Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, said the Government needs to strengthen the hand of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) and bring forward legislation to allow fines to be issued.
His comments come as six motor insurance companies signed legally binding agreements to reform their internal competition law compliance programmes, following an investigation by the CCPC.
The development brings to an end a five-year long investigation by the CCPC into suspected “price-signalling” by organisations operating in the insurance market – an anti-competitive practice where businesses make their competitors aware that they intend hiking prices.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme, Mr Doherty said it is “disappointing” the CCPC did not take companies to court for breaching competition law.
“The signal that it sends out to the insurance industry is that the risk of doing this is worth it,” he said.
He described what the outcome of the investigation means for the insurance sector.
“They have signed up to a legally binding agreement that in their eyes they won’t do something in the future that they claim they never did in the past. That is not good enough. As consumers we need to be more protected,” he said.
Brian McHugh of the CCPC said their investigation into suspected price signalling has brought about a positive outcome.
Speaking on the same programme, he said their goal was to “end the behaviours” that were causing concern.
He said they opened their probe after there was a lot of announcements around price increases and at this same time they observed large increases in premiums “which harmed consumers”.
He said that practice has ended in terms of those announcements. “We haven’t seen any since we opened our investigation and that’s positive”.
Mr Doherty said the CCPC is absolutely right about the culture of the industry and welcomes that they have raised their concerns about the sector.
He said the Government is largely to blame and said they committed a decade ago to bring in fines for breaches of competition.
He said they have missed the deadline and “it sends a bad signal out to consumers and a clear signal to insurance companies and others who are breaching the law, in my view, that the powers are not there and something the Government has not taken seriously”.
Mr Doherty said the CCPC needs to use all its powers and it can take these insurance companies to court when they breach the law.
“It is not good enough to let these companies get away and say they won’t do this anymore as people were fleeced during this period,” added Mr Doherty.
Mr McHugh said six of seven companies they wrote to about their preliminary findings agreed that change is needed in this industry.
He said they are disappointed that Brokers Ireland declined to sign up to the agreement.
However he said overall there is a positive signal that the industry does want change.
He said they will keep monitoring the market and they will open an investigation if they find issues that cause concern.
“We don’t have the power to make a finding in relation to a breach of competition law. We are hoping we will get additional powers and it is something Government is working on and we are anticipating we will see something this year in terms of legislation,” said Mr McHugh.