The awarding of public sector contracts is governed by European Union (EU) directives, regulations and national guidelines. However, not all public sector contracts are subject to these rules. For smaller contracts under certain thresholds there is more flexibility in the awarding of these contracts which are subject only to national rules and EU principles.
Separate EU procurement rules cover the public sector and the utilities sector.
Types of public procurement
Contracts with a value (excluding value-added tax) above certain thresholds must be advertised in the Official Journal of the EU (OJEU) and should then also be published on the Irish government's eTenders public procurement website.
There are different thresholds depending on whether the contract is for works, supplies and services, or utilities, or whether it is for example for a national government or local/regional authority. Thresholds are revised every two years.
All public supply and general service contracts in Ireland above €25,000 and all public works and works-related services contracts above €50,000 (but below EU advertising thresholds and not part of a "draw-down" or framework contract), should be advertised. This can be done on the eTenders public procurement website (some information on the contract may be advertised in other media such as newspapers as well if necessary).
For supply and general service contracts between €5,000 and €25,000 in value, advertising on eTenders is recommended but not compulsory. Such a contract might be awarded on the basis of specifications sent by fax or email. At least three potential suppliers must be contacted. For contracts below €5,000, verbal quotes from one or more competitive suppliers might suffice. For all works and works-related service contracts below €50,000 a minimum of 5 quotes from competing tenderers are required.
There are several tendering procedures allowed for contracts above EU thresholds:
- Open: the Contracting Authorities advertise their requirements and all interested parties may submit tenders;
- Restricted: a two-stage process where firstly, the contracting authority advertises its requirements and invites expressions of interest. In a second stage, following the submission of certain information by interested parties, only those parties selected by the Contracting Authority may submit tenders.
- Competitive dialogue: Contracting Authorities advertise their requirements, enter dialogue with selected candidates (selected on the same basis as in the Restricted procedure), draw up the solutions needed and then invite at least three of the candidates to submit bids.
Negotiated procedures (can only be used in limited circumstances) - there are two possible procedures:
- Contracting authorities advertise their requirements, invite tenders from selected candidates (selected on the same basis as in the Restricted procedure), and then the Authority negotiates final terms in a competitive process or,
- in exceptional cases, a procedure where the Authority does not advertise but negotiates terms directly with one or more providers.
Most contracts for works and related-services awarded by a private entity, but which are subsidised 50% or more by a public body, are subject to EU rules if they exceed the EU thresholds. Publicly funded contracts below EU thresholds, awarded by private entities, must take account of the Irish government guidelines on tendering.
For supplies and general services:
For works and works-related services:
Tendering procedure: step-by-step guide
The type and complexity of the steps involved in the tendering process depend on the size of the contract (e.g. whether the contract is above or below EU thresholds) and under which procedure it is being carried out (whether open or restricted etc.).
Contracting authorities with an aggregated procurement requirement in excess of €750,000 for any product area of supplies or category of services are encouraged to publish an annual notice called a Prior Information Notice / Prior Indicative Notice (PIN) in the OJEU.
The PIN is normally submitted by the contracting authority at the start of the budgetary year and sets out the categories of products and services likely to be procured during the year.
Types of public contracts
The EU rules cover three different types of contracts:
- Works - buildings and civil engineering contracts;
- Supplies - purchasing of goods and supplies;
- Services - all of the most commonly procured services, including advertising, property management, cleaning, management consultancy, financial and ICT related services. For works-related services please refer to the Capital Works Management Framework
National public procurement authorities
The National Public Procurement Policy Unit (NPPPU) is responsible for the formulation of procurement policy, dissemination of best practice and guidance in public procurement and delivery of the government's e-procurement strategy.
The National Procurement Service was established in 2009 to deal with procurement operational matters. Its purpose is to facilitate eProcurement through the management of the eTenders website. The website is the primary source for all public procurement guidance and information. The functionality of the website is being developed on an ongoing basis.
Ireland's National Procurement Service manages the e-tenders procurement website which displays Irish public sector procurement opportunities. It provides for the online submission of tenders and its service is free of charge.
Buyers and suppliers can register here:
- to create, edit, publish and manage tender notices and documents in a secure environment, in the case of buyers;
- to search for high and low value contracts, receive email alerts of new business opportunities, download notices and tender documents and submit tenders online, in the case of suppliers.
The vast majority of public contracts above the relevant EU thresholds are subject to the provisions of the EU public procurement Directives.
There are very limited exceptions, for example in certain "non-priority" services are not subject to the full provisions of the EU Directives and do not have to be advertised in the OJEU (though the procurement procedures should still observe EU principles).
The list of "priority" (covered completely by EU rules) and "non-priority" services is available in the Irish government's Public Procurement Guidelines.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform maintains a specific website on public procurement relating to construction works.
The latest Irish Government guidelines on the management of the tender process for public contracts can be downloaded from the www.etenders.gov.ie website.
The National Public Procurement Policy Unit published a policy framework with a number of recommendations.
The Irish Public Procurement Portal - gateway to all procurement-related data and information in the Irish public service.
ICT Procurement Framework is a website with information on ICT framework agreements that are open to all non-commercial state organisations.
The Irish Government Public Private Partnership website aims to provide a central point of access to the public-private partnership process in Ireland.
You should consult BASIS which contains important information on doing business with state organisations.
Tender notices are published on the Tenders Electronic Daily (TED) website which is the database of all EU opportunities above certain thresholds. Most public procurement notices are sent for publication through an electronic channel. A web-based tool -eNotices- simplifies and speeds up preparation and publication of tender notices. The eSenders service allows qualified organisations to submit notices directly as XML files.
The SIMAP portal provides access to the most important information about public procurement in Europe.