WITH the on-coming hunting season only just round the corner and apparently with many unanswered questions about the new hunt insurance, I put a series of questions to Lord Waterford, chairman of the IMFHA, regarding the new policy and how it affects hunting on a day-to-day basis. His reply should remove all doubts on the efficacy of the policy and reassure hunts, followers and more importantly landowners, for the 2022/’23 season due to commence in November.

Dickie Power: There appears to be some despondency amongst some hunt members, which may be based on a perceived lack of information. How would you respond to that?

Lord Waterford: The last couple of years have been tough on hunt clubs. We have gone through a period of unprecedented disruption not only for hunting but for many sports and businesses and life in general. But in rural Ireland, hunting and point-to-point, and all the other occupations associated with them from the breeder to the farrier to the vets, the saddlers, the horsebox and four-wheel drive traders, and everyone in between, bring much needed employment and income to rural economies.

Following on from the pandemic we were faced with Brexit and, regrettably a significant number of UK-based insurers left the Irish market. This narrowed the options for those seeking insurance for many equestrian activities not only hunting although, to be fair, there has not been many significant claims over the years although there has always been that potential.

In the face of this problem, three hunting Associations came together, the Irish Masters of Foxhounds Association (IMFHA), the Irish Masters of Harriers Association (IMHA) and the Ward Union Hunt (WUH) and, working with experts in the insurance market, we explored many possibilities. In the end, the only viable option available to us was non-conventional insurance, that is, a concept involving a three-layered approach with self-insurance, a conventional insurance-based product and a compensation fund much like the fund managed by our colleagues in the NARGC (gun clubs association).

At this stage I would like to pay tribute to my fellow chairmen, Austin Fitzpatrick of the IMHA and Ronan Griffin of the WUH, and to everyone else involved in the process to get us to where we are today. You know there are many leisure activities and businesses that have had to cease trading because they could not get insurance.

There may be a mistaken perception amongst some that the communications around this insurance issue could have been better, but it has to be appreciated that this was a commercially sensitive and highly complex issue that required an urgent solution. In the end, the process involved numerous stakeholders and each group or individual had to afforded an opportunity to make their contribution through designated representatives.

The insurance sub-committees of the IMFHA and the IMHA with the Ward Union Hunt did tremendous work and all this was done on a voluntary basis on top of their day jobs and their other personal commitments. We owe these people a debit of gratitude.

Dickie Power: Now that all the detailed issues connected with the insurance have been dealt with, can you give us a picture of the position on the hunt insurance going forward?

Lord Waterford: Well, this is a group policy with 67 mounted packs signed up to non-conventional insurance. That is to say, they have committed to supporting a layered product which involves the hunt clubs looking after and paying minor claims, the NHSPFS fund responding to the next tier of claims and then the insurers responding to the upper limits of claims.

The fund will be financed by the three hunting Associations and some others (the details of which must remain anonymous for commercial reasons). Over time we are hopeful that this Fund will grow to €3 million, which we plan will ultimately reduce the reliance on the commercial insurance market and reduce costs, whilst delivering a sustainable insurance solution the community can have long term faith in.

Dickie Power: How does this insurance policy differ from traditional policies such as you might have as an all risks on a farm or fire insurance on your house?

Lord Waterford: That’s a very interesting question in that, what you term “a traditional policy” is no longer available. A policy embracing or covering everything from a day’s hunting through to the kennels, the point-to-point and other functions that may be run by a registered hunt club, are not available.

The product that has been secured on our behalf is ultimately bespoke to our participating members and consists of a layered system whereby at one end of the spectrum the local hunt club will look after and pay small claims, with the NHSPFS Insurance fund in the middle and then at the top-end of the programme is the insurance policy to deal extraordinary claims potentially of high value.

Under this concept, all actual and prospective claims – small or large – must be reported to our designated Loss Adjusters who advise and represent the NHSPFS so that we have good and accurate claims data that will enable us to improve the product offering over time, manage the risks, learn from our experiences and eventually lower our insurance costs.

