Calls for Garda taskforce on cigarette smuggling
A dedicated Garda taskforce is needed to tackle the black market trade in smuggled cigarettes, shopkeepers claimed today.
Lobby group Retailers Against Smuggling said a specialist unit was needed to hit street sellers and back up the work of Customs to cut down on contraband trafficking.
Revenue figures showed 218.5 million cigarettes worth €92m were seized by authorities last year.
Benny Gilsenan, the group's spokesman, said: "We are an island nation that has an understaffed Customs services, meaning that the contraband and counterfeit cigarettes are always going to get through, so gardai have to have a greater emphasis on a nationwide clampdown.
"A specially designated taskforce is the only logical step to successfully win the war against the criminal."
Retailers also complained they are receiving two reports a week of leaflets offering cheap tobacco being put through doors and on windscreens of Mass-goers' cars around the country.
Ireland had Europe's largest ever illegal cigarettes haul last October. The operation, codenamed Samhna, involved the seizure of 120.3 million cigarettes from a ship in Greenore port, Dundalk.
The group said the Exchequer last year lost €556m in unpaid excise levies.
Mr Gilsenan said: "There is now a huge onus on the gardai to have more of a presence in counteracting this issue on a nationwide level.
"Every week of the year we are getting reports of illegal selling on streets, in markets and going from door to door.
"At present there is an ad hoc approach from gardai with regard to illegal selling of cigarettes and that attitude is crippling the Irish retailer."
Retailers claimed tobacco is about 30pc of turnover in their shops.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael's justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said it was impossible to prevent smuggling when there are only two X-ray scanners at ports and a 4,300km coastline.
"Our Customs service is woefully under resourced," the Opposition spokesman said.
"An X-ray scanner costs €1.5m and yet there are only two in existence to service the entire state.
"Given the massive loss in revenue due to ongoing cigarette smuggling, estimated at €616m, it is foolish in the extreme that the Government has failed to equip up to 30 ports with much needed X-ray scanners."
Mr Flanagan claimed smaller and private airports were not seeing customs checks.
He criticised "the Government feeling that it is too cost inefficient" to make improvements.
"This shows a very narrow-minded approach to calculating costs. This narrow view is reflected in the Customs presence around our coastline," he said.
"At present, we have only two patrol boats to patrol 4,300km of coastline."