Dáil Éireann - Volume 625 - 10 October, 2006
Written Answers. - Departmental Contracts.
Mr. Cuffe Mr. Cuffe
Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will elaborate on the opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice in the case of the European Commission versus Ireland relating to the Government decision to extend the payment  delivery services contract with An Post; and the way in which same is expected to impact future delivery of the service. [31782/06]
Mr. S. Ryan Mr. S. Ryan
Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice regarding the decision of his Department to extend the payment delivery services contract with An Post; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31747/06]
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: I propose to take Questions Nos. 123 and 145 together.
Following the Government decision in 1999 to extend the An Post contract for the delivery of social welfare payments for a further 3 years, two complaints were lodged with the European Commission. The first under the competition articles of the EU Treaty was examined by the Commission and closed in March 2001 with no action taken against Ireland.
In relation to the second complaint, under the Procurement Services Directive, the Commission issued a reasoned opinion against Ireland to the effect that the An Post contract falls within the terms of Annex 1B of the Council Directive 92/50/EEC. In addition, the Commission stated that an awarding authority should respect the EU principles of non-discrimination, equal treatment and transparency which would place an obligation on my Department to advertise the payment delivery service on a European wide basis and to uphold the principles of non-discrimination, equal treatment and transparency in the award of any contract.
My Department, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, rejected the reasoned opinion. The Commission referred the case to the European Court of Justice and a hearing of the case took place in Luxembourg on the 4th April 2006. The Advocate-General gave an opinion on the case on 14th September 2006 and upheld the European Commission claim that Ireland breached competition rules by not publicly advertising the contract. The opinion concluded “that the Court should declare that, in deciding to entrust the provision of services to An Post without a prior notice, although there were no circumstances which would have allowed no advertising at all, Ireland has failed to comply with its obligations under the (EU) Treaty.” It is expected that the Court will give its judgement within a three to six month period.
My Department is consulting with the Office of the Attorney General on the legal implications of a Court decision, should it be in line with the Advocate-General’s opinion. Pending the judgement, and recognizing the essential payment delivery service which An Post currently provides  for my Department, the Company will continue to provide these services.
An Post and my Department have been partners in the delivery of social welfare payments since the foundation of the State and I see no reason the network of post offices should not continue to play a significant role in the delivery of social welfare payments in any changed circumstances which may arise in the future.
Dáil Éireann 625 Written Answers. Departmental Contracts.