Customs and Excise (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill, 1987: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The House will be aware that the previous Government circulated the text of their Customs and Excise (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1987, immediately prior to the dissolution of the Dáil on 20 January last. The Government have given careful consideration to their predecessors' legislative proposals in that Bill and have decided that they are necessary and should be proceeded with. The text of the Bill now before the House for a Second Reading is identical to that circulated by the previous Government. I wish to give notice, however, that I am considering some amendments which will be moved by me on Committee Stage. These will not affect the main thrust of the Bill.

The purpose of the Bill is twofold: (i) to give additional powers to officers of Customs and Excise which will enable them to play a more effective role in the fight against drug smuggling, and (ii) to make a number of other amendments to existing Customs and Excise legislation. I consider it a matter of great importance that the powers here proposed for customs officers in relation to drug smuggling be enacted into law. Senators will not need to be reminded of the grave threat posed to the well-being of the community through the misuse of drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Despite the record of successes of the Garda Síochána and the Customs service in combating drug distribution and misuse, these drugs continue to be available and this is a matter for the gravest concern. I believe that the necessary legislation should be put in place to enable preventive agencies to work with the utmost effectiveness to combat this evil.

The general effect of what is perhaps the key section in the Bill, section 2, is to confer on officers of Customs and Excise powers similar to those already conferred on the Garda Síochána by the Misuse of Drugs Acts, 1977 and 1984. These powers are to detain and to search, without warrant, if reasonable cause for suspicion exists, persons, vehicles, vessels or aircraft for the purposes of detecting drug smuggling. The exercise of those powers by Customs and Excise officers at or in the vicinity of points of entry to, and exit from, the State including the Border with Northern Ireland will be permitted by section 2 of the Bill.

This provision is in accordance with the recommendations of the Second Report of the Select Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism published in July 1984. During the debate on the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1984, several calls were made for a strengthening of the powers of customs officers to ensure that they have the authority to combat the illegal importation of drugs. In their second report, the select committee point out that "the smuggling of illegal drugs into the country has become a major cause of concern for society generally". They go on to say:

The country's first line of defence to the problem, namely the barriers at point of entry, must be geared to tackle the sources and prevent these commodities reaching the streets. Such action, assuming it were to be successful, would reduce the demands for expensive follow-up activity as well as reducing the unquantifiable social cost of drug addiction to a young person.

Every member of the Customs and Excise service engaged in the examination of passengers and of goods at points of entry to the State must be regarded as forming part of a first line of defence against the illegal importation of drugs. When that first line of defence is breached, subsequent action within the State is primarily a matter for the Garda Síochána, with the Customs and Excise service providing any co-operation and assistance required. The Bill now before the House will considerably strengthen the all-important first line of defence.

I might point out to the House that the select committee's recommendation that a drugs unit be established within the customs service was implemented in 1985. Five officers are now employed full time in such a unit on drugs-related work. It is worth noting also that every member of the Customs and Excise service engaged in the examination of passengers and goods at entry points to the State is given special training in relation specifically to drug smuggling, and a number of staff have been sent abroad for further training. The most up-to-date drug identification equipment is provided to customs officers and this equipment is being further augmented.

Steady progress has been made by customs officers in the detection of drug smuggling. There were 47 seizures of heroin, cocaine and cannabis in its various forms by customs officers in 1986. These drugs had a street value of £42,000. Up to the end of June this year there have been 24 seizures by customs officers of drugs valued at £12,000. Section 3 of the Bill will give added powers of search to Customs and Excise officers. Taken together, sections 2 and 3 of the Bill will, the Government have no doubt, increase the effectiveness of the customs service in making detections but, while the checks envisaged will form an important part of our first line of defence, great reliance must continue to be placed on information provided by the Garda and from agencies including customs services in other countries about the movement of drug traffickers. Given the high value of even small quantities of drugs such as heroin and the ease with which they can be concealed the task is not an easy one. I am hopeful that the measures now proposed will help in the task of stemming such supplies at point of import.

The other provisions in the Bill not arising from the recommendations of the select committee in relation to drug smuggling chiefly provide for some strengthening of the law in relation to smuggling generally.

I wish to take this opportunity to say to the House that the Government are deeply perturbed at the apparent scale of commercial smuggling of certain goods such as drink, oil products and electrical goods. Smuggling damages local retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers and robs the Exchequer of vitally important revenues. The receivers of such goods obtain their "bargains" at the cost, first, of their neighbours' livelihoods and, secondly of the ability of the Exchequer to maintain essential public services at an optimum level. I know that legitimate traders are seriously perturbed at the existence of such traffic and the unfair position they find themselves in when trying to compete with smuggled commodities. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind as to the detrimental effects of participating in such black economy transactions. They are not helping the community, the economy or ultimately themselves by so doing. Smugglers are encouraged by those who are prepared to accept a quick return by availing of under-the-counter services. The entire fabric of our business and social structure is affected by it. There must be no dissembling in recognising smuggling for what it is; there can be no pretence that it is morally or socially acceptable or somehow justified by high taxation levels. No such argument is acceptable. The Government do not intend to allow the community to continue to suffer from these abuses. The Bill contains a number of provisions which aim to strengthen the hand of the authorities in dealing with smuggling.

