The European Commission has opened a formal anti-trust investigation into Insurance Ireland to see if it is in breach of EU competition law.

The investigation has been launched to assess whether the conditions of access to its InsuranceLink data pooling system could restrict competition, which if proven would be in breach of EU rules.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: "Insurance is essential for all car drivers in Europe.

"We are investigating whether companies wishing to offer their services on the Irish motor insurance market may have been unfairly prevented from accessing a data pool managed by Insurance Ireland for its member companies.

"This could potentially reduce Irish drivers' choice of motor insurance policies at competitive prices."

Insurance Ireland is an association bringing together several member companies that are active in the insurance sector in Ireland.

It administers a database, which it makes available to its member companies.

And the member companies contribute insurance claims data to the database on an ongoing basis.

This investigation will look into the conditions imposed on companies that wish to have access to the database versus those that already have access.

These conditions may have placed these companies at a competitive disadvantage on the Irish motor insurance market, in comparison to companies that already have access to the database, a statement on the investigation said.

If proven, these practices may breach EU competition rules, which prohibit agreements between companies that prevent, restrict or distort competition within the EU's Single Market.

The opening of the formal investigation follows inspections carried out in July 2017 in the Irish motor insurance market.

In a statement, Insurance Ireland said it was important to note that the European Commission has not reached any conclusions or made any findings in respect of it.

It said it understands the investigation is focused on the InsuranceLink database, which is a secure database that holds claims information as a tool to assist in fraud detection.

InsuranceLink is accessed by Insurance Ireland members and non-members and has been in operation since 1988.

"Insurance Ireland is cooperating fully with the European Commission in its enquiries and is confident its practices are fully compliant with competition law," it added.