Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written Answers 15 - Illicit trade in tobacco [41754/14].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written Answers 15 - Illicit trade in tobacco [41754/14]. (05 Nov 2014)

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15. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the actions being taken to combat the black market sale of tobacco products; his plans to allocate additional resources to this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41754/14]

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 Revenue. 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 on-going analysis of the nature and extent of the problem, developing and sharing intelligence on a national, EU and international basis, the use of analytics and detection technologies and ensuring the optimum deployment of resources at points of importation and within the country.

Interception of illicit tobacco products is achieved by Revenue through a combination of risk analysis, profiling and 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.

Revenue cooperates extensively with An Garda Síochána in combating the illicit trade, and the relevant agencies in the State also work closely with their counterparts in Northern Ireland, through a cross-border group on tobacco enforcement, to target 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 on-going programmes at international level to tackle the illicit trade.

Revenue's action against the illegal trade has resulted in significant seizures of illicit products, and in a large number of convictions of persons involved in the smuggling or sale of illicit products. To the end of September 2014 49.6 million cigarettes were seized in 4,535 separate seizures, while 9,320 kilogrammes of tobacco were seized in 760 separate seizures.  This includes a major seizure in Drogheda in June 2014 in which officers from Revenue's Customs Service, supported by An Garda Síochána, seized over 32 million cigarettes and 4,500 kilogrammes of water pipe tobacco.  

 I have taken legislative action over recent years to further strengthen the Revenue Commissioner's powers to respond to the problem of the illegal tobacco trade.

- The Finance Act 2012 clarified the legal basis for Revenue officers to open and examine the contents of postal and courier packets that are reasonably believed to contain untaxed excise products.

- The Finance Act 2013 introduced new offences and forfeiture measures relating to the illicit production of tobacco, including offences of involvement with illicit tobacco production, knowingly dealing in or delivering any illicit tobacco product and keeping materials and equipment for the purposes of illicit production. Provision was made also for the forfeiture of any equipment or materials, including unmanufactured tobacco, used for illicit production. That Act also strengthened the offence provisions relating to the sale or delivery of unstamped tobacco products.

- The Finance (No. 2) Act 2013 provided that a person suspected of an offence of dealing in, or with, unstamped tobacco products must provide information to a Revenue Officer or a Garda and may be required to present any tobacco product concerned for examination, and makes provision for search by a Revenue Officer or Garda of any bag or other receptacle that he or she reasonably believes to contain tobacco products that are concerned in the offence.

In relation to the allocation of human resources, I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they are 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. There 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. Revenues overall staff levels have decreased from a total of 6,581 full-time equivalents at the end of 2008 to the current level of 5,680. 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 staffing reductions, this enforcement work will continue to be resourced to the maximum extent possible.

Finally, I would point out that the annual survey conducted for the Health Services Executive and the Revenue Commissioners by Ipsos MRBI indicates that 11% of cigarettes consumed in Ireland in 2013 were illicit. The survey results for 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 indicate a level of illicit cigarettes of 15%, 14%, 14% and 13% respectively. I can assure the House that the Revenue Commissioners will continue to make tackling the trade in illicit tobacco products a key objective, and Government will ensure that all legislative action necessary to combat the illicit tobacco trade is taken.

Item Type
Dail Debates
Publication Type
Drug Type
Tobacco / Nicotine
Intervention Type
Crime prevention, Policy
5 November 2014

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