Editorial: 'Fine Gael must deliver now on compensation reforms'
Michael D'Arcy deserves credit for his efforts to get things moving on insurance and compensation reforms. There have been doubts about the depth of support the junior finance minister had been getting from senior colleagues on this vexed issue which threatens jobs and prosperity.
Now, in a curious way, Mr D'Arcy is more empowered. Recent controversial events, in which one of his Fine Gael Dáil colleagues, Maria Bailey, was centrally involved, seriously hurt the party in the local elections.
There is nothing like a kick in the pants from voters to send a direct message to the top. The controversy surrounding Ms Bailey just built and built in the final days of last month's election campaign.
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In the candour of an election post mortem, several key party figures frankly admitted that the controversy cost them. Now, if that does not concentrate minds facing a general election, nothing ever will.
Mr D'Arcy concedes it's past time to call halt on exaggerated compensation claims. He is to be commended for his plain speaking in citing "the best of people" pursuing questionable claims.
This is about people who should know better. He is talking explicitly about people who see an "incident" as an easy-money opportunity.
The Wexford TD takes us back to first principles by asking: if this incident happened in a close relative's home, would you pursue a compensation claim? He says people exaggerate their case to enhance an easy payout.
We are again reminded of odious international comparisons. Personal injury pay-outs in Ireland, averaging €17,000 each, are up to five times higher than comparable payments in England and Wales.
The minister also cites the role of insurance companies. Too often they pay "go-away money" to deliver a quick fix to compensation cases. This further encourages more exaggerated and otherwise questionable claims.
It is of itself beneficial to hear such forthright talk. It may in the shorter term make some would-be claimants stop and think. It might even encourage insurance executives to stop reaching so often for their chequebooks to make something go away quickly. But such benefits, at kindest estimate, will be limited and short-lived. We need decisive action - and we need it now.
The long-awaited Judicial Council Bill is due back before TDs and senators in the coming days. Mr D'Arcy hopes he can get it through the Dáil before the summer break next month.
This draft law allows for the establishment of a committee of judges who will recalibrate the level of payouts for injuries such as whiplash. Timing is everything here because if it does not clear the Dáil by summer holidays, it is most unlikely to be enacted before the end of this year.
That would leave Fine Gael facing a general election with a major problem - which has caught the public's rapt attention - unremedied. It should remember Oscar Wilde's comments about the difference between misfortune and carelessness.