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Friday 2 June 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# Smuggling
Retailers say spike in seized tobacco hints at 'large-scale' cigarette factories in Ireland
Revenue has announced four major seizures of loose raw tobacco with an estimated retail value of €8.1m.

A GROUP REPRESENTING businesses against illegal smuggling has argued that a recent spike in loose tobacco seizures by authorities suggests there are “large-scale” illegal cigarette factories operating in Ireland.

Retailers Against Smuggling (RAS) warned today that 13.5 tonnes of loose raw tobacco seized by Revenue so far this year suggests that there are large-scale illegal cigarette factories operating in Ireland.

To date, Revenue has announced four major seizures of loose raw tobacco with a combined estimated retail value of €8.1 million, representing a potential loss to the Exchequer of €6.7 million.

RAS national spokesperson Benny Gilsenan said: “The significant volume of the consignments being seized, and the elaborate means being used to conceal this raw tobacco suggests that it’s unlikely the product is intended for direct resale to the consumer on the black market.”

He said that a “recent spike” in these types of seizures has risen suspicion among retailers that the intended destination is likely to be illegal cigarette making factories operated by criminal gangs in either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland.

The RAS pointed out that when Gardaí and Revenue officials uncovered Ireland’s first illegal commercial-scale cigarette production plant in Jenkinstown Co Louth in 2018, it was capable of producing up to 250,000 cigarettes per hour.

During that raid up to 66 tonnes of raw tobacco were seized which Gilsenan said gives a sense of the volume of tobacco product required to run such an operation.

Gilsenan added:

The fear among retailers is that the volumes of raw tobacco now being seized at Irish ports are at a level which indicates that similar underground facilities are operational on the island of Ireland.

“For example, we know that roughly 13-15 million cigarettes could be produced from the 13.5 tonnes of raw tobacco seized alone, and we suspect further large volumes are getting into the country undetected.”

Since the Jenkinstown raid, several other illegal factories have been uncovered primarily around the border regions, which suggests a link to illegal cross-border trade and criminal activity, the RAS spokesperson added.

“The most recent seizure of an illegal factory on the island was in Armagh in July this year, which could produce 390 million cigarettes a year.

“While we fully commend and support the work of Revenue and An Garda Síochána as well as their counterparts in Northern Ireland in detecting smuggled tobacco and cigarettes, we believe more can be done by policymakers to tackle the growing illegal trade in tobacco products in Ireland.”

In its pre-Budget 2022 submission to Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, RAS argued that continuous excise increases on tobacco are fuelling demand for a growing black market, urging against an increase in October’s announcement.

“We are also very concerned by the additional spate of illicit cigarette and roll-your-own tobacco seizures by Revenue so far this year. To date over 35 million cigarettes and over 20 tonnes of roll-your-own tobacco have been seized highlighting just how active the black market currently is.”

“The continued growth of the black market can only be halted by stopping the continuous excise increases on tobacco products, the retail price of which is 121% above the EU average according to a new Eurostat survey issued today,” Gilsenan argued.

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