Criminal Justice (Illicit Traffic By Sea) Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

When the debate was interrupted, I was explaining the terms of the United Nations Convention against the illicit traffic of drugs, better known as the Vienna Convention. As the law stands, any state that is party to the convention, can stop and seize another vessel sailing under the flag of another state that is party to the convention, if the authorities of the seizing state suspect the vessel in question is carrying drugs for import or export contrary to the law of another country. A difficulty remains in the law in relation to who has jurisdiction if a vessel is seized. This Bill was proposed primarily to deal with that issue. I will shortly also speak about one other very important amendment.

A requirement of surrender or release would, under the agreement, have to be made within 14 days of the receipt of a summary of evidence from the arresting state. The summary would itself have to be given to the flag state as soon as possible after arrest. If, as is expected to be the norm as I have already indicated, flag states do not exercise their right to preferential jurisdiction under the agreement, the arresting state will be free to initiate a prosecution under its domestic law.

In dealing with this Bill, it is fitting that I should pay tribute to the commitment of the men and women of the Garda Síochána, the Customs National Drugs Team and the Naval Service who are tasked with the continuing fight against drug trafficking at sea. The bravery and dedication, which they bring to their work in dealing with drug trafficking by sea, which is often carried on in extreme and hazardous weather conditions, has continued to yield substantial results in terms of seizures of drugs and arrests for smuggling. Figures available for the past six years show that the Irish Customs Service examined 2,087 vessels. In the five year period ending December 2000, some 970 kilograms of cocaine and 3,280 kilograms of cannabis resin with a total estimated street value of €256.5 million has been seized at sea.

Co-operation between the law enforcement agencies of the member states and beyond is vital in tackling the supply of drugs as drug traffickers recognise no national borders and the drugs trade is truly international. At national level, initiatives to enhance operational co-operation between law enforcement agencies include the development of a memorandum of understanding and a working protocol between the Garda Síochána and the customs service and the establishment of a joint task force incorporating the Garda Síochána, customs and the Naval Service to combat international drug trafficking.

In terms of international co-operation, a number of initiatives have been undertaken including the appointment of drugs liaison officers to Europol and Interpol in London, Paris, Madrid and The Hague to enable the exchange of information and intelligence between Ireland and our EU partners. The Garda national drugs unit continues to maintain close contact with law enforcement agencies within the EU and in non-EU countries. These contacts have borne fruit and a number of significant internationally driven seizures have been made. The drug barons and traffickers must be made to realise that our law enforcement agencies will continue to work together and enhance their co-operation in order to combat the international trade in drugs.

The Bill provides for a convention state which is a party to the agreement – provided for in section 3 – to make a request in accordance with section 7 to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for the surrender to that state in relation to a drug trafficking offence of a person who has been arrested, a vessel which has been detained or anything on the vessel which has been seized or detained, while on the high seas under procedures already provided for in section 35 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994. When a convention state vessel is taken to an Irish port and detained, any person arrested will be brought before the High Court as soon as possible in accordance with section 5. The court will then remand the person pursuant to section 6 pending an order by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for that person's surrender to the convention state on foot of a request by the convention state.

On receipt of the request, the Minister will certify under section 8 that a request for the surrender of the person has been duly made. Where the court is satisfied that a request for the surrender of the person has been made and evidence of an arrest warrant is produced as provided in section 9, the court, subject to certain requirements, will make an order committing the person to prison or, if under 21 years of age, to a remand institution. The person must then await the order of the Minister for his or her surrender.

In compliance with the requirements as set out in section 9 and before committing the person, the court will inform him or her that he or she will not be surrendered except with his or her consent before 15 days have elapsed and also inform him or her of the provisions of Article 40.4.2º of the Constitution relating to the making of a complaint to the High Court that a person is unlawfully detained. A person committed to await surrender may be released as a result of a successful application under Article 40.4.2º of the Constitution or as a result of an appeal on a point of law to the Supreme Court, or if the surrender and conveyance out of the State of the person is unduly delayed, as indicated in section 20. In the absence of any such request for surrender being received within 18 days of the arrest of the person, the Minister, in accordance with section 21, must order his or her release without prejudice, however, to proceedings being taken in the State against the person for the drug trafficking offence in question.

