Pre-legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2021 (Resumed): Discussion

I thank members and witnesses for participating in today’s meeting in line with the exceptional measures we must take due to Covid-19. I remind them that apart from myself and members of the committee secretariat, all members and witnesses are required to participate remotely, and all members are required to attend from within the Leinster House complex. Apologies have been received from Deputy Stanton and Senator Gavin.

I am pleased to be able to continue our pre-legislative scrutiny of the competition (amendment) Bill 2021. The principal objective of the Bill is to transpose the EU’s European Competition Network, ECN, directive that will make the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPG, and the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, more effective in overseeing and enforcing competition law. The directive was adopted in 2019 with a transposition deadline of 4 February 2021. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, recently sent the general scheme of the Bill to the committee asking that we prioritise our consideration of this matter. Having received a briefing on the matter from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I am pleased that we will develop our understanding of the Bill when we hear from witnesses of the CCPG and ComReg in relation to the proposed legislation. These bodies will be the two most affected by the directive and proposed Bill.

From the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, I welcome Ms Isolde Goggin, chairperson, Mr. Brian McHugh and members of the commission, and from the Commission for Communications Regulation, Mr. Garrett Blaney, chairperson, and Mr. Jeremy Godfrey, commissioner.

Before we start, I will explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practice of the Houses as regards references witnesses may make to other persons in their evidence. The evidence of witnesses physically present or who give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts is protected pursuant to both the Constitution and statute by absolute privilege. However, today’s witnesses are giving their evidence remotely from a place outside the parliamentary precincts. As such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal prosecution from proceedings as a witness physically present does.

Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him or her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that may be regarded as damaging to the good name of that person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such decision.

Witnesses’ opening statements have been circulated to members. To commence our consideration of this matter, I invite the chairperson of the CCPC, Ms Goggin, to make her contribution. I remind witnesses and members that when contributing remotely, they should clarify their name for recording purposes.

Ms Isolde Goggin

I am chairperson of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. I am joined by Mr. Brian McHugh who is a member of the commission with responsibility for our competition enforcement and mergers functions. I thank committee members for the opportunity to speak to them today and to provide our views on the competition (amendment) Bill 2021.

As the primary enforcement body for competition law, both the CCPC and our predecessor, the Competition Authority, used all their powers and resources to investigate suspected anti-competitive practices, and bring those damaging practices to an end. In doing so, we have built up a strong record of enforcement. However, developments in enforcement mechanisms have left Ireland out of step with the rest of Europe. Our ability to act is grounded in our statutory powers and, therefore, it is essential that those laws provide the CCPC with the right enforcement tools to effectively deter, detect and address white-collar crime relating to competition law. This Bill provides a significant opportunity for major change and will enable the CCPC to be more effective for the benefit of consumers, businesses and the economy as a whole. However, the devil is in the detail and the specifics of how this European legislation is transposed will determine how effective it is.

Turning to the CCPC’s enforcement powers, competition law investigations are built on physical and digital evidence, and they require in-depth economic and legal analysis. We have consistently used our current powers to challenge anti-competitive practices in a wide variety of sectors. We secured Ireland’s first conviction for bid rigging and we recently referred a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, into potential bid rigging in the procurement of publicly-funded transport services. Last year, we issued preliminary findings against a number of businesses in the motor insurance sector and most recently we secured a High Court order in respect of a commitment agreement with Ticketmaster.

We have a substantial enforcement track record but there are areas where we could have done more if we had the same powers as other competition agencies in the EU. For example, the most the CCPC can achieve at present, in a significant number of competition cases, is to seek commitments that the business will cease the practice or behaviour and not do it again. If we cannot obtain commitments ourselves, we can apply to the courts for a declaration that the behaviour is unlawful and obtain an injunction. In our view, this is not an effective deterrent to practices that harm competition and, ultimately, consumers.

Unlike other competition agencies, the CCPC cannot impose financial sanctions for breaches of competition law. Also, we cannot operate a leniency programme, which would allow for the reduction in fines when a business provides evidence that it has participated in a breach of competition law. Leniency programmes encourage companies to come forward with evidence and result in more effective, and efficient, investigations and enforcement.

I would like to speak about our investigative powers. Secret cartels are extremely damaging and are therefore considered a serious breach of competition law. This type of activity has a very harmful effect on consumers and the wider economy, as any or all of the following can happen as a result of businesses coming together to agree prices or to share out a market between them: prices go up while efficiency, innovation and the options available to consumers go down. They are also the most challenging breaches to detect and investigate as, by their nature, they involve a secret conspiracy. The parties involved often make a considerable efforts to hide their involvement from their customers and, indeed, from the CCPC. International experience has shown that cartelists have become more sophisticated in using electronic communications technology and social media apps to co-ordinate their behaviour. Indeed, many cartelists work diligently to avoid leaving a paper trail and only communicate verbally on their mobile phones.

For this reason, the CCPC is seeking investigative and surveillance powers which are appropriate to detect white-collar crime. We are very aware that the powers we seek must be balanced with safeguards for the rights of the individual. Currently, for the CCPC to search a premises, we must present sufficient evidence to a judge in order to obtain a warrant and we anticipate this level of judicial oversight will be maintained in our new powers.

As regards its implementation, this Bill will allow the use of important enforcement tools commonly used across the EU for the first time in Ireland. The CCPC believes that giving us these enforcement tools will fill a significant gap in the existing competition law enforcement regime in Ireland. The detail of how the regime works is crucial in ensuring that the legislation is effective. From our experience, we know that for there to be a meaningful deterrent, the threat of enforcement must be real and go beyond reputational damage. The CCPC is of the view that we require the power to: adopt infringement decisions; grant immunity from or reductions in fines; make orders; grant remedies; and impose fines in respect of breaches of competition law, subject to the appropriate judicial oversight.

As chair of the CCPC, and previously chair of the Competition Authority over a number of years, I can confidently say that we have spent many years enforcing the law to the best of our ability. I can assure members of the committee that the views put before them today come from much consideration over this time.

I firmly believe that the competition (amendment) Bill 2021 is a once in a generation opportunity to reform Irish competition law and align our enforcement regime with the rest of the EU, something that is long overdue. These are major changes and the detail of the Bill will be very important if we are to realise the full potential of these reforms and enable the CCPC to be more efficient, effective and impactful when tackling white collar crime in Ireland.

