Wednesday 13 November 2019

Calls for increased penalties for cross border smuggling

Olivia Ryan

The British Irish Parliamentary Assembly has called on the UK and Irish Governments, and the devolved Governments in the UK, to enhance co-operation in light of an increase in Illicit trade across the border.

The calls came in a new report launched by, Committee Member Declan Breathnach TD who said: The report outlines that cross-border cooperation between law enforcement agencies was highly effective. The Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, and the PSNI Temporary Deputy Chief Constable, Stephen Martin, both emphasised the depth of cooperation between the two police forces.

'The strength of the relationship was also apparent at a local level, despite challenges for policing border communities. We heard directly from senior officers in the PSNI at Crossmaglen and An Garda Síochána in Dundalk about their highly effective working relationship.'

The report, also considered how the UK's decision to leave the EU was likely to affect cross-border police co-operation and illicit trade.

A sub-committee was established to hold a series of meetings in Belfast, Crossmaglen, Dundalk and Dublin speaking to: the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), An Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners and Retailers Against Smuggling.

The committee established that smuggling of legal goods is usually concentrated on products where there are different excise duties and VAT regimes in Northern Ireland and Ireland, creating a clear cross-border price differential for goods.

'Typically, organised crime groups focus on the cross-border movement of tobacco, fuel and alcohol. There had been an increase in the number of criminal groups with cross-border operations over the last five years, rising from approximately one in five groups in 2014 to one in three in 2019,' said the Louth TD.

'Several witnesses warned that illicit trade would continue for as long as there continued to be significant profits to be made due to excise fraud and price divergences between jurisdictions.'

The report found that tax rates on products, as well as price differentials between the two jurisdictions, 'create a strong incentive for criminal groups to supply illicit tobacco, particularly those on lower incomes and young people, to purchase them.'

'The Committee heard that these high levels of illicit trade in tobacco were a concern for legitimate retailers. Retailers Against Smuggling, an Irish umbrella organisation representing retailers concerned about illicit trade, warned that tobacco smuggling was a threat to the financial viability of businesses that wanted to operate on the right side of the law.'

The Committee also heard concerns from the PSNI regarding the potential societal impact in Northern Ireland were the UK and EU unable to agree a formal withdrawal agreement. The PSNI warned of potential unrest if higher levels of unemployment, particularly in the agricultural sector, were to lead to increased dissatisfaction with current constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland.

'Concerns were also raised about reports that criminal groups are resorting to dangerous methods as they seek to fuel launder bypassing a new fuel marker. There must be stronger penalties for those who engage in this crime,' said Deputy Breathnach.

The Argus