The Bill also contains clarification of the Customs and Excise status of goods won from the Irish-designated areas of the Continental Shelf, and it provides for excise control measures in relation to oil found on-shore or in areas of the Continental Shelf over which the State exercises sovereign jurisdiction and for the application of Customs and Excise controls to goods conveyed by pipeline.

Finally, the Bill increases a number of penalties in relation to breaches of Customs and Excise law. I will invite Senators to consider whether the level of penalties proposed is adequate. My own belief is that they are not. I am giving further consideration to this question and I intend to move amendments in Committee which will increase some of the proposed penalties still further.

I turn now to outline in sequence the provisions of the Bill. A number of provisions are relatively self-explanatory and I will do little more in such cases than repeat the Explanatory Memorandum which accompanies the Bill. Section 1 contains definitions and provides for standard interpretation clauses. Section 2 gives officers of Customs and Excise powers to detain and to search, without warrant, persons, vehicles, etc., for the purposes of detecting drug smuggling. The section provides that these powers may be exercised in the vicinity of a port, airport, or the land frontier. I have already explained the rationale behind this section.

Section 3 provides for the issue to, and execution by, an officer of Customs and Excise of a search warrant authorising him to search premises or land for controlled drugs which were illegally imported or are intended to be illegally exported, or for documents relating to such drugs. The section also empowers the officer who executes the search warrant to arrest any person found in the place being searched and to search that person.

Section 4 provides for the acceptance as evidence, in proceedings under the Customs Acts in drugs smuggling cases, of certificates giving the results of tests or analyses carried out in the State Laboratory.

Section 5 provides for the issue of a search warrant to an officer of Customs and Excise to search premises or places where books or documents relating to smuggling transactions are suspected of being kept or concealed. It also provides for the seizure of any such documents, as well as any smuggled goods which may be found in the course of a search. Under existing law, there is no provision for the issue of a search warrant to an officer of Customs and Excise authorising him to search for documentsper se. Such documents can be vital in the successful prosecution of a case against a smuggler.

Section 6 provides that, where goods liable to seizure or detention by customs are found in a vehicle or other conveyance shall be deemed to have been made use of in the conveyance of the goods and thus liable to seizure or detention along with them. The purpose of this section is to remedy a possible weakness in the existing law governing the forfeiture of vehicles used to convey uncustomed, prohibited or restricted goods.

Section 7 makes provision for the detention by an officer of Customs and Excise of goods suspected of having been smuggled or of being irregularly exported. The period of detention, which may not exceed one month, is to enable investigations to be carried out to determine whether the goods in such cases should be seized. Legal problems can arise in the case of premature seizure of goods which this section will surmount by providing for a period of detention of suspect goods.

Section 8 remedies a possible technical weakness in one of the existing provisions relating to the liability to forfeiture of smuggled goods by providing generally that such goods shall be liable to forfeiture, regardless of whether they have been unshipped or unladen.

Section 9 deals with the onus of proof in certain proceedings relating to exported goods or goods seized under the customs Acts. Under existing law, where proceedings are taken by the State under the customs Acts in respect of goods suspected of having been illegally imported, the onus of proving that the goods were lawfully imported rests on the defendant. Section 9 provides for a similar onus in relation to goods suspected of having been illegally exported or of being intended for illegal exportation. The section also provides that where civil actions are brought against the Revenue Commissioners, etc., in relation to goods seized under the customs Acts, the onus of proving where the good originated, or whether the goods were lawfully imported or were lawfully exported or otherwise lawfully dealt with for exportation, is on the person bringing the proceedings.

Section 10 provides that goods won from the Irish-designated areas of the Continental Shelf and brought directly ashore shall be deemed for Customs and Excise purposes to have been grown, produced or manufactured in the State and not to have been imported. Section 11 provides for the application of excise controls to (a) oil found in the State and (b) oil found in the Irish designated areas of the Continental Shelf and deemed under the previous section to have been produced in the State.

Section 12 empowers the Minister for Finance to make regulations governing the importation or exportation of goods over the Border with Northern Ireland. The section also provides that the existing land frontier regulations shall have effect as if they had been made under this section, and increases the maximum penalty for contravention of or failure to comply with the regulations from £100 to £500. The purpose of the section is to remove any possible doubt about the validity of the existing regulations.

Section 13 empowers the Minister for Finance to apply the provisions of the Customs and Excise Acts to pipelines and goods conveyed in pipelines. In effect this will enable the normal Customs and Excise controls, that is, the requirements to make customs entry, which govern goods transported by ship, aircraft and road vehicle, to be applied to goods conveyed by pipeline.

Section 14 provides for a general penalty of £1,000 for offences relating to illicit distillation under the Illicit Distillation (Ireland) Act, 1831 and provides that a district justice may mitigate the penalty for these offences to not less than one half of the full penalty. The most common offences committed against the 1831 Act relate to possession of equipment or materials used in illicit distillation and making, possessing, conveying or selling illicit spirits, which currently attract penalties of £200. A district justice is currently empowered to mitigate these penalties to not less than £6.

