Explicit reference is made to the uncertainty facing the Authority in 2011. Resources are significantly depleted, with staff numbers down by one third, while of its three current members, two have been appointed on a temporary basis and the Chairperson is acting on an interim basis. Of potentially greater significance is the expectation that the Authority may be amalgamated with the National Consumer Agency and possibly other bodies.
Against this backdrop, the Authority's Chairperson, Mr. Declan Purcell, gave a somewhat downcast assessment of the challenges facing the Authority, setting out what he believes are realistic goals and objectives for 2011 with the limited resources available.
The Authority will focus its enforcement capacity on the cases most egregious to competition. While it will continue to fulfil its statutory duties in respect of mergers, this will be at the expense of other statutory functions. Also, advocacy efforts will be focused on the least resource-intensive forms of advocacy rather than carrying out valuable market studies. The Authority is committed to complying with best practice corporate governance standards with as few resources as it can afford.
However, while the Authority sets out a somewhat gloomy forecast, it is buoyed by the Government's pro-competition commitments in the National Recovery Plan and the Memorandum of Understanding with the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF, including those in respect of GP services, regulation of the legal profession and legislating for civil fines in competition law cases.
Insofar as possible, the Authority will continue its ongoing work in 2011, including initiating a public consultation on the Revised Guidelines for Merger Analysis. It will also issue a revised version of the Cartel Immunity Programme, following on from its public consultation in 2010, and intends to publish information the on the principles employed across the Authority to select and prioritise cases and projects.
However, in the context of the proposed changes to the Competition Acts 2002-2010, it remains to be seen under what auspices the Authority will carry out its functions in 2011.
The new Irish government should recognise that a government as a purchaser of goods and services, business and consumers all benefit from effective competition regime through more choice, lower prices and better services. Therefore, it its hoped that the new government will make this one a top priority.