To ask the Minister for Finance the measures taken by him in order to minimise the impact of counterfeit goods on the Exchequer; if he intends to introduce harsher penalities as called for by Retail Ireland; if he will consider a public awareness campaign to highlight to consumers the effect illegal trading has on the economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Reply by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan T.D.
Counterfeit goods are a worldwide problem and represent a serious threat to legitimate businesses. In addition, they defraud customers who unknowingly buy them, and can pose health and safety risks.
The Revenue Commissioners are responsible for acting against the importation of counterfeit goods into the State from outside the EU. I am advised that Revenue made a total of 5,580 seizures of such goods, with a value of €5,437,334, during 2012. In the first quarter of 2013 there were 1,540 seizures with a value of €819,684. The range of goods seized is extensive and includes body care items, clothing and accessories, mobile phones and other electronic equipment, CDs, DVDs and toys.
Action against counterfeit goods that are in free circulation within the EU is the responsibility of An Garda Síochána. I am advised that Revenue and An Garda Síochána work closely together, and share intelligence on an ongoing basis, in tackling the overall problem of counterfeit goods. There is close cooperation also at international level, including, for example, participation by Ireland in international operations coordinated by the World Customs Organisation.
The active cooperation of intellectual property rights holders is also essential in dealing with this problem, and they can provide valuable assistance to the work of the enforcement authorities through practical steps such as responding quickly to requests for confirmation of the status of suspected counterfeit goods.
The penalties for illegal importation of counterfeit goods are set down in section 186 of the Customs Consolidation Act 1876. On summary conviction, a fine of €5,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months, or both, can be imposed. On conviction on indictment, a fine of €126,790 or, in the case of goods with a value exceeding €250,000, a fine of three times the value of the goods (including duty and tax), or a term of imprisonment up to 5 years, or both a fine and imprisonment, may be imposed. There are no proposals at present to increase these penalties, but the position will be kept under review.
I recognise the value of raising the awareness of consumers of the negative impact of the trade in counterfeit goods, and the potential safety risks involved, and believe that the holders of intellectual property rights have a key role to play in conveying this message to consumers. I understand that Revenue works with other stakeholders, where possible, to highlight the problems associated with such goods and will continue to avail of all opportunities that arise to raise the public’s awareness regarding counterfeit goods.