IE (Irish) domain names were the subject of yet another question in Ireland’s national parliament at the end of last month.
This is the 3rd time that IE domains have come up that I’m aware of in the past couple of years and it’s always in relation to post-Brexit related issues. This time round the question was submitted by Sinn Féin’s Mairéad Farrell:
To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if there are rules in relation to online businesses which hold an Irish web domain address and market themselves as Irish, but yet are not registered for VAT, are not registered with the CRO and do not have a working phone number.
There’s probably a specific reason why these questions get asked eg. one or more constituents had some kind of bad experience with an online retailer. However there are also some assumptions often made that are quite annoying.
Let’s look at the official response first from Dara Calleary, Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation:
My Department has no role in the registering of Irish domain addresses. The Commission for Communication Regulation (ComReg) is the statutory body responsible for the regulation of the electronic communications sector in the State. The Electronic Commerce Act 2000 (as amended by the Communication Regulation (Amendment) Act 2007), provides that ComReg is responsible for the regulation of the .ie domain name. In 2009, ComReg announced the appointment .ie Domain Registry (IEDR) as the authority authorised to register .ie domain names.
The IEDR “Registration and Naming in the .ie Namespace Policy” provides information on the registration requirements for .ie domains and how they are managed after registration. The policy states that .ie domain names are only available to those based in the island of Ireland or those with a real and substantive connection to Ireland that must be proven. According to the IEDR Policy, evidence of this includes:
an Irish CRO number (including N. Ireland equivalent), Revenue VAT number or Registered Business Number;
evidence from a sole trader/partnership could be an Irish VAT number in their own name(s), or proof of their business or Irish income tax registration;
evidence from a trademark holder that it holds a trademark that is enforceable in Ireland;
evidence from an individual could be a digital copy of an Irish driver’s license or Irish passport.
The IEDR Policy also states when applying for a .ie domain name, a future registrant based outside the island of Ireland 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 in the island of Ireland as their location for delivery. Proof of the future registrant’s corporate or commercial identity must also be provided.In respect of my Department I wish to advise that if a business is registered within Ireland or the EU they must comply with national and EU competition and consumer protection law. This includes under consumer protection law, the requirement to display information such as the businesses’ location, registered address and phone number. Businesses based outside of the EU who market and sell goods to consumers within the EU must also comply with EU laws. However, in practical terms, it may be very difficult for a consumer to get redress if they experience issues with goods or services purchased from companies outside of the EU.
The CCPC through their ongoing consumer awareness campaigns regularly advises consumers that a ‘.ie’ domain is not a guarantee of an Irish-based business and encourages consumers to check the details of a business before making an online purchase.
A lot of companies have country specific websites even if they’re not from that country. Some sell via their websites, while others simply provide market specific information. The rules for registering .ie domain names allow for non-Irish businesses to register domains, as long as they can meet the registration requirements. The policy is based around a non-Irish company showing a “link” with Ireland and backing it up with documentation.
VAT (value added tax) registration is not a requirement to setup a business or to sell products or services. As the Irish tax authorities explain:
Value-Added Tax (VAT) registration is obligatory when your turnover exceeds, or is likely to exceed, the VAT thresholds. The thresholds depend on your turnover in any continuous 12 month period.
The CRO is the Irish Companies Registration Office. Unless a business was established in Ireland there’s no reason why it would be registered with the CRO. You do not need to be registered with the CRO in order to have a .ie domain name.
And while there might be consumer protection issues linked to businesses (including websites) that do not provide working phone numbers, this has nothing to do with the domain name registration.
Historically .ie domain name registration rules were highly restrictive but over the last few years they have been “relaxed” quite a bit. However there are still multiple criteria that restrict who can register a .ie domain name, so it is much more regulated than say a .com registration.
If you’re buying online the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s guides offer some good advice on things to be aware of.
(Thanks to the team behind KildareStreet.com which I use to keep track of references to particular topics in the Dáil)