Miriam Lord: The Pearse Doherty insurance helpline is now open

When it comes to striking fear into insurance firms, the Sinn Féin TD is the new Joe Duffy

It’s all fun and games in the insurance companies until somebody rings in about their outrageously increased premium and utters the dreaded line: “I’m ringing Joe Duffy.”

That’s when the alarms go off and the red lights start flashing, and maybe they might have a further look to see if they can knock off another few bob.

Incurring the wrath of Liveline listeners can be as good as a summons, as Golfgate organisers Noel Grealish and Donie Cassidy have discovered. Leinster House was agog at the news that the Independent Galway West TD and the former Fianna Fáil leader of the Seanad are to be hauled before the beak for alleged transgressions of the Covid laws.

If a partition is put up in the courtroom, will they be able to allow twice as many people inside? Unless the case is conducted online, which is par for the course these days.


A second contender emerged on Wednesday for the line most likely to discombobulate insurance companies and their unconstrained efforts to squeeze every last pip out of overpriced premiums.

Paschal Donohoe and Seán Fleming felt everyone's pain and then sidelined the proposals for nine months in anticipation of a Central Bank report on the pricing system

The Dáil was debating a Sinn Féin Bill aimed at abolishing dual pricing in the industry, a practice where long-standing customers are stiffed with inflated rates while new applicants and people prepared to bargain get much better deals.

The Government was never going to oppose Pearse Doherty’s legislation on insurance reform. That would have gone down like a lead balloon with voters sick and tired of having to fork out ever-increasing sums of money for no discernible reason other than their insurers can get away with it.

So instead, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister of State Seán Fleming felt everyone's pain and then sidelined the proposals for nine months in anticipation of a Central Bank report on the pricing system.

The fact that Donohoe was in the auditorium for the entire debate (not usually the case with senior Ministers) was an indication of the Government’s concern with this thorny issue and the public’s perception of how they are addressing it.

Horror stories

The Opposition supported the legislation and a view that action should be taken as soon as possible. They backed up their arguments with horror stories about what many homeowners and motorists have had to put up with when trying to renew their policies.

Danny Healy-Rae had one from Kerry.

“Elderly drivers, I’ll just give you an example: A 70-year-old woman last year went to renew her insurance. She was quoted over €800. Her son rang the same company to see what was the matter –- and he was a large customer, he had a lot of vehicles. And the question they asked: ‘Is she actually your mother?’ They gave her the insurance for €370 after. Can one imagine that? Almost €500 of a difference.”

Sinn Féin TDs were queuing up to praise Pearse Doherty for putting the Bill together. He'd worked on it for two years.

His colleague, Dublin West TD Paul Donnelly, mentioned a young man in his constituency whose first quote came back at €1,900.

“And when he told them, when he said, ‘I have Pearse Doherty on the case here,’ they came back the same day and offered him €1,290.”

“I have Pearse Doherty on the case.”

It’s the new “I’m ringing Joe Duffy”.

Price-gouging in the insurance industry made for a nice diversion from the endless discussion of Covid-19 and related matters. Even the obligatory row over agreeing on the week’s minimal order of business was caused by the virus.

At least the Government blamed the virus. The Opposition blamed the Government. The most likely reason lies somewhere in the middle.

Sinn Féin whip Pádraig Mac Lochlainn protested this is now the sixth week that the Dáil’s sitting time has been cut in half. No Taoiseach’s questions, no Ministers’ questions and only one instead of three slots for Private Members’ Bills. Leaders’ Questions, Questions on Promised Legislation and Topical Issues similarly truncated.

Peas in a jar

The House now convenes for two days instead of three, and the TDs selected to attend then rattle around like peas in a jar because all 160 of them can’t be in the theatre at the same time, even though the reason the whole kit and caboodle moved across the Liffey from Leinster House in the first place was to accommodate them in a space vastly bigger than the Dáil chamber.

“This is intolerable to the Opposition. Intolerable that this continues,” complained Pádraig. They’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get the Minister for Health in for three weeks to quiz him on the vaccines situation.

“It has to stop this week. It has to stop this week.”

Naturally, Richard Boyd Barrett was outraged.

“It’s absolutely outrageous,” he said, naturally.

With the size of the Convention Centre, surely to God – and the cost of it! – we should be able to sit for a third six-hour day – not long, long days

On balance, “we feel the balance is not being struck,” said Labour’s Duncan Smith.

“We should be moving to a third day,” urged Thomas Pringle, who has to travel from Donegal and is entitled to expect some value out of his weekly trek.

“Completely unacceptable,” said Cian O’Callaghan of the Social Democrats, “in the interests of proper accountability and scrutiny”.

Aontú’s Peadar Tóibín appealed to the Government to allow parliament do more work. “Accountability and democracy should not be a victim of Covid,” he cried.

“It’s just not good enough,” spluttered Mattie McGrath, echoing Boyd Barrett’s charge that the coalition is using the pandemic as cover to hide from answering questions on its handling of the crisis.

“With the size of the Convention Centre, surely to God – and the cost of it! – we should be able to sit for a third six-hour day – not long, long days.”

Gaping yonder

They understand the health and safety guidelines, stressed Mattie, looking behind into the gaping yonder of the balconies beyond, “but look at the sheer space of this. People are asking us: ‘In the name of God why can ye not sit there for longer?’ Because other people don’t have the luxury of moving to a facility like this.”

The Ceann Comhairle, who heads the Business Committee, moved to explain.

The committee has wrestled with this problem for some time and is acting on public health advice and further advice from the Oireachtas’s own health and safety consultants. They have received submissions from staff unions in Leinster House and the Clerk of the Dáil has also produced a comprehensive report setting out why reduced sessions are deemed necessary.

But “it is, at the end of the day, a matter for the House,” said Seán Ó Fearghaíl, wearily.

“I’m very surprised by the commentary,” said the Taoiseach, unsurprisingly.

“It’s not the Government’s fault.”

And maybe it suits them that way.

Micheál Martin’s Government should vaccinate democracy immediately and get on with it. As it stands, the last place to hear the latest word on what they are doing is Dáil Éireann.

Having Pearse Doherty on the case won’t help in this instance.

Perhaps the Opposition could ring Joe Duffy.

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord is a colour writer and columnist with The Irish Times. She writes the Dáil Sketch, and her review of political happenings, Miriam Lord’s Week, appears every Saturday