As I mentioned previously, talk about domain names of any kind in the Irish national parliament (Dáil) is not common. But it’s happened again.
Last time round was back in May of last year but an almost identical question was raised in the chamber by Fine Gael’s Neale Richmond recently.
The question he asked:
Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will ensure that businesses that infer that they are based in Ireland with a .ie web domain do not leave customers with customs and VAT charges post Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The rules about .ie domain names are primarily focussed on the registration of the domain name and does not deal with the usage. Anyone who wants to register a .ie domain name can do so, but they need to provide proof of a “link” with Ireland. In the case of a non-Irish business that can be proof of past trade or something showing that they intend to do so in the future. The issue that the deputy is raising, however, is more to do with Brexit and how some companies have handled (or made a total mess of) handling customs and VAT charges post-Brexit.
In any case the Minister, Robert Troy, provided a fairly detailed response:
Responsibility for .ie web domain and customs and VAT charges lie with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and the Department of Finance respectively.
In particular, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) is the statutory body responsible for the regulation of the electronic communications sector and it was given regulatory responsibility for the .ie namespace in 2007. In 2009, ComReg appointed .ie Domain Registry (IEDR) as the Authority authorised to register .ie domain names. The IEDR has a policy on registration and naming, setting out the requirements for new registrants, which includes that they must provide evidence of their real and substantive connection to the island of Ireland. The registration of .ie domains does not require .ie websites to be based in Ireland.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) is very aware of the changes that consumers have faced as a result of the UK leaving the EU. The CCPC has developed advice for both consumers and businesses, available on its website, to support trading and shopping online in the post-Brexit environment where businesses based in the UK must navigate additional customs and VAT requirements when supplying to consumers based in the EU. Advice issued to consumers by the CCPC includes the following:-
- Check where the business is based before buying online.
- Check the business’s registered address in the terms and conditions section of the website to find out where they are registered. A site that has a ‘.ie’ or ’.eu’ domain is not always a sign of where a business is registered or based.
- If a business has more than one website with a number of different domains – e.g. ‘.de’ or ‘.co.uk’, check the registered address on each website before buying from it.
The CCPC advises that buying from an EU-based business provides strong consumer protections, which ensure that the consumer has enough, clear information and is not misled before making a purchase. It also ensures that the consumer has rights if something does go wrong – particularly the right to a refund. Buying from a non-EU website means that EU consumer rights do not automatically apply and therefore, if something does go wrong, it may be more difficult to get the issue resolved.
There is no simple “fix” for this. We in Ireland have always done a lot of business with the UK and many UK based businesses have strong Irish customer bases (and vice-versa). Unfortunately, however, some companies have not handled the customer impact of Brexit well at all and left customers on the hook for extra charges, which definitely leaves a foul taste in the mouth.
At this stage I’d be encouraging people to look for the Guaranteed Irish logo!