Smugglers use cell structures perfected by IRA
Republican smugglers have adopted cell structures, perfected by the Provisional IRA at the height of their terrorist campaign, to minimise the impact of detection or penetration by gardaí.
The dissidents might organise shipments with up to eight containers, but each cell is only responsible for one container and its members are not aware of the others.
This means that if one container is seized as a result of intelligence or infiltration, the remainder is more likely to be protected.
The structure is also geared towards safeguarding the identity of the main players and protecting them from informants in the network.
A British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly report says China is a favourite destination for sourcing cigarettes.
It produces 43pc of the world's tobacco and cigarettes can be sourced there for as little as 20 cents a pack. In other source countries, cigarettes can be acquired for only nine cents a pack.
Couriers carrying up to €50,000 each are sent from Border areas, mainly north Louth and south Armagh, and flown out through Dublin Airport to purchase the products.
Customs staff at the airport have made several significant cash seizures.
Some couriers are truck drivers, who travel to the Netherlands and France with between €30,000 and €40,000 each in cash and are then unable to explain where they got the money when intercepted.
Container-loads with between seven and nine million cigarettes each are purchased in Asia and loaded onto what are known as "mother" ships.
They dock at feeder ports such as Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Antwerp in Belgium and Le Havre in France, and the consignments are then placed on smaller vessels bound for Dublin and other ports along the east coast.
The smugglers have little fear of detection at Dublin port, as 10,000 40-foot containers pass through weekly and there is only one x-ray scanner.
Consignments hidden inside wood to thwart the scanner are known as 'coffins', while more sophisticated gangs use bogus furniture businesses to explain their shipments.
Other smaller consignments are concealed in computer components.
The report claims the meltdown in the Greek economy made it a target in recent years as a transit point to Ireland and the UK, as customs there became lax.
The smugglers work in some cases alongside loyalist crime groups, and at street level they use vulnerable children, who are as young as 12.