The Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014 was signed into law at the end of July and will make significant changes to the Irish competition law regime when it comes into force at the end of October 2014.

Institutional reform

The Act dissolves the Competition Authority and National Consumer Agency, and establishes the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (“CCPC”) in their place.

Merger control

The Act changes the financial thresholds which trigger notification. The obligation to notify arises if:

  • aggregate turnover in the Republic of Ireland of all of the undertakings involved is not less than €50 million; and
  • turnover in the Republic of Ireland of each of two or more of the undertakings involved is not less than €3 million.

The timetable for review has been extended: 30 working days for a Phase I review (up from one month) and 120 working days for a full Phase II review (up from four months). These timeframes are extendable where a formal information request is made or remedies are proposed.

While notification prior to the signing of an agreement is now allowed, all relevant mergers must still be notified to the CCPC (and cleared) before being put into effect.

Media mergers

The Act introduces a new requirement that, in addition to CCPC notification, all media mergers be notified to the Minister for Communications. This will allow consideration of the merger’s effects on media plurality and may trigger a detailed Phase II investigation by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (“BAI”).

The revised timetable for media mergers is significant: 30 working days for the Minister’s Phase I review; 80 working days for the BAI to report in Phase II; and a further 20 working days for the Minister’s final determination. Again, these timeframes are extendable where formal information requests are issued or remedies are proposed.

Grocery undertakings

The Act will enable regulation of the contractual relationships between retailers and suppliers in the grocery sector. The CCPC will have powers to investigate and prosecute alleged breaches of the regulations and aggrieved parties will be able to seek and recover damages.

Conclusion

The Act represents significant institutional reform, although apart from changes to the law governing media mergers, it does not alter the substantive aspects of Irish competition rules.  Its effects will be most keenly felt in relation to merger notification requirements and the timetable for review.