Thirteen per cent of all packs of cigarettes in Ireland are illegal and this represented a €229 million loss to the exchequer last year, the Dáil has heard.
A new bill aimed at stepping up the fight against smuggling aims to introduce on the spot fines for purchasing illicit goods
It was tabled by Fianna Fáil TD for Louth Declan Breathnach this evening. He claimed that the €1.7 billion lost to the exchequer since 2010 could have built 8,400 social houses.
Mr Breathnach said: "The smuggling trade in Ireland used to be thought of as a form of cute hoorism, a fairly innocuous activity where people, mostly in the Border regions found ways of earning that little extra income."
The border TD express concern about the effects of illicit trade activity on the livelihoods of retailers.
He said that smuggling is no longer just a problem in the border counties and it is now a nationwide problem where illegal cigarettes alcohol and fuel are now on sale in every city, town and village in the country.
He said smuggling has moved to being a massive illegal criminal activity and it causes huge losses in revenue, for retailers and to the State.
Mr Breathnach said, "Currently there is no deterrent to purchasing smuggled goods as it is not a crime. The aim of the bill is to deter people from buying illicit alcohol, solid fuel and tobacco by introducing on the spot fines for purchasing goods where taxes have not been paid."
He added: "This is a necessary measure to protect those small retailers. The primary benefit of the legislation is not to create a punishable crime but there is a clear message being sent out that one should not to purchase these products because they are facilitating criminal gangs by doing so."
He outlined how illicit trade is a huge burden on the exchequer and small businesses.
He said 13% of all packs of cigarettes in Ireland are illegal, representing a loss to the exchequer of €229m in 2017 alone and €1.7bn from 2010 to 2017.
Citing the Retailers Against Smuggling group he said that this will be enough to build 8,400 social houses in Ireland but the money goes directly into the hands of criminal gangs.
During 2017 Revenue seized 95,021 litres of illicit alcohol with an estimated value of €0.91m. Total seizure of alcohol has increased by 100%
Minister of State Michael D'Arcy said: "This bill seeks to introduce legislation which would make it an offence to purchase or attempt to purchase alcohol, tobacco products or solid fuel, on which excise duties or VAT have not been paid."
He said that the focus of tackling trade in illicit goods and fuel fraud has been firmly on the supply chain and they have been working.
Mr D'Arcy said the Government is not supporting the bill as the approach of tackling purchasers of illicit goods instead of suppliers "raises a number of serious issues."
He said he has been advised that "in practice it is extremely difficult if not impossible to establish the evidence that would support the conviction of a person for knowingly buying illicit goods."
He added it can be extremely difficult to distinguish genuine goods from illicit goods.
"The bill assumes that consumers can readily establish whether certain goods are illicit or not. It places an onus on the purcharser to actively check current registers for alcohol, tobacco, and solid fuel traders in advance of making a purchase," he said.
"However as an example the current invalid liquor licences runs to almost 3,000 pages and is only available on the Revenue website."
A vote on Mr Breathnach's bill will take place in the Dáil tomorrow afternoon.