Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 73 - Tobacco smuggling. [10235/14]

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 73 - Tobacco smuggling. [10235/14]. (27 Feb 2014)

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 73. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the current number of Revenue Commissioners' staff involved in combatting tobacco smuggling; the change in the number of staff working in the area since 2011; the reasons he believes that the number of seizures of tobacco have fallen sharply in recent years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10235/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that combating the illegal tobacco trade is, and will continue to be, a high priority for them. Their work against this illegal activity includes a range of measures designed to identify and target those who are engaged in the supply or sale of illicit products, with a view to seizing the illicit products and prosecuting those responsible. This multi-faceted strategy includes ongoing analysis of the nature and extent of the problem, developing and sharing intelligence on national, EU and international basis, the use of analytics and detection technologies, and ensuring the optimum deployment of resources at both point of importation and within the country. Interception of illicit tobacco products is achieved through a combination of risk analysis, profiling, intelligence and the screening of cargo, vehicles, baggage and postal packages. Revenue officers also target the illicit trade at the post-importation level by carrying out intelligence-based operations and random checks at retail outlets, markets and private and commercial premises. In carrying out this important work Revenue works in close cooperation with other relevant agencies, both nationally and internationally. There is extensive cooperation between Revenue and An Garda Síochána, and the agencies concerned in the State and in Northern Ireland work closely together, through a cross-border group on tobacco enforcement, to combat the organised crime groups that are responsible for a large proportion of the illegal tobacco market.  In addition, cooperation takes place with other Revenue administrations and with the European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, in the ongoing programmes to tackle the illicit trade in tobacco products at international level. Considerable success has been achieved in combating the illegal trade. Details of the quantities of cigarettes and tobacco seized each year since 2010 are set out in the following table.

 - Cigarettes  -  - Tobacco  -
 - Seizures Quantity (Million)  - Seizures Quantity (Kgs)
2010 9,026 178.4  - 1,171 3,367
2011 10,581 109.1  - 1,500 11,158
2012 8108 95.6  - 1,395 5,277
2013 5,797 40.8  - 1,085 4,453

The quantity of cigarettes seized in a given year can be influenced significantly by the occurrence of a particularly large seizure or seizures, and the quantity of cigarettes seized in 2013 must be viewed against the background of a number of very large seizures in the preceding years. I understand also that Revenue participate actively in multilateral controlled deliveries of smuggled cigarettes and tobacco, resulting in the seizure of the illicit tobacco products in other jurisdictions before they reach Ireland. I am advised that the quantity of cigarettes seized has declined in most EU Member States over the last number of years, and that this reflects, in considerable part, a changed modus operandi adopted by the organised crime gangs that are responsible for a large element of the illegal trade. There has been a movement from large consignments in containers to smaller consignments in deeper concealment within groupage loads, and these can be more difficult to detect. The Revenue Commissioners and their counterparts in other EU Member States are working together to combat this form of smuggling and to ensure that the disruptive effect of seizures on the illegal trade is maximised. In relation to staff numbers I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners, that they are a fully integrated tax and customs administration and that it is not possible to disaggregate resources deployed exclusively at any given time on customs work or on policing illegal cigarette smuggling. Revenue currently has approximately 2,000 staff engaged on activities that are dedicated to target and confront non-compliance. These front-line activities include anti-smuggling and anti-evasion, investigation and prosecution, audit, assurance checks, anti-avoidance, returns compliance and debt collection. The Revenue Commissioners are subject to the Employment Control Framework staffing reductions imposed since 2009.  Revenue s overall staffing levels have reduced from a total of 6,581(FTE) at the end of 2008 to its current level of 5,739 (FTE).  Notwithstanding this reduction, Revenue staff resources assigned to compliance activities have been maintained at around 2,000, so that they now represent a larger proportion of Revenue s staff.  The Revenue Commissioners have accorded a very high priority to the tackling of the illicit tobacco trade and they are committed to ensuring that, despite the staff reductions, this enforcement work will continue to be resourced to the maximum extent possible.

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