Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Questions (126)

Micheál Martin


126. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Finance his views on high-sulphur coal being smuggled across the Border region; if he has spoken to other Ministers regarding same; if actions are being taken to prevent this smuggling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26490/19]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am assuming that the Deputy, when referring to solid fuel smuggling, is enquiring about the movement of solid fuel into the State from Northern Ireland in the context of Solid Fuel Carbon Tax (SFCT). SFCT is an excise duty that applies to coal and peat when first supplied in the State for use as a fuel. Neither the movement of solid fuel into the State nor the physical presence of solid fuel in the State generate a liability to SFCT. Therefore, there is no smuggling offence, in terms of evasion of SFCT, attaching to coal coming into the State from Northern Ireland.

European Union Single Market constraints preclude the use of any cross-border controls in relation to the movement of solid fuel into the State from other Member States. Therefore, Revenue has no authority to stop vehicles and physically inspect loads of solid fuel entering the State from Northern Ireland. Similarly, the transportation or possession of solid fuel that originated in Northern Ireland are not, in themselves, Revenue offences and Revenue's officers have no authority to challenge such transportation or possession.

Currently in Northern Ireland, there is no carbon tax on coal and solid fuel environmental standards are lower than in the State. These factors combined with currency fluctuations and Northern Ireland’s lower VAT rate on solid fuel can give rise to significant price differentials between the two jurisdictions.

As I, and my predecessor, have pointed out before, because of the price differential with Northern Ireland, the collection by Revenue of SFCT is heavily reliant on the regulatory regime covering the marketing, sale, distribution and burning of solid fuels in the State. The regime is operated by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and is enforced by local authorities who have powers to inspect premises and vehicles being used for the sale and distribution of solid fuel, collect samples of coal to check for adherence to environmental standards and to prosecute traders involved in selling coal that does not meet these standards. The Regulations also provide for the establishment of a register of coal suppliers by the Environmental Protection Agency.

I am advised that Revenue is in contact at present with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to discuss the effectiveness of the regulatory regime for solid fuel and to explore how Revenue could support the Department to improve matters in light of continuing concerns that solid fuel sourced from Northern Ireland is getting onto the market here. I understand that contacts are ongoing with a view to undertaking a number of joint operations and to explore the scope for follow up action by Revenue in relation to persons found to be in breach of environmental regulations.