We recognise the CCPC must play its part in this, and in this regard we have been working very closely with our parent Department, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, both in terms of working through the detail of the legislation and considering the impact such powers will have on our organisation, particularly in ensuring there are sufficient resources, expertise and oversight. Our mission is to make markets work better and we are committed to playing our part in ensuring that this legislation benefits consumers, businesses and ultimately the economy.

We are happy to take any questions and further explain our views in more detail.

Mr. Garrett Blaney

Tá muid buíoch as ucht an cuireadh a bheith i láthair anseo inniu. On behalf of the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, I welcome the opportunity to appear before today’s hearing regarding the competition (amendment) Bill. I am joined by my fellow ComReg commissioner, Jeremy Godfrey.

ComReg was established by the Communications Regulation Act in 2002 and is now in its third decade. As part of our statutory functions and objectives, we promote competition and investment in the telecoms and electronic communications sector. We uphold end-user rights and we manage the radio spectrum. Our vision for the electronic communications sector is that consumers and businesses in Ireland have affordable, high quality and widespread access to communications services and applications that support their social and economic needs.

European law recognises that there are specific competition issues that arise in the telecoms sector and has established a bespoke regime for regulating the sector that operates alongside general competition law. The bespoke telecoms regime provides for national regulatory authorities to take ex ante action to prevent likely competition problems arising, even before they materialise. The general competition law regime, which provides for ex post enforcement against cartels and abuse of dominance, also applies in the sector.

ComReg is the national regulatory authority responsible for implementation of the specific telecoms regulatory regime in Ireland. Under the bespoke telecoms regime, we have used our ex ante powers to promote competition in markets such as broadband, voice telephony and broadcast of television signals. For example, we require Eir to make its network available to competing providers of broadband services. As a result, operators such as Sky and Vodafone have been able to enter the market. Today, around a third of all fixed broadband customers get their service from competitors using the Eir network for the final connection to customer premises.

ComReg also shares responsibility with the CCPC for enforcement of general competition law, other than merger control, in the electronic communications sector. ComReg and the CCPC have in place a co-operation agreement. This facilitates the performance by the CCPC and ComReg of their respective functions as competition authorities, to avoid duplication of activities and to ensure consistency of approach. In practical terms, notification and consultation between ComReg and the CCPC are promoted.

The competition (amendment) Bill will transpose the ECN+ directive into Irish law. It will only have an impact on ComReg’s powers and functions as a competition authority. Changes to our powers and functions under the bespoke telecoms regime, and transposition of new EU law in that area, require separate legislation. I will comment briefly on three issues in the Bill: sanctions, investigation powers and administrative arrangements. The directive requires civil financial sanctions for breaches of competition law. Ireland is one of only two EU member states that do not already have a system of administrative fines for breaches of competition law. This means we rely solely on criminal enforcement for financial sanctions of competition law breaches. However, the evidentiary requirements, the complex economic analysis involved in many cases and the criminal standard of proof mean that criminal prosecution is neither practical nor appropriate in most competition law cases.

ComReg therefore welcomes and supports the approach in the general scheme giving the Irish administrative competition authorities - the CCPC and ComReg - administrative fining powers, subject to appeal or confirmation by the High Court. ComReg believes that the proposed scheme, whereby the Irish competition authorities may, subject to court confirmation, impose fines at levels that are sufficiently high to act as a credible deterrent, is essential for the effective enforcement of competition law.

ComReg recognises nevertheless that there is a continuing role for criminal sanctions and welcomes the approach in the scheme for a dual civil and criminal sanction regime. For the enforcement regime to be as effective as possible, civil financial sanctions need to be complemented by enhanced investigations and enforcement powers and an effective leniency regime that encourages early resolution of cases. Some of the necessary powers are already available to both ComReg and the CCPC. We welcome the opportunity to enhance ComReg and CCPC powers so that both authorities have all the powers required by the directive.

It is vital for competition authorities to be able to obtain information that is relevant to their investigations, including by way of unannounced inspections. Information-gathering powers need to be underpinned by an ability to impose sanctions if the information required is not forthcoming. We welcome proposals in the scheme to enable the CCPC and ComReg to punish non-compliance in the context of an investigation by way of periodic penalty payments. These will assist a speedy and efficient enforcement regime.

It is also necessary for competition authorities to be able to stop egregious behaviours and protect consumers and competitors from harm in the short term by adopting appropriate and proportionate interim measures. Interim measures are essential to ensure competition law breaches do not profit those responsible pending completion of often complex investigations. Such measures are therefore a key component of the effectiveness of the enforcement regime and public confidence in it. In addition to the deterrence of breaches, effective enforcement also involves giving incentives to perpetrators to come forward and put an end to a breach and benefit from reductions in the fines where conditions are met. ComReg welcomes the proposals governing the establishment of a leniency regime.

We recognise the importance of fully and adequately protecting the rights of undertakings that are under investigation. We consider that competition authorities should have the flexibility to determine the precise administrative arrangements to achieve this in the light of their responsibility to organise themselves and deploy their resources as efficiently as possible. For this reason, we would urge that the Bill set out the principles about fairness contained in the directive rather than specifying administrative arrangements in detail. This will allow ComReg and the CCPC to define appropriate internal processes and procedures and to publish guidance for undertakings that provide transparency and legal certainty about how these processes will operate.

The transposition of the ECN+ directive paves the way for more effective deterrents to, and sanctions for, anti-competitive behaviour in Ireland. ComReg believes that the proposals in the Bill will have a positive effect on the effective enforcement of national and EU competition rules. However, I should emphasise that the Bill’s impact on ComReg will be limited to our role as an ex post competition authority. Similar enhancements to our enforcement powers are also required in respect of our functions under the bespoke telecoms regulatory regime if we are to become more effective at promoting competition and upholding end user rights.

