Beef Plan Movement accused the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) of being “not sufficiently independent” as part of its submission on proposed competition legislation.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has published a report on the public consultation it carried out in January 2021 on aspects of the Competition (Amendment) Act 2022.

Along with transposing a European Union competition directive into Irish law, the legislation proposed increased powers for the CCPC.

This included providing for the offence of “bid-rigging”, the power to prosecute “gun jumping” offences and the authority to carry out video and audio surveillance.

The department received 16 public submissions, four of which came from Beef Plan Movement, on strengthening the powers of the CCPC.

The department said that the submissions were “given careful consideration” before the legislation was brought before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Competition (Amendment) Act 2022 was signed into law by President Michael D. Higgins last June.

Beef Plan Movement

In its submission, Beef Plan Movement welcomed the inclusion of “bid-rigging”, “gun-jumping” and merger control in the draft legislation.

The group said that “proper and adequate mechanisms” to enforce these areas should be included in the legislation to regulate the food processing and retail industries and ensure maximum protection of primary producers in the agriculture sector.

However, it raised concerns that “these proposals will allow these far-reaching powers be used under the guise of consumer protection which it is not intended for”.

Citing analysis of the beef sector, the group said “it appears that the retailers are considered the consumer in the case of the beef sector”.

“The consequence of this conclusion would leave primary producers powerless, which is the exact opposite to the intended outcome of these changes,” it said.

Beef Plan claimed that the CCPC “is a body that lacks sufficient independence to ensure proper implementation of competition law protections effectively in the state”.

“The CCPC and consequently, the Irish government has failed in its duty to Irish beef farmers to ensure the creation of a properly resourced independent body to ensure the protection afforded by EU treaties on anti-competitive practices are implemented in Ireland to date,” it said.

The group called on the government to create “a new independent body for the proper implementation of the competition acts”.

“Alternatively, the government must assign the duties of the National Competition Authority required by EU Membership to the new Food Ombudsman which has been promised to Irish famers for over a decade but has yet to materialise,” it said.

Beef Plan alleged that unfair trading practices “appear rife” in the industry.

“The CCPC either misses the point or fails to accept that internationally, there is widespread acceptance that if players are going out of business at one level of an industry, it is prima facie evidence that there is anti-competitive practices within that industry,” it said.

“Beef farmers are going out of business at a rapid rate.”

Beef Plan also raised concerns about the increased powers of surveillance being proposed for the CCPC under the legislation.

“Surveillance of private individuals or their families must not be allowed where it reasonably appears that such individual is reasonably exercising his or her right constitutional right of association or right to protest as protected under EU treaties,” the submission stated.