The controversial blitz by Revenue officers of vehicles in Inishowen in recent years - which resulted in a considerable number of vehicles being seized - has been found to be in breach of the service’s own guidelines and procedures.
It follows a ruling involving a case in Dublin where the Ombudsman ordered that not only should the owner of car seized have all penalty fines reimbursed but that be compensation also be paid.
Local campaigner, Ryan Stewart said: “The Ombudsman’s findings, that a warning should have been issued, as this was a first offence, is of huge importance.
“I am regularly contacted by people who have had vehicles seized on a first offence, or where delays were experienced in paying VRT. This report clearly shows that in the majority of cases, seizure for a first offence is not warranted.
“Secondly, the Ombudsman also made it abundantly clear that randomly challenging vehicles is not permitted under the procedures.
Mr Stewart suggested that in the last three years, Customs have consistently breached their own procedures by holding checkpoints, and randomly stopping any vehicle with a yellow plate, without reasonable cause.
“This judgement is of huge importance in Donegal, and has vindicated my stance since I began this campaign. It is no secret that I have been critical of how Customs officers have handled themselves, and critical of how they enforce the law relating to VRT in Donegal, in particular. The only consistent approach to VRT enforcement in Donegal is that it has been heavy handed, and contrary to the Customs’ own enforcement manuals, which this report has now clarified. I have always agreed that Customs officers have a job to do, but they have continually failed to do it right.
In her findings in this particular case the Ombudsman has been critical of Customs lack of consistency and adherence to its own procedures, poor and incomplete record keeping, and that the seizure was ‘contrary to fair or sound administration,’
When asked what this could mean for those who have had their vehicles seized in the past, Mr Stewart confirmed that he has already been in contact with the office of the Ombudsman to take matters further.
“I am in the process of preparing a number of complaints on behalf of others for the Ombudsman to examine.
“It would be my expectation in most of these cases that the Ombudsman will see an identical pattern emerging to the case on which this decision has been ascertained.”