'Introduce competition law fines now' says TD as farmers call for beef sector investigation

Billy Kelleher: FF candidate said Government ‘hiding behind red tape’. Picture: Collins
Billy Kelleher: FF candidate said Government ‘hiding behind red tape’. Picture: Collins
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Changes must be made soon to allow fines to be imposed for breaches in competition law, the Fianna Fail spokesperson on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Billy Kelleher has said.

Kelleher, his party’s European elections candidate for Ireland South, said the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission still cannot issue fines for breaches of European and Irish competition law. Fines can only be imposed following a criminal conviction in court.

He said farmers are among those who point to potentially anti-competitive practices in their sectors.

Greater enforcement powers planned in an EU directive are not due to come into force until 2021 and they should be brought in sooner, he said.

“The CCPC has itself stated that the “absence in Ireland of civil or administrative fines for breaches of competition law very significantly undermines the CCPC’s ability to combat anti-competitive conduct”.

“As the national competition regulator it is having to operate without the legislative teeth to enforce breaches of competition law and deter anti-competitive behaviour. In contrast, competition regulators in many EU Member States, including France and Denmark, can issue such fines, Kelleher said.

It comes as Meat Industry Ireland Chairman Philip Carroll told a recent Oireachtas Agriculture Committee that a number of recent mergers in the beef sector were all cleared by the Competition Authorities at the first hurdle and said that none to his knowledge had restrictions in respect of the ask from competition authorities.

He said the recent mergers in the beef sector were analysed not only by the Irish but also by the European competition authorities.

"At least three cases in the last two or three years have all been allowed. The view of the Competition Authority was that the concentration result of those particular mergers and takeovers did not have the effect people allege."

'The Department has the data'

The IFA has asked the Committee and the Minister for Agriculture to request the intervention of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to carry out a report on the lack of competition in the beef processing sector.

Its Livestock Director Kevin Kinsella said that  CCPC, has the responsibility to ensure that we have a competitive market in this country.

"Let us undertake this investigation and put it to bed, either deal with it or take it off the table. 

"We are very clear and specific on that point and we request that this would be part of this committee's ultimate conclusion, that it would deal with this issue. 

"There is no point in asking farm organisations or farmers whether there is a cartel and whether they have the evidence. 

"All the figures and all the evidence on this, in terms of looking at the prices and analysing them, are with the authorities that have the power to do that and the authorities that gather that information. 

"In Ireland, that is the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which has all the data on all of the cattle killed and the price of every animal killed in this country for the past ten years. 

"The Department has the data," he said.

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