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 The CCPC has now consulted on draft guidance on the simplified procedure, although the outcome of the consultation and a decision on from what date the new procedure will be available is still unknown.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.