Established in 1825 in Dublin, Ireland and with offices in Cork, London, New York, Palo Alto and San Francisco, more than 700 people work across Matheson’s six offices, including 96 partners and tax principals and over 470 legal and tax professionals. Matheson services the legal needs of internationally focused companies and financial institutions doing business in and from Ireland. Our clients include over half of the world’s 50 largest banks, 6 of the world’s 10 largest asset managers, 7 of the top 10 global technology brands and we have advised the majority of the Fortune 100.Show more
Competition & Antitrust
This article highlights recent developments in Irish competition law, including with regard to merger notifications before the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), the CCPC's final decision in Berendsen/King's Laundry and the CCPC's Annual Report 2019, which covers merger control, competition enforcement and competition law policy.
On 14 June 2019 the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) confirmed its plan to introduce in 2020 a simplified procedure for the notification of mergers which satisfy the relevant financial thresholds and do not raise competition concerns. The CCPC has now consulted on draft guidance on the simplified procedure, although the outcome of the consultation and a decision on from what date the new procedure will be available is still unknown.
In its recent decision on CVC's acquisition of Celtic Rugby DAC (the rights holder in respect of the PRO14 rugby union competition), the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission continued its trend of imposing behavioural remedies which are unusual in an international context. It is difficult to see how this could be right and something in respect of which a commitment could reasonably be given by someone in CVC's position.
Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphries recently laid the Competition Act 2002 (Section 27) Order 2018 before the Houses of the Oireachtais. This will have the effect of increasing the financial thresholds for M&A requiring a notification to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. This is the first time that a minister has used their powers under Section 27 of the Competition Acts from 2002 to 2017.
The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation recently published legislation that substantially increases the financial thresholds at and above which notification of a transaction is required to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. From 1 January 2019, only mergers where the acquirer and target each generate €10 million or more and together generate €60 million or more turnover in Ireland will trigger mandatory notification.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission's (CCPC's) current scrutiny of the Restaurants Association of Ireland serves as a reminder that trade associations must be careful to stay within the lines and avoid encouraging or inadvertently facilitating anti-competitive agreements between their members. Compliance training is an essential tool to prevent unwanted scrutiny from the CCPC and other authorities.
Non-compete clauses can provide important protection for purchasers who have a legitimate interest in maintaining the value of the business they are acquiring. However, careful consideration must be given to the drafting of non-competes in order to avoid allegations of anti-competitive conduct – which is a criminal offence in Ireland – and scrutiny from competition regulators such as the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the European Commission.
A new bill has been proposed in the Oireachtas to grant the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) civil enforcement powers. At present, where the CCPC identifies a suspected breach of competition law, it must petition the court to impose criminal penalties. Under the amendment bill, the CCPC would be empowered to levy administrative fines against firms or individuals for anti-competitive practices. This would bring Ireland into line with most other EU member states.
Ireland has recently shown an increased interest in gun jumping, the prohibited practice of implementing a transaction without having first obtained merger control clearance. In February 2018 the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission confirmed that it had launched an investigation into suspected gun jumping by Armalou Holdings Limited of Lillis O'Donnell Motor Company Limited.
The European Commission recently published a new notice on the implementation of its decisions ordering the recovery of state aid. The recovery notice is far more detailed than the 2007 notice which it replaces and reflects recent developments in European Commission practice, including by providing more detail on tax state aid cases. For example, the notice provides new detailed guidance on issues such as the quantification of the state aid to be recovered.
Two recent Irish court rulings have helped to shed light on the role of the national courts in state aid cases. These cases are particularly relevant as the role of the courts is likely to continue to grow in importance for Irish clients in the coming years. In the first, the Supreme Court strongly affirmed the Circuit Court's jurisdiction to hear state aid allegations. In the second, the High Court determined that examinership does not trump a state aid decision from the European Commission ordering recovery.
The European Commission recently published a study which identifies the emerging trends and best practices with regard to the national courts' enforcement of state aid law across the European Union. In terms of trends, the study highlights that national courts rarely conclude that unlawful state aid has been granted (by their national authorities) and hence have rarely awarded remedies in favour of complainants that allege that state aid has been granted. This trend is particularly evident in relation to damages claims.