ComReg has consistently advocated for such powers, for example in our submissions to the Law Reform Commission, LRC, on regulatory issues and corporate offences. We welcome that enhancement of such powers is also included in the programme for Government. We are discussing the details with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

We are discussing the details with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. We have also raised that topic when giving evidence to the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks last December. We welcome this Bill and the commitment by the Government and other parties and we hope this important legislative change can be implemented as soon as possible. ComReg supports the views of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, and as a competition authority for the electronic communication sector, considers the sector needs the same competition rules as those applying to other sectors in which the CCPC is the national competition authority.

I remind members of the need to focus on the provisions of the competition Bill we are examining as opposed to broader issues relating to ComReg or the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC.

I thank our witnesses for their evidence. I have a couple of questions. Time is tight and we have to careful in managing our time. As the witnesses are aware, this is the third time in four weeks we are considering this legislation. We have spoken to the Tánaiste, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, and Department officials.

In their opening statements, the witnesses referred to the further development of enforcement mechanisms and how we are our of kilter in this State. Are human and financial resources adequately provided for? Will additional resources be needed following the enactment of this legislation? Do the witnesses have clear sight of what those additional resources are? I have asked the following question to every contributor we have had so far. Can the extent to which white-collar crime is going undetected or is not pursued due to lack of financial resources, human resources or legislative powers be estimated?

Ms Isolde Goggin

Would Deputy O'Reilly like me to respond?

Please do.

Ms Isolde Goggin

As I mentioned, I am pleased to say we have been working closely with our parent Department, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, on the enforcement mechanism and it has granted a substantial increase in our payroll book for 2021 to take account of this, so we will be working our way through that and recruiting. What form the new recruits or structure of the organisation take will depend on the final shape of the legislation.

Digital investigations is the other important area. It that goes right across the board for us, including criminal and consumer investigations and some of our regulatory functions. Within the last year or so, we set up a digital investigations unit within the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, that provides resources to all the investigative and enforcement divisions across the organisation. It is quite small at the moment but we are hoping to staff it up and grow the in-house resources within the divisions.

The prevalence of white-collar crime is the great question for us. The problem with white-collar crime is its degree of invisibility. There is no dead body or smoking gun. The existence of the crime has to be proven before proving who did it. However, there is much evidence to suggest that price fixing and bid rigging cartels are prevalent. I refer to public procurement, in particular. I mentioned some we have investigated in the last couple of years.

International estimates from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, suggest the rate of overcharge is between 20% and 30%. Considering annual State spending of approximately €16 billion on goods and services, if even 1% of it was subject to price fixing or bid rigging, a surcharge of 20% or 30% would be a substantial sum of money.

My question related to the present. Enhanced human, financial and technological resources will be needed. It is obvious that given the legislative and resource constraints, significant or otherwise, a certain level of white-collar crime must be going undetected. We would not be having this conversation if Ms Goggin had all the powers and resources needed.

I am trying to get a picture of what this legislation will do, in terms of improvements, if certain white-collar crime goes undetected but Ms Goggins is confident these enhanced powers will assist in addressing that.

Ms Isolde Goggin

We would absolutely be confident.

I refer first to the area of leniency. It is a tool we have not had available to us. Under the current system where we do the investigation and the courts decide on the sentencing, there is great difficulty in encouraging or incentivising people to come forward with evidence. We have a cartel immunity programme that we worked out with the Director of Public Prosecutions for hard core cartels.

The great thing about the leniency programme, as implemented in other member states, is that the competition agency operates it. It is in control of the process from start to finish, so can encourage people to provide evidence by providing a guarantee that they will get a reduction in fines which does not happen when the investigative and the fining agency are split.

I refer back to bid rigging. We are keen on bid rigging being outlined as an offence in the general scheme. It is sometimes seen as a form of price fixing. We are keen on using screening and have been working with our parent Department and others to consider the issue of getting into the data for public procurement in particular. We are convinced that bid rigging happens in private procurement as well.

However, the public sector is such a big repeat purchaser of goods and services that there is great data to be mined out of that. We are considering potential legislative changes to bring this in, which would represent a substantial detection with an immediate deterrent effect. There is much to be detected and this will help us to do that.

I am aware, as is probably every member, from talking to people that small businesses in particular are convinced that bid rigging is a huge issue and a major cost to the taxpayer. Obviously, there is a real need to tackle bid rigging if one considers it is going on to the extent that Ms Goggin referred to as "hard core". Will these powers mean the CCPC will be able to go after that which is not necessarily appropriate to the criminal route but would still be of great concern and interest to taxpayers and small businesses? I refer to the area that is less than hard core. Is it a big issue? Would Ms Goggin be confident she would be able to tackle it with the enactment of this legislation or would she need additional resources?

Ms Isolde Goggin

We would be confident we would be able to tackle it with this legislation. This legislation gives us a suite of powers appropriate to many different situations with different levels of evidence. White-collar crime is crime. It is very serious crime. We will continue to bring prosecutions where we get the evidence appropriate to criminal prosecution because it is right to do so.

However, this allows one to look at other areas where the level of evidence is susceptible to proof on the balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt, which is the criminal standard. It gives a wider range of enforcement policies. We would expect to see detection rates increased.

Would Ms Goggin need additional human, technological and financial resources or, will this legislation be enough?

Ms Isolde Goggin

I refer not so much to the legislation but the conversations we have had with the Department on resources. I do not think one will ever hear the head of a State agency say he or she is confident there are enough resources forever and ever. However, we have plenty to be going on with. We will work hard to build up the organisation to the point we can spend the additional budget we have been given and absorb those resources. Perhaps we will come back to the Deputy in future years about future requirements.

I thank Ms Goggin.

The Deputy's time is up and I thank Ms Goggin. The next person, according to the rota, is Senator Ollie Crowe who has seven minutes.

Broadly speaking, I welcome the Bill. Most if not all members of the committee have spoken in the past about the need to enhance the authority of agencies to enforce competition law and provide greater protection for the consumers. There is a need for effective deterrents in order to ensure compliance with competition law. The power to impose financial penalties is naturally required and very welcome.

