Raids carried out on a number of insurance companies and brokers

The raids come as part of an investigation by the competition watchdog into alleged price fixing

The European Commission says its officials carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of Irish motor insurance companies.

It is part of an investigation into alleged price fixing.

The commission says it has concerns that the companies involved may have engaged in anti-competitive practices in breach of EU antitrust rules "that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices and/or abuse of a dominant market position".

The officials were accompanied by counterparts from the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC).

Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anti-competitive practices.

In a statement, the European Commission says: "The fact that the commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

"The commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.

"There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct.

"Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the companies concerned co-operate with the commission and the exercise of the rights of defence".

Claims history information and penalty points

The representative body Insurance Ireland has confirmed it was subject to one of the unannounced inspections by the European Commission.

In a statement, the body says: "Insurance Ireland understands that the inspection at its premises relates to databases concerning claims history information and drivers’ penalty points.

"Insurance Ireland is co-operating fully with the European Commission and is confident its practices are fully compliant with competition law.

"Insurance Ireland is not in a position to comment further at this time."

Last September, the CPCC launched an investigation into the industry amid concerns that companies were openly signaling price increases in breach of competition law.

A number of industry groups were issued with witnesses summons at the time.

Sinn Féin's finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty welcomed the news of today's raids, describing it as 'good news for consumers'.

He said: "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."

Additional reporting: Jack Quann