Section 15 increases from £100 to £1,000 the maximum penalty which may be imposed for an offence under section 12 of the Customs and Inland Revenue Act, 1881. The offences referred to in that section include assault or obstruction of Customs and Excise officers and rescue of seized goods.

Section 16 amends section 31 of the Finance Act, 1929, so as to confer on an officer of Customs and Excise authority, in cases of suspected fraud, to detain documents relating to goods the importation or exportation of which is prohibited or restricted. That section already authorises the detention of documents in cases of suspected fraud relating solely to customs or excise duties. This provision brings documents relating to goods which are prohibited or restricted within the scope of section 31. Section 16 also increases, from £50 to £500, the penalty for resisting an officer in the performance of his duty under section 31 of the Finance Act, 1929.

Section 17 increases, from £100 to £500, the maximum penalty which may be imposed for contravention of regulations made by the Minister for Finance governing the application of Customs and Excise law and controls to Shannon customs-free airport.

Section 18 increases, from £100 to £500, the maximum penalty which may be imposed for contravention of regulations made by the Minister for Finance governing the application of Customs and Excise law and controls to imports and exports by air. As I have already indicated I will propose higher penalties at a later stage in the case of sections 11, 12, 13, 16, 17 and 18.

Section 19 amends section 29 of the Finance Act, 1971, so as to ensure that prohibited or restricted goods are subject to the same controls as dutiable goods when they are being imported or being taken out of the State by travellers in their baggage and to strengthen the powers of officers of Customs and Excise in relation to control of travellers. The proposed amendment to the 1971 Act is necessary in order to provide a clear legal obligation on incoming travellers to declare to customs prohibited or restricted goods in the same way that it is mandatory for travellers to declare dutiable goods in excess of the permitted limits and to impose an obligation on travellers leaving the State to answer any questions put to them by a Customs and Excise officer and to produce their bagidit gage for examination.

Section 20 provides for the short title of the Bill and for its construction with the customs Acts and the excise statutes. In introducing this Bill I want to pay tribute to our customs service. They have a difficult, frequently unpopular and sometimes dangerous job to do. Most of us have contact with them only when we are entering or leaving the country. We should remember that, in addition to doing an essential regulatory job, they are our first line of defence against smugglers who have the capacity to destroy the economy and to create considerable social distress. The smuggler of today is often a very sophisticated operator and we must keep pace with developments in giving our customs officers adequate powers of inspection and detention. Because of its very nature, we cannot quantify the scale of smuggling. All the indications are, however, that it is on a large scale and that it does have a significant and damaging effect on the economy. We have particularly difficult problems on the Border with Northern Ireland. Significant price differentials between North and South provide a strong incentive for smuggling. The very length of the Border and the nature of the terrain are to the advantage of the smuggler and detection is difficult. The smuggler will thrive as long as he can escape detection and find a ready and profitable market for his goods.

The lasting solution to this problem is equalisation of prices. We hope, in the context of harmonisation within the European Communities, that we are on course for this. In the short term, however, we cannot make enough progress for financial reasons so we will have to live with price differentials for some time yet. In order to limit the loss to the economy, a 48-hour restriction on travellers' allowances was introduced in this year's budget. We no longer accept as a genuine traveller a person whose sole purpose in travelling is to benefit from duty-free allowances. The price incentive for the smuggler will, therefore, remain. Life, however, is becoming more difficult for him. For obvious reasons I cannot go into details but he can expect more tough and uncompromising opposition for the future.

We can look ahead to big changes in the customs service. The future development of the European Community will have a big impact. The internal market envisages an opening up of borders between the member states and the role of the customs officer will change with this. Big increases in numbers travelling and more sophisticated ways and means of importing illegally will create new problems and the customs service and the legal provisions underpinning this service must keep fully up to date with developments.

The Government are of the view that the measures set out in this Bill will be of significant assistance to the work of the Customs and Excise service particularly in the area of drug smuggling. I, therefore, commend this Bill to the House.

I, too, welcome the introduction of the Customs and Excise (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill, 1987, to the Seanad. It is No. 2 of 1987 because of the introduction or initiation by the previous Government immediately prior to going out of office, of, as the Minister has said rightly, an identical Bill. Very broadly speaking, I disagree almost in total with the generalities and, indeed, the specifics of the Bill. I have a number of reservations regarding it.

The Bill proposes to give similar powers to the Customs and Excise officers as have been given to the Garda Síochána. I have some reservations about that inasmuch as I come from a Border county, though that is not the total reason for those reservations. I wonder how, some of the powers that it has been proposed to give to Customs and Excise officers will affect what might be described as normal life along the Border, that it is part of the normal lifestyle of some people to cross the Border two, three or four times a day. It depends on which side of the Border they live, their employment and so on. People may have to cross the Border on a number of occasions every day. It is difficult to envisage the type of changes there will be in the lifestyles of those people.

