Seanad Éireann - Volume 117 - 14 October, 1987
Customs and Excise (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill, 1987: Second Stage (Resumed).
Question again proposed. “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Mr. Doyle Mr. Doyle
Mr. Doyle: As I was saying last week before the debate was adjourned, part of the legislation before us today emanated from a report of the Joint Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism of which I was member. During the course of the committee's meetings, especially  when customs officers were giving evidence, I became familiar with terms that were new to me at the time — greeters and meeters, swallowers and pushers. After a short time it became obvious to members of the committee that people who come into the country by aircraft or boat can, in a very professional way, pass on to someone who meets them the illegal drugs they are carrying. Under existing legislation customs officers have not got the authority to search, detain or arrest the other person involved. In fact, the customs officers' authority extends only to those who pass through the customs barrier. The customs officers in their evidence before the committee stated that it will be necessary in order to strengthen their ability to apprehend drug pushers for power to search, detain and arrest to be extended to persons on the other side of the customs barrier.
Section 2 of the Bill now gives that necessary power to customs officers. It must have been very frustrating in the past for customs officers to see people breaking the law in this fashion and passing on drugs they were carrying to people they were not in a position to apprehend under the existing law. Another problem which customs officers had to face was the recent trend among drug smugglers to conceal on or in the body drugs they were carrying. These people are referred to as swallowers or stuffers and have created and continue to create serious problems for the Customs and Excise service. The committee stated in their report that the legality of the searching of such persons' bodies requires the fullest examination and the establishment of guide lines for officers involved. Similarly the duration of such searching, presumably until the suspected concealed substance is discovered requires clarification. Indeed, the committee were advised that it could take up to five to seven days in some cases for such concealed substances to pass through the body. I regret to say that on some occasions it proves fatal for those people carrying such drugs in their bodies.
Senator O'Toole was quite correct  when he drew the attention of the House to this matter and the anxiety it is causing to Customs and Excise officers. The whole question in relation to the searching of people who are carrying drugs in their bodies requires clear guidelines. I suggest that the Minister might consider bringing in regulations with this Bill to cover this aspect because what we have in the Bill is not very clear in relation to the question of carrying substances in the body, how long people should be detained and the method of detaining them etc. As in other Bills, regulations would be very helpful and would give the necessary guidelines to the officials involved.
The committee in their report were satisfied that the Revenue Commissioners are very conscious of their role in controlling the supply of illegal drugs and that their senior staff are fully committed to their efforts to deal with the problem. However, it appeared to the committee that no officers are assigned full time to this task. The committee went on to consider the setting up of a small drugs unit within the customs service as an immediate and essential requirement. I am pleased to note from the Minister's speech that the committee's recommendations were implemented in 1985 and that five officers are now employed full time in such a unit on drug related work. Every member of Customs and Excise engaged in the examination of passengers and goods at the point of entry to the State is given special training specifically in relation to drug smuggling and 70 per cent of all officers have that training. From the huge increase in the level of drug seizures by customs officers which the Minister referred to in his speech it appears that this training is having a significant impact on the effectiveness of the customs service.
The committee were also of the view that, if the customs service was to have a realistic chance of tackling successfully the drug smuggling problem, not alone must the necessary legislative changes be made but adequate resources must be provided. One of the recommendations  of the committee was that sniffer dogs should be provided and would be a considerable asset to customs officers in detecting drugs. When the committee made their report one dog had been in training for this work and I hope the number has been increased since. In his reply the Minister might indicate how many sniffer dogs are now available to the Customs and Excise service. The committee also recommended that adequate physical resources should be made available to customs officers to allow them to discharge their duties effectively. They pointed out the need for the provision of covered examination bays with pits, ramps and heights to enable the vehicles to be examined. Also they suggested that X-ray and other specialised equipment should be made available to customs officers.
I am pleased at the progress made and I am more than pleased that the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism have now found their way into legislation. Like many other Senators I believe that, while there has been some success in the past in dealing with the drug problem, it is still a major problem in our society. The Garda, customs officers and the public generally should exercise all the powers at their disposal to eradicate this problem from our society.
