Insurance crisis puts local circus school at risk

Communications Co-Ordinator, Galway Community Circus

The national insurance crisis has hit home this week with local charity, Galway Community Circus, falling victim to a lack of cover for their activities. Classes were cancelled last week at the centre in Shantalla, leaving 650 members with no activities to attend. The company has been searching for possible insurers for the past three months, approaching more than 130 brokers.

Several major insurance companies have left the Irish market, and underwriters for policies for leisure or community activities, are falling away rapidly. Galway Community Circus was told that it would have issues renewing, as its insurer would no longer be underwriting policies in the Irish market. No claims have occurred at the charity in the past year to warrant any issue with a renewal.

In 2016 the insurance premium for Galway Community Circus was €4,500 which jumped to €15,886.50 in 2017. In 2018 the company managed to secure cover with a UK-based insurer for €10,000, but this year, after months of endless hours of research and negotiation, only one quote for limited cover was offered, and at a cost of €23,890.

A circus withoutaerial

A stipulation in the new policy also bans any practice of aerial, meaning that the youth aerial troupe, who are central to the circus will no longer be allowed to train or perform. The ban on aerial also comes with a second stipulation that all other activities including balancing and acrobatics, must be practised at a height of under 1.5 metres. This means that the circus team now must mark a line around the circus hall with tape, a line that cannot be broken.

In an organisation that sets ambitions high, and encourages its members to ‘dream big’, this is both ironic and disheartening. Galway Community Circus has a wealth of specialist expertise, with tutors from all over the world who are highly trained and work in a safe environment with minimum risk to members.

Despite best practice and the group being both a national and international centre of excellence for youth and social circus, the organisation is now facing financial strain, programming constraints and no current hope for a future solution as the national insurance crisis continues to be put on the back burner by the Government.

Irish Street Art and Spectacle Network have said: ‘’Galway Community Circus have built a network that reaches far beyond the geographical confines of Galway city, revolutionising the view of circus today in Ireland. They are an organisation who see the big picture, share their resources, and use their voice to speak, advocate and empower.’

The National Circus Festival also cited the organisation as being key in the fabric of Irish cultural life: ’’Their input to our cultural sector has created a sea of change across all aspects of performing arts.’’

Asleep at the wheel

The Minister for Finance has been said to be ‘asleep at the wheel when it comes to tackling the insurance crisis,” by Deputy Finian McGrath, having left the matter of the mounting crisis to Minister for State Michael D’Arcy. The Judicial Council Act, an Act intended to produce guidelines on personal injury awards, was signed into law by President Higgins on July 23 2019, but despite the Minister for Justice repeatedly stating that the Council would be established by the end of this year, it has not happened.

As highlighted this week in the My World 2 Survey, carried out by UCD in conjunction with youth mental health organisation Jigsaw, the number of young people suffering from anxiety has doubled since the last survey in 2012. For those aged from 12-19, 22 per cent reported severe or very severe anxiety, and yet, an organisation well known and valued for its impact on mental and physical health is being threatened.

One concerned parent had this to say: ‘When my son found Galway Community Circus age 13, he found his tribe. I’ve seen him grow from a quiet, self-conscious teenager into a confident, ambitious and courageous young man. GCC has been such an important part of his life. He attends two classes a week and now helps teach younger kids. It is the highlight of his week and gets him through the tough days at school that all teenagers face. This is a fabulous organisation that deserves our support.’

All circus participants cite improvement to mental health as an outcome of practicing circus:

‘‘Circus has been my second home, whenever I was upset with school, friends or anything, I would come to the circus and all of those feelings would wash away. I felt happy and safe, and as if I was with family. It has moulded me into who I am today,’ said Ariel Merz-Field Circus, a member for eight years.

Building better adults

On the organisation’s Facebook page this week one parent commented: ‘‘Your work is measured by the children and adults who have cemented self-esteem, confidence and the ability to work towards things that seem impossible. You are building better adults and a better world, we need you in it.’’

Mental health is the primary theme of the Wires Crossed: A Balancing Act for Europe project; a substantial event in the programme of the Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture. In August of 2020, 400 people from all walks of life are due to cross the Claddagh Basin and the River Corrib in an act of solidarity for those who have died by suicide.

The project is also partnered with Pieta House and Jigsaw and is now in jeopardy, given the height restrictions in place at the circus that will prevent spring and summer training next year if cover is not provided.

Total annual legal fees for personal injury cases in Ireland are €350 million a year but only five per cent of personal injury claims are settled in court. The pay-out for soft tissue injuries such as whiplash are four times higher in Ireland, causing underwriters to pull out of a market that is seen as having a high claim rate with considerable pay-outs.

At the same time, in 2017 the combined figure for motor insurance and personal liability insurance premiums in Ireland totalled: €2,285 million and in that same year, pay outs totalled €276 million. This leaves an unaccounted discrepancy of €2,019 million, speculated to be made up of insurance company settlements, legal fees, brokers’ commissions and insurance company profits.

These facts have meant that vulnerable groups are now paying the price. A survey by the Public Participation Networks has found that almost half of the voluntary groups in Ireland have been forced to curtail their activities due to insurance difficulties. The survey deemed the leisure industry to be “on its knees” due to increasing insurance premiums.

The PPN said that the general public may not be aware of how bad the problem is as charity and volunteer groups are more reluctant to close than a business and are privately doing what they can to facilitate those who use their services by soldiering on. The survey found that 47 per cent of voluntary groups are in danger of closing if insurance costs continue to rise.

Pressure is growing on local authorities to seek insurance for at risk community groups such as Galway Community Circus, through the wholly Irish-owned IPB Insurance, which is the only indigenous mutual general insurance company in the Irish market. Galway City Council nominated Galway Community Circus for an IPB Pride of Place Award in 2019 and currently IPB covers Galway 2020 at present but not its partners.

Director Ulla Hokkanen said last evening that the health, safety and happiness of the circus members has always been paramount in everything they do, and they continue to work hard to ensure a bright future for the Circus.

“We would like to thank parents, members and partners for their understanding and patience during this difficult time,” she concluded.


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