You know, speaking of the old traditional policies, I believe it would be accurate to remark that, in most cases, nobody managed to look at the small print and to understand what was actually covered, and more importantly, what was not. In addition, for their part the insurers probably hadn’t reviewed their insurance book as it related to hunting and point-to-pointing in years.

A consequence of that would be that their policies were under-priced. Many other industries experienced similar problems with insurance in recent years from the legal profession to the entertainment sector, building and construction and most notably, children’s creches and bouncing castles. All of these sectors have had to adopt the non-conventional option to insurance.

I think that it might be fair to say that the insurance market has now corrected itself and we are where we are.

Dickie Power: How are claims big or small dealt with, is it through the brokers or will hunting have a committee appointed to access and negotiate claims?

Lord Waterford: Firstly, there will be no committee. This is a professionally run serve and the three Association Chairmen and the Board of the NHSPFS, working closely with Davis our designated Loss Adjustors, will have oversight of the claims management system. Those of us involved realise that we have a strong duty of care to the hunt clubs that are investing in this and it will work.

Secondly, whilst the procurement of insurance is the responsibility of our brokers LHK Group, on a day-to-day basis the claims system will be managed by Davis Loss Adjusters. The governance of the compensation fund (the NHSPFS) is under an independent Board under the chairmanship of a retired judge who has a wealth of knowledge and experience in both fieldsports and insurance litigation.

The other five members of the Board have been nominated by the three Associations and we are hoping that the IHRB will nominate someone to represent the interests of point-to-pointing. We all have a vested interest in the 100% success of this non-conventional insurance solution.

It was rather disappointing that over the months when we were working hard on finding a solution and getting both hunting and point-to-pointing back in action from 25th January last, some others were going around creating false hope by suggesting that an alternative – probably a cheaper alternative – was available when, in truth, this was both untrue and misleading.

Dickie Power: Are land owners fully covered against a claim by a rider or foot follower for an injury sustained while on the farmers’ land?

Lord Waterford: Absolutely, without question for that is the primary purpose of our work, to provide indemnity for landowners and farmers in the unlikely event that there is a claim. The details of this are in the policy and the recent endorsements and, in fairness to LHK Group, they are working to improve the product incrementally working with our representatives.

Dickie Power: Will mounted followers have to have personal accident insurance and provide evidence of same?

Lord Waterford: No, however mounted followers will be required to have public liability insurance cover and those hunt clubs that resumed hunting and point-to-pointing from 25th January last had an appropriate mechanism to gather that information from their hunt supporters and to get them to sign a waiver at the same time.

Dickie Power: How will children and young people be dealt with and will all followers have to have signed the hunt waivers?

Lord Waterford: The current waiver emanated from LHK Group following their own legal advice. Waivers have limitations but the advice received is that we are better off having them than not. The issue of children hunting vis-à-vis the waiver has been discussed many times. In the first instance, all hunt clubs must have a Child Protection Policy and appoint an appropriate Child Protection Officer.

In the case of a minor, the waiver can be signed by a parent in front of the hunt solicitor. You must remember, under the rules of racing there are 16- to 17-year-olds out riding and they sign a waiver. A sub-committee is being established to look at the issue of waivers in greater details and to report back to the Board of the NHSPFS and to the Chairmen of the three Associations. We will continue to look at this but of course no system is foolproof.

Dickie Power: How will a hunt club deal with visitors from home or abroad and with those who may hunt only occasionally in terms of insurance?

Lord Waterford: This matter is still under review but there were no issues with this last season. Visitors and others usually contact the hunt secretary before they arrive at the meet and it is at that point that they should be made aware that a condition of hunting is that they have their own public liability insurance and that they must sign a waiver.

Dickie Power: Is it true that all regular mounted followers must have their full subscription paid up and be bona fide members of the hunt club, and how will the practicalities of this be dealt with?

Lord Waterford: Yes of course and there is case law as to why a person must have their full hunt subscription paid and be deemed a member of the hunt club by appearing on the hunt register of members and possible having been issued with a receipt for their subscription.

