Insurance companies, brokers and representative bodies for the industry were raided this morning as part of a probe into alleged price fixing in the motor insurance industry.
It is understood that 45 officers from the State’s competition watchdog, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) and the European Competition Directorate raided the main motor insurance providers.
It is part of an ongoing probe into alleged cartel activity in the insurance industry.
Also raided in the search for documentary evidence was the representative body for the industry, Insurance Ireland, the Irish Independent has learned.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) initiated a probe into the insurance industry at the end of last year.
The CCPC issued witness summonses and information requests to major motor insurance providers and industry groups representing insurers and brokers.
The investigation, started almost 10 months ago, relates to industry participants openly signalling up-coming increases in motor insurance premiums in the State.
The raiding of offices is a major step-up in the investigation.
The European Competition Directorate is concerned that the single market for insurance operates without hindrance.
Politicians and consumer groups had called for the probe after the cost of motor premiums shot up by almost 60pc in the past three years, with some drivers being hit with higher rises.
Back in September, when it announced its probe into the industry, CCPC chairperson Isolde Goggin said it wanted to ensure there was no breach of competition law.
She said the CCPC had been engaging with consumers who told them that the sharp rise in motor insurance premiums has had a significant impact on them.
She said it would take action to stop specific anti-competitive practices in the motor insurance sector.
Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD has said news of raids by competition enforcement officials of offices linked to the Irish insurance industry are welcome although they have come late in the day.
Deputy Doherty said: “I welcome news this morning of raids being carried out by Competition Enforcement officials investigating possible cartel behaviour. This is good news for consumers that concerns I have voiced for some time about cartelism now are being taken seriously.
“The dramatic spikes in insurance prices across the board, and the fact that the Central Bank has accused the insurers of providing false information to it, point to sound grounds for investigation. The industry has been warned before about price signalling.
“The news this morning will offer hope to drivers and others reliant on insurance that there is some protection for them even if it is coming very late in the day.”
Whether the recent premium increases are due to an effort to restore underwriting profitability or as a result of the high level of 'soft tissue' claims, one thing's for sure - drivers want to pay less.