I believe there is some concern about the proposed additional powers related to video and audio surveillance. I recognise it is intended that such powers would only be used when investigating serious and criminal breaches of competition law under specific conditions. It is something that was discussed at a committee meeting a couple of weeks ago when Department officials said that it was not envisaged to have such powers without court involvement and oversight. Nonetheless, my understanding is that similar powers in other European jurisdictions have been struck down by courts and the European Courts of Human Rights. I refer, in particular, to a UK case involving the interception of telephone, email and data communications where the European Courts of Human Rights found that there was a violation of Article 8 of the convention as domestic law lacked clarity and did not provide protection against the abuse of power and, I suppose, with the scope or manner of the exercise there was very wide discretion conferred on the authorities. I would also note that the European Competition Network, ECN, directive does contain provision relating to such powers. I have one or two question in light of this. Is it the view that current legislation is sufficiently clear? From my perspective, the Bill does not seem to provide much certainty about which communications could be monitored. My reading is that it is intended that these powers would be used at the investigation stage, so at a point when the persons involved have not breached any laws. Is there a concern that this impacts their fundamental rights at a point when there is no legal charge against them?

Ms Isolde Goggin

There has been much commentary about the powers proposed in the Bill. The first point I would make is that serious crime requires serious powers to deal with it. On the criminal side, these are offences that carry a ten-year jail sentence, prosecution to the Central Criminal Court by the Director of Public Prosecutions. White-collar crime is crime. It is up there with other forms of crime in terms of the appropriate penalties. We would be very used to exercising the criminal powers that we have under the supervision of the courts. Again, we are a little bit different from some of our counterparts in Europe where they are used to doing things on the civil basis of proof. We come from the other end of the spectrum where we are used to the supervision of the courts in obtaining a search warrant, and we are used to proving our case in court to that level of proof.

In terms of the surveillance powers, they are just used in order to get one to the point where one has evidence to bring to a court or a tribunal. At the point that one uses the surveillance powers there is no certainty of guilt or otherwise but they are a very important investigative tool. We have certainly had cases in the past where we have had evidence, for instance, that a group was meeting in an hotel, that a group of businesses engaged in the same trade were meeting, we knew that meeting was going to happen and we had suspicions that it was a cartel meeting but we could not do anything in order to find out what went on at it. This was somewhat back in the day where, I think, people used to write down what they were talking about during the cartel meetings and one would be able to find stuff in the bin or whatever. Nowadays, as I mentioned, people are much more tech savvy and so on. There is a distinction between the powers that are proposed in this Bill, which are very targeted and would be exercised on foot of a warrant versus mass surveillance, which I think was the subject of the UK case that has been mentioned about communications, the retention of data and so on. We would see these powers as being exercised very narrowly and very much under the supervision of the courts. Again, I am sure that any input into the details of the legislation that make it clear that this is narrow, targeted and evidence-based would be very welcome.

To clarify, European law requires any legislation in this area of surveillance to be extremely clear and have strong protections against abuse. Is it the view of Ms Goggin that the Bill has these attributes? Is there a concern about such powers being used at the investigation stage when there is no legal charge against a person?

Ms Isolde Goggin

Again, I would make the distinction between the mass surveillance of communications and retention of data end of things, and the kind of surveillance that we would be looking at, which is very targeted in terms of particular companies or individuals on particular occasions. We would imagine that any warrant that would be granted would be very narrow in its application. It is an investigative tool. One has to use it before there is any indication of guilt. Does the Senator know what I mean? It comes in at that stage of the process. Again, the safeguards that would be there as regards not keeping any data that one was not warranted to have in the first place, etc., I would imagine that those would be very strictly enforced as well.

Our next speaker is Deputy Richard Bruton and he has seven minutes.

I welcome our guests. I am familiar with both of their operations, so I know that they put in a good shift on behalf of the consumer, for which I thank them.

In respect of this Bill, Ireland suffers from having a small number of big players in many sectors. As, increasingly, these become data smart players, they have new sources of power to abuse dominance, to use the term that is used in competition law. With these new civil powers, will there be an opportunity for either or both of the agencies to develop codes of practice that might set a standard for activities across a range of behaviours that influence competition? That might help us to get a better handle on this abusive dominance often which can be a little hidden and, I suspect, hard to prosecute and certainly under criminal sanction. Do we see new codes of practice or standards being promulgated by the agencies, on the back of these changed powers?

Ms Goggin said, a bit intriguingly, that the devil is in the detail in terms of how this is transposed into Irish law. What exactly are we supposed to be looking out for to make sure that the transposition is adequate?

More generally, we have, I suspect, somewhat weak consumer protections. Certainly in the telco area there have been many grounds for criticism. Some of the codes of practices do not seem to have been adequately enforced, and there is much complaint about a slow response from big players and difficulties in getting responses.

As we move to the civil standard again can we expect an uplift in consumer protection? Are there ways in which we can ensure this legislation has positive spillover effects into the consumer protection environment, apart from the strictly enforceable dimensions of the commission's work?

Ms Isolde Goggin

I will ask my colleague Mr. McHugh to come in on the code of practice. On the point of the devil being in the detail, we really need an holistic view of the process from start to finish where it is clear that whoever grants leniency at the beginning of the process is in a position to implement that at the end of it. If one is in charge of granting leniency then one is also in charge of developing the level of fines at the end of the process. That was the difficulty in the system we had previously, or the system that pertains in criminal investigations whereby the investigative agency and the agency that makes the decision on whether an offence has been committed and on the level of fines are separate. It is strict enough because obviously there needs to be a separation of the investigative and the adjudicative functions in the interests of natural justice, which is very clear. One cannot have a leniency programme, however, if one is not in charge of determining the ultimate level of the fine. This was one of our concerns. We absolutely understand and respect the need for the provisions of natural justice but we are aware that there are lots of agencies in this space in the EU that are not huge. We would look particularly at the Scandinavian and the Baltic agencies that are relatively small agencies in relatively small countries, and they seem to be able to do this to the satisfaction of the European Court of Justice, ECJ. We cannot see why Ireland would not be able to do it. I will ask Mr. McHugh to address the code of practice issue, and then I will come back in on the consumer protections.

Mr. Brian McHugh

The commission issues certain levels of guidance and so does the European Commission in some areas, for example in the setting of standards where it may be appropriate for some companies to co-ordinate when they set standards on the very live issues such as environmental standards and how they should be set across industries. There are also block exemptions, on which there is a lot of guidance around what does and does not fall within competition law. We do an amount of this and we publish, as does the European Commission, and we work with the European Commission on that.

