PRICE fixing will carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence and convicted felons face fines of up to €5m, under new rules proposed yesterday.
The harsher sentencing regime is being imposed after Ireland was ordered to toughen enforcement of competition rules by the team overseeing the EU/IMF bailout.
Conviction for "hard-core" competition offences, including price fixing and operating a cartel, will carry the maximum sentences under the new rules.
The new regime was announced by Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton yesterday.
Draconian sentencing was justified, he said. "People that design cartels are hostile to consumers and hostile to small business and it's important to tackle that," he said.
The same offences currently carry a maximum sentence of five years in jail and fines of €4m.
Penalties will be increased even though no one has ever received the maximum sentence under the current regime, according to a spokesperson for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The new rules include measures aimed at boosting the number of white collar convictions.
Juries will be given extra help in trials where complex financial cases are heard.
The changes will also make it easier for ordinary people and small businesses to take claims against companies found guilty of price fixing, he said.
Mr Bruton said his department had no role in this week's decision by the Competition Authority to allow the takeover of Superquinn by the Musgrave Group, but he was happy that the Competition Authority was the correct body to make the decision.
He said the Competition Authority, which allowed the takeover, looked at the regional spread of stores operated by the combined Musgrave Group, as well as its overall share of the market.
Musgraves will become the biggest retailer in the country with an around 27pc share of the market after its takeover of Superquinn from a bank-appointed receiver was approved this week.