Retailers and multiples in the Irish Republic accused of ripping off consumers by hiking prices during the euro changeover, have been cleared of the charge by the latest consumer price index. Irish prices fell slightly between December and January, at a time when the Consumers' Association maintains they were being rounded up' under cover of the changeover. According to the index, prepared by the Central Statistics Office, the inflation rate in January was 4.9%, an increase of just 0.7%. A shopping basket survey by the Consumers' Association had shown a 5% rise in grocery prices over the year ­ but that mirrored annual inflation rather than offering evidence of price manipulation. Business groups accused the Association of "doing a disservice to the consumer". The Small Firms' Association, representing food sector suppliers, claimed there was no evidence to support "the frenzy about price increases, which it has whipped up". But the chief executive of the consumers' body, Dermot Jewell, defended the survey, claiming it had found price increases on milk, cheese, yogurt, cooked ham and sausages, with butter the only chilled product showing a reduction. Meanwhile, Irish inflation, already almost twice that of other EU states, will be pushed even higher with an immediate 1% increase on the 20% VAT rate. Basic foodstuffs are VAT free in the Republic, but the new rate will apply to so-called luxury' items such as chocolate biscuits, cakes, desserts and fruit juices. Superquinn has announced it will absorb the 1% increase, as an aid to consumers who have just been hit by a 15c plastic bag tax. {{NEWS }}