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Spancilhill Fair at risk due to inability to get insurance

THE future of the Spancilhill Fair is in jeopardy, because the organisers are struggling to get insurance, Clare TD Michael McNamara has told the Dáil.

He said it is a signficant part of Ireland’s heritage, and could be lost if the Government doesn’t step in to protect it. “I wish to raise the fair at Spancilhill. I am sure everyone in the House knows it is on June 23. It is an important cultural institution in Ireland. It is obviously an important horse fair both nationally and internationally. It goes beyond that and is now a cultural icon. It was recently included in Ireland’s national inventory of intangible cultural heritage. Like much of our intangible cultural heritage, it is not only intangible but is endangered and will not be around for much longer unless the Government takes action to protect it because it cannot now get insurance. Insurance is a significant obstacle for any event. Occupier’s liability is an issue for every organisation in the country, whether they are sporting bodies such as GAA clubs, farmers or any other entity, premises or event in the country that needs insurance.”

Speaking about the history of the Fair and the current difficulties, the Scariff man added, “The fair at Spancilhill was founded by royal charter, by King Charles, in 1621. It was 400 years old last year, but the fair did not take place in 2020 or 2021 because of Covid. It faces an even bigger threat from the state of the insurance industry in Ireland right now. The inability to get insurance is threatening it.

“There is a voluntary committee, none of whom could be called royalists, which revived the fair at Spancilhill in 1989. It was made famous by the song. The committee simply cannot run the fair without getting insurance, which it cannot get since the British company that used to provide it exited the market. Another famous horse fair in Ireland, at Ballinasloe, is in a position to proceed because it is held in the fair green, which is owned by Galway County Council and is covered by its insurance policy. The Spancihill fair is held on a farm, which is private property, and has been since the royal charter was granted in 1621. It cannot be held because of insurance.”

Responding to Mr McNamara, Sean Fleming, Minister of State at the Department of Finance said, “To address a few general points, I understand what the Deputy says about the historic nature of the Spancilhill fair in Clare. The community is involved and a voluntary committee runs it. It was established by charter 400 years ago. There is a long history attached to this. I know it did not take place in the last two years because of Covid and once before that because of foot and mouth disease. It is part of our national inventory of intangible cultural heritage and plays a key role in the local community, not only from an economic perspective but also, more importantly, because it enriches the social dimension of life in the area and wider region. Accordingly, I do not take the challenges regarding the accessibility affordability of insurance for such community-based events lightly.”

However, he claimed that the Government is quite limited in what it can do. “The Government and Department cannot directly interfere in the provision of pricing of insurance products, nor do we have the power to direct a particular insurance company to provide cover to specific businesses or community groups. Notwithstanding this, as the Deputy mentioned, the Government has an action plan for insurance reform. A number of its actions have already been implemented, including personal injury assessments by the Judiciary. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, is now dealing with this matter and there are test cases in the courts at the moment. This is taking some time. As a result, the number of settlements the insurance industry would normally make in the normal course of events has fallen off dramatically while some of these cases are being dealt with.”

He acknowledged that the departure of UK companies from the Irish insurance sector has posed difficulties. “We had a hard Brexit on the insurance industry the day that Brexit occurred. This has led to difficulties and to insurance not being available in many cases now.”

He also said that if Spancilhill got together with some other similiar groups, it might be possible to find a solution. “There are only a few of these fairs and similar types of event. In the past year, I have found that if those groups come together and go to a broker, they can, collectively, get a good premium from an insurance company. Rather than each individual fair or street event going individually to an insurance company, if they pool together through some association of fairs, they can increase their purchasing power and the willingness of the insurance industry to take them on will increase.”

On the specific difficulties at Spancilhill, he added, “My understanding – and I stress the word “understanding” – is that although Clare County Council oversees the fair and supports it with financial assistance, the fair itself falls out outside the scope of the Casual Trading Act 1995 due to its historical charter status. As a result, it cannot avail of group insurance schemes operated by the market, active support teams and the Irish Organisation of Market and Street Traders, IOMST, and, therefore, its organisers must seek insurance on a stand-alone event. In that context, it is similar to other such events as the Smithfield Horse Fair and Ballinasloe Fair.”

He said that resolving the matter is not the Government’s role, but that it would be helpful if it could. “Point-to-point pony clubs and hunts could not get insurance last Christmas. We got that matter sorted, again by a large group of hunts, pony clubs and point-to-point races coming together. Collectively, through two different brokers, they increased competition and got insurance. There is scope to do that here, although I am not making any commitment whatever. It is not my role to get involve in that. However, I ask the Deputy to contact my office and we will talk to Insurance Ireland and Brokers Ireland to see if they can help. I stress again that this a market issue. We will not have a role but if we can point people in a helpful direction, we will be happy to do so.”

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.