Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Question 275 & 287 – Illicit trade [13671/24,[13978/24].

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Question 275 & 287 – Illicit trade [13671/24,[13978/24]. (09 Apr 2024)

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Dáil Éireann debate. Question 275 – Illicit trade [13671/24]

275. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Finance the real efforts that are being made to curtail the awful practice of smuggling drugs into Ireland (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13671/24]

Michael McGrath, Minister for Finance: I am advised that Revenue has primary responsibility for the prevention, detection, interception and seizure of controlled drugs intended to be smuggled or illegally imported into, or exported from, the State.

Revenue’s drugs interdiction strategy supports the Government’s strategic approach to the misuse of drugs under the National Drugs Strategy 2017-2025. The Government is acutely aware of the sustained and significant damage that the importation of illicit drugs has on communities right across the country, and every effort is made to combat not just the importation of illicit drugs but also firearms, ammunition and cash that inevitably accompany this very serious organised criminal activity.

As part of its risk focused approach to the discharge of its role in relation to illegal drug importations, Revenue monitors and evaluates ports, harbours and inlets along the coastline on an ongoing basis to identify the risk potential for drug smuggling. This work is supplemented by Revenue’s Customs Drug Watch Programme aimed at encouraging members of the public, along with coastal and local maritime communities to notify Revenue of suspect or unusual activity at sea or around the coastline by way of a confidential 24/7 free phone facility - 1800 295 295.

I am advised that Revenue uses the latest detection methods at the national points of entry into the State, with the deployment of resources such as scanners, drug detector dogs and 24/7 staff, where required. Alongside the detection equipment and technologies deployed at the main points of entry, Revenue also deploys two Revenue Customs Cutters to patrol the coastline, undertake vessel controls and support maritime surveillance and intelligence gathering duties in relation to drugs. These vessels work closely with teams of land-based enforcement officers involved in anti-smuggling duties deployed to cover potential high-risk areas along the coastline.

Given the global nature of the illicit drugs trade, international law enforcement cooperation remains a key element in Revenue’s overall response. Revenue has strong and strategic partnerships in place at international level targeting drugs trafficking, including working closely with relevant law enforcement agencies such as Europol and the Maritime Analysis Operations Centre for Narcotics (MAOC-N). Revenue liaison officers are stationed in both Europol and MAOC-N, ensuring Revenue is at the forefront in the area of drugs enforcement at an international level. These officers work closely with international colleagues in identifying the transnational risks associated with drug smuggling into the State.

Furthermore Revenue is an active participant, along with its national and EU partners, in initiatives under the umbrella of the EU Roadmap to Tackle Drugs and Organised Crime. These initiatives, including the European Ports Alliance, provide for EU-wide collaboration and information sharing on best practices to increase security and resilience in tackling the threat posed by drug trafficking and organised crime.

At a national level, the Joint Task Force, which is an interagency collaboration consisting of Revenue, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and the Naval Service, was put in place specifically to target illicit drug importations by sea into Ireland and uses the full capability and resources of each agency as required at an operational level.

The Joint Task Force operates successfully under agreed protocols when activated for a specific targeted operation. During 2023, it was initiated on three occasions to act on specific targeted intelligence regarding suspected drug importations by sea. One of these operations resulted in the seizure of 2,253kgs of cocaine, with an estimated value of €157 million, and the arrest of 8 crew members from two maritime vessels in Cork in September 2023. This was the largest seizure of cocaine in the history of the State.

I am assured that combatting the smuggling of controlled drugs into and out of this jurisdiction is, and will continue to be, a priority for Revenue.


Dáil Éireann debate. Question 287 – Illicit trade [13978/24]

287. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the number of times each of the customs cutter boats of the Revenue Commissioners have been deployed since the start of 2022 to date in 2024, in tabular form; the plans the Revenue Commissioners have to expand the fleet of interceptor craft; if the Revenue Commissioners have experienced difficulty in recruiting officers for marine operations; and if he will provide a schedule of the items seized at sea in 2023 and to date in 2024. [13978/24]

Michael McGrath, Minister for Finance: Revenue has primary responsibility for the detection, interception and seizure of prohibited and restricted products, including controlled drugs, at points of entry into the State including our territorial waters and adjacent seas. It maintains an enforcement presence at strategic locations and places particular emphasis on developing an intelligence-based focus at both national and regional level, deploying resources to areas of highest risk.