While the Bill was initiated by this side of the House when in Government and reintroduced by the Minister we all have some reservations about some of the powers that are being bestowed. In a correspondence which I recently had my attention was drawn to a programme recently done about the abuse of drugs in the city of Belfast. It horrified me to learn that it is believed that the vast bulk of drugs being used in Belfast city are coming from the South. If they are crossing the Border to the North where are they coming in in the South? It would seem illogical to suggest that they are coming across the frontier if they are going back across the frontier. That would suggest they must be coming in through some of our ports and airports. It would be much easier for Customs and Excise officers to deal with the problem at ports or airports, in that goods or people are coming through gates or doors or whatever the case might be, as opposed to coming across the Border which consists of hills, bogs, roads or lanes.

The drugs problem is vast. The Minister in his speech talked about the smuggling across the Border of such things as drink but he did not mention drink as a drug and the abuse of the said drug which, in turn, leads to the abuse of the drugs with which this legislation is proposing to deal.

I am a pioneer.

I have learned my lesson. Whatever experience I have, the Minister has none.

Smoking is also a drug.

Smoking, of course, is one of the worst drugs.

I have given it up, about two months now.

I congratulate the Minister. I did the same. I congratulate him more heartily than normally because he was one of the worst smokers I have ever seen, with the possible exception of the present leader of the Fine Gael Party. Those are the lighter moments of a very serious problem. These things are related. I can remember distinctly the first inhalation of a cigarette I smoked in the toilet of a school in Glenbar in 1959. I remember the fellow who was with me, and I met him yesterday. I can remember my first drink in a bar in Batchelor's Walk in 1966. I must confess that I did not get as far as the 21 years but I went very close to it. I can remember more distinctly giving up cigarettes, a mere three years ago, and giving up drink three years ago and, frankly, it was somewhat of a struggle. Perhaps we treat too lightly these minor drugs or socially acceptable drugs. I am delighted the Minister has taken his step with regards to cigarettes because it is by example that we teach. As a former teacher I had the audacity at times to smoke cigarettes in front of my class, giving terribly bad example while, at the same time, asking them not to smoke. The only merit I saw in that argument was that I coughed so much that they could realise that all was not well.

In relation to the Bill, I would have preferred the smuggling of commercial goods and the smuggling of drugs to have been treated separately in different Bills. There are ties; but those of us who are aware of the abuses of drugs, the socially and not socially acceptable ones, realise the damage that is being done to the fabric of some parts of our society. Coming from a rural society, I do not meet this problem at first-hand, other than when I come to Dublin I cannot park my car on the streets without fear of it being broken into. I suspect that that problem is somewhat related to drugs. The Select Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism in its second report dealing with drugs talks about this problem quite a lot. The Minister has already quoted from paragraph 2.1, where it says:

The smuggling of illegal drugs into the country has become a major cause of concern.

Paragraph 2.2 says:

The Medico-Social Research Board undertook a survey of the mis-use of drugs in one Inner city area of Dublin in 1982-83. That study confirmed what many persons close to the problem had been saying for a couple of years, namely, that there is a serious problem of drug abuse in certain areas and that it is particularly prevalent in the 15-24 age group. This study found that the prevalence of heroin abuse in that age group was 10% but in those aged 15-19 it was 12%, and among females aged 15-19 it was 13%. These figures were in some respects a great deal worse than the equivalent 1970 figures for New York's black ghettoes.

When I was in Dublin from 1965-67 as a trainee teacher in St. Patrick's there were people there preaching about drugs. There were people trying to highlight the fact that drugs were creeping into society. Nobody listened because nobody really believed that this very serious problem would ever come to this nice country of ours and to this nice city of ours. If drugs had been available during my student days, in-as-much-as I sampled cigarettes, and I eventually sampled drink and went on to consume quite an amount of it, I probably would have, sampled drugs and, therefore, left myself at risk of becoming a drug addict. I do not know that, and I probably never will know now.

I am going to make another confession. During my time getting off drink — I was not the heaviest drinker in the world but I drank more than was useful for me — I consumed a drug called solpadeine that is freely available across the counter. Many buy that drug for a simple headache. I did that and I found that I got the headache more often and I consumed the drug more often. That went on for one or two years until I realised that either I had a physical or a mental addiction to this drug called solpadeine. It is still freely available across the counter as are many similar drugs. I decided to ask some questions about it and I was told by a doctor friend that the said solpadeine would be, in drug terms, a soluable codeine and a relative of heroin. I said to her, "Are you saying that there is a possibility that having gone off the jar I am now a junkie?" She said "yes, you could be to some degree". What we could be looking at as well as the smuggling of drugs and the abuse of drugs is the abuse of what we call medical drugs that are available in many households. We have become a nation of drug users. We sneeze and we head for a drug. We cough and we head for a drug. We have a headache and we head for a drug. There is this general thing that we go for a drug that cures an ailment. We hand out £2, £1.50 or £3 for something for a 'flu that we think is coming on. If the pharmacists in a lot of cases were honest enough they would tell us there is nothing at all in them or virtually nothing at all in them. In the odd case there is danger, and my solpadeine is one of those dangers. The report goes on to say:

While the smuggling of drugs is, in itself, a criminal offence, the abuse of drugs has unfortunately led to a considerable amount of other crime in the community. This arises where addicts resort to crime in order to obtain the finances necessary to feed their habit. The Committee are convinced that this drug-related crime has been a big contributing factor in the rise in the level of recorded offences over the past few years. The Garda Commissioner's Report on Crime for 1983 shows a total of about 102,300 indictable offences as compared with 64,000 in 1979 giving an overall increase of 59%. The Committee was informed that it costs anything between £100 and £300 for an addict to feed his habit for one day.

