Competition & Antitrust Update: 2015 Overview

Author:Mr Niall Collins, Michael Madden and Maureen O'Neill
Profession:Mason Hayes & Curran
 
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Following the long awaited overhaul of Ireland's competition and merger control regime in 2014, the past year has proven to be the busiest year for Irish merger control in a decade.  It also saw the regulator stepping into new territory.

Key topics in 2015 included: 

A Significant Increase in Merger Notifications

The New Media Merger Regime

First Ever Acceptance of the 'Failing Firm' Defence

The past year has been an exceptionally busy year for Irish merger control. 2015 also saw the first application of the new media merger regime and the first ever acceptance by an Irish competition regulator of the elusive 'failing firm' defence.

Significant Increase in Merger Notifications

The last 12 months saw an almost doubling, to 78, of merger filings with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (“CCPC”) over the previous year. This figure also exceeds the total for every year since 2006. 

While much of this uptick in activity can be put down to the improved economic situation, it is likely that much is also a result of the changes introduced in 2014. The new lower thresholds and confirmation that asset-only deals are caught has resulted in property transactions involving assets generating relatively small amounts of turnover, e.g. hotels, bookmakers, requiring notification. For example, in 2015, over one in four filings were property-related transactions, compared with just one for the whole of 2014. Also, these changes mean that the CCPC's limited resources are increasingly tied up in assessing transactions with very little likelihood of raising competition concerns. 

However, the majority of those property transactions were notified earlier in the year with a significant fall off in the final third of the year, so it remains to be seen whether this trend will continue into 2016. Helpfully, the CCPC also intends to publish guidance on its interpretation of the provisions governing property / asset acquisitions.

The New Media Merger Regime

2014 saw a complete overhaul of the media merger regime. As was previously the case, media mergers are automatically notifiable regardless of the turnover of the undertakings involved. However, media mergers must, following approval by the CCPC, now also be notified to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources who is responsible for conducting a new media plurality assessment.  

New media merger guidelines were also published in 2015 which provide helpful guidance on the process...

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