Another element is that when we do an investigation we try to publish the investigation note by guidance to the industry on what does and does not fall within breaches of competition law. We believe it is useful to send out a message to industry. Ultimately, with the new legislation we will have new powers in areas such as the abuse of dominance. As Ms Goggin has mentioned, if a company is abusing its dominance today there is no financial punishment available from us or from the courts. This proposed legislation is a game changer for an area of competition law such as abuse of dominance. Like other countries in the EU, where the evidence is in place and where the decision is appropriate, Ireland would now be able to fine companies for those abuses.

Ms Isolde Goggin

The phrase I should have used earlier was "legal certainty". We are talking about major firms that have legal advisers. They will not be advised to enter a leniency programme unless the organisation can provide legal certainty as to what will happen to them at the end. We see this as a huge issue in ensuring that the leniency programme actually becomes effective.

On the point about weak consumer protections, I would not see this legislation as being particularly relevant in that area. There is a raft of consumer protection legislation coming down the tracks with a substantial amount of consumer protection regulations and directives coming through from Brussels at the moment, which we are working our way through with the Department. I imagine that many of those will come before the committee in due course. Those regulations reflect what Deputy Bruton said about the generally weak level of consumer protections. It is about trying to get a level of protection that is the same across the European Union, and which enables agencies like ours to move more quickly and with a greater degree of certainty.

Mr. Garrett Blaney

I will ask my colleague, the commissioner, Mr. Godfrey, to respond to the question on consumer protection, especially in the telecoms sector which is a very narrow field. Perhaps my fellow commissioner will come in on that.

Mr. Jeremy Godfrey

I thank Deputy Bruton for his acknowledgement of the shift we put in on behalf of the consumer. Certainly last year there were some significant problems with customer care in the telecoms sector. We had said that the experience consumers were having was unacceptable. I agree with Ms Isolde Goggin that this particular Bill is not relevant to the consumer protection issue. In principle, ComReg enforces the various obligations of operators with regard to consumer protection. The same principle of enforcement of obligations needs to be backed up by administrative fining powers and by effective sanctioning and investigation powers. We have advocated for those for some time. We are in discussion, as Mr. Blaney has said, with our own Department about them. That is what will make a difference to protection issues in the telecoms sector, and more generally in the economy.

Reference was made to potential abuses by data intensive companies. I draw the committee's attention to the digital markets Act that is being discussed in Brussels at the moment. This is a proposal to introduce an ex ante regulation for the major platforms. That will be a vehicle for addressing some of the concerns raised by the Deputy.

I thank the witnesses for their attendance I will first address questions to the representatives of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. On the public sector build awards, has the CCPC any powers or input in simplifying build tenders? I believe that in many cases, these appear to exclude people because of the complexity of the build tender that is put out in the public system.

Has the CCPC an opinion on companies bidding for build tenders when they are already defending existing legal cases in the courts in the State? These cases are to do with previous builds where they are accused of substandard supply, and yet the companies are still on bidding lists and are winning further awards for public sector builds.

Does the CCPC have any function in allowing wider access to an approved tenderers' list? If a contractor wants to build in the hospital space in Ireland the tender list is probably no wider than five large-scale builders who are looked at. There are other contractors in the private sector which, if they have not built a hospital or a large medical unit previously, are perceived to be excluded. Perhaps the witnesses will comment on those questions please.

Ms Isolde Goggin

We are very aware of the difficulties that smaller companies face when they try to get access to tenders in general, not just build tenders, and including larger tenders. We produced some guidance a couple of years ago, which I can send on to the committee, about how smaller companies might be able to group together to make bids for such tenders. There had been a concern that such a grouping of smaller competitors getting together might be seen as anti-competitive. If they are in a situation where they are facing some very large competitors, then it simply is not an issue.

The Deputy's query would come under our advocacy role rather than an enforcement role, where we want to promote competition. We do not have any role or expertise in determining what the criteria should be for getting access to those tenders. These are technical issues that belong to the tendering bodies. We certainly would encourage procuring bodies to make the field as wide as possible to encourage companies that are capable of providing the service to do so, and to avoid putting any barriers in their way that would stop them from doing so.

We do not have a view on the issue of whether companies currently defending court cases should be allowed to tender. That would be a matter for the courts and for the tendering agencies themselves to decide.

Is it something on which the CCPC should make some recommendation?

Ms Isolde Goggin

I do not see it as something that is within our area of expertise.

I am certainly willing to take it away and have a think about it, but usually it is more of a strictly legal question as to whether there are any grounds to stop them. If they are at the stage of a court case, but there has been no finding against them, the question is whether it would be legal to do so.

Does the commission have any function in respect of public procurement tenders in terms of trying to improve access for people to get on a tendering list again?

Ms Isolde Goggin

We do not have a direct function in that regard in our enforcement powers, but to come back to the way in which we have encouraged public bodies to make it easier for smaller companies to get together to access tenders, we would be very interested in it in our advocacy capacity.

In terms of the commission's advocacy capacity, has it made any findings on dual pricing on home and motor insurance in particular? Does Ms Goggin have any comment to make on the ongoing legal review of personal injuries such as soft tissue injuries where legal costs can be up to 20 times higher than cases taken through the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB?

Ms Isolde Goggin

On dual pricing, we did undertake to do some market research on the issue. From the point of view of a competition and consumer protection agency, it is a little complicated. We are aware that the committee has been concerned about it but, undoubtedly, price discrimination can give rise to negative effects. It is clear that there is a loyalty penalty for people who have stuck with a company over the years and that they have gradually been more and more disadvantaged as better packages are offered to new entrants. On the other hand, we are also aware that dual pricing can be the way for entrants to break into a market, particularly one dominated by a couple of substantial players. Where it is difficult for somebody to build market share, offering a better deal to new customers can be a way for them to build that market share and, over time, it can help to improve competition in an industry to the benefit of consumers. We are carrying out market research on the area to try to determine the issues at play, the ways in which people behave and who is advantaged or disadvantaged by such factors. When we have the results of that, we will be in a better position to take a position on whether dual pricing is a negative. We will wait for the results of that.

The other issue the Deputy raised related to insurance. I am sorry but I did not write it down.

