The Irish Mail on Sunday

Lawyers who drive up cost of insurance will face penalties

Carroll MacNeill vows to tackle legal system on overchargi­ng

- By John Drennan news@mailonsund­

THE Government will clamp down hard this year on overchargi­ng solicitors who she says are keeping insurance premiums artificial­ly high, junior finance minister Jennifer Carroll MacNeill has told the Irish Mail on Sunday.

The Fine Gael Dún Laoghaire TD said reform of the insurance industry (part of her brief in the junior ministry) is one of her key goals for 2024. Fine Gael has a reputation for being the off-site clearing house of the legal profession, but Ms Carroll MacNeill has warned that she won’t tolerate ongoing excessive legal costs for insurance. In the wake of the passing of the Occupiers Liability Act in June, she told the Irish Mail on Sunday this week: ‘Where we are really going after this year is the cost of litigation.

That is the remaining significan­t driver of overall costs. From 2015 to 2021, legal costs were 20 times higher than for PIABbased settlement­s, and legal costs keep going up and up. Even in 2022, the litigated costs went up 10%.’ In an increasing­ly rare example of cross-party co-operation between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the junior minister said: ‘Myself and Dara Calleary [her Fianna Fáil counterpar­t] are very focused on making sure we tackle the legal system.’

‘That’s a very strong process focusing on solicitors that might not be co-operating with that, or a legal process that isn’t making sure it is supporting the Injuries Resolution

‘Legal costs keep going up and up’

Board [IRB – formerly known as the PIAB] at every turn possible,’ she said.

‘Under the IRB, cases take half the time, clients get the same value in terms of awards and the process is one 20th of the costs of going to court. Myself and Dara Calleary have a very strong interest and at the last Cabinet committee meeting we made very clear this is a space that has to be tightened considerab­ly,’ she said.

The minister also revealed that the Law Society will be hauled into the department to explain the ‘ongoing drift’ in this area.

She said people need to be compensate­d if they have an injury, but they need to be ‘compensate­d appropriat­ely and they need to be compensate­d in a manner that is cost-effective’.

She also warned the legal profession that she has ‘no notion of supporting’ any ongoing failure to reform, adding: ‘I see too many cases drifting into the courts system, and I have to question some of the incentives in that regard.

‘I have been in this position for nearly a year now and I have been speaking to businesses, the insurance companies, the Alliance for Insurance Reform, business owners and the Garda fraud squad.

‘I have been watching every different metric, and I keep hearing there are some solicitors and firms that are routinely not accepting outcomes from the IRB. I keep hearing about some firms that have never accepted an outcome. I even hear of situations in which solicitors have not shared informatio­n on IRB awards with the claimant. I will be interrogat­ing that informatio­n,’ she warned.

Unlike many in her party, Ms Carroll MacNeill believes that Fine Gael can win an election this year or next. However, she said Ireland, like other countries in the developed world, faces stark choices.

‘I think you have choices across all those countries, but especially in Ireland, between the centre, the moderates – ie the people who will build a state, an economy and a society in a strong incrementa­l way – and the populists,’ she said.

‘What Fine Gael needs to do is stick to what their core vote has always wanted, which is integrity,

honesty and directness.’

Unlike many in Fine Gael who believe the party has been hollowed out by the Government, Ms Carroll MacNeill believes Fine Gael has a positive message to sell.

‘Ireland is in a very strong position at the moment. We have more people at work than we have

ever had before. We have more money in the bank and the ability to put a bit away than we have ever had before. We are able to spend more on services than before.’

Though Ms Carroll MacNeill picks immigratio­n as being the key battlefron­t in the next election and acknowledg­es that housing remains

important, she also noted:

‘I think what really is going to matter is the conduct of politics not just in Ireland but right across Europe, right across the US, right across the UK. We have seen all of the threats around misinforma­tion, populism, the dangers to politics from what is happening online and

where this is going, and I think for Fine Gael and for me, it really is an important year for setting out that sort of centrist, moderate, commitment to really transparen­t democracy and commitment to the values that has brought to the State.’

 ?? ?? rising star: Fine Gael’s Jennifer Carroll MacNeill
rising star: Fine Gael’s Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

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