General

Important commercial and corporate law updates | Ireland

This update has been provided by a multi-practice team at McCann FitzGerald, via our firm network connection with Bird & Bird:

20 April 2020

Corporate

  • Driver  licenses and learner permits due to expire before 30 June 2020 will now be  valid for a further four months from expiry. The same extensions apply to National Car Tests and Commercial Vehicle Road-worthiness Tests.
  • It is understood that a dispute has arisen between the owners of Liverpool Port,  Peel Ports and P&O Ferries, which resulted in a P&O ferry being prevented from sailing from Liverpool to Dublin on Thursday 16 April 2020. There was concern that a continued  dispute would have implications for the supply chain into Ireland.
  • The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is engaging with P&O and Dublin Port Company to try to resolve the issue. It is understood that supply chains won’t be materially impacted as P&O Ferries account for less than  20% of the freight between Ireland and the UK.

16 April 2020

Commercial

  • The Road Safety Authority (RSA) and the Department of Transport, Tourism and  Sport have agreed to further extend the relaxation of some EU driving and resting time rules for Heavy Goods Vehicle operators and drivers.
  • This extension will apply to all HGV operators and HGV drivers who are  subject to the EU driver’s hours and tachograph rules and who are engaged in  the carriage of all goods (including oil supplies and so on).
  • This will apply from 17 April to 31 May 2020 and will continue to be reviewed by the RSA during this time.

14 April 2020

Corporate

  • The Irish Government announced on Friday 10 April 2020 that the COVID-19 restrictions limiting movement will be extended until 5 May 2020. People should not travel further than 2 kms from their home unless it is absolutely necessary, or unless it is for food shopping. Exercise within a 2 km radius is permitted.
  • A major policing operation was put in place over the Easter weekend with over 50 checkpoints across the country to ensure people complied with lockdown measures. People making non essential journeys, if stopped, were asked to return home. Extreme infringement penalties include fines of up to €2,500 and up to six months in prison. The extra powers given to gardaí to enforce the restrictions were also extended until 5 May 2020.
  • The Minister for Health signed the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A-Temporary Restrictions) (COVID-19) Regulations on 7 April 2020. The regulations provide that people should not leave their home without a reasonable excuse, details of a reasonable excuse includes providing or assisting in providing an essential service, going to an essential retail outlet and accessing an essential service. (These measures initially due to expire on 12 April 2020 were extended to 5 May 2020).

Food and Beverage

Bord Bia published their Navigating Change report. It sets out the effects COVID-19 is having on the Irish food and drinks industry. The report details that the impact is very different across sectors, with the food service industry the most severely impacted. Bord Bia said it will seek to identify new behavioural norms that are likely to emerge among consumers.

6 April 2020

Corporate

  • All CVR (Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness) testing has now been suspended; Commercial vehicle owners have the responsibility to ensure their vehicle(s) are maintained in a roadworthy condition when used on a public road. In the meantime if you are the owner or operator of a commercial vehicle and the certificate of roadworthiness has expired, you may continue to use the vehicle provided it is roadworthy.
  • The European Commission approved Ireland's €200 million fund to provide financial support to Irish companies affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The fund will be administered by Enterprise Ireland as part of a suite of emergency supports to help Irish companies that are seriously and adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This support will be available to assist companies access the necessary liquidity and funding to sustain their businesses in the short to medium term.
  • The National Transport Authority announced that operators of most subsidised public transport services are to move to a new schedule of services on a phased basis from Monday March 30. Revised timetables for Iarnród Éireann will come into effect on Monday March 30, while those for Dublin Bus, Go-Ahead Ireland and Bus Éireann, will come into effect Wednesday April 1. Under the revised timetables, services will run at approximately 80% of current levels.

Food and Beverage

  • Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) published their 'COVID-19 Response Plan' to help the food and drinks sector deal with the implications of COVID-19 on their businesses. They have also launched support services to address the challenges posed by COVID-19 and to assist businesses during the current economic period. The available supports range from practical supports and training, to financial and promotional assistance. Such supports will include: Capability Services; Navigating Change Supply Chain Mentoring; Lean Supports; The COVID Response Marketing Support Package; Promotional Activities; Quality Assurance & Origin Green; Rapid Response Insights & Market Intelligence; and Lead Generation.
  • The National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) published a 'Retail Protection and Improvement Guide' to help retailers manage business continuity during the COVID-19 emergency.  It specifies requirements to implement, maintain and improve a retailer’s ability to protect against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from COVID-19 related disruptions when they arise. The NSAI has also set up a helpline to offer advice to members of the business community on the necessary steps to take.

