Government's abandonment of plans for a personal injury fraud unit branded 'a cop-out'
A decision by the Government to abandon plans to set up a Garda unit dedicated to tackling insurance fraud has been branded a "cop-out".
A Department of Finance working group on insurance reform had recommended the setting up of a specialised unit within the Garda to detect exaggerated and fraudulent personal injury claims.
But now there has been a U-turn, which has been described as disappointing and likely to set back plans to come down heavily on fraudulent claims. Lower levels of fraudulent claims are expected to lead to lower insurance premiums.
The Department of Finance working group on insurance reform had proposed that the new unit be funded by the insurance industry, but operate independently.
Last summer, insurers agreed to collectively pay €1m a year to the State to fund the new fraud unit.
The idea was based on the Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department operated by the City of London Police, which is funded by insurance companies in Britain.
The UK fraud unit has been credited with cutting down on false insurance claims there.
In a major U-turn, the Government has rejected the concept of direct funding for the unit coming from insurers.
Instead, insurance fraud "hubs" will be set up around the country, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan told insurance campaigners .
Each divisional superintendent will be asked to set up a hub in their area of control to detect and prosecute insurance fraud.
More complex cases will be handled by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau.
Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan of the bureau said 50 gardaí had been trained this year in a certificate in fraud.
At the International Fraud Prevention conference in Dublin yesterday, he said it had taken too long to tackle insurance fraudsters.
Former High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns questioned the move to drop plans for the unit. He said it could have been a game-changer, and there was a need for 20 to 25 gardaí to be assigned to it.
The Alliance for Insurance Reform said that, after two years of delay, it appeared a fudge was being developed.
If the highly specialised and technical crime of insurance fraud was to be properly tackled, this structure must have a specialised unit at head office level co-ordinating a specific response to insurance fraud, said Peter Boland, of the Alliance.
"Anything less is a cop-out," he added.