Ireland's Competition law is based on the:
Irish Competition Law prohibits any business practice likely to prevent, restrict or distort competition in trade.
The Competition Act 2002 sets out the specific practices which are expressly prohibited:
- fixing prices;
- limiting or controlling production or markets;
- sharing markets or sources of supply;
- applying dissimilar conditions to equivalent transactions with other trading parties;
- attaching supplementary obligations to a commercial contract which have nothing to do with the subject of the contract.
Irish Competition law prohibits cartel activity, which according to the Irish Competition Authority can include:
- bid rigging,
- market sharing by competitors.
There are criminal penalties of up to ten years in prison (for individuals) and fines of up to €5,000,000 or 10% of turnover (whichever is the greater) for individuals and undertakings.
Abuse of dominant position
The Competition Act also prohibits abuse of a dominant position. Generally speaking, a firm is considered dominant if it is able to act without taking account of the reaction of its customers or its rivals. The Act is not breached when a firm's vigorous competition takes sales away from less efficient rivals - this is competition working properly.
Misleading and Comparative Marketing Communications
Directive 2006/114/EC on Misleading and Comparative Advertising protects traders against misleading advertising and lays down the conditions under which comparative advertising is permitted. The Directive has been given effect in Ireland by the European Communities (Misleading and Comparative Marketing Communications) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 774/2007).
State Aid refers to forms of assistance from a public body, or publicly funded body, given to undertakings on a discretionary basis, with the potential to distort competition and affect trade between member states of the EU.
In general, State aid is banned because of its anti-competitive effects. However, various categories of schemes are approved because their positive effects are considered to outweigh their negative impact. There are a number of state aid schemes to support companies, provided by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation (DJEI).
The National Consumer Agency enforces a wide range of consumer protection laws, including laws on:
- deceptive trading practices (including unfair, misleading and aggressive);
- unfair contract terms;
- consumer safety (mandatory standards);
- unit pricing;
- price displays.
National competition authorities
The Competition Authority is responsible for the enforcement of Irish competition law which is designed primarily to protect and benefit the consumer. The Authority will investigate complaints about anti-competitive practices such as price-fixing.
Strict provisions govern company mergers
Mergers and acquisitions of businesses with a turnover above certain thresholds must be notified to the Competition Authority.
Some exceptions to these general rules apply, including mergers and acquisitions of media organisations which must be notified to the Authority irrespective of the turnover of the organisations involved and some mergers and acquisitions involving banks which should be notified to the Minister of Finance, rather than to the Authority.
There is also a provision for Voluntary notification for mergers and acquisitions that do not meet the financial thresholds but have the potential to substantially lessen competition in the State.
State Aid notification
The Department of Jobs Enterprise, and Innovation (DJEI) notifies the European Commission, where necessary, of any state aid schemes under its responsibility. It also advises other government departments in Ireland on compliance with EU State Aid rules.
Complaints on allegedly unlawful state aid can be filed online with the European Commission's Competition Directorate General.
Buyers of goods and services, including businesses, can contact the Competition Authority and report suspected anticompetitive behaviour. There is a complaint form on the Authority's website.
Business Access to State Information and Services (BASIS) delivers government information and services to businesses online. The information is structured around the lifecycle of a business, such as starting up or employing staff.
The Department of Jobs Enterprise, and Innovation has a role to promote competition in all sectors of the economy, in the framework of Competition legislation.