Thursday, 19 November 2015
-----the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners. I will ask that the Garda Síochána details requested by the Senator be provided to him. I will revert to him on that point. I thank him for raising this important matter.
The Revenue Commissioners have primary responsibility for the prevention, detection, interception and seizure of controlled drugs being smuggled into or out of Ireland. I am advised by Revenue that, as part of its risk-focused approach to the discharge of its role in this regard, harbours and inlets along the coastline - including along the south-west coast - are monitored and evaluated on an ongoing basis from the point of view of the potential for smuggling. Revenue is conscious of the dangers and threats from smuggling of all types, including drugs, using seagoing vessels. Revenue's enforcement infrastructure in combating the threat of smuggling includes two customs cutters, which are deployed to patrol the coastline and undertake maritime intelligence gathering duties. They provide Revenue's Customs and Excise with ready access to vessels, whether commercial or leisure, operating in the waters off the Irish coast. The decision on whether to board and search a vessel is based on risk analysis and profiling, which is informed, inter alia, by an evaluation of national and international smuggling trends and threat assessment, journey frequency, routes and other risk indicators. I am further advised by Revenue that patrols of the coastline by the cutters are kept under constant review to take account of available intelligence and emerging smuggling trends.
Apart from the time spent at sea, the crew of both cutters work closely with their land-based colleagues and coastal communities in developing intelligence and following up on information regarding risks and smuggling threats that are brought to their attention. It is worth mentioning that the crews of these vessels are also trained and certified to carry out deep rummage - detailed searching - of vessels. This is a core skill and competence for the detection of deep concealments and the thorough post-seizure searching of vessels. Outside of the focus on vessels to which I have alluded, I am assured by the Revenue Commissioners that the crew members and passengers, where relevant, of such vessels who enter the State are subject to the same checks as any other arrival, including individual profiling, and are liable to be checked by Revenue customs staff on a risk-focused basis.
Revenue officers liaise with local gardaí, harbour masters and the Coast Guard regarding drugs and also with trade interests in respect of fiscal products. This work is supplemented by Revenue's customs drug watch programme, which incorporates a coastal reporting mechanism and allows members of the public and maritime and local communities to report, in confidence, suspect or unusual movements at sea or around the coast through a confidential 24-7 freefone facility. Such sightings, examples of which include vessels anchored or making landings in remote areas, shipping being observed away from designated shipping lanes and vessels signalling ashore or operating without lights, when reported to Revenue are fully evaluated and appropriately actioned by Revenue. Revenue promotes the drugs watch programme - I am happy to have an opportunity to do so now - and encourages the public to contact it on 1800 295 295 in the strictest confidence. I encourage people, including the Senators present, if they have information as regards specific incidents of drugs smuggling into the country, to bring it to the attention of Revenue. Such information will be dealt with in the strictest confidence.
Revenue is a fully integrated tax and customs administration and I am advised that it is not possible to disaggregate the resources deployed exclusively at any given time to the detection of illegal drugs. Revenue has approximately 2,000 staff countrywide engaged in activities that are dedicated to targeting and confronting non-compliance. These activities include anti-smuggling and anti-evasion, investigation and prosecution, audit, assurance checks, anti-avoidance, returns compliance and debt collection.
Let me say something about collaboration and co-operation with other State agencies and about the international arena. Revenue's customs service collaborates at national level with the Garda and the Naval Service as part of the joint task force on drugs interdiction and at international level with its partners in significant and ongoing operations. Internationally, Revenue continues to co-operate with administrations, agencies and services where areas of common interest exist, particularly in the area of countering drug trafficking. Revenue officials attend and participate in many international fora, such as the Customs Co-operation Working Party, CCWP, and the Pompidou Group. Under the auspices of Europol, Revenue supports, participates in and implements the European Multidisciplinary Platform against Criminal Threats, EMPACT, plan. In addition, Revenue maintains an effective working relationship with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs across the broad range of revenue and customs functions, with the UK Border Force and with the UK National Crime Agency.
The national drugs strategy is the Government-directed strategy to deal effectively with the problem of drugs in Ireland. The overall strategic objective of the national drugs strategy 2009-2016 is to continue tackling the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs through a concerted focus on the five pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. I commend Revenue on its success in supply disruption and seizures. This demonstrates the professionalism and capability of Revenue in delivering on our drugs prevention policy. Revenue will continue to attach a high priority to its role and activities in this regard.