These drug addicts cannot stop taking this drug which costs £100 to £300 per day. They cannot possibly earn that type of money, even on Seanad or other expenses. Where can they get it? The only place they can get that type of money, unless they are in big business, is through crime. Crime leads to further crime, and the godfathers of the drug scene live on the misery of these people. Petty criminals, the fellow who steals my car or tears the radio out of it, or takes the wheels from it, is probably off flogging them, not just for the sake of getting a few pounds but for the sake of getting a few pounds to buy more drugs to feed the addiction. That money is gone the next day and they have to start all over again. The problem is a major one. The report continues:

Considerable emphasis has been placed, of late, on the action to be taken and the provision of powers for the Gardaí once a crime has been committed.

Given that even a small quantity of any "hard" drug which gets through Customs will be "cut" or "spilt", the odds on pushers being apprehended with any quantity of drugs is greatly reduced. A major portion of the drugs which have passed the Customs barrier are likely to find their way onto the streets. It would be more satisfactory if the larger quantities were caught at point of entry and the whole supply from any one importation cut off before reaching the addicts and/or potential users.

The Minister has already said, and he is probably quoting from this report:

This country's first line of defence to the problem, namely, the barriers at the point of entry, must be geared to tackle the sources and prevent these commodities reaching the streets. Such action, assuming that it were to be successful, would reduce the demands for expensive follow-up activity, as well as reducing the unquantifiable social cost of drug-addiction in a young person.

The present trend among drugs smugglers —

and among other law breakers, with regard to the Northern problem —— is toward concealment on or in the body. These persons are referred to as "swallowers" or "stuffers" and have created, and continue to create, serious problems for the Customs and Excise service. The question of the extent and legality of search of such persons' bodies requires the fullest examination and the establishment of guidelines for the officers involved. Similarly, the duration of such search — presumably until the suspected concealed substance is discovered or passed through the body — requires clarification. The Committee was advised that it can take from five to seven days for such concealed substances to pass through the body.

In one recorded case it took 15 days.

The Customs service operates, in so far as their role in drug-smuggling is concerned, under the provisions of the Customs Consolidation Act 1876 and the Dangerous Drugs Act 1934 which restrict the importation of certain controlled drugs. Customs Officers are concerned with detecting offences involving the movement of such drugs across the customs frontier...

The report goes on to outline the various types of Customs Officers we have and their general role. To be more specific about the customs procedures for dealing with drug smuggling:

This matter was discussed with the representatives of both the Customs Union and the Revenue Commissioners. The Committee understand that, at present, when a Customs Officer seizes a quantity of dangerous drugs from an arriving passenger/crew member, it is the practice to contact the Garda Drugs Squad. The time lapse between detection of the drugs and the arrival of the Garda Drugs Squad, which can sometimes be substantial, means that there is, in effect, a type of "limbo" period during which the offender, as far as Customs and Excise are concerned, is technically at least, free to continue his/her journey. The Customs Union representatives contend that quite apart from the often embarrassing situations which can arise during such periods, it is very wasteful of the valuable time of both the Garda Drugs Squad and their members to have this duplication built into the system.

While Officers of Customs and Excise have statutory powers of arrest under the Customs (Consolidation) Act, 1876, there is an administrative prohibition by the Revenue Commissioners on the exercise of this power. It appears that this prohibition was introduced because of the low level of penalties prescribed in the 1876 Act. It is preferable to await the arrival of the Gardaí and have proceedings, if any, taken under the Mis-Use of Drugs Act, 1977. The Committee consider this to be a major problem and one which should be remedied immediately.

Officers of Customs and Excise are responsible for efforts to combat drug smuggling at the point of import only (or its immediate vicinity) while the illicit supply or use of drugs in all other areas of the country is a matter for the Gardaí. There is a very close working relationship between the Gardaí and the Customs Officers and this spirit of co-operation must be continued and every effort and opportunity should be made or utilised to build on this solid basis.

The Committee consider that immediate steps should be taken to enable Officers of Customs and Excise to play a more effective part in the fight against the supply of illegal drugs.

The Committee recommend—

1. The provisions of Sections 23, 26, 27 (1) and (3), 28 and 29 of the Mis-Use of Drugs Act, 1977 should be extended to Officers of Customs and Excise. [Section 6 below].

2. A small Customs Drugs Unit should be established within the Customs service.

I gather from the Minister that this has already been done.

Once the provisions of the Mis-Use of Drugs Act, 1977 are extended to Officers of Customs and Excise, they should be free to immediately arrest and charge a person found to be smuggling drugs at a point of entry to the country. It will be necessary to ensure continued close co-operation and liaison with the Garda Drugs Squad as, in certain cases, it may be considered more appropriate not to detain and arrest a suspected smuggler so as to give the Gardaí the opportunity to catch other persons involved in the supply of drugs.