You know we are only as strong as our weakest link and the responsibility for getting these things done and having the hunt club’s affairs in order rests with the hunt officers and Joint-Masters/Master. Everyone going hunting today owes a duty of care to their hosts, the farmers, and to their colleagues in the hunting field both at home and around Ireland.

Any hunt club found to be acting in a manner that is detrimental to the overall aims of the Fund or to have acted recklessly will find themselves unable to get insurance and therefore they will cease to be members of either the IMFHA or the IMHA.

Dickie Power: The new policy is costing a multiple of previous hunt insurances premiums and, in some cases, it may be putting the future viability of some hunts seriously in question. Is there any prospect in the foreseeable future of a worthwhile reduction in premia?

Lord Waterford: Whilst I only have a passing understanding of the insurance market, I have through the course of this process gained a better understanding of the drivers, commercial and non-commercial. It would appear that historically some insurers had under-priced some of these policies, which has resulted in increases in the overall cost to participating members. Whilst I fully recognise the challenges in raising sufficient funds to cover these costs, I am told that this is a common trend across a spectrum of sporting activities throughout the country over recent years.

What is however clear now is that we have created a structure which secures the combined buying power of all participating hunt clubs, with part of our premium being outside the commercial insurance market and as such, “not for profit”. It is my belief this will ultimately lead to lower, sustainable insurance costs in the medium to long term, which secures all of the activities of the NHSPFS, activities that were stopped and in jeopardy prior to the emergence of this solution.

Dickie Power: Have huntsman and whipper-ins’ personal accident insurance been sorted out and, if so, what about those huntsmen who are self-employed and providing their own horses, etc?

Lord Waterford: Yes, as promised LHK Group went to the market and secured a personal accident policy for mounted hunt staff. This is now in place for those members who wished to avail of it. This solution is in line with the UK, who have a similar facility in place for all employees. We hope that more hunt clubs will avail of this product in time.

Hunt staff that are self-employed or on contract can be nominated by their respective hunt clubs and be covered under the group personal accident policy.

Personally, I would like to see all relevant professionals, that is to say, huntsmen, whippers-in, and point-to-point jockeys, all insured on this basis, but ultimately that decision rests with the respective hunt clubs, who, in the case of hunt staff, must determine what is appropriate in their case.

Dickie Power: Hunts are struggling with the legalities of all this with many changing into limited companies. Does the IMFHA have a template that hunts can use when making these changes?

Lord Waterford: At the General Information meeting hosted by the IMFHA for foxhound packs it was clearly stated that it is up to each individual hunt club to decide whether or not they want or need to be incorporated. The IMFHA will not be making any such recommendation to member hunt clubs and we will not be providing any template. Any hunt club considering moving down that road should seek appropriate independent legal advice.

Dickie Power: Have you any final remarks that you would like our readers to know before we conclude?

Lord Waterford: Can I once again thank all of those involved in working on the success of this insurance solution without naming anyone person in particular. There was excellent co-operation between the three associations and that augurs well for the future, in protecting and securing all NHSPFS activities.

On the establishment of the NHSPFS Board, there is tremendous work being done and we hope to be in a position to make an announcement in that regard shortly. Whilst initially it was thought that the Board might need its own legal advisor on the Board, as a member, this has been changed and, if the Board need legal advice then they will be free to choose their own advisors.

Secondly, whilst again initially it was thought that having a representative of both LHK Group and Davies Loss Adjusters on the Board would be useful, on reflection this was also changed and representatives of the brokers and the loss adjusters will only attend Board meetings when summoned by the Secretary to the Board and only for the relevant part of the meeting at the discretion of the Chairman of the Board.

Finally, LHK Group have been working with some individuals external to both the Committees of the IMFHA, IMHA and WUH, and there have been some very useful exchanges which will result in positive changes to the policy and endorsements that will clarify some of the detail.

We are also very grateful to those who engaged with us in a positive and constructive manner. Finally, LHK Group have been meeting farmer and stud farm representatives in relation to the insurance programme and I am delighted to report that the reactions have been nothing but positive, now that everyone is aligned in securing insurance cover into the future. We look forward now to a long and enjoyable hunting season.