A suspension on the award of a multi-million pound contract for providing network services in Northern Ireland is to be lifted, a High Court judge ruled today.
Mr Justice Horner held it would be wrong to deprive the public of any benefits from increased efficiencies and possible price reductions by continuing with the hold-up pending the outcome of an ongoing legal battle.
Eircom UK Ltd has issued proceedings against the Department for Finance over its decision to give the Northern Ireland Public Shared Network (NIPSN) contract to rival bidder BT.
The contract involves providing fibre, copper and other media for data transfer and phone and video conferencing between computers and IT systems.
It includes communication services for the PSNI and Northern Ireland Civil Service.
With a maximum duration of nine years, the total estimated value of the arrangement is between £50m-£400m.
In 2007 Eircom won the original contract on the basis that it submitted the most economically advantageous tender.
But the company is now challenging the Department's decision to award the new NIPSN contract to BT.
Eircom claims the rival tender was abnormally low, the court heard.
Those proceedings allege the Department is "facilitating predatory pricing" to force Eircom out of the Northern Ireland market, in contravention of competition law.
The company wanted a prohibition on the contract commencing until the case is determined.
It objected to the Department's bid for an order to set aside the automatic suspension and gain permission to enter into the NIPSN contract with BT.
Ruling on that application, Mr Justice Horner held that the public interest favoured removing the suspension.
Damages will be an adequate remedy for Eircom if it ultimately succeeds in the main trial, he pointed out.
The judge said: "I consider that on balance the risk of a greater injustice comes from leaving the suspension in place and/or maintaining an injunction.
"This is because it cannot be in the public interest to deprive the public generally of the benefits of increased efficiencies and possible price reductions that the new contract may bring to the public networks by delaying its award for a period of nine months and perhaps up to 15 months.
"The greater risk by far of irremediable prejudice lies in leaving the suspension in place and/or preventing the Department from awarding this contract to BT."