2 April 2020

Commercial

  • The Irish Government put in place Public Health Measures until 12 April to prevent spreading COVId-19. Everyone is to stay in their home where possible with the exception of buying food, attending medical appointments or exercising. Cocooning has been put in place for those over 70 years of age and this category is to stay inside as much as possible. Essential retail outlets main remain open.
  • The Irish Government published a list of essential service providers which may continue to operate during the current lockdown. Included on the list are food and beverage service activities (in accordance with the separate essential retail outlets list) or for supply to a business engaged in an essential service. Essential retail outlets should adhere to distancing measures, queue control and managing the number of people entering the premises. Essential Retail Outlets are encouraged to provide online services in order to minimise footfall.
  • The Government has agreed with local authorities that they should agree to defer rates payments due from the most immediately impacted businesses - primarily in the retail, hospitality, leisure and childcare sectors, for three months, until end-May.  Ratepayers that can continue to pay their outstanding local authority rates should continue to do so in the normal way.

Food and Beverage

  • The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has published guidance in relation to COVID-19. They state that no reported cases of COVID-19 have been linked to contamination of food. The main risk of transmission is from close contact with infected people. The advice to food businesses and consumers is to maintain good hygiene practices and to wash your hands regularly. Thorough cooking will kill the virus. The guidance includes measures food business owners/managers can take to deal with the issues posed by COVID-19 along with information in relation to operating as a take-away service.
  • The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has stated that there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about continuity of supply of Irish food and drinks. Senior Department officials met Food Drink Ireland on the 11th March, to discuss contingency planning for the food processing sector.  Food processors, along with all other businesses and employers, are implementing business continuity plans to deal with possible disruption. There are no food safety implications arising from COVID-19, and there is no evidence that the virus can be spread through food products. The Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine, and the Minister of State in that Department, have also held meetings with key stakeholders and agencies across the agri-food, fisheries and forestry sectors as part of the implementation of the Government’s Action Plan on COVID-19. The meetings focused specifically on maintenance of key supply chains across all sectors.

Corporate

  • The Registrar of Companies has decided that all annual returns due to be filed by any Company now and up to 30th June 2020 will be deemed to have been filed on time if all elements of the annual return are completed and filed by that date. If you are due to complete your annual return filing at any time up to 30th June your annual return will be deemed to have been filed on time if you capture the B1 form, upload your financial statements, pay the fee and submit it online and then deliver the signature page as normal to the CRO by that date. You may also complete the filing as normal using Revenue Online Services (ROS) signatures instead of a signature page.
  • The Irish Government agreed to make an order, which has the effect of extending public participation periods in the planning system for a period of three weeks. Planning applications can continue to be made by post, and authorities can engage with applicants by electronic means, accepting submissions by post and electronic means. The extended time will also apply to planning appeals, which An Bord Pleanála will continue to receive by post. The Orders made by the Minister and the Government, will add 23 days to the statutory time periods for processing planning applications within the Planning Acts. The Department is also recommending to planning authorities that public meetings on all Plans, are deferred for the period of the extension. This includes Development Plan, Development Plan Variations and Local Area Plan processes.This is considered necessary because such processes require engagement with members of the public, and in particular public meetings.
  • The Central Bank recently clarified its expectations of insurers in light of COVID-19. Insurers must put forward consumer-focused solutions on policy payment breaks, rebates and claims. The Central Bank states that if there is a doubt about the meaning of a term in a policy, the interpretation most favourable to the consumer should prevail. The Central Bank expects the CEOs of Irish authorised firms to take responsibility for the oversight of how their firm is managing determinations of whether claims are covered or not in the context of COVID-19.Where a claim can be made because a business has closed as a result of a Government direction due to contagious or infectious disease, the Central Bank is of the view that that the recent Government advice to close a business in the context of COVID-19 should be treated as a direction.

Data Protection

  • The DPC has issued guidance in relation to subject access requests for both individuals and organisations. The guidance highlights that individuals should be aware that organisations may need to divert resources to priority work areas with consequential impacts on other areas such as the handling of access requests. In addition some organisations may now be closed or have little means to deal with such requests in the current circumstances. Individuals should be aware of the factors that may result in delays in handling current access requests. The guidance sets out that the GDPR provides for an extension of two months to respond to a request where necessary taking into account the complexity and number of requests. Organisations experiencing difficulties in actioning requests should also consider whether it is possible to respond to requests in stages. It is important to note that where an organisation, due to the impact of COVID-19, cannot respond to a request in full or in part within the statutory timelines, they remain under an obligation to do so and should ensure that the request is actioned as soon as possible.
  • The DPC has issued guidance for employers who may be processing personal data in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance sets out the continued obligations of employers when processing such data, including lawfulness of the processing, transparency, confidentiality, data minimisation and accountability. Included are a set of FAQs an employer may have in relation to COVID-19 personal data.

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