The rules on awarding public contracts have provisions which allow the specification of social criteria, such as the requirement for employment of long term unemployed, as a condition in the performance of the contract. Any such provision must be compatible with EU law, i.e. they must be made known to all interested parties and must not restrict participation by contractors from other Member States. Subject to this, contracting authorities have the discretion to apply such conditions, as appropriate.
I understand that the National Procurement Service is currently looking at developing guidance for contracting authorities in relation to the use of such social clauses.
Under the EU Directives on public procurement, public works, supplies and service contracts above certain thresholds must be advertised on the Official Journal of the EU and awarded on the basis of objective and non-restrictive criteria. For contracts below these thresholds, the general requirement is that they be advertised on the national public procurement website www.etenders.gov.ie or, depending on value, awarded on the basis of a competitive process of direct invitation to an adequate number of suitable suppliers.
The aim of the rules is to promote an open, competitive and non-discriminatory public procurement regime which delivers best value for money. It would be a breach of the rules for a public body to favour or discriminate against particular candidates on grounds of nationality and where the EU Directives apply there are legal remedies which may be used against any public body infringing these rules. In this regard, it is worth pointing out that the open market regime also offers opportunities for Irish companies to win business abroad and reliable EU studies indicate that many Irish businesses are successful in this regard.