The 12-year-old ban on below-cost selling in the Irish Republic is to be retained ­ and the UK experience was one of the factors which influenced the Irish government in reaching that conclusion. Announcing the decision this week, after months of consultations and lobbying, Enterprise and Employment Minister Mary Harney referred to the recent report of the inquiry into the UK retail sector by the Competition Commission. She said: "It concluded that continuous below cost selling is not in the public interest, and clearly showed that where it occurs on a regular basis, the consumer interest suffers. "I have come to the view that it is not in the consumer interest to remove the ban on below cost selling at the present time. "I am particularly concerned that below cost selling would lead to predatory pricing and could be used to eliminate competition in local markets." The minister and her government colleagues, who have been preaching price restraint to the multiples in a bid to reduce an inflation rate of almost 7%, have been under pressure from economists and others to lift the ban, and allow the market to dictate prices. The Irish Competition Authority has sought its abolition, arguing that it keeps food prices artificially high. An expert review body set up by the minister reached a similar conclusion. However, independent retailer groups like RGDATA, and the Consumers' Association, as well as government backbenchers, lobbied forcefully in favour of the ban, warning that its removal would allow the powerful multiples to price small shops out of business. The decision was welcomed by RGDATA, whose director general, Ailish Forde, said it would be "of tremendous benefit to retailers, suppliers and consumers". She added: "The recent inquiry into UK supermarkets found below-cost selling was against the public interest. "Ireland does not want to find itself in a position where it removes such a critical piece of legislation in the light of those findings." The multiples refrained from comment, but a Tesco spokeswoman said: "This was a political issue and Tesco has avoided getting involved in the debate." {{NEWS }}