ALMOST 75% of hunt clubs asked to sign up to the group insurance scheme which promises to safeguard point-to-points and hunting in many parts of the country have given a positive response.

A handful of point-to-points have already been cancelled due to lack of insurance as underwriters exited the market following a high number of claims originating from the hunting field rather than at the races.

Fixtures in the Cork & Waterford region are already safe this season as their group policy does not expire until the summer, while Northern Ireland hunt clubs have also managed to avoid the crisis.

In December a group of hunts launched The National Hunt Steeplechase Point-to-Point and Field Sports Insurance Programme and sent a proposal to 78 hunt clubs in need of insurance. The new policy involves a significantly higher premium plus, for the first two years, a contribution towards a “rainy day” fund.

Some hunts are being asked to pay as much as €30,000 in total this year and may need to borrow to do so, though the organisers of the scheme say this is the best deal available.

Spokesperson James Norton, who has over 30 years of experience in the insurance business, told The Irish Field: “I am delighted to report we have enough hunts on board to go forward with the policy. I appreciate there is some angst out there and that this requires a leap of faith but this is the best offer on the table and turning our back on it is not an option.”

Norton believes the situation may ease after a year or two, as the insurance companies involved regain confidence in the sector.

“What most people don’t realise is that over the past eight years almost 250 insurance companies have left the Irish market as, due to our legal system and a perceived claims culture, it is hard to make a profit here. When the remaining underwriters analysed the figures they found they had undervalued their book and walked away.”

The new scheme was put together by racehorse owner and hunting enthusiast Stephen O’Connor of the Underwriting Exchange, working with Dublin broker LHK Group. Norton said: “It is a complicated product, involving different underwriters insuring against different risk brackets.”

He said the premiums for each hunt were calculated based on a survey carried out by Master of Foxhounds Alan Morrissey and reflect the level of risk involved in each hunt.

“The buzzwords for the future will be risk management, Health & Safety, compliance and self-governance,” said Norton. “Over time, as the insurers gather data and we all become familiar with our responsibilities, I can see other companies bidding for this business.”

One hunt club official, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed reservations about the deal to The Irish Field. He said: “We have a lot of questions about the policy and we are finding it hard to get answers. We have concerns over the accuracy of the survey data supplied by some hunts and, with the hunting season almost over, we are reluctant to spend so much at this stage. We need more information.”