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Sunday 25 March 2018

New consumer watchdog to tackle 'closed shops'

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

A new super consumer watchdog will be set up to tackle 'closed shops' such as the legal and health professions, and the waste industry.

Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton is planning to publish legislation to merge the Competition Authority with the National Consumer Agency and give the new agency greater legal powers. The move comes as the Government prepares to cull and merge many quangos.

Fine Gael estimates there are almost 1,000 state agencies at national, local and regional level, which it says is far too many. A study conducted by Mr Bruton before the election showed that during the past 14 years more than 200 new agencies and bodies were set up. The minister told the Irish Independent he planned to create a "stronger agency in defence of consumers".

Mr Bruton identified the legal profession, health professions and the waste industry as examples of areas that were traditionally closed and needed to be opened up to competition.

"There are areas where you can make the system more competitive; better for consumers," he said.

Mr Bruton said more competition would result in better value for money, lower prices for consumers and greater opportunities for job creation. "Well-run markets are vital from every side of the perspective," he said.

"Too much of the social partnership has been about the producers, not the consumers, and we have to reassert the importance, not just in markets, but also in the public service, that consumers are the ones whose needs have to be serviced."

The detail of the legislation and powers for the new watchdog is still being worked out. The minister expects the legislation to be drafted before the end of the year.

But before the general election, Mr Bruton said a new consumer watchdog would:

  • Take civil 'class action' lawsuits to seek damages for consumers against violators of consumer and competition law.
  • Impose fines on violators of competition law and issue binding decisions.
  • Force ministers to explain why they won't act upon recommendations.

Previously, Fine Gael said 175 different quangos could be either scrapped or merged.

Irish Independent

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