I am advised by Revenue that the role of its Maritime Unit, which has a national remit, is to provide maritime patrols and ensure compliance, carry out frontier controls, intelligence gathering, stakeholder liaison, vessel deep rummage capability and maritime-related expertise. This includes patrolling and monitoring internal waters, territorial seas and adjacent waters for the prevention, detection, interception and seizure of illegal importations and exportations of prohibited and restricted goods, including drugs. As well as patrolling at sea, Revenue’s Maritime Unit supports and works with land-based Revenue enforcement officers involved in anti-smuggling duties.

Revenue deploys two Revenue Customs Cutters (RCC), the RCC Suirbhéir and the RCC Faire, to patrol the coastline, undertake routine and intelligence led vessel controls and support maritime surveillance and intelligence gathering duties. The Cutters are crewed by Maritime Unit teams, each operating on a 24-hour basis for 8 days at a time. Maritime crews may operate at sea or on other maritime frontier-related activities, primarily at ports and harbours, depending on operational needs at a given time. Cutter teams were deployed for a total of 548 days in 2023 and 135 days to end-March 2024. Comparable figures are not available for 2022 due to a change in the manner in which statistics were recorded.

The Cutters are deployed to carry out and support multiple concurrent operations nationally. I am advised that some operations are single events, while others can span a number of months. This includes intelligence-led operations, surveillance operations, operations supported internationally, inter agency operations, as well as routine vessel controls. Vessels may be controlled at sea, at anchor or in port. Vessels may be controlled by officers attached to the Maritime Unit or by other Revenue enforcement officers working from ports.

The following table outlines the number of vessel controls carried out between 2022 and end March 2024:


Total vessel controls by Revenue

Vessel controls by Revenue Maritime Unit







End March 2024



Revenue works proactively with An Garda Síochána and the Naval Service in the fight against drug trafficking as part of the Joint Task Force on Drugs Interdiction. There is excellent cooperation between these agencies in the sharing of intelligence and the identification and investigation of the criminals involved in the illegal drugs trade. The Maritime Unit also works closely with EU and international law enforcement partners, including MAOC(N) [Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics] based in Lisbon, where Revenue has a full-time country liaison officer. MAOC-N was established in 2007 as an initiative of seven western European countries (Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, the UK and the Netherlands), focused on reducing the threat of drug trafficking into the EU by sea.

The following table outlines the number of items seized by, or with the support of, Revenue’s Maritime Unit in 2023 and to date in 2024. These figures include seizures where the Revenue’s Maritime Unit either seized the illicit product or played a significant supporting role in a seizure carried out by Revenue’s other frontier enforcement teams. The seizure may have taken place at sea, in ports or along the coast. These statistics do not reflect the contribution made by Revenue’s Maritime Unit to the seizure of illicit product by other international law enforcement agents acting on foot of intelligence provided by Revenue’s Maritime Unit.

01/01/2023 – 31/03/2024


Estimated Value


2,693 kg



460,145 cigarettes/21 kg tobacco



966 Litres










*Seizures under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

I am advised that the RCC Suirbhéir, which is in service since 2004, is approaching the end of its service life and Revenue has contracted to purchase a replacement vessel. A contract for the delivery of the new Customs Cutter was signed on 3 August 2023 with AuxNaval in Spain. The new Cutter is expected to come into service in 2025. The contract includes an option for a second Cutter, which could be a replacement for RCC Faire in time.

Revenue has informed me that specific competitions for assignment to the Maritime Unit are run periodically and have provided a steady pool of officers. The most recent such competition was held in 2022 and was confined to applicants from within the Civil Service. An open recruitment competition for assignment to the Maritime Unit, providing opportunity to a wider pool of candidates, will be advertised in the coming months.

This Government has been consistent in its strong support for ensuring that Revenue has the necessary resources to fulfil its mandate in respect of functions that are critical for its effective functioning as a tax and customs administration and I remain open to considering any proposals from Revenue that will support its work in combatting fraud, illicit trade and smuggling.

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