During this week's hearing on the administration of Quinn insurance, the President of the High Court Justice Nicholas Kearns asked both the joint administrator Michael McCann and the Central Bank's insurance regulator Domhnall Cullinane if there were any parallels with the collapse and subsequent administration of the Insurance Corporation of Ireland.

Both confessed to being too young to remember.

Looking back at that collapse it is clear that there was extreme difficulty in estimating the size of the black hole in the Insurance Corp's accounts.

The initial estimate in 1985 - when the Government put the company into administration - was that it would cost IR£50m to bail out.

It was only after a thorough review by the High Court appointed administrator Billy McCann that the liabilities were estimated at IR£226m. (At the time, the shareholder funds of ICI's former owner, AIB Bank, was IR£277m)

But by 1992 - seven years after the administration - the cost had risen to IR£267m (even after the assets of the company had been sold off by the administrator for IR£132m).

That year the Government came back to ICI's former owners, AIB Bank, and pressured them into a new deal to fund the administration costs - with the bank agreeing to pay the equivalent of €11.5m a year for 20 years. AIB was able to offset the deal against tax, which reduced its cost.

In 1997, Economics Professor (and now Central Bank Governor) Patrick Honohan calculated the cost of the bailout of ICI at approximately IR£403m.

Of that sum, IR£227m was borne by AIB, IR£34m by the Government and IR£78m by ICI's former auditors Ernst and Whinney (now Ernst and Young).

The IR£78m was paid to settle an action by AIB Bank against the Insurance Corp's former auditors.

AIB had claimed that the auditors had failed to discover that the insurer had under-provided for liabilities of IR£550m, accumulated in a three year period between 1980 and 1983. (Between 1981 and 1983 ICI's premium income in the UK market more than doubled.)

Gerry Scanlan, the AIB chief executive, was quoted the day after the collapse as saying the bank bought the insurance company because: "ICI looked a terrific company at the time...I think anybody would say looking at the company at that time it was a little jewel".

AIB paid IR£86m to buy the company, and ended up writing off the entire amount.

The lesson of history seems to be that estimating the final costs of a failed insurance company is extremely difficult, takes years if not decades, and keeps on rising.