Cocaine seizures a ‘headline’ trend for Revenue with workload having ‘exploded’ since Brexit

Committee told agency seeking to educate social media influencers about tax obligations with many involved young people having no real understanding

Revenue’s customs work has “exploded” since Brexit and efforts to thwart cocaine smuggling into Ireland was the “headline” trend last year when it came to enforcement operations, the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has heard.

Revenue processed some 79 million legitimate import entries last year, up from around one million per year before Brexit.

The tax collection agency’s chairman, Niall Cody, said there is also contraband hidden within imports like counterfeit goods, drugs and cigarettes.

Fine Gael TD Alan Dillon asked him about trends in customs and excise enforcement and whether any specific violations were becoming more prevalent.


Mr Cody said last year was “kind of an exceptional” one, adding that “I suppose the headline was probably cocaine”.

There was a record cocaine haul last September when the MV Matthew was seized off the south coast during an operation that saw Irish Army Rangers board the vessel from a helicopter. Some 2,253kg of cocaine was found on board worth €157 million – the largest seizure by weight in Irish history.

Revenue was involved in the operation and Mr Cody called it “a really good example of inter-agency cooperation”. He said there as another big seizure at Foynes Port just before Christmas, with around €21 million worth of cocaine was found on that occasion.

Mr Cody also highlighted that there had been “a very significant level” of drug seizures at Rosslare Port.

He said the port used to have six ferries during the week in winter and 10 every week in the summer, but now there are 36 ferries coming and going weekly. The increase has occurred since Brexit with more services operating as hauliers seek alternatives to the UK land-bridge.

“On one level our customs work has just exploded,” Mr Cody said, adding that Revenue’s staff levels at Rosslare alone have gone from 18 people to 80.

The committee was told there was a successful recruitment drive in 2019 to prepare for the changes in customs arrangements that would occur as a result of the UK leaving the European Union.

Mr Cody said Brexit has been “a big challenge” in terms of IT systems needed to deal with the related changes and “the significant increase in customs receipts as a result of our closest trading partner leaving the [European Union] Single Market”.

Separately, the committee was told that Revenue is seeking to educate social media influencers on their tax obligations.

Fianna Fáil TD Paul McAuliffe asked about Revenue letters issued to influencers and how their fees or gifts, such as hotel stays, are treated for tax purposes.

Mr Cody said it is a new industry “but tax rules apply to them just like they apply to anybody else” and that influencers’ income - monetary or in-kind - comes under the self-assessment system. He said Revenue has gotten third party information from entities paying influencers and has written to the individuals involved.

There have been some “level one interventions” which is essentially a reminder that a person may have a tax issue, he said.

“I have seen some of the cases. Some of the people are actually very young and have probably no real understanding… so what we’re trying to do is educate people to get them into the system,” he added.

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Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times