There is always the possibility that the arresting officers might find evidence of offences other than drug trafficking, for example, illegal arms. In such a case, the consent of the flag state will be required for a prosecution in the arresting state. However, the arresting state will be free to prosecute for any offence occurring after the vessel has been taken into its territory, for example, if the vessel's crew assaults an arresting officer. This provision is contained in section 14. A requirement to surrender a person to a flag state will take priority over any domestic proceedings and the High Court is being given power to order the suspension of any such proceedings, without prejudice to their eventual reinstatement as provided in section 15.

Under section 17 the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform may order the surrender of a person to a person duly authorised by the convention state to receive such a person, if satisfied that the request for surrender is in accordance with the agreement. A similar power is granted to the Minister in section 18 in respect of vessels and evidence. Provision is made to ensure that any arrested person is given time, before surrender, to make a complaint to the courts under Article 40.4.2º of the Constitution that his or her detention is unlawful and this is provided for in section 19.

I referred earlier to an unusual requirement of the agreement which under Article 15.5 makes provision for the flag state, instead of seeking surrender of the detained vessel and crew, to request the intervening state to release them forthwith without charge. When such request is made the intervening state is obliged to release them. Provision for this requirement is made in section 21(d) of the Bill. In drawing up the agreement, the experts felt that it would be difficult to foresee all the kinds of situations that might arise in its practical operation. It was therefore agreed to include this provision as an exceptional safety valve in case something went entirely wrong in the procedure. The explanatory report with the agreement makes it clear, however, that this provision would only be relied upon in very exceptional circumstances.

Provision for Ireland, as the flag state, to exercise its right to preferential jurisdiction and seek the return of a person detained by a convention state or the handing over of a vessel or thing seized by that state is included in section 24. On receipt of notification of such detention or seizure for an alleged drug trafficking offence, the Minister will decide, after consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions, whether the State should exercise its preferential jurisdiction for the return of the person, vessel or thing. If such jurisdiction is to be exercised, the Director of Public Prosecutions may then apply to the District Court for a warrant of arrest of the person detained or the handing over of the vessel or thing detained. Provision is included in this section for the issue of warrants and for the alleged offence to be treated as having been committed in any place in the State.

Some changes to the 1994 Act are necessitated by this Bill and I will now give an outline of these along with some other important changes on the scope of offences covered. The agreement, at Article 3, also requires that each party to it shall take such steps as are necessary to establish its jurisdiction over the relevant offences, namely, any of the drug trafficking offences described in Article 3, paragraph 1 of the Vienna Convention, whether committed on board a vessel registered in a convention state or a vessel of no nationality. Section 33 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, is being amended to take account of this requirement so that it will apply to such drug trafficking offences and not, as at present, only the offences of possession of controlled drugs or carrying drugs for import or export. This provision is contained in section 28(b). This amendment will widen the range of drug trafficking offences at sea to include not only those to which I have already referred, but all drug trafficking offences, as comprehended in the 1994 Act, when committed on board an Irish ship, a convention state ship or a ship not registered in any country or territory. While the Council of Europe agreement obliges us to make such provision only for ships of the Council of Europe states, this provision is being extended to also include the ships of all convention states under the United Nations convention. Were this provision not so extended, it would result in the unsatisfactory situation of having a narrower range of offences applying to the ships of United Nations member states than would apply to ships of Council of Europe member states.

In bringing this Bill before the House, the opportunity is being taken to make amendments to sections 35 and 36 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, which relate to enforcement powers, jurisdiction and prosecution provisions for convention state vessels which are outside the landward limits of the territorial seas of the State. At present, the authority of the Minister for Foreign Affairs is sought in relation to such vessels and that authority may not be granted unless the Minister has obtained the consent of the foreign state. In consequence, action may not be taken against convention state vessels in Irish territorial waters, which are suspected of drug smuggling offences, unless the consent of the flag state has been obtained. During the drafting of the legislation, advice received from the Attorney General indicated that where such a vessel is in Irish territorial waters the consent of the foreign state to board the vessel is not necessary and sections 35 and 36 are being amended to take account of this advice. The amendments to give effect to these changes are contained in section 28(c) of the Bill. The question of preferential jurisdiction for flag ship states – the main purpose of the Bill – does not arise where the ship is arrested within territorial waters.

