Gavin McLoughlin: 'Problems with EU insurance regime are exposed again'

Don’t underestimate just how important insurance is for the economy to function.

There’s a whole host of things that just can’t happen if you don’t have insurance – driving being the obvious example.

That being the case, having competition in the market by allowing foreign providers to sell to Irish customers is a good idea in principle.

But this “passporting” of insurance into Ireland by companies regulated in the EU is proving incredibly problematic.

In spite of the competition from foreign-regulated entities, Irish insurance customers are still paying big premiums.

It might be the case that things would be even worse if these entities weren’t here, but it’s hard to feel positively disposed towards them when some are closing down with Irish customers potentially left on the hook.

Insurance Ireland, a representative group for the insurance industry in this country, said it “strongly supports a well-functioning cross-border insurance market where customers can avail of insurance cover across the European Union”. But the group said this cross-border market “must be underpinned by consistent regulation to protect the interests of customers”.

That’s perhaps where the solution lies. It’s not acceptable for Irish consumers to carry the can for the failure of regulators in other countries.

Should not the Central Bank – accountable to the people of this country – have regulatory power over all insurance companies offering business to Irish people?

This situation is one of the less-publicised downsides of the European single market.

There’s no doubt that there will be more cases like this in future, and Irish policymakers need to think seriously about what’s going to be done about it.

Brexit looks like it’s going to have lots of negative consequences for Ireland, and one of them is going to be that a traditional ally of ours is not going to be around the negotiating table in order to help shape the future of the EU. That means new alliances are going to be needed in order to protect Ireland’s interests.

It’s easy to sneer at the chaos that has engulfed Britain on foot of the shambolic Brexit negotiations – but the Brexiteers do have one very important point.

The direction of travel in the EU is towards further integration, with more and more decisions affecting Irish people being taken in Brussels or Strasbourg.

Pointing this out is not an argument for Irexit – that would quite plainly lead to economic disaster.

But we need to make sure that we maintain a strong voice in the corridors of power to stand up for our interests.

Our diplomats appear to have done a good job in that regard when it comes to the Brexit negotiations.

Let’s hope that can extend to other areas too.

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