Irish competition law
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Irish Competition Law is the Irish body of legal rules designed to ensure fairness and freedom in the marketplace. The key provisions of Irish competition law: (a) usually outlaw anti-competitive arrangements between businesses and economic operators (known as "undertakings"); (b) always outlaw the abuse of dominance by undertakings; (c) control certain mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures.
Irish competition law is primarily statute-based with some judge-made rules (the so-called "common law"). The statute rules are embodied in the Competition Act 2002 (which replaced the Competition Acts 1991-1996) and the Competition (Amendment) Act 2006.
Irish competition law is comparable to, but different in certain key respects, from European Union competition law. There are some similarities to the anti-trust law of the United States of America but the differences (particularly in relation to merger control, abuse of dominance and the way in which breaches are punished) are substantial.
Irish competition law is enforced by the courts (which have the power to find breaches, permit unannounced visits by the Competition Authority) and impose penalties), the Competition Authority (which has the power to institute investigations and take court actions) and private action by undertakings and others.
Given the EU goals of an integrated, market economy EU competition law has a heavy influence in national economic law. EU competition law has superiority over Irish competition law, Irish law must not contradict or inhibit the operation of EC law, but it may outlaw things which are legal under EU law, or punish breaches more severely. It also exercises a persuasive force over the jurisprudence of Irish competition law. Due to the requirement of compliance with EU law and the similar understanding and goals, Irish Courts will examine cases and precedents in the European Courts to see how it has been interpreted or to ensure that they are consistent. EU competition law has jurisdiction over cases which affect inter-state trade in the Union.
Regulation 1/2003 of the European Commission "decentralised" the enforcement of competition law with a number of reforms designed to increase the enforcement of EC rules in national courts.1
The law is enforced by the Irish Competition Authority, who review mergers, and investigate cartels and abuse of dominance by undertakings. They can fine offenders, when can be appealed to the High Court. Private enforcement is also possible. An aggrieved party may sue the offender for damages under the Competition Act. However this facility has not been exercised much, possibly due to the difficulty of gathering evidence to prove such a breach. Regulation 1/2003 of the European Commission sought to increase private and public enforcement of EC rules in national courts to allow the commission to concentrate on bigger cases.1
The Competition Authority operates a Cartel Immunity Programme which allows for immunity or leniency in sentencing for offenders which supply information to them that allows the prosecution of other breaches of the law.2 The rule mirrors the European Commission's Leniency policy.
Irish competition law also regulates certain mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures. Part III of the Competition Act 2002 provides that the Competition Authority must approve transactions which fall within the scope of Part III before they may be lawfully implemented.
Ireland has achieved considerable success in enforcing competition law by virtue of successful criminal prosecutions against various individuals and companies. It has almost thirty convictions for competition law breaches including jury convictions for cartel-related activity.
- SCADPlus: Application of Articles 81 and 82 of the EC Treaty
- The Competition Authority - Enforcing Competition Law - Cartel Immunity Programme
- Vincent J G Power, Competition Law and Practice (Tottel)
- Alan J W McCarthy and Vincent J G Power, Competition Act 2002 (Tottel)
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