Public Beneficial Ownership Register
Ireland has established a central register of beneficial ownership information for all companies and is committed to exploring the feasibility of making such a register public.
This commitment refers to a specific anti-corruption mechanism which is the Register of Beneficial Ownership (RBO).
The 2017 government document Measures to Enhance Ireland’s Corporate, Economic and Regulatory Framework: Ireland Combatting “White-Collar” Crime states in connection with negotiations on the EU’s Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5AMLD) that “The feasibility of making the Irish Central Registers [RBO] public and the levels of access will be settled once a determination has been reached at the EU level”. Already in January 2018 the Minister for Finance noted the likely impact of 5AMLD on public access to the RBO and acknowledged the directive’s “necessary transposition”. Published in May 2018, the directive obliged Ireland to make an RBO accessible to the public by the transposition deadline of January 2020. It is therefore evident that this commitment, in late 2018, should have been formulated more strongly – i.e., committing to making the RBO public, as was at that point necessary, rather than simply to “exploring the feasibility” of doing so. Nevertheless, the commitment is measurable despite the non-committal language given the context of supporting commitments and obligation to make the RBO public.
 Government of Ireland, Measures to Enhance Ireland’s Corporate, Economic and Regulatory Framework: Ireland combatting ‘white-collar crime’, p. 32, https://merrionstreet.ie/merrionstreet/en/imagelibrary/20171101_measures_to_enhance_regulatory_framework.pdf
 Houses of the Oireachtas, Money Laundering – Parliamentary Question 47 of 8 January 2018: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/question/2018-01-18/47/
 European Commission, Strengthened EU rules to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing, https://ec.europa.eu/info/files/factsheet-main-changes-5th-anti-money-laundering-directive_en
As required under Article 30 of the European Union’s Fourth Directive on Anti-Money Laundering, Ireland has established a Central Register of Beneficial Ownership of Companies and Industrial and Provident Societies (RBO), effective as of March 2019. Companies have been obliged to hold an internal register of beneficial owners since November 2016. The aim of the centralised register is to create greater transparency about who ultimately owns or controls a legal entity for the information of competent authorities (e.g., anti-money laundering enforcement) and the public. Companies must file the required information online, and the RBO validates owners’ identities through the use of Personal Public Service Numbers (PPSN, equivalent to social security number). The RBO Annual Report 2020 states that by 31 December 2020, 81 per cent of companies had complied with the requirement to register. Fines of up to €500,000 may be levied for non-compliance.
Unrestricted or “Tier 1” access to the RBO is available to authorised officers of various competent authorities working in the fields of law enforcement and finance. Restricted, or “Tier 2”, access is available to members of the public. This includes beneficial owners’ names, month and year of birth, nationality, country of residence and a statement of the nature and extent of the beneficial interest held or control exercised over the entity. Certain details such as the exact date of birth and address, as well as information on minors (persons under 18 years-of-age) who are beneficial owners, are withheld in the interests of privacy and protection of personal data. The RBO can be accessed online and a fee of €2.50 is payable for each report under Tier 2.
Challenges to effective commitment implementation
|Figures from the RBO Annual Report 2020 suggest that all 13,009 public searches that year converted to a payment (€32,522.50 in total). However, the cost of €2.50 per record may nonetheless be off-putting, especially in cases where several records are sought – for instance in large-scale or deep-dive investigative journalism or in advocacy and activism, where tracing chains of ownership through complex corporate structures requires access to large volumes of data. As noted by Transparency International, “While charging a fee does not go against provisions of the EU AMLD, in practice it significantly restricts the ability of civil society and the media to analyse the data – either to spot inaccuracies, to identify conflicts of interest and wrongdoing and do further research that can be used to identify gaps and inaccuracies and provide recommendations to strengthen the register”.
This type of independent analysis is especially important given the limitations of the RBO when it comes to verifying details, which is restricted, as outlined above, to checking the validity of the identity supplied. The accuracy of the information otherwise provided is the responsibility of the party filing the return. Competent authorities and certain “designated persons” such as financial or legal professionals are obliged to report any discrepancies they note in dealing with an entity between the details on the RBO and their knowledge of the beneficial ownership/information on the internally held register. As well as an argument in favour of improved public access to the Register, the lack of verification of the details held is itself a challenge to the meaningful implementation of an accurate and accountable RBO.
|In the interests of making the RBO genuinely accessible and transparent, the fee for Tier 2 access should be abolished. Furthermore, the records should be made available in an open data format, based on the model of the Government’s existing Open Data Portal, allowing researchers, journalists and other stakeholders to engage with and make use of data in bulk. Although not directly connected with public accessibility of the register, the apparent lack of verification of the data submitted is a significant drawback to the reliability of the register for all users. Data submitted to the RBO should be cross-checked against a set of known risk factors through an automated system, with suspicious patterns or submissions flagged for internal review.
 European Union, Preventing abuse of the financial system for money laundering and terrorism purposes, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=LEGISSUM:230804_1
 Government of Ireland, RBO Annual Report 2020, p. 2, https://rbo.gov.ie/images/2020_RBO_Annual_Report_Final.pdf
 Government of Ireland, RBO Annual Report 2020, p. 5, https://rbo.gov.ie/images/2020_RBO_Annual_Report_Final.pdf
 KPMG, Ireland creates Central Public Register of Beneficial Ownership of Corporates, https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/ie/pdf/2020/09/ie-flyer-central-public-register-of-beneficial-ownership-of-corporates.pdf
 Government of Ireland, RBO Annual Report 2020, p. 8:, https://rbo.gov.ie/images/2020_RBO_Annual_Report_Final.pdf
 Central Register Of Beneficial Ownership (RBO) Ireland, FAQ #13, https://rbo.gov.ie/faqs/access-to-the-rbo-register-by-designated-persons-and-the-general-public-tier-two-access.html
 Government of Ireland, RBO Annual Report 2020, p. 10, https://rbo.gov.ie/images/2020_RBO_Annual_Report_Final.pdf
 Transparency International, Access Denied? Availability and accessibility of beneficial ownership data in the European Union, p. 10, https://www.transparency.org/en/news/eu-beneficial-ownership-registers-public-access-data-availability-progress-2021
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