Section 186 of the Customs (Consolidation) Act, 1876 provides that penalties for smuggling will relate to the value of the smuggled goods. There is an obvious problem in relation to the valuation of drugs which may need urgent expert examination and consideration. This problem would be overcome if the provisions of the 1977 Act were applied to Officers of Customs and Excise.

The above recommendations should be incorporated in the Mis-Use of Drugs Bill, 1984, which is at present before the House and which provides an ideal opportunity for tackling this problem without any delay.

In general terms, the Bill is giving to Customs and Excise officers powers that have already been given to the Garda in 1977. The Minister has indicated that he proposes to increase some of the penalties outlined under the Bill as initiated by the previous Government. While I support the Bill there are a few questions which I would like to put.

Section 2 (1) states:

An Officer of Customs and Excise who with reasonable cause suspects that a person at or in the vicinity of any port or airport or the Land Frontier is in possession of a controlled drug which—

(a) was imported, or

(b) is being, or is intended to be, exported—

contrary to any prohibition or restriction on the importation or exportation thereof (as the case may be) may without warrant—

do certain things. We will deal with the certain things he or she can do in a minute. But how does one determine when a Customs and Excise officer has reasonable cause? The word "suspects" can be interpreted very broadly. I may suspect many things but when will my suspicion relate to the provisions of the Bill? Another phrase, "a person at or in the vicinity of ...", is very broad. For example, could I, who lives 35 miles from the Border, be considered to be living in the vicinity of the Border? What distance from the Border will constitute "the vicinity"? Will it be 100 yards, two miles or 35 miles or in a small country like ours is it the entire island which, possibly, it should be? I do not know how it will be possible to satisfy the courts in regard to "reasonable cause"? What will constitute "suspicion"? Will a person crossing the Border with a bulge in his pocket be suspected? Will a customs officer be obliged to divulge the reason he has for suspecting an individual? Will he be obliged to say: "I have information from an agent that he is carrying drugs"? We should clear up those difficulties. Section 2 states that a customs officer may:

(i) search the person and, if he considers it necessary for that purpose, detain the person for such time as is reasonably necessary for carrying out the search.

What is meant by "reasonably necessary"? Will it be five days, seven days or 15 days? Will a customs officer have the power to detain an individual until a substance has passed through the body which may take five or seven days? The section goes on to state:

(ii) search any vehicle, vessel or aircraft in which he suspects that a controlled drug may be found (and any substance, article or other thing on or in the vehicle, vessel or aircraft) and for the purpose of carrying out the search may, if he thinks fit, require the person for the time being in control of the vehicle, vessel or aircraft to bring it to a stop and when stopped to refrain from moving it, or if the vehicle, vessel or aircraft is already stationary, to refrain from moving it, and

(iii) examine (by opening or otherwise) and seize and detain anything found in the course of a search under this section which appears to him to be something which might be required as evidence in proceedings for an offence under the Customs Acts or under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, 1977 and 1984.

(2) (a) Where an officer of Customs and Excise decides to search a person under this section, he may require the person to accompany him to a Customs Office or to such other place as may be specified by the officer for the purpose of being so searched at that Office or other place.

I hope I will be satisfied with the Minister's explanation in regard to those provisions.

I have a high regard for the Customs and Excise officers, and the Garda, who are leading the fight against drug trafficking but there is always the possibility of abuse. We must ensure that no damage is done to innocent individuals or their property while, at the same time, we must pursue those who are dealing in drugs. We must not encroach on the civil rights of individuals, and that can be difficult. How much power should we give to certain officials to protect us from ourselves and when will those powers amount to an infringement on civil rights? If a customs officer spots an individual he does not like crossing the Border from Lifford to Strabane — this will rarely happen but once would be enough — can he detain that individual on the basis that he suspects he is carrying drugs? Can that individual be held on that basis for six or seven days? Can we guard against that happening?

I am not qualified to comment on all the provisions in the Bill but I can see problems arising. Can a person be stopped and detained where there is no suspicion of drug importation but where there is a suspicion of the illegal importation of commercial goods? Can a person be detained and searched to establish if he or she is carrying goods other than drugs? Can a customs official who has detained an individual on suspicion of importing drugs prosecute that individual for the illegal importation of commercial goods?

I accept that damage is being done to certain businesses, and the economy, arising out of the importation of goods, particularly electrical items and spirits, but there is another type of "smuggler" involved, the person who nips across the Border to purchase petrol, a bottle of whiskey or some household goods. It may be against our economy, and may hurt local shopkeepers but it is a common practice. It has always been Fianna Fáil policy to work to eliminate the Border but the Minister for Finance in introducing the 48-hour restriction has helped trading on our side of the Border and has substantiated a Border that was disappearing. Hopefully, the Border will disappear not through the actions of Paisleys, Robinsons, Humes, Haugheys, FitzGeralds or others but through the development of the European Community. When the economic border disappears the other Border will go. However, through the 48-hour restriction the Minister has secured the Border.

We must differentiate between the "smuggler", the person who brings a few items across the Border and may now be open to prosecution, and the professional smuggler who takes across goods from which he expects to make profit and the drug smuggler. The worst individual is the drug smuggler but I would write off the person who brings across a few items because it is human nature to buy items that are cheaper on the other side of the Border.

