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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 22 Jun 2022

Vol. 286 No. 6

Competition (Amendment) Bill 2022: Committee and Remaining Stages

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, to the House. He has taken this Bill through the Dáil and now the Seanad.

Sections 1 to 27, inclusive, agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and will be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed. Before I call Senator Ó Donnghaile to move amendment No. 1, I see Councillor Albert Dolan from Galway County Council has joined us and I welcome him. It is always good to see members of our electorate and local government in the House.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 106, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

"Amendment of section 21 of Act of 2014

28. Section 21 of the Act of 2014 is amended by the insertion of the following subsection:

"(2) When considering the provision of moneys to be provided to the Commission, the Minister may give consideration to the additional powers the Commission may have undertaken, or been provided with, in a given year, and the increased expenses the Commission may have incurred as a result.".".

I thank the Acting Chair for his guidance. As the Minister of State knows, the two amendments are similar in nature. They are very similar to what was moved by my colleague, Deputy O'Reilly, in the Dáil. The purposes of the amendments are broadly similar. They recognise the new powers that will be conferred on the commission on passing the legislation. This will mean the workload will increase. The concern is that unless money is provided to reflect the increased workload important work will not be done, to the point that it would affect the organisation's ability to carry out necessary functions. We have tabled the amendments because we need to have a belt, braces and baler twine approach to ensure the commission has all of the resources it needs. New powers are welcome but they are effectively useless without the capacity of the organisation to back it up. The two amendments are broadly similar and I ask the Minister of State to reflect on both in his contribution.

I will address the two amendments together as there is considerable overlap between them. They were proposed by Deputy O'Reilly during the Bill's passage through the Dáil. I gave them considerable consideration at that time. I wholeheartedly agree with Deputy O'Reilly and the Senators who have proposed these amendments that it is important that any regulatory body be adequately resourced to coincide with any necessary legislative provisions that give it additional powers. The Department and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, recognise that significant adequate additional resources will be required to implement this new legislation. In the past two budgets alone, the CCPC has received an increase of more than 30%. At present it has 146 staff and it intends to increase this to more than 200 by the end of this year.

If the commission's assessment is that additional funding is required based on the structures included in the Bill, it can submit an increased Estimate bid as part of the budget 2023 negotiations. Such a bid is subject to agreement by the Tánaiste and Minister Enterprise, Trade and Employment. If approved, it would be incorporated into the overall departmental Estimates package that will be subject to negotiation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for budget 2023. The Senator's amendment would set an unusual departure from this process whereby past spending would have to be accounted for rather than projected spending. If the budgets in 2017 and 2018 had been based on the past performance the CCPC would not have received the additional 30% for 2021 and 2022. In fact, those budgets were based on future projections. The Government is obliged under EU law to ensure its competition authorities are sufficiently resourced.

When Deputy O'Reilly tabled these amendments in the Dáil, I looked further into the matter, particularly on what options would be available to the CCPC if it were to find itself under-resourced at a future date and unable to carry out its functions. I consulted with the commission and I have been advised that if such an event were to occur it has the ability to contact the European Commission's DG Competition directly. The CCPC has direct contact with the Commission's officials in the appropriate unit. This would be likely to be the first point of contact if it were to have concerns about future funding. This means the CCPC has recourse if a future government were not to adequately resource the commission or, as Deputy O'Reilly said on Report Stage, if a future government decided to slash it.

While I appreciate the concerns underpinning the amount and the importance of ensuring that the CCPC is able to effectively carry out its functions, I believe we have safeguards in place. What is more, I believe we have demonstrated this in the past two years. Even in advance of the legislation being enacted, in preparation for the new powers coming on board we have allocated an additional 30%. We are supporting the CCPC to increase its headcount from 146 to in excess of 200 later this year. I cannot support the amendments.

Before I come to my response, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the members of the north Belfast and Lurgan community restorative justice harm reduction group who are in the Gallery. The name is a bit of a tongue twister but they are very welcome all the same. In my capacity as a Sinn Féin spokesperson on justice and equality, I believe the work that restorative practitioners do throughout Ireland and more broadly is to be commended, developed and supported.

I will not prolong our presence in the Chamber needlessly. I disagree with the analysis of the Minister of State for the reasons I have outlined. Given that we are to take Committee and Remaining Stages this afternoon, I would like to have our perspective, analysis and rationale for the amendments put to the House.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Sections 28 to 30, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 109, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

"Amendment of section 28 of Act of 2014

31. Section 28 of the Act of 2014 is amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (1):

"(1A) When considering the appointment of staff to the Commission, the Minister may give consideration to the additional powers the Commission may have undertaken, or been provided with, in a given year, and the increased workload the Commission may have incurred as a result.".".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Sections 31 to 43, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.

When is it proposed to take next Stage?

Bill received for final consideration.

When is it proposed to take next Stage?

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I will make a few concluding remarks. I too would like to acknowledge Councillor Dolan in the Gallery.

At its heart, this Bill is about the need for fair and open competition for our businesses, economy and society. We know the vast majority of businesses do not engage in uncompetitive practices, but there are some which do. These practices drive out competition, drive up costs for ordinary citizens and undermine the dynamic nature of our economy. That is why I prioritised this Bill as soon as I took office and was determined to bring it before the Oireachtas. I sincerely thank the Senators for their overall support for the Bill to date and the time they have taken to engage in-depth with legislation that, by necessity, is long and legally complex.

While enacting the Competition (Amendment) Bill involves meeting our obligations as a member of the European Union, it is about much more than just that. It is about ensuring that Ireland's citizens are protected. This Government is committed to taking a tough stance on white-collar crime and ensuring our regulatory bodies have effective powers and are effectively resourced.

As I said, most businesses operate in a fair and honourable manner. We have an obligation to those businesses to deal effectively and efficiently with anti-competitive practices in order that law-abiding businesses can thrive. Competition benefits all consumers and drives innovation and efficiencies. These efficiencies can be passed onto consumers in the context of competitive pricing.

I thank Senators again for their positive reception of the Bill. It is important that our businesses have certainty and consumers can reap the benefits of a dynamic and competitive economy.

Question put and agreed to.
Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 2.44 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 3.30 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 2.44 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.