Regulation of supermarket prices urged

Retail multiples must do their bit to help economy and halt poverty, Dáil told

John Halligan: supermarket giant Tesco was “rumoured to dub this country ‘Treasure Island’”

John Halligan: supermarket giant Tesco was “rumoured to dub this country ‘Treasure Island’”

 


Ireland is in the grip of a nutritional recession because of food poverty, the Dáil has heard amid calls for the Government to meet supermarket chiefs and demand a two-year price freeze.

Independent TD John Halligan said the Government should follow the example of other EU member states where major supermarket chains introduced price-freezing following talks with government.

The supermarkets were making “astronomical profits” and if they did not freeze prices, the Government could then impose controls, he said. There should be “at the very least” a price freeze on basic items including bread, milk, butter and baby food.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore told him, however, that “the route the Government is taking on this issue is the legislative route”.

He said that in the programme for government the Coalition had made a commitment to deal with anti-competitive practices in the grocery sector and introduce legislation.


Profiteering
“We are going to deliver on that” in the Consumer and Competition Bill, which would protect consumers against overpricing and profiteering and would be published before the Dáil summer recess.

He said the supermarket chains were aware of the Government’s intention. “The message should be very clear to them in relation to their pricing policy. I would expect that they would act accordingly.”

Mr Halligan, who said supermarket giant Tesco was “rumoured to dub this country ‘Treasure Island’”, hit out at the company’s failure to release information on its profits here.

He said “everyone else in the country has been asked to help the economy. The people who are suffering from food deprivation have had to take cuts, yet the big supermarket chains increase their profits year after year.”

He said at the very least the supermarket chains should be asked to introduce a two-year freeze on basic food items.

The Irish consumer “is still paying a premium for groceries compared with consumers in other EU countries”. The Waterford TD highlighted a Consumers’ Association of Ireland survey showing price increases of between 12 per cent and 32 per cent since 2011 on a basket of 16 out of 19 popular and essential grocery items when inflation was at 1.7 per cent.

“Almost all of the products cost more than they did at the height of the boom, costing the average family an extra €870 a year,” Mr Halligan said, claiming there were also “strong indications of widespread price matching”.

He said he was in a home of a woman and her four children where the 14-year-old eldest daughter was making dinner because the mother was ill. “I was saddened and upset to see that the dinner consisted of beans and chips. That is wrong. It was their Sunday dinner” and they were struggling to make food last until they received their social welfare payments.


Legislate

Insisting on the Government’s commitment to legislate for anti-competitive pricing, Mr Gilmore said staffing for enforcement in competition would be strengthened through the recruitment of more personnel.