I would like to have had two Bills, one dealing with what you might call commercial smuggling and the other dealing with drug smuggling. If, according to section 2 of the Bill, a person is stopped because a customs officer has reasonable cause to suspect that that person in the vicinity of the land frontier is in possession of a controlled drug, if he is detained for that purpose and it is found that he does not have the said drug, can that person then be prosecuted for carrying other items, for what we might call commercial smuggling? If so, does that come under another section or under section 2? Is it specifically written elsewhere in the Bill that I have not yet had the chance to read?

To broaden the debate I, and our side of the House, support the Bill. It was initiated by this side of the House and the Minister has acted wisely to avoid any friction that might arise in leaving it precisely as it was, even though he proposes to introduce some amendments on increasing fines, etc. It is obvious that parts of our society have suffered tremendously from drugs. The figures quoted by the Minister startled me because of how small they were.

It was stated that steady progress had been made by customs officers on the detection of drugs and that there were 47 seizures of heroin, cocaine and cannabis in its various forms by customs officers in 1986, with a street value of £42,000. I am amazed that that figure is so small. One half decent haul would give £42,000 worth of drugs. During this half year, the 24 seizures total £12,000; double that for the whole year and you have £24,000. Either we are getting to grips with the problem, which I hope we are, or as I suspect, our detection rate is not quite that good because from some reports I have read of debates in other places, one would not see £10 worth of one of those drugs on one's thumbnail, the quantities that have major value being so small.

Lest anybody should think I am being critical of Customs and Excise officers or of the Garda Síochána, I will put on record, as the Minister has done already, my total support for them in this and all other efforts to prevent crime of all kinds and smuggling of all kinds. However, there is always the odd apple that can rot the barrel. Is is possible that these powers, if given, can be abused? Somebody who wrote to me said that the amount of money involved in drugs is so large that some customs officers, or members of the Garda Síochána, or Members of this House, or anyone else for that matter, could be financially in the pocket of some of these drug smugglers. At the level of drug smuggling in this country and the level of money to be made that is not just possible; it is quite likely that there are such persons in existence.

I hope the legislation would not interefere with the general life style, and I doubt that it will, but there is always danger for a person residing along the Border, or in the vicinity of the Border. I seek clarification of those definitions of "vicinity", "suspicion" and "reasonable cause". With those exceptions, I wholeheartedly support the Minister and the Government on the introduction of this Bill. There is no opposition to it from this side.

Like my colleague from the Border county, I welcome the provisions of this Bill. I was interested to learn that he lives 35 miles from the Border. I live 20 miles from it. I do not know whether it has any particular significance, but perhaps it shows that the Members of the House who in a sense will be living with the consequences of a Bill of this nature are those physically living in the area where many of its provisions will be carried out.

Apart from welcoming the overall thrust of it and having listened to Senator Loughrey detailing the recommendations of the Select Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism, there are a couple of points I should like to make. Like Senator Loughrey, while I welcome the provisions, I sometimes feel that whenever we are talking about an increase in legislation we are in some way diminishing civil rights. After all, the vast majority of the population, people travelling between this country and other countries, are law abiding. Laws and provisions of this nature are for the minority. It seems that whenever we talk about debating new legislation which in a sense is restrictive, we are further eroding our rights as citizens. As the common good must be served, obviously it is an indication of the times in which we live that such laws have to be framed and acted on.

It has been a source of criticism for some years past, particularly since the drug culture became evident, that the powers which exist for Customs and Excise officers have been limited in their scope. In that context where a suspected drug smuggler comes into this country and is apprehended, from what I can gather the gardaí would have to be called before the Customs and Excise officer could initiate any action. These officers did not have the powers to detain which up to now the gardaí have had and, in that respect, the section which deals with that aspect of it is very welcome. In his outline of the various aspects of the Bill, the Minister made the point very forcibly that the whole thrust of the Bill is contained in the sections relating to extra powers for the Customs and Excise officers.

I was rather interested to note that he said steady progress has been made by customs officers in the detection of drug smuggling and he then went on to mention 47 seizures of heroin, cocaine and cannabis in its various forms by customs officers in 1986, that these drugs had a street value of £42,000 and that, up to the end of June of this year, there were 24 seizures by customs officers of drugs valued at £12,000. When you correlate that with the statement from Senator Loughrey earlier — and I have no reason to doubt it — that it costs between £100 and £300 for a drug addict to have a daily fix, perhaps the figures for seizures should be put in their proper context. Those 47 seizures realising a street value of £42,000 mean that on average each seizure was worth no more than perhaps £800 to £900 and in the period up to June 24 seizures realising £12,000 at street value are no more than an average of £600.

These are really paltry figures when one considers the worldwide valuation put on illicit drug smuggling. Perhaps it is a further indication of the very serious difficulties that have been facing customs officers up to now in trying to detect drug smuggling on the larger and more sophisticated scale. It really is sophisticated drug smugglers we are talking about here.

