New legislation being introduced by the Trade and Enterprise Department will mean a fivefold increase in existing penalties.
Under a new Bill, which went before the Irish Senate last week, retailers found to have breached the order will be liable to a maximum fine of a3,000 on summary conviction, up from the current a635.
In cases brought before the Irish Circuit Court, the maximum fine on conviction is to be increased from a12,697 to a60,000. Similar increases are proposed in cases of misleading ads or the sale of products not of the quality stated.
The tougher penalties are in response to criticisms by director of consumer affairs Carmel Foley that current fines are inadequate and ineffective. Last year, when her office brought prosecutions against Tesco and Dunnes for seven breaches of the below-cost ban, they were each fined a2,100.
Welcoming the beefed-up penalties, she said: “This is something I have sought. The fines for breaches of the legislation are so ludicrously low at present that they have no deterrent value. The new measure should ensure fewer breaches of the law.”
There is some surprise that enterprise and trade Minister Michael Martin has chosen to introduce the legislation at this time. An expert group set up by his predecessor, Mary Harney, to examine how consumer rights can be strengthened is widely expected to recommend abolition of the groceries order when it reports shortly.
The Irish Consumers’ Association and Competition Authority have also urged a removal of the ban.