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Thursday 23 January 2020

'Fraudulent claimants have nothing to lose...they are getting a free shot'

 

‘All I want is to do my best’: Pádraig Ó Céidigh on Barna pier in Galway Bay. Photo: Tony Gavin
‘All I want is to do my best’: Pádraig Ó Céidigh on Barna pier in Galway Bay. Photo: Tony Gavin
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

As a senator, businessman and former solicitor, Pádraig Ó Céidigh says there were many watershed moments that motivated him to introduce perjury legislation in Ireland.

This country's personal injury system and the ongoing insurance crisis have been the subject of much debate.

But one recurring problem is that the small minority of people bringing fraudulent claims before the courts are going unpunished.

"They're getting a free shot, they've nothing to lose," Mr Ó Céidigh said.

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"I'm not trying to catch people out from telling lies [with this bill], I'm getting them not to tell them in the first place because of the repercussions."

If the Perjury Bill passes into legislation, those found to be telling lies on affidavits or in court could face a fine of up to €100,000 or 10 years in prison; a far cry from a slap on the wrist or simply having costs awarded against you.

Mr Ó Céidigh met more than 60 different stakeholders to get their insights into the Bill. From solicitors and business owners, to the Department of Justice and the Garda Ombudsman.

One particular body decided not to have any input, however.

Despite numerous requests to meet, the Law Society of Ireland - Ireland's legal watchdog - didn't wish to give its views on how to make the Perjury Bill effective.

"As a former solicitor, I found it incredibly disappointing," said Mr Ó Céidigh.

"I spoke to dozens of solicitors and barristers about this, mainly in Dublin and Galway, and they all supported it.

"I made several attempts to meet the Law Society themselves and they didn't acknowledge me and didn't meet me. I wanted to get their input on the structure and drafting of the Bill."

The Galway man previously ran a small legal firm and said the key thing he needed to do his job to the best of his ability was the credibility and the integrity of his clients' evidence.

When asked whether more onus should be put on solicitors to verify their client's version of events, he said: "You've got to take them at their word."

"You do have a duty to ask for back-up evidence. Are there any witnesses? Can you prove this? Can you show this?

"You are hoping and expecting that the back-up evidence they give you is based on solid information. At the end of the day, the solicitor is putting their own neck on the block by taking the case."

The Perjury Bill has passed through the Seanad - where it faced no objections.

Support

It is due to be debated in the Dáil this week, and Mr Ó Céidigh is hopeful it will be passed into legislation before Christmas.

"There's no guarantee, but there is big support for it," he said.

When asked about the Irish Independent's investigation - which found that certain medical professionals and solicitors are fuelling Ireland's compensation culture - Mr Ó Céidigh said it was "worrying".

"Let's call a spade a spade. I can't comment too much as I haven't done my own research... but in my experience I have found, honest to goodness, the vast majority of solicitors to be very straight up."

Under the Perjury Bill, legal and medical professionals will also be indicted if they are found to have knowingly assisted in the bringing of a fraudulent claim.

"Solicitors and medical professionals could implicate themselves under the current legislation.

"All I want to do is do my best, do our best as a team, to bring in this piece of legislation and I think that it is going to get everyone to think twice or three times about bringing a claim and about the nature of the claim they want to bring.

"An awful lot of people tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help them God, but that's not the case in a number of situations."

Irish Independent

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