Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Ceisteanna (38, 53)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

38. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Finance the additional measures he plans to implement to deal with cross-Border smuggling and illicit trade in fuel, tobacco and drink products; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46644/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

53. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Finance the recent discussions he or his officials have had with the authorities in Northern Ireland on the need to deal with the scourge of illicit cross-Border trade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46645/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (5 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 38 and 53 together.

The threat that fuel fraud and the illicit alcohol and tobacco trade pose to legitimate businesses, consumers and the Exchequer is clear and I am assured by Revenue that combating such criminality continues to be a priority for it. Steps taken by Revenue to combat the illegal fuel trade include the introduction of stringent supply chain controls and reporting requirements and a rigorous programme of enforcement action. In addition, Revenue and the UK Revenue and Customs undertook a joint initiative to introduce a new marker for use in marked fuels, which came into operation from April 2015. Revenue has also conducted random national sampling programmes in the years 2016 to 2019. I am satisfied that its work against fuel fraud and the illicit alcohol and tobacco trade has achieved a considerable level of success. For my part, I will fully consider any additional proposals for change that may be brought forward by Revenue which would enhance its capacity to deal effectively with fraud and criminality in these areas.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I commend the work of the Revenue Commissioners, as well as the times when it is supported by other statutory agencies. As we know, it often works in difficult circumstances and in many instances is dealing with dangerous criminals. Unfortunately, the illicit cross-Border trade in drinks, household fuel and tobacco products is still going on. I appeal to the Minister to constantly review the situation and give diligent consideration to strengthening some of the powers of the Revenue Commissioners. As we all know, unfortunately, revenue is being lost to our State. Allied to that are the unfair burdens put on decent and honourable small and medium enterprises, which are trying to compete with people who are trading illegally. The carbon tax is an additional burden in respect of household fuel products. Products are coming from Northern Ireland to Border counties and much further south. Our decent and honourable businesses cannot compete. We need to strengthen the powers of the Revenue Commissioners and other statutory agencies to deal with this trade which is happening as we speak.

The Deputy regularly raises this issue with me and I know how important it is to the businesses and communities he represents. On a number of occasions when we have discussed this, I have made available to him information on the scale of seizures that are happening. He may be aware that as recently as April of this year, 2.9 million smuggled cigarettes were detected and removed in a single operation by the Revenue Commissioners. I will continue to respond positively to any proposals from the Revenue Commissioners in regard to additional resources or warranted powers they need. This represents a loss of revenue to our economy. It is illegal and on many occasions this revenue is used to fund further illegal and dangerous activities.

I am determined to support the Revenue Commissioners in any way I can as they seek to ensure they continue to have the upper hand in dealing with this illegal activity.

We need to send a clear message to decent and honourable businesses that they will be protected as much as possible. Unfortunately, they are not competing on a level playing field as they trade in certain products. Many businesses, particularly in the Border area, are struggling. They want to pay proper wages to their employees, pay tax to the State and pay VAT. Their business is being undermined by this illicit trade. A message must go out to industry and local SMEs that every effort will be made to curtail this illegal trade and eliminate cross-Border smuggling as far as possible.

The message I want to send to business owners is that we want to ensure they have a level playing field. More importantly for them, the right action must be taken to create such a level playing field. I hope it is apparent from the actions I have detailed in my response to the Deputy that we are aiming to achieve this objective. We will continue our efforts in that regard.