I would be inclined to think, although there are no details given behind those figures, that the seizures to date as listed by the Minister come from small time petty criminals, perhaps from drug addicts who have been unable to obtain drugs in this country or who, alternatively, may not be citizens of this country at all but who are carrying drugs for their own use. It is most unlikely, based on those figures, that anybody would run the gauntlet of bringing in such small amounts of drugs, to import them illegally in order to try to release them for sale on the streets. Considering that the average works out at between £600 and £800, based on the Custom and Excise seizure figures, and that, as Senator Loughrey said, the daily fix for an addict costs between £100 and £300, those figures tell their own story as to the reasons this legislation is needed. Section 3 of the Bill gives added powers of search to Customs and Excise officers. As I said earlier, taken together sections 2 and 3 will, as the Minister pointed out, increase the effectiveness of the Customs and Excise service in making detections and, while the checks envisaged will form an important part of our first line of defence, great reliance must continue to be placed on information provided by the Garda. This would seem to suggest that while the legislation as proposed will go some way towards reducing illicit drug smuggling, the Government feel greater reliance will still be placed on the method of detection, on the Garda generally and on other agencies such as the customs agencies in other countries in regard to the movement of drug traffickers. Therefore, we should not be over enthusiastic about the provisions in the Bill. Judging from the comments made by the Minister, this legislation will not result immediately in very large and significant detections of illicit drugs entering the country but at least it is a good start. I should now like to move on to another aspect of the Minister's speech, that is, in regard to the land frontier and the illicit smuggling of drink, oil products and electrical goods. The Minister went on, quite rightly, to point out that smuggling damages local retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers and robs the Exchequer of vitally important revenue. Coming as I do from a Border county, as I said earlier, and within quick driving distance of the Border I am re-echoing the fears and the criticisms of traders along the Border from Donegal in the west through Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and into Louth that, despite the best efforts of the Government, particularly their provision in the budget this year of the 48 hour rule, there is still largescale and significant smuggling of goods, particularly those goods as outlined by the Minister, into this State.

I do not think anybody has all the answers to this problem. Indeed, the Minister made the point that the lasting solution to the problem is the equalisation of prices and that the Republic of Ireland has a particularly difficult problem on the Border with the Six Counties. I usually prefer to refer to that portion of our country as the Six Counties rather than giving it the status of a state by calling it Northern Ireland. The Minister went on to say that significant price differentials between the North and the South provide a strong incentive for smuggling. Comments have been made over the past six months since the implementation of the 48 hour rule by retailers in the north east portion, particularly around Newry where the vast majority of Southern shoppers have traditionally gone for their bargains, and by retailers living along the border in this part of the country. These comments would seem to suggest that, while the illicit importation of goods into the State by people from Cork and Kerry who travel to the North in coaches seems to have been significantly reduced, and perhaps been stopped altogether, individuals are still getting through the net. I think all of us would accept whether or not we are involved in business, that the biggest turnover in the type of goods we are talking about, electrical goods, oil products and drink, at consumer level takes place in the last quarter of any given year and more specifically in the month of December leading up to Christmas. We have been told there are staffing problems and that as a result of the economic situation the Customs and Excise service is fully stretched along the Border. As those of us who live along the Border know, the land frontier is practically unsupervisable. Indeed, not even the British Army with all their resources can seal off the land frontier from the northern side. Therefore, it is reasonable for me to suggest that a country such as ours with its limited financial resources would be similarly unable to seal off the Border. Therefore, this is not a criticism, implied or otherwise, of the customs officers; it is just a fact of life. Accepting that there is a very genuine difficulty in totally stopping the flow into and out of the State, may I make a suggestion to the Minister of State that she should discuss with her colleagues, specifically the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Justice, the possibility of stepping up both Army and Garda patrols along the main routes to the north east over the Christmas period? I believe there is nothing that will deter people who are thinking of going north more than the presence on the main arteries out of this State to the north east of Army and Garda patrols.

I accept that there is an over-stretching of resources in the Custom and Excise service and similarly in both the Garda and the Army, but if we as a Government are to live up to our responsibilities to the traders who live along the Border areas from Louth to Donegal who are being savaged — that is the only word one can think of; and after all they are citizens of this country who pay taxes and have a vote — patrols should be stepped up particularly around the Christmas period, say from December 1 onwards. If it were to be widely publicised in both the national and local media that these patrols would be extremely active during the three to four week period leading up to Christmas, I have no doubt that there would be a severe reduction in the number of people who would contemplate going north as individuals — this is what the cross-Border traders have been talking about — to places such as Newry to buy drink, electrical goods and other products because of the price differential. These patrols would have a very genuine effect and without labouring the point, I hope the Minister will take that on board and do something of that nature taking into account the financial restrictions.

Like Senator Loughrey, I am also searching for the other relevant portions of the legislation as they would apply to the area in which I live and for those which will infringe on rights. Section 9 deals with the onus of proof in certain proceedings relating to exported goods or goods seized under the Customs Acts. It goes on to state that in respect of goods suspected of having been illegally imported, the onus of proving that the goods were lawfully imported rests on the defendant. It further provides for a similar onus in relation to goods suspected of having been illegally exported or of being intended for illegal exportation.

Debate adjourned.