THE MINISTER FOR Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton has denied any conflict of interest regarding his shareholding CRH Plc and his declining to investigate allegations of anti-competitive practices by the company.
Bruton, responding to a parliamentary question by Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, denied that a conflict of interest had led to his decision not to to ask the Competition Authority to carry out a market study or analysis of the cement, concrete and aggregates industry – after Flanagan noted the company had accused been of “conducting a market eviction strategy at the cost of taxpayers and independent producers which has led to a loss of jobs to the economy”.
Bruton said his interests in CRH Plc were “well known” and that he was satisfied that no conflict of interest rises in this situation, adding: “The obligation on me as Minister is to declare my interests, which I have done”.
The Minister said accusations against any business regarding a breach of competition law would be a matter for the Competition Authority – as it is the statutory body responsible for the reinforcement of such laws – and that he had “no direct function” in such matters.
Bruton said the Competition Authority, as the body responsible for competition law in Ireland, had the power to study and analyse any practice or method of competition affecting the supply and distribution of goods or the provision of services or any other matter relating to competition. As such, he said, the Authority had carried out a number of in-depth market studies in various sectors of the economy and published its reports, including recommendations aimed at improving competition in these areas. “This work, which is often referred to as a market study, generally involves a detailed economic analysis of a sector in its entirety,” he pointed out.
He said that, in his role as Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, he was permitted to request the Authority to carry out a study or analysis of any practice or method of competition affecting the supply and distribution of goods or the provision of services – but added that such a request was related to an in-depth economic analysis and not “a request to carry out an investigation into alleged criminal behaviour”.
In its 2011 Annual Report, the Authority acknowledged that it was investigating allegations of anti-competitive activities in the concrete and cement industries. Bruton noted that, due to ongoing court cases in relation to these matters, it would be “inappropriate” for him to request the Authority to carry out a market study in this area or to comment further on the matter.