Closure of Investigation into Alleged Anti-competitive Practices in the Bagged Cement Sector

February 28, 2020

In 2014, the CCPC commenced a competition investigation following concerns about alleged exclusive purchasing arrangements in the bagged cement sector, including exclusive rebates, target rebates or other exclusionary practices.

One of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s (CCPC) roles is to enforce Irish and EU competition law by investigating suspected breaches of the Competition Act 2002 or Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Where the CCPC forms the view that Irish and/or EU competition law has been breached, the CCPC can initiate civil or criminal court proceedings seeking appropriate sanctions.

During the course of the investigation, the CCPC took various steps including:

  • conducting unannounced searches at a number of premises;
  • issuing a number of witness summonses and conducting summons hearings under sections 18(1)(a) to (c) of the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014;
  • issuing a number of requirements for information pursuant to section 18(1)(d) of the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014;
  • conducting interviews with potential witnesses; and
  • undertaking field work, including anonymous visits to bagged cement distributors.

In the course of the investigation the CCPC gathered a substantial amount of electronic material from relevant parties. With the assistance of digital forensic tools, the CCPC conducted a detailed and extensive review and assessment of all of the documents available to it (with the exception of the information contained in the mailbox detailed below). Based on its assessment of the information and material currently available to it, the CCPC has decided to close the investigation due to insufficient evidence of a breach of competition law.

It should however be noted that the CCPC always reserves the right in this as in other cases to reopen investigation files should new information be bought to its attention.

Legal Challenge

As part of the CCPC’s investigation, the CCPC carried out an unannounced search at the premises of Irish Cement Limited (“Irish Cement”), a subsidiary of CRH plc (“CRH”) on 14 May 2015. During the search, the CCPC seized a number of electronic documents including the mailboxes of a number of current and former key employees and senior executives of Irish Cement. In November 2015, CRH brought a High Court action against the CCPC arguing that certain electronic files within the mailbox of one such senior executive were unrelated to the business of Irish Cement and therefore could not be reviewed by the CCPC. The High Court ruled in favour of CRH in April 2016. In May 2017, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal brought by the CCPC against the High Court’s judgment. Following this judgment, the CCPC published a Privacy Protocol which outlines the safeguards put in place by the CCPC to protect privacy rights in future investigations.

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