Businesses claim rate hikes will put them out of business

More than 300 of Ireland's top businesses will meet next week in a bid to halt crippling premium hikes and liability claims.

The campaign is being led by executives from Supermac's, Superquinn, the Campbell Bewley Group and CIE. They have formed the Alliance for Insurance Reform, which they will officially launch in June.

Hundreds of businesses have already pledged their support for the alliance, which will hold its first meeting next week.

The alliance has made a number of demands of Ireland's newly elected government.

These included the pursuit of fraudulent claimants, the standardisation of injury awards, a stop to the increase on Circuit Court payments and the immediate implementation of the government's promised Personal Injury Assessment Board.

The group said it supported the rights of genuine claimants, but were being targeted by fraudsters.

Earlier this year Supermac's chairman Pat McDonagh revealed that his insurance premiums had risen 300% over the past three years, with claims against 47 of his outlets at one time.

He successfully fought one claim by producing CCTV footage that showed three men throwing water on the floor of a Supermac's toilet, then practising pratfalls, before calling for help and claiming neck injuries.

In April, the Irish Small & Medium Enterprise Association (ISME) warned that small businesses cannot continue to pay premium hikes of up to 100%.

The ISME released figures showing 1,000 jobs had been lost since the beginning of 2002 due to higher insurance costs.

The association estimated that a further 68,000 jobs could be in danger if insurance costs did not come down.

Meanwhile, reports have alleged the Irish Equality Authority has received 23 complaints of discrimination against car insurance companies.

The claims have been brought on the basis of gender, age and race.