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Restrictive Measures (Sanctions)

What are sanctions?

Restrictive measures, also referred to as sanctions, are legally binding measures that can be taken against individuals, entities or countries. Sanctions are adopted by the United Nations Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and through decisions taken at European Union level.

Sanctions measures adopted by the UN are binding on all UN Member States. They are typically implemented in the EU through EU measures (such as Council Decisions and Council Regulations), in order to ensure their consistent implementation in all EU Member States. There may also be aspects of UN sanctions resolutions that are not addressed at EU level because they fall within the competence of the Member States.

In addition to implementing UN sanctions, the EU adopts sanctions measures of its own, under its Common Foreign and Security Policy (Article 215 TFEU), as well as in relation to “preventing and combating terrorism and related activities” (Article 75 TFEU). These are known as “autonomous” EU sanctions.

Autonomous sanctions are an important tool of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. They seek to bring about a change in the policy and/or behaviour of the target of the restrictive measures. They are used as part of an integrated and comprehensive approach to the pursuit of EU foreign policy objectives, along with political dialogue and other complementary efforts and instruments.

EU sanctions are always targeted. This minimises the consequences for those not responsible for the actions that have triggered their imposition, such as humanitarian agencies and the local civilian population. Sanctions measures can cover a wide variety of elements such as financial services (e.g. asset freezes), immigration (e.g. visa and travel bans) and trade (e.g. export restrictions).

EU sanctions are reviewed at regular intervals to ensure that the measures in force are aligned with current developments. As such, measures can be strengthened in response to a worsening situation, or relaxed if there is an improvement in circumstances. A key principle of EU sanctions is that they must respect fundamental human rights and fundamental freedoms, with a particular emphasis on the right to due process.

EU Regulations have direct effect in Irish law, meaning that they must be complied with in the same way as domestic Irish legislation. Penalties for the breach of such EU Regulations are provided for through the enactment of Statutory Instruments, predominantly under the European Communities Act 1972 (as amended).

Sanctions measures in effect in Ireland

Ireland does not impose any unilateral sanctions regimes, but implements UN and EU sanctions.

UN sanctions

Information on UN sanctions, including a webpage for each of the 14 UN sanctions committees, is available on the UN sanctions website (see drop-down list entitled “Sanctions” in top left corner for individual webpages).

The UN publishes a consolidated list of all individuals and entities subject to sanctions measures imposed by the UN Security Council.

EU sanctions

Definitive, up-to-date information on EU restrictive measures is available in the Official Journal of the European Union database.

Additional useful information on EU sanctions, including on the EU implementation of UN sanctions, can be found on the EU sanctions map website. This website provides access to consolidated legal acts for each sanctions regime, as well tables of the individuals and entities listed under each regime.

A consolidated list of persons, groups and entities subject to EU financial sanctions, updated on a regular basis, can be found here (note that you will be required to create an account).

Domestic implementation of sanctions in Ireland

In Ireland, penalties for breaches of sanctions are provided for by Statutory Instrument. A comprehensive list of Statutory Instruments may be found in the Irish Statute Book.

Competent authorities for sanctions in Ireland

Within the EU, each Member State is required to designate competent authorities that are engaged with sanctions issues. In Ireland, the three competent authorities are: the Department of Foreign Affairs; the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; and the Central Bank of Ireland. Given the multi-sectoral nature of sanctions measures, a wide range of Government stakeholders are also engaged with sanctions-related issues.


The contact details for the Irish competent authorities are:

What is the role of the Department of Foreign Affairs as a competent authority?

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is responsible for foreign policy and representing Ireland internationally. DFA holds primary responsibility for communicating with the EU, the UN and other states in respect of the implementation of sanctions in Ireland. DFA communicates relevant information from these partners to the appropriate Government Departments and Agencies in Ireland. DFA officials represent Ireland at EU Working Groups of the Council of the EU, where sanctions measures are formulated and negotiated, as well as at other EU fora on restrictive measures. DFA communicates, where necessary, with individuals and entities in Ireland who may be subject to restrictive measures, including in relation to applications for exemptions or authorisations. DFA also chairs the Cross Departmental International Sanctions Committee (CDISC), which brings together all of the Departments and Agencies with a role in the domestic implementation of sanctions.

Where can I find out more?

Further information on EU restrictive measures is available on the dedicated sanctions page of the European External Action Service (EEAS), and on the dedicated sanctions page of the European Commission. The EEAS website also includes sub-pages on EU restrictive measures in respect of Iran, North Korea, Belarus and the crisis in Ukraine.

Summaries of all EU sanctions regimes are available on the EU Sanctions Map website.      

EU guidance on the implementation of sanctions

A number of documents providing general guidance on the implementation of EU sanctions are available on the EEAS and European Commission sanctions websites, including:

More specific guidance and Commission Opinions on certain regimes and scenarios are also available, for example:

Domestic guidance on the implementation of sanctions

Given recent events in Ukraine, information notes have been prepared on EU sanctions:

Queries may also be directed to the relevant competent authority, using the contact details provided above.

European Commission whistleblower tool

Sharing of information on EU sanctions violations can increase the effectiveness of EU sanctions. The European Commission whistleblower tool can be used by members of the public to report past, ongoing or planned sanctions violations, as well as attempts to circumvent EU sanctions. More information is available here, on the website of the European Commission. It is possible to use the tool to report sanctions violations anonymously, or with a name and contact details.