From today, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) will be able to fine companies for breaching Irish and EU competition law.
The new powers come as the Competition Act 2022 takes effect.
The main purpose of the Act is to implement an EU directive which is designed to ensure that national competition authorities across Europe have similar powers for investigations and enforcement.
The CCPC will be able to issue fines of up to €10 million or 10% of a company’s turnover – whichever is greater.
Up until now, these type of fines could only be imposed by a court following a criminal prosecution.
“The substantial financial penalties that are now available to the CCPC will be an essential deterrent when tackling white-collar crime, including cartels,” said Brian McHugh, Chairperson of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
Brian McHugh, Chairperson of the CCPC
The Act also introduces a leniency programme to encourage whistle blowing on secret cartels.
This will grant leniency from administrative financial sanctions to companies who disclose their participation in cartels and resale price maintenance, and provide evidence on other participants.
“International evidence shows that this is the single most effective way of gathering essential evidence of collusion,” Mr McHugh of the CCPC said.
To incentivise companies to come forward, the CCPC said full immunity from administrative financial sanctions is only available to the first successful applicant.
Subsequent successful applicants may receive possible reductions of any fines that might otherwise be imposed, it added.
The new administrative leniency programme will operate alongside the CCPC’s current criminal Cartel Immunity Programme, which is run in conjunction with the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Competition Act 2022 also introduces an express provision against bid-rigging, and additional powers in the areas of mergers and surveillance.
It aligns competition policy across the EU, which aims to enable greater cooperation between competition authorities and allow for the challenging of illegal practices across borders.
The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Simon Coveney said the Act represents the “transformation” of competition law in Ireland.
“In providing our competition authorities with new powers we are sending a strong signal that white collar crime will not be tolerated and will be heavily penalised,” Mr Coveney said.
Meanwhile, Dara Calleary, Minister of State with responsibility for company regulation said it will ensure that consumers are empowered by a regime that penalises anti-competitive practices.
“Anti-competitive behaviours drive up costs, hinders innovation, freezes out start-ups and smaller businesses and leads to bad quality products and poor services,” he said.