Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Ceisteanna (44, 45)

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

44. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Finance the maximum prison sentence for the crime of tobacco smuggling; the number of maximum prison sentences that have been imposed for tobacco smuggling in the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40878/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

45. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the findings of the Tobacco Products Research Survey 2018 carried out by the Revenue Commissioners that the percentage of illegal roll your own tobacco products has more than doubled in the past two years rising from 9% in 2016 to 21% in 2018; the action he will take to address this increase in the illegal trade of roll your own tobacco; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40879/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 44 and 45 together.

I am advised by Revenue that the annual survey carried out by Ipsos MRBI for Revenue and the Health Service Executive provides an indication of the amount of illegal tobacco products consumed in Ireland. I understand that the 2018 survey reported that 21% of the roll your own tobacco products were illegal, which is higher than in the 2017 figure of 15%, and the 2016 figure of 9%.

Revenue has indicated to me that the results of the survey in relation to the volume of non-Irish duty paid roll your own tobacco is a concern, and combatting the illegal tobacco trade continues to be a priority for them. Revenue uses a range of measures designed to identify and target those involved in the smuggling, supply or sale of illicit products, with a view to disrupting the supply chain, seizing the illicit products and, wherever possible, prosecuting the persons involved. Revenue’s strategy includes developing and sharing intelligence on a national, EU and international basis, the use of analytics and detection technologies, and ensuring the optimum deployment of resources on a risk focused basis.

Revenue and An Garda Síochána work together on an ongoing basis in acting against tobacco crime, and both organisations cooperate closely with their Northern Ireland counterparts, in the framework of the North-South Joint Agency Task Force, to target the organised crime groups that are responsible for a large proportion of this form of criminality. In addition, Revenue works closely with the relevant authorities in other jurisdictions, the European Anti-Fraud Office, Europol and other international organisations, including the World Customs Organisation, in the ongoing programmes of action at international level to combat tobacco crime.

Revenue’s extensive programme of work against the illegal tobacco trade has achieved a considerable level of success. During the period 2016 to end-August 2019, 157.8 million cigarettes and 7,826 kilograms of tobacco were seized. In addition, 104 tonnes of raw tobacco were seized when two illicit cigarette factories were discovered in Co. Louth in 2018 and 2019.

Revenue seeks to prosecute in any case where a person can be connected with the trade in illegal tobacco products. In 2018, there were 19 convictions connected with the smuggling of illegal tobacco products, as well as 58 convictions relating to offences such as holding or selling illegal tobacco products. In the period January to September 2019, there were five convictions connected with the smuggling of illegal tobacco products, as well as 38 convictions relating to offences such as holding or selling of illegal tobacco products. I understand that there have also been three convictions arising from the discovery of an illegal cigarette factory in Co. Louth in March 2018.

Section 119 of the Finance Act 2001, as amended, sets out the penalties imposed for the smuggling of tobacco into the State. The maximum prison sentence that can be imposed is twelve months on summary conviction in the District Court, and five years on indictment in the Circuit Court.

I am advised by Revenue that for the period requested by the Deputy, no such maximum sentences were imposed by the Courts. The maximum summary term imposed over the past five years was nine months (suspended for eighteen months) and the maximum indictable term was two years, (fully suspended).

A fine may be imposed by the Courts in addition to a term of imprisonment and any tobacco seized is liable to forfeiture, as is any vehicle used in transporting the product. The following table sets out the number and value of fines imposed by the Courts in the past five years for the Deputy’s information.

Year

Number of Cases

Total Court Fines

2015

27

€70,200

2016

24

€57,500

2017

22

€54,500

2018

15

€40,000

2019 (YTD 30.09.2019)

4

€10,000

The Government has ensured through the Finance Acts over recent years that Revenue has the necessary statutory powers to tackle the illicit tobacco trade. I am satisfied that the current legislative framework provides an effective basis for undertaking this important work but I am open to consider any proposals that Revenue may bring forward for further enhancements in that regard in the future.