It was about the ongoing judicial review on personal insurance awards. Essentially, it relates to soft tissue injuries and the propensity for those cases to end up with very high legal costs, up to 20 times higher when taken through the courts than when solved through the PIAB.

Ms Isolde Goggin

Yes, there is a lot going on in the insurance space at the moment. We have been involved in it ourselves. We did carry out a study at the behest of the previous Minister, Deputy Humphreys, on public liability insurance, which we published last year. We found there were various factors contributing to a perception of high prices and a lack of product offerings in the market. We are aware that the Judicial Council has been working on those recommendations as regards what used to be called the book of quantum. There is a great deal going on in this space, including in our area. We took some enforcement in respect of motor insurance. We are also aware that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is establishing an office for competition in the insurance industry. We hope that, over time, all of those factors coming together will result in an improvement in the market for consumers, but it is a very complex market and those matters will take time. Perhaps Mr. McHugh would like to come in to speak about our own actions.

Mr. Brian McHugh

I will add just one thing in terms of legal costs. We are all aware the Judicial Council will make a decision in that area. One of the elements we thought was important in our market study was to give a greater role to the PIAB because it takes a much less intensive legal route through the process. What the market study showed is the two approaches tend to end up at quite similar points in terms of the compensation levels. One of the recommendations of the market study was to give the PIAB a greater role, which could have the benefit of reducing the overall legal costs for those involved in compensation claims.

I thank Mr. McHugh. I am afraid Deputy Shanahan's time is up. We have concluded round 1 so we will move on to round 2. If anyone else wants to come in he or she should please raise the flag on Teams. Deputy O'Reilly has seven minutes.

I will put the right time on my phone so that I will not go over. I want to go back to the issue of bid rigging. Could Ms Goggin estimate how much this is costing the Exchequer? From talking to small businesses, in particular in the building area, they are absolutely convinced that bid rigging goes on. The people who contact us are those who feel that they have lost out in this regard. I know there are people who are responsible for spending some of this money and who regard it as something of a victimless crime. However, it is the taxpayer who is on the hook for it. Could Ms Goggin estimate the cost to the Exchequer of the practice of bid rigging? Could she outline the extent to which she thinks she will be able to make an impact on it in the short to medium term? I am sure she is as aware as I am of how angry people are about this matter, because a lot of business people who are trying to do the right thing feel that they are losing out. They feel they are in a competition that is over before they even get to enter.

Ms Isolde Goggin

It is difficult to put a figure on it because we do not know how much there is, because it is a secret. We end up going around in circles on it. If we had the tools, we could get more evidence and then we would know how much it was. If one looks at the scale of public procurement it would not take long to get into the hundreds of millions even if the scale of bid rigging is quite low. We know from the experience in other countries that it can easily be up to 1% or 2% of public procurement. It would not take one long to get into very substantial amounts of money. What we think is that having bid rigging as a separate offence will make it easier to prosecute because it will make it clearer what the event is that is occurring. We know, for instance, from our colleagues in Germany, the Bundeskartellamt, which has a separate offence of bid rigging, that they are kept very busy. It has a separate unit that does nothing but investigations into bid rigging. I could see us potentially getting to that scale. It has to be brought out into the open because the more people see something like this happen, the more they will look at it and say it is wrong, that it is not right because it is taxpayers' money that is being stolen.

I agree wholeheartedly with Ms Goggin. This is effectively taxpayers' money that is being stolen. Trying to quantify the extent of it would be helpful inasmuch as it would act as a marker in terms of judging how the legislation and any additional powers are performing. Does Ms Goggin get the point I am making? I understand that it is tough because it is a secret practice. That is one of the most awful things about it. Equally, I would be concerned if we are not in a position to set a target to say that this is the extent of it and that we are going to tackle it, because that would send a very powerful message to those people who are engaged in the practice at the moment, that this is quantified and it will not be tolerated. I understand that none of us tolerate it willingly or intentionally, but it is happening and a very clear message should and could be sent to the people who are engaged in that practice at the moment.

Ms Isolde Goggin

Absolutely. We think that screening and being able to get access to the information on eTenders in order to see what is happening would be useful. That has not happened. We know from our counterparts internationally that where it has been done it has thrown up a lot of very useful information. Screening is important. It is great if we do the screening and it shows nothing because we have a good public procurement system, but screening has been helpful in showing up issues in other countries. Once one gets a few cases, one can usually use them as a deterrent.

The deterrents show what is happening, how bad the situation is and the consequences for those who engage in the practice. I agree with the Deputy that we need to get involved, take cases in this area and show that the matter is being pursued and will be detected. We would then use that in our advocacy function to talk to others in a procurement space.

As Ms Goggin said, we are talking about hundreds of millions of euro.

I will focus on the leniency regime referred to in the submission and on which Ms Goggin elaborated. Recently, the Data Protection Commission, DPC, issued a fine of €450,000. To us, that may be a substantial amount of money but to those who were fined, it is not. International and European agencies commented on this case. For example, it was stated that in Germany, the fine would have been somewhere between €7 million and €22 million. I am not suggesting that the case in question will establish a precedent for the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission but something of a precedent has been established. Will the CCPC have the necessary resolve to go hard after the guilty parties and to issue fines in the context of the leniency regime? Will the fines issued reflect international best practice? Clearly, a €450,000 fine for a multilbillion euro company is not an effective deterrent.

Ms Isolde Goggin

The maximum level of the fine is set in the legislation. It is up to 10% of annual turnover. The normal practice is that there are fining guidelines which set out the aggravating and mitigating factors. Certain factors might result in a reduction in the fine and others might result in an increase in it. It is important to reiterate that leniency is the way the information is obtained, which leads to the investigation in the first place. Leniency is an investigative tool used at the start of the process, not a tool of justice used at the end of the process. The purpose of leniency is not to be nice to parties; it is to get the information that allows others to be pursued. The pool of those eligible for leniency is quite small. The idea is that it facilitates the cracking of the cartel.

The European Commission has been using this method and imposing fines for years. Some of the fines imposed in the cartel cases are very substantial. For example, there was a whole series of related cartels in the car parts industry. That resulted in fines that amounted to €2 billion. The Commission has also imposed some very substantial fines for the abuse of dominance on companies in the technology sector. The levels of fines imposed in this area are certainly a few orders of magnitude higher than the fines imposed in cases such as that referred to by the Deputy. Again, it comes down to the evidence.

