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Written Answers. - Drug Trafficking Prevention.

Wednesday, 8 May 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 465 No. 1

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 56. Mr. J. Walsh Information on Joe Walsh Zoom on Joe Walsh  asked the Minister for Finance Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  if he will reverse the decision to close the customs office at Castletownbere, County Cork in view of the increased level of illegal drug trafficking through this port; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9158/96]

 57. Mr. J. Walsh Information on Joe Walsh Zoom on Joe Walsh  asked the Minister for Finance Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  the plans, if any, he has to improve measures currently in place to prevent illegal drug trafficking at the port of Castletownbere, County Cork and other sea ports along the south-west coastline. [9159/96]

Minister for Finance (Mr. Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I propose to take Questions Nos. 56 and 57 together.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they are satisfied that the most effective means of providing a customs service in the Bantry Bay-Beara Peninsula area is to have staff centralised in and operating from Bantry, and deployed on a flexible basis to various locations, including Castletownbere, as required, to meeting the needs of the work.

The Commissioners recognise that because of the large concentration of fishing vessels in Castletownbere at certain times of the year, the full-time assignment of an officer of Customs and Excise during the peak period is warranted. Full-time attendance has, in fact, been given since March and will continue for the peak fishing period.

Outside the peak fishing period, the Commissioners cannot accept that a sufficient volume of work exists to justify the full-time attendance of an officer of Customs and Excise. In the off-peak season, therefore, the best means of providing a customs service is, as already stated, by the flexible deployment of staff from Bantry. In these circumstances, the Commissioners do not deem it necessary to reopen the Customs Office in Castletownbere on a full-time basis.

[95] The Revenue Commissioners are fully alert to the dangers of drug smuggling along the coastline, including smuggling through ports in the south west of the country. Experience has shown that inteligence gathering and surveillance, rather than a static presence, are the best means of combating drug smuggling. The Commissioners have made a substantial commitment in terms of staff and other resources to the Customs National Drugs Team (CNDT). Customs National Drugs Team staff based in Cork comprising 16 officers consists of operational, intelligence, maritime and sniffer-dog units. Intelligence units, each comprising two full-time members of the CNDT, are also based in Bantry and Tralee and are supervised by two higher executive officers who become involved in drugs related work as necessary. All units are mobile and employ the most modern means of communication and have access to air and sea surveillance. Speicalist CNDT officers in the Cork and Kerry regions can call on assistance, where the need arises, of other Customs and Excise staff.

As I have informed the House on previous occasions, the customs service has also enlisted the assistance of the general public in the fight against drug smuggling through the Drug Watch Programme, which was launched in 1993. Under this programme, the assistance of coastal communities, maritime personnel, as well as people living near airfields has been enlisted to report unusual occurrences to customs. Over 15,000 calls have been received from the public in response to that programme.

In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the present measures taken by customs in co-operation with the other enforcement agencies concerned provide adequate protection against the illegal importation of drugs along the south west coast and the situation will, of course, be kept under review.

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