Miriam Lord: No tripping up Heather Humphreys on insurance issue

Minister makes pointed criticism of compo culture as FG throw Maria Bailey under bus

Heather Humphreys: ‘There’s a culture in this country which says: it’s everyone’s fault but your own.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Heather Humphreys: ‘There’s a culture in this country which says: it’s everyone’s fault but your own.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

It would have taken a brave individual to approach Heather Humphreys with an overegged story about a fall on her premises when she was the manager of Cootehill Credit Union.

No-nonsense Heather, now the Minister for Business, takes a dim view of limping lily-gilders who see an accident as “an opportunity”. She gave the Dáil her firm opinion on what is called “compensation culture” after Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary urged the Government to “stand up for business” and do something about the spiralling cost of insurance premiums.

Calleary, who was standing in for Micheál Martin at Leaders’ Questions, had any amount of topics to chose from on Tuesday – health, housing, Brexit, climate change, for instance – but he chose to go with insurance.

Conveniently for him, if not for the excellent business concerned, he felt compelled to raise the issue having read reports that an adventure centre in West Dublin has had to pare back on its attractions due to an increase in public liability insurance.

The Fianna Fáil deputy leader didn’t mention any names, but he didn’t have to. Everyone in the chamber knew he was sliding in a hefty dig at Fine Gael in the wake of backbencher Maria Bailey’s withdrawn personal injury claim for falling off a swing.

Dara became quite passionate during his contribution as, across the floor, the handful of Government deputies present scrolled away assiduously on their phones.

‘Cabal of lawyers’

Who in Cabinet will stand up for the small and medium enterprises? Against the “cabal of lawyers” refusing to address insurance costs? Against the might of an insurance industry forcing companies to pay for that might?

“Who in Cabinet will stand up for community festivals who are having to curtail their offerings or stop the festival because of insurance premiums?”

Heather said she will stand up for business. No better woman. She is PFG (proper Fine Gael).

Hurry up with the legislation to curb fraudulent claims so, said Dara, who believes the Government is full of talk and slow to action when it comes to putting the brakes on insurance payouts.

Heather’s reply was punctuated by periodical yelps of “swings and roundabouts” from Mattie McGrath

“There was no sense of urgency or awareness until the Fine Gael brand was being affected by this. Then suddenly there was an interest in it,” he told the subdued Fine Gael ranks, severely depleted in the absence of the Taoiseach.

“Stand up for parents who are using the services and forget your own party’s reputation. Stand up for business, Minister!”

Heather’s reply was punctuated by periodical yelps of “swings and roundabouts” from Mattie McGrath.

Heather, reading from a prepared note, repeated that the Government is taking action. She knows the insurance problem is very frustrating for businesses but “we are dealing with the issue”.

Bunions

And there, the Government side might have hoped, the matter rested. Except Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats returned to step on its bunions with a more cutting contribution on Fine Gael’s current embarrassment.

She too wanted to highlight the very damaging effect which insurance costs are having on Irish business. Small businesses are choosing to settle claims on the steps of the court because they fear it’s too risky to go ahead with a case, the Kildare North TD said.

“The deputy Maria Bailey fiasco this week has put it back into the spotlight,” added Catherine, to a sharp intake of breath from the benches around her.

Humphreys rose and began her reply with the usual spiel: Challenges facing business, preparing for Brexit, support packages available, Enterprise Ireland, future growth and not forgetting the frustrations caused by compensation culture claims.

Then she looked up. “My own view on this is very simple – people need to have some common-sense and they need to be responsible for their own personal safety,” she declared, as Opposition TDs took their noses out of their phones and listened.

“So if you trip,” continued Heather, “yeah, if you fall, you have to ask yourself how it happened. And more often than not, the reason is because of your own carelessness.”

There were shouts of “Hear! Hear!” from across the floor. Jim O’Callaghan, Fianna Fáil’s Justice spokesman, who is a senior counsel, was smiling broadly.

Heather was laying down the law, a beacon for good old-fashioned Fine Gael values.

“There’s a culture in this country which says: it’s everyone’s fault but your own.”

Admiration

The opposition could only gaze across in admiration.

Fair play, responded Catherine Murphy. “I take it you are also referring to your colleague and showing some leadership in relation to your personal relationship to responsibility.”

Heather, with the clear approval of her Government colleagues, reversed a steamroller over the remaining shreds of Maria’s credibility

Regina Doherty was sitting beside the Minister for Business. On Monday, she went on radio directly after backbencher Bailey’s monumentally misjudged 20-minute apologia which had listeners chiselling their jaws off the floor. Regina wasn’t sympathetic. It was generally agreed that she threw Maria under the bus.

And on Tuesday, Heather, with the clear approval of her Government colleagues, reversed a steamroller over the remaining shreds of Maria’s credibility.

It’s a horrible personal situation for the Dún Laoghaire TD to find herself in but there was very little sympathy on offer for her from her party colleagues around Leinster House.

Meanwhile, the local and European elections didn’t come in for much mention in the Dáil. In the Seanad, however, Sinn Féin’s Rose Conway-Walsh wondered why so many people chose not to come out to vote.

She can’t understand why 18-year-old first-time voters are not automatically registered to vote.

“Why do we put barriers in place, such as sending young people to Garda stations, making them fill out forms and present them at local authorities, when there is absolutely no need for them whatsoever?”

Barriers making it difficult for people to vote should be removed.

Denis O’Donovan, the Cathaoirleach, intervened. “As a political animal myself, which I have to confess to, when I was a deputy my vote was taken off me. And I never got an answer as to why, but it’s extraordinary . . .”

David Norris was agog. “You were taken off the register, Cathaoirleach?”

“Yes,” said Denis.

“God!” exclaimed Norris.

“Yes. In this instance, my son and his wife were removed from the register, so they mustn’t like the name O’Donovan,” said the Chair, ruefully.

Norris tried to console him.

“Well. They gave me a wife!”

“Lucky woman,” chortled Gerard Craughwell (Ind).

“Pity her!” cried Máire Devine (SF).

David Norris put on a bewildered face.

“But the marriage was unconsummated.”