Mr. Fitzgerald Mr. Fitzgerald
Mr. Fitzgerald: I support this Bill which gives extra powers to Customs and Excise officers to tackle the problem of drug smuggling and which also gives them powers to detain and search without warrant and to arrest a person or persons found to be smuggling. With regard to drugs and the smuggling of drugs into this country I want to say at the outset that drug pushers, dealers, smugglers and anyone connected with the selling of drugs in any shape or form must be looked upon as a very low, detestable inhuman type of person. They must be looked upon by all decent law abiding people with a certain amount of hatred and anger. Any mother or father who has a family growing up today has a great fear that, when those children grow up,  leave home and go to college or out into the world to work, regardless of a good upbringing they could get into wrong company and become drug addicts. Nearly all of the drug addicts I have seen interviewed on television or radio and, indeed, those interviewed by newspaper reporters, all started in a small way and eventually got hooked. With help a small percentage will probably kick the habit but, generally speaking, the majority of people hooked on drugs die at an early age. We must strengthen our laws to ensure, before it is too late, that drugs will be got rid of in this island.
The drugs that make people drug addicts to the best of my knowledge are not manufactured or grown in this country. They come in from sources outside. It seems to me that over the past ten years the smuggling of drugs into the country has escalated. Even giving these extra powers to our Customs and Excise officers together with the Garda Drug Squad, are we still at a big disadvantage in preventing the smuggling of drugs? There are only three ways drugs and, indeed, other goods can be brought into this country, that is, by air, sea or road. The Border separating us from the Six Counties is definitely well protected. It is one of the best protected borders in the world in relation to manpower and cost. There is a 24 hour a day customs check on both sides, a Garda and Army presence to check every person, vehicle, bus or lorry passing through that frontier going North or coming South. We must assume that it is almost impossible for large scale smuggling to happen on the Border.
The same applies to our airports and landing ports. If our assumptions are wrong it is time we pulled up our socks and rectified the problem. We have a frontier which is well protected but it is my belief that the coastline from Donegal around to Louth is, to a certain extent, also a frontier. Are there not hundreds of piers and harbours along that coastline which have no presence whatsoever of customs officers and are probably remote from Garda stations? There are isolated piers in the back of the beyonds which  are frequented throughout the year by foreign fishing vessels and yachts. Surely it stands to reason that people trying to smuggle in goods or drugs need not take the risk of crossing the Border, or coming by boat to our main ports, or by plane to our main airports where they know that security is rigid with the presence of customs officers, gardaí and security police.
The bulk of drugs which are smuggled into this country must be coming through small ports and landing places that are not wholly protected. There are certain rules, regulations and clearances required by any boat coming into these small ports in order to legalise their entry, but the smuggler pays little heed to rules and regulations. A greater effort could and should be made at most of these landing points to ensure that smuggling does not occur.
In my part of the county throughout the summer there was a great presence of holidaymakers coming from foreign countries in their yachts. These people are most welcome to our town and country because generally speaking they are holidaymakers enjoying a good sail and coming to our country because they like it. My hope is that many more of these people will come to Ireland but is it not possible that any one of these yachts coming from Europe or elsewhere to Dingle or other ports like Dingle around our coastline are landing without any proper check? Is it not possible that these boats sail from their home country to a destination somewhere along our coast without any check either in their home port or in their port of landing here? During my 12 years as a harbour commissioner on the Dingle Harbour Board on two occasions only, to my knowledge, was there a request by telephone to us in advance to have customs officers waiting at the pier to clear two yachts and to legalise their entry. I often wonder where all the rest of the yachts that frequent our coastline get customs clearance, if they get customs clearance at all. This is a major loophole and some effort must be made to close it.
There is also a large number of foreign fishing vessels fishing around our coast  and in the winter months they come into our bays and harbours for shelter. They also come in to our waters and fish during the day or night. They process and freeze their fish and then go back out to fish again. This is not an uncommon sight. In fact, I have photographs which I sent a couple of years ago to the then Minister for Fisheries of up to 100 boats varying in size from 100 ft. to 300 ft. anchored all together in Brandon Bay, Smerwick Harbour and Ventry Harbour. The fishermen and sailors — the people in charge of these boats — come ashore possibly for refreshments and groceries etc. and there does not seem to be any proper check or even knowledge that they are there. Surely there should be some check on these boats and on their crews when they come ashore.
