At the outset, it is important to note that neither I, nor the Central Bank of Ireland, can direct the pricing of insurance products, as this is a commercial matter, nor can we compel any insurer operating in the Irish market to provide cover. This position is reinforced by the EU Single Market framework for insurance (the Solvency II Directive) which expressly prohibits Member States from doing so.
Notwithstanding this, I can assure the Deputy that insurance reform is a key policy priority as reflected in the Programme for Government. This lays out commitments that are aimed at addressing consumer and business concerns on the cost of insurance. In this regard, a Sub-Group of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery and Investment was established by Government to oversee insurance reform implementation. This is chaired by the Tánaiste, and also includes as standing members, Ministers McGrath, McEntee, O’Gorman and myself, together with Ministers of State Troy and Fleming. This ‘Whole of Government’ approach provides the best opportunity to address the cost and availability of insurance and will build and expand upon previous commendable work done by the Cost of Insurance Working Group (CIWG). The Cabinet Sub-Group is due to meet again this week and it is expected that it will shortly publish an Action Plan on insurance reform.
I can assure the Deputy that both I and Minister of State Fleming have had extensive engagement with motor insurers and other key policy stakeholders throughout 2020. In this respect, in January, I met with the main insurance companies to relay to them the importance of their responding to reforms by reducing premiums. Subsequently in April in a meeting with Insurance Ireland, I called on insurers to be proactive and generous in relation to their treatment of motor insurance customers during the COVID-19 crises. Most recently as part of a comprehensive engagement on the Government’s new insurance reform agenda with a wide range of stakeholder interests, including Insurance Ireland, Minister of State Fleming concluded a series of meetings with the main insurers in the Irish market. He again raised the need for them to respond to reforms by lowering premiums, to continue to offer forbearance measures, and to expand their risk horizon in the market (such as providing more cover for younger drivers).
Finally, I believe it is important to acknowledge that the reforms already introduced by the Cost of Insurance Working Group have had a considerable impact in stabilising the cost of motor insurance and indeed many consumers should be seeing decreases in the cost of their motor insurance premiums. These developments have been confirmed in respective data from the CSO and the Central Bank of Ireland. The Government intends to build on this success and also focus efforts on increasing both the affordability and availability of insurance for businesses, particularly affecting those SMEs in high-footfall sectors such as hospitality and tourism.