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Ireland's biggest company is being investigated by the competition watchdog

The offices of CRH subsidiary Irish Cement were raided last week.

Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

THE STATE’S COMPETITION watchdog has raided the Co Meath offices of Irish Cement – a subsidiary of industrial giant CRH.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has searched a number of premises of businesses involved in the bagged cement trade with the support of gardaí as part of a probe into anti-competitive practices in the sector.

While the commission has declined to say which companies were involved, CRH has confirmed Irish Cement was one of the operations raided – although it has denied any wrongdoing.

The Sunday Business Post reported thousands of documents were seized in the dawn raids which represented the first salvo in a major investigation into anti-competitive practices across the cement industry.

CRH, which as a market value of about €20.5 billion, is easily the largest player and the investigation will centre on whether it abused its dominant position.

The company said it “fully facilitated the inspection” and would continue to cooperate with the commission.

Irish Cement operates to the highest business standards across all elements of its operations and is confident that it has no issue in relation to competitive practice,” it said in a statement.

CRH AGM CRH chief executive Albert Manifold Source: Niall Carson/PA

Price-fixing allegations

However it’s not the first time the company has come under the eye of authorities both at home and abroad, with subsidiaries in Switzerland and Poland both accused of price-fixing in recent years. The Polish probe ended in a fine, which the Swiss case is yet to be resolved.

In 2012 Jobs Minister Richard Bruton was forced to deny any conflict of interest over his shareholding in the company and his refusal to order an investigation of alleged anti-competitive practices in the materials industry.

Bruton opens Brockley Groups new units Jobs Minister Richard Bruton Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Meanwhile, CRH recently announced it was in talks to buy up to €6 billion in assets from European rivals Holcim and Lafarge, which were being forced to sell parts of their businesses under a proposed merger deal.

That buyout would make the company, which was formed in 1970 through the merger of Irish Cement and another domestic firm, Roadstone, the biggest cement producer in eastern Europe.

It is already Ireland’s largest company by both turnover and workforce size, with operations in 35 countries and about 76,000 employees.

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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