Farmers association at risk of legal action after milk investigation
Competition Authority inquires into alleged IFA co-ordination of protests
Following the 2011 raid, IFA president John Bryan accused the authority of ignoring the “substantial margins” on milk enjoyed by retailers and the lack of competition in the grocery market. Photograph: David Sleator
The Competition Authority is understood to be considering taking legal action against the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) arising out of an investigation that includes evidence taken from the organisation’s offices during a high-profile raid.
The authority raided the IFA’s offices in May 2011 following a number of protests where farmers entered grocery chain Iceland’s stores in Dublin, removed milk produced in the North from the shelves, and disrupted trade to the point where some of the outlets had to close for the day.
It was acting on complaints that the IFA was involved in co-ordinating the protests, which could potentially breach competition law as the action was designed to disrupt supplies of milk from the North, where the retailer purchased its private-label dairy products.
According to a number of sources, the authority’s investigation is continuing and it is considering the possibility of taking either criminal or civil action in the courts.
Both routes are open to the agency, but a civil action would require a lower standard of proof than a criminal case. The authority can prosecute minor offences in the District Court or send a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions where it believes a case is serious enough to be tried by a jury in the Circuit Court.
Reports at the time said that the raid on the association’s head office in Bluebell in Dublin was carried out by Competition Authority staff, a Garda detective and 15 other officers.
It lasted from 10am to 4.15pm. They removed files and computer equipment.
Following the raid, IFA president John Bryan accused the authority of ignoring the “substantial margins” on milk enjoyed by retailers and the lack of competition in the grocery market, and of targeting farming families instead.
At a subsequent protest at Government Buildings, Mr Bryan, whose organisation has more than 85,000 members, said farmers’ share of the retail price of milk had fallen from 42 per cent in 1996 to 26 per cent in 2009.
National Milk Agency figures show that in 2011 farmers’ received 36 per cent of the 98 cent a-litre average paid by consumers that year, an increase on 2010 when they received 33 per cent.
The Competition Authority does not discuss ongoing investigations. The IFA made no comment yesterday.