Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Questions (232)

Eoghan Murphy

Question:

232. Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Finance his plans to tackle the illegal cigarette trading business, in particular the open selling of cigarettes in pedestrianised areas of the city centre. [8234/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that combatting the illegal tobacco trade is, and will continue to be, a very high priority for them. The Commissioners' "Strategy on Combating the Illicit Tobacco Trade (2011-2013)", which is published on the Revenue website (www.revenue.ie), includes a wide range of measures designed to target those engaged in the supply and sale of illicit tobacco products and very significant resources will be devoted to this issue in 2013. This multi-faceted strategy includes:

- the ongoing analysis of the nature and extent of the problem,

- developing and sharing intelligence on a national, EU and international basis,

- the ongoing review of operational policies by a high-level group within Revenue that is chaired by one of the Commissioners personally,

- the development of analytics and detection technologies, and

- the optimum deployment of resources at both point of importation and within the country to intercept and seize contraband products and to prosecute those involved.

As regards Dublin city centre, Revenue actively monitors the illegal tobacco trade and has identified certain areas as particular black spots for the sale of illicit tobacco products. Revenue is currently engaged in an ongoing range of measures targeting those involved. Officers routinely conduct high visibility patrols aimed at disrupting the sale and supply of tobacco products in areas in question. In November 2012, Revenue increased the number of patrols in the areas concerned. Revenue's presence in these areas has also been bolstered by the deployment of both the tobacco dog unit and marked vehicles during certain targeted operations. In 2012, 5 cases were referred for prosecution in relation to illegal trading in tobacco products in the city centre. Revenue expects a number of further prosecutions for such cases to come before the courts in 2013. Moreover, in tandem with ongoing high visibility patrols of the area, Revenue personnel are actively engaged in covert surveillance and test purchasing for the purpose of gathering intelligence with a view to identifying and prosecuting the suppliers of illicit tobacco products in the areas concerned.

At a national level, 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.

Revenue works in close cooperation with other relevant agencies, both nationally and internationally. There is extensive cooperation between Revenue and An Garda Síochána. The relevant agencies in the State and in Northern Ireland work closely together, through a cross-border group on tobacco enforcement, to combat the organized 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 efforts to tackle the illicit trade in tobacco products at international level.

Considerable success has been achieved by Revenue in combating the illegal trade. Details of the quantities of cigarettes seized each year since 2005 are set out in the following table.

Year

Quantity of cigarettes seized (millions)

2005

51.3

2006

52.3

2007

74.5

2008

135.2

2009

218.5

2010

178.4

2011

109.1

2012

95.6

The quantity of cigarettes seized in a given year can be influenced significantly by the occurrence of a particularly large seizure or seizures. For example, the quantity of cigarettes seized in 2009 includes one exceptional seizure of some 120 million cigarettes that were uncovered on a vessel at Greenore, Co. Louth.

Moreover, the Revenue Commissioners have had considerable success in detecting and prosecuting persons involved in the illicit trade. For example, in 2012, there were 57 convictions for tobacco smuggling, resulting in 26 custodial sentences being handed down by the Courts (of which 7 were suspended) as well as fines totalling €93,550. In addition, there were a further 75 convictions connected with the sale or keeping for sale of unstamped tobacco products, resulting in 21 custodial sentences (14 of which were suspended) as well as fines of €153,050.

Revenue is committed to ensuring that the highest possible levels of seizures of illicit products are achieved on an ongoing basis, and that those responsible for the smuggling, supply or selling of illicit products are prosecuted, and will ensure that this work continues to have the high priority that has been accorded to it to date.