Lobby groups and political parties are lining up strategies that will make insurance a key issue in the forthcoming general election.

At the forefront of the lobby are employers' representatives, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) and the Small Firms Association (SFA). Both bodies claim premium hikes, increasing deductibles and new exclusions are threatening the existence of many companies. Both are calling for an independent investigation into the commercial insurance market after soaring motor and home contents premiums prompted queries from consumer lobby groups.

The government has remained quiet over the complaints.

However, opposition parties are now sizing up the issue as a potential vote winner for the general election, likely to be called for May. Labour enterprise spokesman Pat Rabbitte has questioned the insurance industry's practices and has called for reform of the industry. Fine Gael's Charlie Flannagan has also made critical comments about the industry's behaviour.

IBEC claims at least 1,000 jobs have already been lost and many more are being threatened by soaring commercial premiums. It says the issue has reached crisis point. The cost of premiums for construction, food storage and pubs has soared by 200% in some cases, while for some risks no cover is available.

Many firms have been forced to reduce the amount of their cover. One senior industry figure said: "It is not unusual for firms to only take material damage cover with no business interruption or liability cover."

The Irish Insurance Federation (IIF) is meeting with IBEC to discuss the issue. It is understood to be defending the position of its members who are facing dramatically increased re-insurance costs. A senior industry figure said: "We are having to make corrections for the Independent business, which covered a lot of high risk sectors for low prices and claims inflation is outstripping retail inflation by a considerable margin."