The European Antitrust Review 2014 • Section 3: Country chapters
Ireland: Competition Authority
2012 continued to prove challenging for Ireland. Our focus remains firmly on how competition can help rebuild the Irish economy; increased competition in the local economy will help improve our competitiveness at a domestic and an international level.
Ireland’s changed economic circumstances have led to long overdue changes in sheltered sectors of the economy, such as the legal and medical professions, based on Authority recommendations.
An increase in staff for the Authority has been sanctioned as a result of Troika requirements, despite a general moratorium on recruitment in the public sector. The Authority has been operating at significantly reduced numbers since the moratorium was put in place in 2009, and we are delighted that we will be able to boost our enforcement activities once the new staff are in place in 2013.
In July 2012, the Competition (Amendment) Act 2012 came into force. This is intended to strengthen the enforcement of competition law and help battle white-collar crime in Ireland. It increases penalties for conviction for competition offences, provides for defendants to pay the cost of Authority investigations and makes it easier for injured parties to take follow-on actions. These changes are a strong signal of how seriously the government views competition offences. New provisions in this Act also allow the Authority to apply to the High Court to have commitments it has secured following an investigation made an order of the Court. We used this new legislation for the first time in December 2012 when we applied to have commitments given by Brazil Body Sportswear, the distributors of FitFlops in Ireland, made an order of the Court.
2012 saw stability return to the Authority following a period of uncertainty. A two-year spell of temporary leadership changed at the end of 2011 with my own appointment as chairperson and the appointment of three long-term members. We are confident this new stability will help to reassure staff and other stakeholders that the agency is entering a period of renewed focus.
In 2008, the government announced the amalgamation of the Authority with the National Consumer Agency as part of a rationalisation of state agencies. The legislation to enact the amalgamation is expected to be published in 2013. In the meantime, we have been working away behind the scenes with our colleagues in the NCA on amalgamating the two organisations. In March 2013, the NCA appointed Karen O’Leary as chief executive. Karen will become a member of the new amalgamated agency.
Other highlights in 2012 included the final prosecution in the long-running heating oil cartel case; the conviction of Pat Hegarty by a jury in Galway Circuit Court in May brought the total number of convictions in the case to 18. Earlier in the year, the Authority published an enforcement decision relating to the successful outcome of an investigation involving RTÉ. TV3 had complained that the way RTÉ sold advertising was anti-competitive. RTÉ agreed to change their ‘share deal’ system and signed undertakings to that effect.
In October, the Authority intervened to protect consumers by taking action to prevent the acquisition of Argosy by Eason. They are the only two Irish-based new book wholesalers. This was the first time the Authority took action in relation to an acquisition that was not notifiable under the mergers provision of the Competition Act.
2012 also saw us significantly step up our outreach activities, especially among the business community. During the year, we produced a new business booklet aimed at the small and medium enterprise sector called ‘Your Business and Competition Law – How it helps you and what you need to know’. The booklet contains useful information to help businesses recognise anti-competitive behaviour, make sure they do not become a victim and keep their business on the right side of the law. We recognise that new start-ups and small and medium-sized businesses are extremely busy and have to know about a lot of different regulations and laws such as company law, employment law, health and safety law, as well as competition law. Armed with our new booklet for SMEs, the Authority engaged with the business community and attended and presented at a number of events in the second half of the year to try and bring this information to businesses and hopefully make starting up a business or carrying on business in Ireland that little bit easier. In 2013, we have continued to build on this activity with a number of events, such as the European Competition and Consumer Day, which was jointly hosted with the NCA. This event formed part of Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2013.
Going forward, in terms of enforcement, our focus will continue to be on those cases that have the largest impact on consumers and on hard-core cartels. On the advocacy side, a new market study into competition in the ports sector in Ireland was commenced last year, following a request from the minister for jobs, enterprise and innovation. We hope to complete this study by the end of this year. We also carried out work involving public bus services, building control regulations, waste, legal services, health care, retail planning, water, agriculture, banking and energy. We will also monitor key sectors of the economy in which important developments are scheduled during 2013, such as utilities and professional legal services.
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