Any wins for independent retailers and wholesalers in the eagerly anticipated Competition Commission grocery market probe must be policed by an independent retail regulator and not by the Office of Fair Trading.

That was one of the key messages to delegates at the Federation of Wholesale Distributors' annual conference by a former competition chief.

Myles O'Reilly, who headed Ireland's Fairtrade Commission, the predecessor to the Irish Competition Authority, between 1986 and 1991, told delegates that the proposed UK referral was "greatly welcomed" in the light of present market concerns.

But he added that the Commission's previous inquiry in 2000, although proving "excellent" in some of its conclusions, such as highlighting areas of concern such as below-cost selling by the major multiples, had failed to take the "logical step" of prohibiting the practice - despite finding areas where it was not acting in the interest of consumers.

And O'Reilly, who as chairman of the Fairtrade Commission, was the driving force behind the now defunct Groceries Order, which banned below-cost selling, told delegates assembled at The Belfry: "It will be difficult for the independent trade to overcome the view of economists, but I believe it is possible that the Commission could be persuaded to introduce a ban on below cost-selling.

"But you will need a regulator that really believes in what it is enforcing."

O'Reilly's comments may be viewed as a thinly veiled swipe at OFT chief executive John Fingleton, who, as a perceived dedicated follower of textbook economics, was instrumental in forcing the demise of the Irish Groceries Order in his last role as the head of the Irish Competition Authority.

They also echo the findings of the All Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group's High Street Britain: 2015 report, issued in February, which also recommended that a retail regulator should be set up and fall outside the remit of the Office of Fair Trading.