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Court told of rail contract 'threats'

A BIDDER for an Irish Rail hedge-cutting contract threatened other contractors that he would "come after" them if they didn't agree to stick to a certain tender price for the work, a court was told yesterday.

Padraic McCormack, who had tendered for the work, said contractors were asked to shake hands on an agreement for the price of cutting hedges and trees on a disused stretch of track.

John Joe McNicholas, trading as John Joe McNicholas Plant Hire, and Oliver Dixon, a director of Oliver Dixon (Hedgecutting and Plant Hire), deny entering into an agreement to prevent, restrict or distort competition for their services.

Mr Dixon is also being tried for entering into an anti-competitive agreement with Mr McNicholas. The pair are alleged to have made an agreement to submit a minimum tender price for the Irish Rail vegetation clearance contract.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges at their trial in the Central Criminal Court.

Yesterday, Mr McCormack, who had tendered for the contract along with his brother Declan, said that after a site meeting of contractors on January 15, 2007, at Athenry train station, Mr McNicholas made it clear if they did not "stick together" and instead put in a different price for the work, "they" wouldn't be afraid to go after them.

They were all asked to shake hands and to agree that the tender price for the work would be above €50,000 per 12-mile stretch of the 36-mile line.

"I shook hands with anyone there. I shook hands because we had no choice," Mr McCormack told the court.

Afterwards he and his brother decided they would have nothing to do with that "agreement" and later that month he attended a meeting with Irish Rail officials to tell them what happened.

He told counsel for Mr McNicholas that at the meeting in Athenry, Mr Dixon and Mr McNicholas became abusive and that Irish Rail engineer Peter Dalton was told he would be "going to the casualty department in Ballinasloe [hospital]".

"That is why we went to Irish Rail," he said. "We went about the abuse and about someone telling us how much to charge for a job. I don't know how anyone can tell you about pricing for a job you are going to do."

Mr McCormack said he did not recall hearing anyone telling other contractors that they would have their throat's cut, which was heard in previous evidence.

Earlier, the witness's brother, Declan McCormack, said that John Joe McNicholas made a threat that if the other contractors did not stick to the agreed price "he would come after us" but he did not recall hearing him say he would cut somebody's throat.

The case continues.

Irish Independent