44. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if consideration is being given to the implementation of additional measures to counteract cross-Border criminality with particular reference to illicit trade in fuel, tobacco and drinks products which impacts adversely on revenue in the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4326/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I can assure the Deputy that tackling cross-border crime is a high priority for this Government, the Gardaí and our other law enforcement authorities. There is close cooperation between law enforcement agencies north and south of the border and the two police services work very closely together on a broad range of policing responsibilities.
Considerable operational activity takes place aimed at tackling the priority areas across the range of criminal activities. In addition to the ‘traditional’ areas of focus – fuel, tobacco, alcohol and other excise frauds and drug trafficking – there has been focus on rural crime (thefts from farms, burglaries and road crimes) and on human trafficking for sexual and labour exploitation.
Excise fraud, including the illicit trade in fuel, tobacco and alcohol, is an area of serious concern to authorities north and south of the border. In February 2018, an investigation led by the Revenue Commissioners, uncovered a manufacturing cigarette factory in County Louth, which contained a full production facility for making cigarettes. This operation led to 23.5 million cigarettes and 71 tonnes of raw tobacco, along with tobacco precursor materials being seized. This find represents one of the largest illicit production facilities ever detected in Europe.
Authorities on both sides of the border are also committed to tackling all forms of fuel fraud. Measures implemented by Revenue to tackle the problem include the introduction of stringent new supply chain controls and reporting requirements for fuel transactions to minimise the scope for fraud. In addition, Revenue and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs undertook a joint initiative to find a new fiscal marker for use in marked fuels, which was introduced in Ireland and the United Kingdom from the beginning of April 2015. The industry view is that the measures implemented to date have been successful in curtailing the problem in Ireland.
Further, the Revenue Commissioners and HM Revenue and Customs have recently initiated investigations into alcohol-diversion fraud and duty-suspended alcohol moving between both jurisdictions.
The success of these cross border policing actions is grounded in the recognition that the best means of combatting this threat to our communities is to maintain and enhance the excellent levels of cooperation between law enforcement agencies north and south of the border. The Gardaí and PSNI, along with other agencies, have worked together closely for many years and enjoy an excellent working relationship and co-operation at all levels. Clearly, Brexit will have an impact on this relationship, but the Government is working towards ensuring that the co-operation can continue to the maximum extent possible.
A crucial component of our shared strategy with our Northern Ireland colleagues in tackling cross border criminality has been the establishment of the Joint Agency Task Force, set up under the 'Fresh Start' Agreement of 2015. The Task Force brings together a wide range of experts drawn from policing, revenue and other enforcement agencies across both jurisdictions to co-ordinate strategic and operational actions against cross-border organised crime.
The Strategic Oversight Group of the Task Force is chaired jointly at senior management level by the two police services in order to provide strong strategic direction and oversight to front-line operational activities. This group also includes senior personnel from relevant agencies.
Senior officers from An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland jointly chair the Operations Co-ordination Group, which brings forward operational actions in the six priority areas that have been the focus of the work of the Task Force. These are: Rural Crime; Immigration-related Crime; Excise Fraud; Drugs; Financial Crime and Human Trafficking.
These cross-border policing structures provide a sound basis for future joint policing initiatives aimed at counter-acting cross-border criminality.
In addition, as part of the general increase in recruitment and resourcing of An Garda Síochána, additional Garda resources have been deployed to border areas in recent months to meet operational demands and this process is continuing.