Monday, November 07, 2022

High court reporters

A quarry firm has claimed in the Commercial Court that a decision by Drogheda Port Company (DPC) is preventing it from competing with Ireland’s three main cement producers.

Keegan Quarries of Rathmolyon, Co Meath, claim the decision to prevent it from importing cement, the key component of concrete, is anti-competitive and the result of an agreement or collusion with CRH’s Irish Cement with the intention to distort competition in the cement market. Drogheda provides a significant export route for CRH cement.

DPC denies Keegan’s claims and says it was made clear for some time that “grey powder” – cement – could not be imported at Keegan’s newly-built silos at Drogheda.

There are three main manufacturers of cement in Ireland: the multinational CRH subsidiary Irish Cement, Mannock of Co Cavan and Breedon of Co Meath.

Keegans, which as well as producing sand and aggregates, has since 1999 been producing cement and has expanded into concrete block manufacturing, precast wall and floor manufacturing.

It says that to remain competitive it needs to be able to import its own cement and sell it to third parties as well. The price it pays for cement from one of the three main suppliers has increased by 67pc in the last year, it says.

In 2018 Keegan’s boss John Keegan made an agreement with the Drogheda Port Company to lease 0.1125 acres of port land at Tom Roes Point where Keegans would build eight silos for storing bulk products including construction powders. The agreement provided for an eventual annual port throughput of 100,000 tonnes of materials.

Stevedore

While there were delays in getting the silos built, mainly because of Covid, they were finally ready last January at a total cost of €3 million. However, late last year, issues arose over whether a company used by Drogheda Port would handle the Keegan’s goods or whether Keegan would “self-stevedore”.

Keegan say they sought a quote for the work from the only cargo handling company used at Drogheda for stevedoring, Fast Terminals, which is 50 per cent owned by the port company.

One of Fast Terminal’s directors, Paul Fleming, is also a director of DPC while another Fast director, Gillian McEvoy, is a former director of the port company, John Keegan said in an affidavit.

Keegan says Fast Terminals refused to give it a quote and as a result, the quarry firm opted for self stevedoring. To do this however, it needed a port operator’s permit from DPC.

Keegans applied for and last June was granted the permit, but it contained a restriction that it could only handle cement used in Keegan’s own production processes. It precluded the handling of cement meant for onward sale to third parties.

Keegan seeks declarations from the court, among other things, that the restriction on importation of cement is the product of a collusive arrangement and/or concerted practice to distort competition.

On Monday, Mr Justice Denis McDonald admitted the case to the fast-track Commercial Court on the application of Keegan Quarries. He rejected an objection by DPC that it should not go into the fast track list on grounds including delay in bringing the action.

He approved directions for the case to proceed and adjourned it to January.

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