The European Commission has carried out unannounced inspections at the offices of a number of Irish-based insurance providers as part of an investigation into alleged price fixing relating to motor insurance premiums.

Irish competition officials assisted in the raids, which took place this morning.

Companies were visited by representatives of both the EU and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC).

The EU Commission said it is investigating whether the companies involved may have engaged in anti-competitive practices that breach EU competition rules prohibiting cartels.

The European authority is now taking the lead on the investigation, which will probe whether upcoming increases in motor insurance premiums were openly signalled.

In a statement it said the inspections were a preliminary step in a probe into anti-competitive practices which may be in breach of EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and the abuse of a dominant market position.

They added that such inspections do not mean the companies involved are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour.

The statement also said there is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct.

Motor insurance premiums surged by 38.8% in the year to June 2016, but prices have moderated somewhat since then.

As part of this probe, the office of the representative body, Insurance Ireland, was also visited.

Insurance Ireland said it understands that the inspection at its premises relates to "databases concerning claims history information and drivers' penalty points".

It said it is "co-operating fully with the European Commission and is confident its practices are fully compliant with competition law".

However, Brokers Ireland, which represents around 1,200 insurance brokers across the country says none of its members have reported any raids today.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission says while it is working with the EU on this investigation, its own probe into the private motor insurance market here is ongoing, and the nature of the two investigations is different.

In the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said competition law is "very strong".

He said he has no doubt that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission will take action if there is sufficient evidence of price fixing by insurance companies.

Earlier, Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty welcomed news of the raids, saying it is "good news for consumers that concerns I have voiced for some time about cartelism now are being taken seriously.

"The dramatic spikes in insurance prices across the board, and the fact that the Central Bank has accused the insurers of providing false information to it, point to sound grounds for investigation. The industry has been warned before about price signalling.

"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."

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath said "the number one priority of this investigation has to be to ensure that consumers are protected from any potential anti-competitive behaviour in the insurance industry.

"It is imperative that the probe reaches a clear conclusion as to whether there are anti-competitive practices across the insurance industry that are having a detrimental impact on consumers."