Coming back to the point raised about natural justice, we envisage that the fines would be overseen by the courts. The fines in competition cases have been more related to the level of damage caused and the turnover of the companies involved. They can be very substantial indeed. I might ask Mr. McHugh to add to that.

Unfortunately, the time is up.

I have a question for the CCPC on the digital investigation unit, which Ms Goggin said is newly established and has a small number of staff. The issue of resourcing has been raised already by Deputy O'Reilly. Does Ms Goggin have any thoughts about ensuring that staff have adequate proficiency in languages and the IT specialisation required for working in that sector? Perhaps recruiting those with hacking skills may be the way to go when trying to monitor IT.

I am also wondering about the cross-European co-ordination that Ms Goggins spoke about, considering that many conspiracies are inter-country in nature. In the US, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO legislation, was introduced to tackle narcotics. Could a kind of RICO law be introduced to cover this area, so that rather than just getting the satellite companies of group companies, the holding companies and directors could be targeted and sanctioned in the cases of significant breaches such as bid rigging or price-fixing?

Ms Isolde Goggin

On the issue of proficiency in languages, we are quite a diverse group as matters stand. I believe there are people of 12 different nationalities working in the organisation so we have been able to co-operate with our colleagues across Europe. There is a European competition network, which comprises representatives from all the member states, as well as the European Commission. We have legal cover to exchange information and provide mutual assistance to one another, so the network works quite well.

The IT side is always an issue. Data science and big data is the current trend, but those with proficiency in that area are few and far between as well as expensive to recruit. We have been quite happy with how we have been able to use our staff internally to date. We head up a digital investigations network which comprises the CCPC and members of other investigative agencies across the State that do similar work. We talk to each other often and try to resolve problems that we have. We also participate in networks with other competition agencies across Europe. We try to pick people's brains as best we can and get a lot of bang for our buck.

The Deputy's question on the RICO legislation is most interesting. I will ask Mr. McHugh to respond to that. The issue of what is referred to as parental liability has been much discussed throughout Europe. It means that in a case where a company that has committed an offence goes out of business or ceases to exist, the parent company, up to where the final decisions were actually made, can be pursued. There are some good provisions in EU law which allow us to co-operate with each other and pursue cases across national boundaries.

Mr. Brian McHugh

There is legal precedent for this in cases where holding companies have been held responsible. As Ms Goggins said, there have been cases in which subsidiaries subject to investigation have gone out of business but the holding companies have been held responsible for the behaviour and punished accordingly, with a fine, for example. It is quite a technical legal point but there is precedent for this.

I would like to return to the issue of the capacity to develop codes of practice on the back of a new civil standard of prosecution. In her reply, Ms Goggin talked about block exemptions. However, that is a very narrow competition response to cases where parties are trying to get exemptions for behaviour that might be construed as anti-competitive. Is there a wider range of areas for which codes of practice could be established? I am thinking of dominant companies in particular. I have seen predatory pricing carried out by companies that appears to be wrong. Could a code of practice on predatory pricing by dominant players be introduced? Could codes of practice be brought in around the adequacy of complaint procedures and the ability of consumers to contact companies in the event that service is unsatisfactory? It is a real mark of a dominant player that it can start to become lazy around the provision of service to its consumers. With this new civil standard, if codes were developed in some of the areas I mentioned, could they become a more effective means of tackling such behaviour? Ultimately, civil action can be taken if companies fail to comply with what appear to be good codes. Is there further capacity to develop codes and set standards so that good practice can evolve in the sector, rather than having to rely on "Gotcha" options? Civil and criminal action is always difficult. I am wondering whether the new civil standard opens up that option.

Ms Isolde Goggin

We were quite looking forward to the "Gotcha" element of this. We thought we would be able to address many of the behaviours with the new powers. In the competition space, we have generally shied away from getting involved in codes of practice and developments that could almost be seen as regulatory functions.

Perhaps the witnesses from ComReg will want to come in on this. We have not done it much, probably because we feel that dominant companies should not need a code of practice. They are big, well resourced and stuffed with lawyers. They should know the law and abide by it. I am always a little reluctant to get State agencies involved in taking over a part of what should be a company's responsibilities. It is certainly something we will take away and think about but it might be something to consider further a few years down the road. Our big drive at the moment is to try to establish a track record of enforcement with the new powers we have. When those boundaries have been set, it can be discussed with people how to comply with them and how they will be enforced. There will have to be a little more drawing of the boundaries before we get to that point.

Mr. McHugh might like to come in on that.

Mr. Brian McHugh

One issue is that this is a breach of the law. Codes of practice tend to be used for matters such as complaints and how companies should interact with and treat their customers. They can follow a code of practice and if they breach it, there may be a punishment. We are dealing with breaches of the law. The law has not changed because of these new powers; it is just the punishment that has changed. It is a more difficult and risky task to put a code of practice in place to define the law in some detail, given that the law is the law. What has tended to happen, quite successfully, is that precedent is set as cases are taken and won or lost and as competition agencies and courts make decisions on different cases. The issues for each company are very detailed, such as whether and how the company is dominant, what the markets are and what the abuse might be. There is a wide range of issues within that and it is very case-specific. Codes of practice, therefore, would not lend themselves to competition law as well as they would to other areas such as consumer protection.

Mr. Garrett Blaney

I might come in from ComReg's point of view. Our ex ante regulation is what drives us mainly. My fellow commissioner Mr. Godfrey might talk a bit about our experience of codes of practice.

Mr. Jeremy Godfrey

I want to talk about codes of practice for complaint handling. It is really important that when things go wrong, customers have an adequate means of redress. In the telecoms sector, under the ex ante bespoke regime, ComReg requires each operator to have a code of practice for complaint handling. We have outlined some requirements of what must be in that code of practice. There must be a telephone number and other ways by which people can register complaints, complaints must be acknowledged within two working days and resolved within ten working days, customers who are not happy with the resolution must be told that they have the right to bring the case to ComReg, which can get involved, and ultimately there is a form of binding alternative dispute resolution.