We have a very able Navy presence around our coast but their powers too are very limited. I believe they do not have the power of arrest in the case of drug smuggling and they are powerless if they come across a drug smuggler unless a customs officer or a garda is present. Additional powers should be given in this area if what I say is correct.
A large number of sailing yachts — forgive me, a Chathaoirligh, I am just bringing this up in a slightly different vein — often have their pet dog on board. On one occasion in Dingle I challenged a yachtsman who was going up town for groceries. I knew he was a foreigner and had come from a foreign country. I challenged him about landing his dog on our soil. Because we are a very small board each commissioner is issued with identity cards and each of us is authorised to deal with events like that if we are down at the pier which we nearly always are. The yachtsman was very annoyed when I challenged him and told him to get his dog back into his boat or I would have to call the gardaí, which I did afterwards and was proved to be right. The dog was an illegal imigrant, if you like. So far this country is free from rabies but we must be ever vigilant because one pet dog infected by rabies coming off a boat or yacht belonging to a holidaymaker is all we  need for rabies to spread throughout the country.
In Kerry — and I am sure the same applies to other coastal counties — we have what is known as harbour constables. A harbour constable is appointed in every little pier by Kerry County Council. These people normally live within sight of the pier or the landing place. They are paid a small annual wage by the council and they carry out certain small duties — or are supposed to carry out certain small duties — such as ensuring that the pier is clear at all times and that there are no nets or pots to block somebody else using the pier, to ensure that there is a lifebuoy in place and that if there are lights on the pier they are lighting, and so on, and to check for any damage done to the pier. If these harbour constables were given slightly better remuneration they could keep a daily log of all foreign boats that anchor, berth, or come into the pier in their jurisdiction. They should have the authority to check the papers of visiting foreign boats to ensure that they have got customs clearance. If such clearance is not available they should take the name, number and general description of that boat and immediately inform the nearest customs officer or garda. This would go a long way towards at least keeping a check on the boat's movements and would also act as a deterrent to would-be smugglers.
I agree with other speakers who mentioned small unpoliced airports and landing strips. I am convinced that a better effort should be made. There is no great difficulty in landing undetected in a number of these airstrips in remote parts of the country. I cannot see the point of barricading our front door and leaving the back door wide open. The illicit drink or poitín maker does not present the same threat as the drug smuggler because he is much more restricted. He is manufacturing his brew within the confines of our country and the gardaí are ever vigilant in their spread throughout the country, even in many remote parts. The poitín maker does not have the same chance of avoiding detection because in  rural Ireland everybody knows everybody else's business. It would be almost an impossibility for the poitín maker to get away for a long time with his illicit business. Generally over the years good control is kept over the situation.
There is one group of people who should be far more vigilant, that is, the general public. They should be far more forthcoming with information to the Garda regarding offers made to them by people trying to get rid of smuggled and stolen drink and goods. The goods that are stolen and smuggled and the drink that is stolen and smuggled are being sold somewhere in this country. The general public must have a good knowledge of where they come from and even possibly get offers to buy some of this stuff. This is big business. It stands to reason that the drink and the other goods are offloaded to publicans and shops at a reduced rate. Better investigations should be carried out in bars and searches made regularly to find out who are the people who are buying this drink or other goods which they know are either smuggled or stolen. If you stamp out the market automatically you will get rid of the illegal dealers.
About two weeks ago on my way home I was amazed that from Newlands Cross for at least three miles on the left hand side of the road going out there were caravans with up to 20 to 30 televisions for sale on the side of the road. There are a couple of remarks I would like to make about this. First of all, where are these televisions and radios coming from? Secondly, these people, more than likely, are not paying VAT on these goods and they are not paying proper taxes on them. They were openly selling their wares on the side of the road for at least three miles. If there was one thing on the side of the road there must have been a couple of thousand in all shapes and sizes: radios, audio equipment, everything else, and they had buyers.
The explanatory memorandum, under the heading Financial Implications, says that the proposals in the Bill will not involve the recruitment of additional staff  or give rise to additional expenditure. This will require additional staff. If additional staff are recruited and additional finance made available the return to the country's finances would be tenfold. I fully support the Bill.
Seanad Éireann 117 Customs and Excise (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill, 1987: Second Stage (Resumed).