“Illicit cross-border trade remains a major problem; fines are too low and there is not a strong enough deterrent” commented Martin Heydon, TD for Kildare South who was speaking today (Monday) at the 50th British Irish Parliamentary Association Plenary.
“The political landscape in Northern Ireland and in border counties is much improved in recent years. However illicit trade, particularly illegal cigarettes and fuel laundering remains a major problem and one that must be addressed.
“While elements involved in the troubles may have decommissioned their arms, they obviously haven’t decommissioned all of their personnel as is evidenced from the fact that between 2010 and 2013, 420 million illegal cigarettes were seized with a retail value of €180 million.
“Obviously the loss of revenue to both the Northern Ireland and the Irish economies is an issue. This not only results in the loss of trade for compliant retailers in both jurisdictions but there is also a real concern as to where the proceeds of these illegal activities are going.
“Political parties that have links or knowledge to these criminals have a moral obligation to work with the authorities and bring an end to this activity.
“Since 2009, over 1,000 people have been prosecuted in relation to illicit tobacco and over €900,000 has been collected in fines but that is a mere 0.5% of the value of the confiscated cigarettes.
“The Government is working to address this issue and there has been an improvement as a result. Illicit cigarette consumption is down from 14% in 2010 to 11% in 2013 but 11% is still far too high and the truth of the matter is that the deterrent is still not strong enough to prevent those involved from taking a chance.
“Today’s plenary discussed current business on both sides of the border as well as cross border police cooperation. I believe that the Irish and UK Governments must introduce more serious penalties and increased fines to tackle these crimes. This issue is not going away and it is one we must pursue and one which must be taken seriously, as it is impacting on local business and its proceeds are funding other forms of crime including paramilitary activity.”