Money laundering activity remains a threat to Ireland's reputation as a financial centre and is benefiting criminal gangs, a new report states today.

The report from business advisory group Grant Thornton says that the level of money laundering here is estimated to be at least €3 billion.

Laundering hits the economy through the loss of government revenue from tax on fuel, alcohol and tobacco and the cost of enforcement of legislation through money spent on policing and regulatory bodies. 

The report builds on a similar study last year which found that illicit trade in the retail sector was costing the Irish economy as much as €1.48 billion a year. 

Continued weak penalties means that losses have increased 3% in this year's estimate to €1.53 billion.

The research shows that 77% of consumers said it was "easy" to buy illegal cigarettes, while one in three consumers have knowingly acquired a pirated product. 74% of retailers believe organised crime is involved in money laundering while 72% of retailers believe the Government's response to the threat of illicit trade has been too weak.

The report said that defending the intellectual property rights that underpin industries like the entertainment and pharmaceutical sectors should be at the heart of the Government's reform strategy. It also stated that recent proposals to remove all  branding from cigarette packets could potentially send a negative signal about the country's commitment to IP rights protection. 

"Digital piracy of movies, production of counterfeit CDs, smuggling of illicit tobacco and alcohol are all examples of IP abuse that hurt the Irish economy," commented the report's author Brendan Foster.

"With Ireland’s high dependence on IP intensive industries, a strong national framework of IP protection is vital," he stated. 

He said a committee should be established with both industry and state interests which would have direct responsibility for tackling the issue of illicit trade and IP protection.