Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 12 - Tobacco seizures [16173/14].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 12 - Tobacco seizures [16173/14]. (08 Apr 2014)

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12. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he is concerned by the sharp decline in revenue seizures of illicit tobacco products; if this reflects a reduction in resources available to the Revenue Commissioners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16173/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan) I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that almost 41 million cigarettes and over 4,200 kilograms of tobacco were seized by them in 2013 as a result of their extensive programme of action against the illicit tobacco trade.
The quantity of cigarettes seized in 2013 was lower than in 2012 and 2011, when seizures amounted to 95.6 million and 109.1 million respectively. It must, be borne in mind, however, that 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 level of seizures in 2013 must be viewed against the background of a number of very large seizures in the preceding years. I understand also that the Revenue Commissioners participate actively in multilateral controlled deliveries of smuggled cigarettes and tobacco, resulting in the seizure of illicit products in other jurisdictions before they reach Ireland.
I am advised also 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 practice adopted by the organised crime gangs that are responsible for a large element of the illicit 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 illicit trade is maximised.
The Revenue Commissioners arrange for annual estimations of the extent of the illicit cigarette market, through surveys of smokers undertaken for them and the Health Services Executive. The survey for 2012 found that 13% of the cigarettes consumed in Ireland were illicit. The comparable figure for 2011 was 14%. This would suggest that the extent of the problem is being contained, as a result of the action being taken against the smuggling and sale of illicit product.
I am aware that some other surveys indicate a higher level of illicit tobacco consumption. However, I do not accept the validity of these other surveys, as they are not representative of the entire smoking population and do not take into account legal personal imports from other jurisdictions. 
The action to combat the illicit trade will continue to be a high priority for the Revenue Commissioners and they will continue to operate an extensive range of measures designed to identify and target those who are engaged in the sale or supply of illicit products, with a view both to seizing the illicit products and prosecuting those responsible.
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 action against the illicit trade in tobacco products. Revenue currently has approximately 2,000 staff engaged on activities that are dedicated to targeting and confronting 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 full-time equivalents at the end of 2008 to the current level of 5,757. Notwithstanding this reduction, Revenue staff resources assigned to compliance activities have been maintained at around 2,000. The Revenue Commissioners are committed to ensuring that, despite the staffing reductions, enforcement work generally, and action against the illicit tobacco trade specifically, will continue to be resourced to the maximum extent possible.

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