Council to raise alleged fuel price fixing

Cavan County Council is to write to Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to ask the body to investigate all major oil companies over alleged “excessive pricing as an abuse of a dominant position in the Irish market”.

Quoting Section Five of the Competition Act 2002, Aontú’s Sarah O’Reilly outlined that “price gouging” is not defined in law but that it is “generally understood” to be a situation where traders charge prices at a level “considered unreasonable or unethical”.

“It is a term that is often used in situations where a trader makes very high profits as result of a crisis or disaster situation,” she said, citing the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Allegations that oil companies and petrol station owners have been “engaging in price fixing”, she said, need to be taken “more seriously” by the State's competition watchdog.

In March 2022, she noted that the CCPC was forced to send a “stern warning” on price fixing to the Irish Petrol Retailers Association. Reports, she recalled to the November meeting of Cavan County Council, of petrol and diesel retailers engaging in alleged “anti-competitive behaviour” as fuel prices rose almost daily were shared nationwide.

“At the time it was widely noticed that rises in fuel were exactly the same amount as the cut in excise duty on petrol and diesel,” said Cllr O’Reilly, citing reports of alleged price fixing in Limerick, where she said the price of diesel changed between two competing stations across the road from each other “four times in the space of a few hours".

Seeing the way prices were increasing “angered” her, adding there was “huge public outcry” when the price of fuel crossed the €2 per litre mark some months back. “It did the same again recently, and there was very little remarks passed. The burden on families and people in general is overwhelming and they are tired of the constant daily slog, so much so that they are resigned to such abuse.”

The recently published AA Ireland figures show the average motorist is paying €1,000 more in the annual cost of running a car from 2020. Coupled with the sharp rise in the cost of living, this leaves many families struggling to make ends meet.

“Price fixing and profiteering completely unacceptable, it's an act of cruelty on a civil population,” she concluded, highlighting how competition authorities in other EU member states such as Italy and Poland had reportedly opened investigations into excessive pricing practices in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. “It can be done, so I propose we write to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) asking them to open an investigation into all major oil companies to determine if excessive pricing as an abuse of a dominant position is an issue in the Irish market under Section 5 of the Competition Act.”

Sinn Féin’s Paddy McDonald backed the calls. “There needs to be something done.”

Fine Gael’s Peter McVitty also agreed that such allegations “should be checked out”.

Cathaoirleach John Paul Feeley admitted that the rise in fuel costs was “very frustrating” for a great many, and agreed that an investigation helmed by the CCPC would “do no harm”.

Directory enquiries

The council meanwhile is also set to write to the CCPC and the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, to ask that charges for telephone directory enquiries are regulated and made more transparent.

Independent Brendan Fay’s motion was aimed particularly in respect of the older generation who may use the service more frequently.

He said some telephone directory enquiries charge at a rate of €2.30 and upwards for connection, and even four cent per second thereafter.

Cllr Fay said he was made aware of a woman who was billed €72 for ringing her doctor through directory enquiries.

“It shouldn’t be happening,” he said, suggesting that more “regulation” was required.

Independent Shane P O’Reilly seconded the motion.