That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion provided by Article 1.11 of the Treaty of Amsterdam to take part in the adoption of the following proposed measure:
a proposal for a Council Decision on the use of information technology for customs purposes,
a copy of which proposed measure was laid before Dáil Éireann on 25 November 2009.
This motion deals with the Council decision on the use of information technology for customs purposes. The customs information system, CIS, a computerised network database, which is the subject of the proposed European Council decision, is one of the tools used by customs services in the member states of the European Union to co-operate with each other in combating smuggling and customs fraud.
International co-operation between customs administrations is not new. On its accession to the EEC in 1973, Ireland became party to the Naples Convention, drawn up in 1967. That convention proved invaluable to customs administrations in what is now the EU in dealing with cases involving smuggling of prohibited substances, including drugs, restricted goods, such as guns and ammunition, and dutiable goods, such as alcohol and tobacco products. Since then, Customs and Excise has been continually introducing new tools to combat smuggling, including the introduction of a scanner and the Customs cutter, and continually updating the legal bases for co-operation with colleagues in other member states as the need arose. A second scanner and cutter will also be operational by the end of this year.
The success of this co-operation and sharing of intelligence can be demonstrated by the fact that seizures of cigarettes and "roll your own" tobacco more than doubled by value since 2007. Some 74.5 million cigarettes were seized in 2007 and 135 million in 2008. In addition, Customs seized more than 1,500 kg of "roll your own" tobacco in 2007 and almost 3,100 kg in 2008. During the period January to October 2009, more than 200 million cigarettes have been seized with a retail value of approximately €80.5 million. This includes the recent seizure on 27 October of some 120 million cigarettes at Greenore Port, which was valued at €50 million.
Alcohol seizures increased from 139 seizures in 2007 to 282 in 2008. This involved the seizure of more than 22,800 litres of beer, wine and spirits in 2007 and more than 83,000 litres in 2008. During the period January to October 2009, there were 319 seizures of alcohol, totalling almost 90,000 litres of beer, wine and spirits.
Drug seizures in 2008 included the seizure of more than 1.6 tonnes of cocaine and heroin. One of the largest cocaine seizures in the history of the State, with an estimated street value of €105 million, took place in November 2008. Other large seizures during 2008 included two consignments of cannabis, valued at €18 million, in Rosslare and 10 kg of heroin valued at €2 million. The overall street value for drugs seized in 2008 was over €152 million. During the period January to October 2009, drugs with a street value of €42 million were seized.
Cash seizures in 2008, representing the proceeds of crime, amounted to €3.5 million, seven times more than Customs seized in 2007. During the period January to October 2009, the net amount of cash seized amounted to €1 million.
Most of the large seizures were made as a result of intelligence. This is the strongest indication of the increased effectiveness of the intelligence capability of Customs and Excise and of good quality inter-agency co-operation in Ireland and internationally. However, we cannot be complacent and we must consider the potential losses to the Exchequer of such activities, their effect on legitimate business and the impact of drug abuse on our communities. The people engaged in smuggling activities are becoming more sophisticated in their approach and more ruthless in their determination.
One of the initiatives taken at EU level to combat smuggling was the development of the customs information system, CIS. On completion of the Single Market in 1993, the EU decided to build an information system specifically for customs, aimed at ensuring that the relevant officers would have immediate access to information on suspicious border crossings throughout the EU. The reasons for setting up this system, which are equally valid today, were the abolition of normal customs controls at the internal EU frontiers on completion of the Single Market and the effect this could have on the ability of customs to combat smuggling including drug trafficking; the clear need to enhance existing arrangements for co-operation between the customs services in the member states and to improve the effectiveness of customs controls, particularly at the external frontiers of the EU; the success of and improvements in technology had demonstrated the benefits of fully using the potential of such technology for the rapid dissemination of information between customs offices across the EU; and the increased sophistication of the techniques used by those involved in transnational organised crime.
The aim of the CIS is to enable national customs services to exchange and disseminate information on smuggling activities and requests for action. Since information can be accessed quickly, legitimate trade can be facilitated, while customs and police officers can act effectively on the basis of information from other customs services in relation to possible illegal activities. Its purpose is to assist in preventing, investigating, and prosecuting serious contraventions of customs law. The system is a computerised network comprising the central database in Brussels, with terminals in all the member states linked to that database. The CIS consists of two parts to the central database, each of which is similar in structure. They are underpinned by two separate legal bases to cover both the first pillar, which deals with the three communities of the European Community, the European Atomic Energy Community, EAEC or EURATOM, and the former European Coal and Steel Community, ECSC, and the third pillar, which deals with police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. The legal bases are a Community regulation dealing with first pillar customs fraud, Regulation (EC) No 515/97, which was amended most recently in 2008 by Regulation (EC) No 766/08; and a convention dating from 1995, which also has a number of subsequent associated Protocols covering third Pillar customs-related matters.
In each of the databases, the main categories of information collected relate to commodities, means of transport, businesses, persons and fraud trends. Direct access to data is reserved exclusively for the national authorities designated by each member state. Revenue has been designated as the national authority for Ireland. Within Revenue, there are 17 terminals located throughout the country, primarily at the ports and airports, with between two and five users in each location authorised to interrogate the system and input cases.
The Council decision we are dealing with today is to provide a fresh legal basis for the third pillar CIS in order to allow the information to be used more fully. Part of the rationale for the decision is also to consolidate, update and replace the existing CIS Convention, as well as a number of protocols. These are a protocol dating from March 1999 on the laundering of the proceeds of breaches of customs legislation and the inclusion of the registration number of the means of transport in the list of information which could be exchanged between member states; and a protocol dating from May 2003 and providing for the creation of a customs files identification database, which has an intelligence focus on persons or businesses that have been or are the subject of investigations in the member states in connection with serious breaches of customs legislation.
It is important to note, as already indicated, that the system has been in operation for some years, with the CIS convention and the protocols underpinning it from a legal perspective. Consequently, customs administrations in the member states are already allowed to exchange information using CIS in respect of breaches of customs legislation. A proposal was made by the French Presidency in 2008 to replace the convention and existing protocols with this new Council decision. The decision was also regarded as being necessary to adapt the existing legal basis better to the control services' requirements and to allow information on the CIS, which is currently only an alert system, to be used for operational and strategic analysis.
The European Parliament has passed its opinion and the Swedish Presidency plans to have this decision adopted as an A point at the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers on 30 November 2009. I have circulated with my speech the main elements of the decision.