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Tuesday 20 March 2018

Reform of lawyers, chemists 'will make the customer king'

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

LAWYERS and chemists are in line for major reforms to "make the consumer the king" under the bailout's terms.

New plans designed to open up closed-shop sectors of the economy are expected to result in lower prices for consumers.

The Government is under pressure from the EU and IMF to get moving on measures to remove barriers to competition.

Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton is planning to bring in a new super consumer watchdog to implement the changes.

The European Commission repeatedly referred to "competition in the sheltered sectors" as an important policy to create jobs -- and particularly pointed at "the legal profession and the pharmacy profession".

The moves to open up the professions were in the original deal struck with the IMF and EU late last year.

Both those organisations repeatedly emphasised its importance yesterday.

European Commission spokesman Istvan Szekely, a member of the group reviewing the country's bailout performance, said the removal of restrictions was important.


Mr Szekely said he was talking about the fees being reduced and wanted to see independent watchdogs enforcing the new rules.

"And we want independent regulators as well there so that someone properly regulates this market. So that we have just like any other part of the economy, strong competition, proper regulation and enforcing that regulation so that you get better value for your money," he said.

Mr Bruton said he was prioritising the plans and was drafting the legislation.

"The minister has been championing this agenda for many years in opposition and he shares many of the concerns expressed in this regard," his spokesman said.

Mr Bruton told the Irish Independent last week he was planning to merge the Competition Authority with the National Consumer Agency and give the new agency greater legal powers.

He said he would create a "stronger agency in defence of consumers".

"There is no secret Ireland in the sheltered sector has not been particularly vigorous and a lot of competition recommendations have lain fallow," he said.

"There are areas where you can make the system more competitive," he added.

Ken Murray, president of the Law Society of Ireland, said the society has been aware of impending changes since the publication of the IMF's memorandum of understanding.

"It isn't a surprise in any way but we'll reserve comment until we see the details," he told the Irish Independent last night.

Gerard Howlin, head of policy for the Irish Pharmacy Union representing chemists, said the representative body will also adopt a wait-and-see approach.

However, he did say that pharmacists have already "taken enormous cuts since 2009 and employment is down by 10pc".

Irish Independent

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