Significant tobacco seizures at Ireland’s ports in 2021 provide a clear indication that illicit trade is stronger than ever despite the deterrent of additional Brexit related Revenue checks. That is the reaction from Retailers Against Smuggling (RAS) after Revenue seized four tonnes of tobacco worth over €2.4 million at Dublin Port this week.
This is the fourth major tobacco and cigarette seizure by Revenue at Ireland’s ports this year.
In February, two separate seizures in one day at Rosslare Europort yielded 5.7 million cigarettes while in January, two tonnes of tobacco were seized at Dublin Port. The potential loss to the exchequer of these four major seizures alone equates to €6 million, demonstrating that Irish ports remain a hotbed for smuggling.
Commenting, national spokesperson for RAS, Benny Gilsenan said: “The issue of tobacco smuggling remains a huge threat for registered and legitimate tobacco retailers like myself across Ireland, whose legal cigarette trade can account for 20 – 30 per cent of their business. These major seizures when examined alongside the additional detections made at our airports and through warranted searches, demonstrate that the black market continues to be exceptionally active in 2021. The scale and means used to smuggle the tobacco seized at Dublin Port this week might also suggest that it was intended for further illicit cigarette manufacturing.
“While we commend and fully support the hard work undertaken by Revenue and An Garda Síochána in the fight against illicit trade, our fear is that these seizures are only the tip of the iceberg. If this is the extent of the goods being seized, it is frightening to think about the volume of tobacco making it into the country unchecked costing the exchequer millions of euro in lost revenue and putting the livelihoods of retailers at stake.”
In its headline results for 2020, Revenue reported a total of 4,390 seizures of cigarettes and other tobacco with a value of €32.7m, this compares to a value of €10.52m for 2019 representing a threefold increase.
Mr Gilsenan added: “It is very plausible that Covid-19 international travel restrictions over the past twelve months has led to a growth in demand for the black market, which these criminals are trying to exploit by any means. For example, my own store alone experienced an initial 40 per cent rise in tobacco sales when travel restrictions were introduced but this has dropped right back to normal levels. So it begs the question, where are these sales going given that travel restrictions remain in place?
“If we are to seriously tackle the issue of illicit trade there needs to be much stricter sanctions and more prosecutions for those who are caught smuggling. It is clear from the level of seizures recorded in 2020 and so far this year that the current deterrents to smuggling are not strong enough.”