injuries Commission to compare award levels here with those internationally, said fraud was paying a huge part in the cost of insurance.
The cost of fraud was estimated at €200m a year. But the true cost was probably a multiple of this if the cost of exaggerated claims is added in. He said exaggerated claims were fraud also.
Insurance companies were perceived as an "easy target" for a pay-out of €10,000 to €15,000.
The risks of detection when false claims were made are low, which acts as a powerful incentive to make a false claim.
"There is a general feeling that there is no downside."
And Mr Kearns said insurers were allowing themselves to be "blackmailed" and were too eager to settle too many cases at the doors of the court instead of fighting them.
The former President of the High Court said a small handful of lawyers were sullying their profession.
"Malicious cases are tainting the reputation of the legal system and some of the profession." And judges came in for criticism in cases where they decide the claimant has lied and the evidence was unreliable.
He said the judiciary seems to be unaware that there is a protocol in place between the gardaí and Insurance Ireland that requires insurers to report suspect claimants to the gardaí, instead of having papers sent to the DPP.
Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan, of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, said some people justified making false claims as they see it as a payback because they believed they were overcharged by the insurance industry due to steep premium rises.