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Insurance in Northern Ireland: The Legacy of The Troubles

by Gavin Parker

No doubt most readers will have heard of the Northern Ireland “troubles” or possibly seen some of those ghastly images from the seventies, eighties and early nineties on your television screens. Thankfully the worst of those dark days seem to be over. Unless you are a Northern Ireland resident you probably won’t be aware of the impact the “troubles” has had on insurance premiums in that part of the world, especially on motor vehicle insurance rates.

The lawless activities of those times saw a huge increase in vehicle theft for use in criminal activities or to build hastily erected roadblocks, usually resulting in cars, vans and buses being burnt out. So called “joyriding” was then and still is a big problem in parts of Belfast and Derry / Londonderry where some youths steal cars of all makes and models to race each other on public roads, an unbelievably reckless pastime which has resulted in many deaths of both driver and innocent pedestrian. No wonder then that the major insurance underwriters who were prepared to do business in Northern Ireland charged hefty premiums compared to average premiums in England, Scotland and Wales.

With the advent of the “peace process” and the considerable period of normality that has come about since the mid nineties one would expect insurance premiums to have fallen significantly, however this has not been the case, leading to accusations from some quarters of profiteering on the part of the major insurers. An average automobile premium in England is around £200 ($360) while in Northern Ireland the average is closer to £600 ($1080) in my experience. Seventeen year old newly qualified drivers in Ulster can expect to pay a crippling £2000 ($3600) for their first motor insurance cover.

The underwriters and major insurance brokers retort that driving standards are poorer in Northern Ireland and our shameful road safety record does back this up to some degree. They also cite a higher claims rate and larger accident compensation payouts from the courts as another significant factor contributing to higher premiums in Northern Ireland and this is a valid point.

I personally believe that there has to be a middle ground. High insurance premiums affect us all and have a negative impact on the economy which is only just starting to recover from a long period of conflict. Perhaps more rigorous testing of our new drivers, advanced tests for experienced drivers, tougher sentences for car crime and road safety public awareness campaigns would allow major underwriters to charge lower premiums and bring benefit to us all.

Gavin Parker
Northern Ireland Insurance Centre


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