Out-Law News 2 min. read

Irish competition regulator warned six firms of obligations in 2022

The Irish competition regulator warned six companies of their obligations under competition law but conducted no dawn raids in 2022. Its focus appears to have been on consumer law enforcement, merger control and the enactment of new competition laws which will come into force in 2023.

In its annual report for 2022 the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) said that it had undertaken nine market reviews and research reports aimed at addressing competition concerns.

But competition law enforcement activity was limited to those six warnings and an ongoing investigation into alleged bid-rigging of tenders for school transport. It also published a report into anti-competitive price signalling in the private motor insurance sector. This investigation resulted in AIG, Allianz, AXA, Aviva, FBD and AA entering into commitment agreements with the CCPC in 2021 under which the insurance companies agreed to implement and maintain appropriate internal competition law compliance programmes.

Alan Davis, competition law specialist at Pinsent Masons, said: “The CCPC has had a reasonably busy year dealing with filings under the mandatory Irish merger notification regime though its enforcement of competition law remains fairly low. It will also be interesting to see during 2023 and beyond the impact of the impending legislative changes to the Irish regime which will significantly strengthen its enforcement powers, and whether this results in an increase in the number of investigations.”

The changes to Irish competition law will align it with EU enforcement principles and strengthen merger control and antitrust enforcement. They are coming into force in a staggered fashion in 2022 and 2023 and represent ‘a sea change in Irish competition law’ according to Davis and Zara West of Pinsent Masons.

The CPCC said it has also done extensive work on its simplified merger notification procedure (SMNP), which is designed to help businesses obtain speedy clearance for corporate transactions.

The CPCC reported on its ongoing investigation into alleged bid-rigging of school transport tenders. It said that 13 suspects were charged in 2021 and appeared before the District Court and the matter transferred to the Central Criminal Court.

“This investigation underscores the CCPC’s strong focus on tackling bid-rigging, especially in public procurement,” said Davis. “In particular, the CCPC highlighted its support for bid-rigging to be defined as a standalone cartel offence by the Competition (Amendment) Act 2022. The CCPC also brought a proposed system to detect and deter bid-rigging/tender collusion to the Economic Crime and Corruption Forum and said that in 2023 it will assist on the required legislation for screening bid-rigging in public procurement.”

It has also been reported that the CCPC has begun legal proceedings against the Irish Bookmakers Association to disclose potentially privileged material as part of a criminal investigation under its competition law powers, but few details are yet known about the alleged breach.

The CCPC’s market studies and research projects focused on issues such as pricing in the retail motor fuel sector, which did not result in action or recommendations; a retail banking review, which resulted in recommendations to the Irish government; a review of competition in legal services, and supporting the creation of a new vet school.

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