FIRMS PAY CRO €8.2m IN LATE-FILING PENALTIES - Almost half of revenues generated by the Companies Registration Office (CRO) last year came from penalties imposed on companies filing late annual accounts.

According to the CRO's 2017 annual report, it received €8.234m of revenues from late filing fees last year - or 47% of total revenues of €17.48m. The amount was down 18.3% on the late filing revenue income of €10.08m in 2016. The annual report states that the decline in income to €17.48m can be attributed to an introduction of mandatory electronic filing and the drop in late-filing fees, says the Irish Independent. The report states that the cost of filing an annual return electronically is €20 while the cost of a manual filing was €40. The move towards e-filed documents has coincided with a sharp drop in the numbers employed at the CRO. In 2007, the CRO employed 150 and accepted 126,784 e-filed documents that year. This compares to 103 employed last year with the number of e-filed documents received more than tripling to 377,603. The report states that the staff reductions "have not prevented the CRO from dealing with an increasing number of submissions as both the registers of companies and business names have expanded through the last decade". 

SPIRITS HIGH IN IRISH WHISKEY AS DOMESTIC SALES SOAR BY 41% - Demand for premium Irish whiskey brands such as Green Spot and Redbreast soared domestically last year, as sales jumped 41% to more than 700,000 bottles. 

Bushmills, Teelings, Tullamore Dew, Knappogue Castle and Writers Tears all performed strongly locally in 2017. Jameson, the most popular Irish whiskey, continued to outshine all competition, however, with a 10.2% increase in sales domestically.This was fuelled in part by the success of its Caskmates line. This is a variation of the flagship whiskey that is aged in craft beer-seasoned barrels. Sales of the product jumped 110% in volume terms and 103% in the 12 months to June 2017. According to new figures compiled by the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA), overall sales of the spirit rose by 6% to 6.4 million bottles in 2017, says the Irish Times. The IWA, which originally set a target of doubling global sales of the spirit from six million nine-litre cases to 12 million by 2020, recently announced plans to double them again to 24 million by 2030. "We are seeing a major shift away from low-price, high-volume consumption as consumers are increasingly willing to pay for quality, innovative premium products," said William Lavelle, head of the association.

EU IRISH CAR INSURANCE PROBE EYES CLOSURE - An EU probe into alleged anti-competitive practices in the Irish car insurance market is expected to conclude by the end of the year. 

The European Commission opened the investigation last year after allegations of obstacles being created to hinder entry to the market for new players, says the Irish Examiner. It carried out dawn raids on a number of company offices, including that of representative body Insurance Ireland. Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes said he expects the probe to conclude by the end of the year, having spoken with competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager. "Commissioner Vestager made it very clear to me that the commission is devoting significant resources to the investigation of anti-competitive practices in the Irish car insurance market," said Mr Hayes. "There is no clear date for a conclusion of the investigation but I believe the commission should aim to complete the investigation by the end of the year. Irish consumers have faced hefty car insurance premiums for many years - between 2013 and 2016, average motor insurance premiums in Ireland rose by 70%. This is totally out of sync with the Irish growth rates and inflation rates".

IBM COMPUTER HOLDS ITS OWN AGAINST HUMAN DEBATERS - An artificial intelligence system built by IBM has taken on two humans in a formal debating competition and came up only slightly short in conjuring arguments that a human audience would find more persuasive. 

The demonstration of Big Blue’s latest AI lacked the clear drama - and the result - of its previous "man versus machine" stunts, including the Watson system that beat the top human champions at question-and-answer television game Jeopardy in 2011, and Deep Blue, which conquered world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. But it was a graphic demonstration of a how a set of technologies at the frontier of AI could be combined to challenge humans in a realm where they might have thought they still had a big lead over machines. It was also a sign that computers are venturing deep into subjective human territory where there are no straightforward answers or clear winners, writes the Financial Times. Unlike Watson, which IBM took years to develop into a commercial system, its latest AI - called Debater - could also have a far more immediate impact on the company’s fortunes. "We’re interested in enterprises and governments; our goal is to help humans in decision-making," said Arvind Krishna, IBM’s director of research.