It’s not often that domain names get a mention in the Dáil (Irish parliament), so when it happens it’s worth seeing why.
Last week IE domain names came up in the Irish parliament due to Brexit related issues with imports of products from outside Ireland.
The question was put to the government as follows:
“To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will address a series of matters (details supplied) in relation to .ie domains and their usage by UK companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”
The background to the question is most likely due to UK owned companies with or without a physical presence in Ireland who have .ie domains for websites targeting the Irish market. Prior to Brexit this wasn’t an issue, but in early 2021 quite a few consumers reported issues with products being shipped from outside Ireland and outside the EU which led to the recipients being hit with import fees. In some cases, for example, the UK owned companies have shops and staff in Ireland, but they shipped the goods from their UK warehouses without the correct documentation.
The government response, which was provided is below:
The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) is the statutory body responsible for the regulation of the electronic communications sector and the postal sector. It was given regulatory responsibility for the .ie namespace in 2007. The Communications Regulation Act 2007 sets out the terms for the registration of .ie domain names and they enable ComReg to make regulations and to “specify an entity as the authority authorised to register ‘.ie’ domain names”. In 2009, ComReg appointed .ie Domain Registry(IEDR) as the authority authorised to register .ie domain names in accordance with Section 32(4)(a) of the Act of 2007. The decision also stated that IEDR would set up and maintain a Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) which would be the representative group of all stakeholders.
IEDR published its policy on Registration and Naming in the .IE, in which it set out the requirements for new registrants, including that they must provide evidence of their real and substantive connection to the island of Ireland. The requirements are set out in Section 2 of the policy document and it states that .ie names are only available to those either based on the island of Ireland, or those who have a real connection to the island of Ireland. Evidence of being based in Ireland can include: a CRO number, Revenue VAT number, registered business number, an Irish VAT number, proof of Irish income tax registration (sole traders), a trademark that is enforceable in Ireland or for individuals it might be a digital copy of an Irish driver’s license or Irish passport. If they are based outside of the island of Ireland, a connection to Ireland must be proven. Applicants must show that they trade with, or clearly intend to trade with, consumers or businesses on the island of Ireland. Acceptable evidence of this connection to the island of Ireland includes invoices, press releases, promotional material, or even a screenshot of the registrant’s e-commerce store that shows that consumers or businesses can select anywhere on the island of Ireland as their location for delivery.
IEDR has a process whereby stakeholders can suggest policy changes to IEDR’s Policy Advisory Committee (PAC). The PAC was set up in 2014 and it considers and provides advice on policy issues concerning Ireland’s Internet top-level domain, .ie to its Board.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has no role in relation to the policies and procedures which are used by IEDR. However, the CCPC does have a role in providing information to consumers about online shopping and in January of this year the CCPC published “Online shopping post-Brexit: A CCPC consumer guide to shopping online”, in which they advised consumers that a ‘.ie’ domain does not guarantee that consumers are dealing with an Irish-based business. The CCPC advised consumers that the most important step to take is to check where a business is based before they buy. It advised consumers to check the business’s registered address in the terms and conditions (T&Cs) section of the website to find out where the business is registered. The document went on to inform consumers that from 1 January last, all online shopping orders received from the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) are subject to Irish VAT and customs charges, depending on the value and the type of items concerned. Before ordering from outside the EU, consumers are reminded to check the T&Cs to find out what VAT and import charges that they may have to pay. The CCPC also published guidance for businesses selling online emphasising the importance of disclosing the geographic location of their business, as required by the Consumer Rights Directive. Since 1 January, the CCPC have received 25 contacts from consumers on scenarios which would fall within the type of situation outlined here. These cases would include scenarios where consumers have advised the CCPC that they made a purchase for goods from .ie sites and subsequently found out that the traders were actually based in the UK or outside the EU
The last paragraph is key here. The issues buyers have run into are for the consumer protection authorities and not for the .ie country code to sort out. However for many years, like with most country code domains, the .ie domain name has been marketed as being Irish. It still is, but people need to look for other things to know who is really behind a website and not just assume that a .ie domain name means you’re buying from an Irish company. Thanks Brexit!