What we would like to be enhanced, as Mr. McHugh said, are the penalties and sanctions when the codes of practice are not abided by. It is not just a question of taking a long and extensive compliance action. We would also like there to be measures such as automatic penalties or compensation for customers when the codes of practice for handling complaints are not delivered on. Again, that is not really within the scope of the Bill but the question of enforcement powers is really important to us. Consequently, it is not just a question of ComReg imposing obligations on operators but rather ensuring that those obligations will be complied with, with deterrents against non-compliance. That is an ongoing conversation we are having with our parent Department and we look forward to it bearing some fruit.

My question relates to anti-competitive practices, not just bid-rigging. A recent report showed that Dublin City Council is paying about €100,000 more for construction than it would in the private sector. Practices can be seen in respect of public procurement, particularly for large-scale projects; it is not just bid-rigging. When we addressed this issue at another meeting, we talked about the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, and the powers it has. Would there be value in giving powers to the witnesses' agencies similar to those possessed by CAB or will the focus be more on regulation and guidelines? I refer not just to bid-rigging but to other anti-competitive practices that might be going on. The witnesses might comment on the construction sector in particular because that issue has been raised with me and with people who believe there are anti-competitive practices. That is despite the fact that, as I have said previously, others believe that this sort of activity is something of a victimless crime, which we know it is not. Might additional powers such as those that CAB has be required? The taxpayer is being ripped off to the tune of quite a substantial amount of money and we need to change the attitude to this because it is not a victimless crime. We need to go after white-collar crime with the same vigour that CAB goes after blue-collar criminal activity.

Ms Isolde Goggin

We would be absolutely on board with that. It is our intention to go after white-collar crime with all the resources and powers that we have at our disposal.

The issue of the cost of public procurement has been ongoing for centuries. Funnily enough, the other day I was reading something written by Samuel Pepys in the 1660s. He was in charge of the royal dockyards in England, or something like that. He wrote that it was impossible for the king to buy anything as cheaply as other men. It has been around for centuries that once the public purse is available, people seem to get very good at finding ways of exploiting it.

I would not consider the CAB-type powers, particularly in the context of the seizure of assets and so on, to be useful to us at this point. When we talk about competition offences, we look at quite a wide range. There are matters that we see as clearly in the criminal space, such as bid-rigging, price-fixing, market-sharing and so on, but there are other practices such as vertical agreements and abuse of dominance that are not subject to proof at that criminal standard but which can be proved in other ways. We think the appropriate step to do in such cases is to investigate those cases and to use the new powers we are being given to do so.

Part of the issue of competition investigation is that there are parties that are damaged. If a criminal offence is proved, according to the current legislation that is res judicata. Anyone who is damaged by the practice can come forward to seek damages, and the case is regarded as having been proved to the extent that the facts are the same. That is not necessarily the same in the civil arena, but we hope that if the level of enforcement of competition offences, as a public agency, can be improved, that would stimulate an increase in the number of private sector cases, which includes the likes of public procurers. People who could prove they had been damaged by an anti-competitive practice could go after the company and get damages as recompense for that.

We see companies being pursued and the possibility of damages as being the most valuable ways to deter people from engaging in these practices. It will take a couple of years, but our focus for those first years will certainly be to build up a track record in enforcement and then to enable the damaged parties, if one likes, to be able to exercise their rights in court to seek redress and get the damages back.

As there are no further members indicating, I have a question for both ComReg and the CCPC on the issue of staffing and costs. If the EU directive is transposed and the new powers of deterrence and enforcement are made available, will there be a need for additional specialist staff? If so, how many staff will ComReg and the CCPC require? A linked question is whether the witnesses foresee a need for increased funding. What level of increased funding would be required annually?

Ms Isolde Goggin

We did foresee a need for an increase in funding, particularly in staffing. Last year, we engaged with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment on the formulation of our budget ask for this year. I am very happy to say that we were given a substantial increase in our pay budget for this year. We are still working out, based on the detail of what is in the Bill, what sort of people we need and who goes where. We certainly need economists and lawyers. We will probably need people in the IT space as well. That is really one of the areas where we are looking at the prospects of attracting and retaining people because it is very specialised and there is a lot of demand for it. We have a little bit of concern about how to do it but we are still working through that. We are happy that we have built up the unit we currently have and that we are building up specialist expertise within each of the divisions as well, including competition enforcement, consumer protection, product safety, criminal investigation and so on. We cannot complain at the moment.

Do the representatives of ComReg wish to answer that question?

Mr. Garrett Blaney

Similarly, we have several new functions. Obviously, the Bill relates to one such function, but there are many other functions that ComReg has taken on. We have requested extra staff and, similar to the CCPC, our extra ask was granted. In terms of funding, we are a self-funding agency. We are funded from a levy on industry and there is also funding from the sale of spectrum. Both of those sources set funding for us, so we do not have a call on the Exchequer. However, similar to the CCPC, we have been successful in securing extra resources.

As we have a little additional time, do the witnesses wish to make any further brief remarks? If they do not, that is okay.

Ms Isolde Goggin

We very much appreciate the interest of the committee. That interest is obvious from the debate and level of engagement we have had and the way in which people are getting stuck into this issue and really understanding it. What we would like to see coming out of this is an enforcement regime that is straightforward, simple and pretty much on par with what goes on across the board in Europe and which gives us the powers our colleagues have. We are very conscious that giving us powers of this scale and scope is a big deal. We absolutely understand our responsibility to exercise those powers judiciously, proportionately and within the law. We will absolutely commit to using them within those constraints, but to the best of our ability to procure the best deal for consumers and the public purse.

Mr. Garrett Blaney

There is nothing in particular that we wish to add. We just add our support to the CCPC and the various asks, etc.

I thank the witnesses and members. That concludes our consideration of this matter today. I thank the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the Commission for Communications Regulation for assisting the committee today. We will give further consideration to this matter as soon as possible. The meeting is now adjourned. Due to restrictions currently in effect for committee meetings, the committee will be unable to meet in public session next week, which is unfortunate. I will be in touch with members as soon as possible regarding arrangements for our next meeting. I thank members for their participation in this meeting under these exceptional circumstances. I again thank the witnesses. Go raibh maith agat to everybody.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.25 a.m. sine die.