‘Groundbreaking law’ will tackle anti-competitive practices

Watchdog will have new powers to punish companies with fines of €10m or more

Ireland’s consumer and competition watchdog is to be given a range of new powers to punish businesses who engage in anti-competitive behaviour under a “groundbreaking law” to be enacted in the months ahead.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar has been given the green light by Cabinet to proceed with the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2022 which will give more muscle to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) and the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) to challenge anti-competitive practices by business.

For the first time in Irish law, breaches of competition law can be enforced through administrative actions taken by competition authorities, with maximum fines of up to €10 million or 10 per cent of total worldwide turnover, whichever is the greater.

“The vast majority of businesses do not engage in anti-competitive practices, but some do at the expense of consumers and other businesses, particularly newer and smaller ones,” Mr Varadkar said.

“This groundbreaking new law will give our competition authorities the power to crack down on those rogue operators that do.”

He said cartels, where they exist, will be broken up and companies abusing a dominant position can be suitably punished with heavy fines of up to 10 per cent of global turnover.

“It’s really good news for customers. These new powers will act as a big disincentive for those taking part in anti-competitive practices, which drive up costs, freeze out start-ups and smaller businesses and lead to bad-quality products and poor services. The Bill also enables greater co-operation between competition authorities across the EU, allowing us to challenge these practices on a cross-border basis,” he said.

‘Step-change’

The Minister of State with responsibility for trade promotion and digital and company regulation, Robert Troy, said the Bill represented "a significant step-change in competition enforcement to effectively tackle white-collar crime in Ireland and will be instrumental in supporting the ongoing work to protect and promote a competitive and fair marketplace that works for consumers and business alike".

He said that once it was law, the State’s agencies would “have the power to enforce competition law much more effectively, giving them more teeth to protect consumers and crack down on anti-competitive practices – to break up cartels where they exist and deter and punish companies abusing their dominant position in the market.”

The Competition (Amendment) Bill 2022 fulfils a Programme for Government commitment and two actions in the Government’s Action Plan for Insurance Reform. It also fulfils one of the recommendations of the report of the Hamilton review (review of structures and strategies to prevent, investigate and penalise economic crime and corruption) published by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.