I hope that the proposals contained in this significant and somewhat technical Bill will meet with the approval of all Deputies. This Bill honours an important international obligation and, furthermore, is a positive indication at an international level of both our ongoing determination to tackle transnational organised crime and our continuing commitment to tackle the scourge of drugs in our society. This is one of a number of Bills which will be dealt with over the coming months which will lead to ratification of international agreements. Proposed legislation dealing with terrorist offences will enable Ireland to ratify the UN conventions for suppression of the financing of terrorism and terrorist bombings as well as the UN convention against the taking of hostages and the prevention of attacks on internationally protected persons. Effect will also be given to EU framework decisions on combating terrorism and allowing for the establishment of joint investigation teams.

I believe all Deputies will agree with the general purpose and thrust of the Bill. I hope we can get it enacted quickly so that the process can be put in train to enable us to ratify this important international agreement. Ratification of this agreement will be a further demonstration of our willingness to do all we can, in conjunction with our international partners, to continue to tackle organised crime and particularly to ensure the perpetrators of drug smuggling offences are brought to justice. I will listen carefully to comments and suggestions during the debate and we will have an opportunity to amend the Bill on Committee Stage. I commend the Bill to the House.

I wish to share time with Deputy Hayes.

This Bill does two things. In relation to the area outside the 12 mile limit, once Ireland becomes part of the UN convention, the Naval Service will have authority to deal with boats suspected of carrying drugs. In the present situation, there are difficulties in that regard and that is one good reason for enacting this Bill. In the area within the 12 mile limit, there is a rather similar problem whereby the Naval Service cannot search suspect vessels, in certain circumstances, without having either a garda or a customs officer on board. The Bill will also rectify that.

It is essential that the Bill is enacted without delay. To facilitate that, I have asked my Fine Gael colleagues who will speak in this debate to abbreviate their remarks. Our Naval Service urgently needs the measures provided for in the Bill. I compliment the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Hanafin, and her staff on their part in expediting the arrival of the Bill in the House a few weeks sooner than might otherwise have been the case. This Bill is a matter of vital national security, it is a good Bill and it is urgently needed. Our Naval Service is doing an incredibly good job with the resources available and deserves our support through the early enactment of the Bill.

I fully endorse Deputy Deasy's comments on the importance of this Bill which my party strongly supports. Any measures to assist in tackling the drugs problem are welcome. The extent to which that problem has taken hold in our society is frightening. Criminal activity in Ireland has practically doubled in each decade since the 1950s and it is estimated that some 66% of such activity is drug-related, with a particular focus on four or five areas in Dublin. Crime is one of the greatest concerns in our communities and is a particular worry for elderly people in cities, towns and villages. In the 1950s and 1960s, people in rural Ireland did not feel a need to lock their doors. That is no longer the case and rural residents now live in constant fear of intruders, as is also the case in urban areas, where people are afraid to go outside their doors at night.

This Bill is an important contribution towards dealing with drug-related crime and it is for that reason Fine Gael has decided to facilitate its speedy passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas, as stated by our spokesman on Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Deasy. It is incumbent on all parties in the House to support the efforts to tackle this serious issue. In many cases, the parents of our present generation of young people have little knowledge or acquaintance with the drugs culture which is festering in our society and they are desperately worried for the sake of their children, whether in college or second level schools or elsewhere. It is essential this threat to society is tackled effectively.

I commend the Fine Gael Deputies on their brevity and their succinct presentation. The Labour Party also welcomes the Bill which should have been introduced much sooner. It refers to the Vienna Convention which was agreed in Strasbourg on 31 January 1995. Following a delay of seven years, perhaps another day or two will not make a great difference. We have already passed a deadline as this legislation was supposed to be enacted before the end of 2001. In that regard, we are out of kilter with our European neighbours. The original UN convention on this matter goes back even further, to 1988. As an island country with an open seas policy, we are highly vulnerable. We should have been trawling abroad at a much earlier stage for conventions of this nature at UN and, more recently, European Council level with a view to using such international instruments to strengthen our capacity to deal with organised crime on the high seas.

It is disappointing that action was not taken much earlier in this regard, since the basis for this legislation was readily available seven or even 12 years ago. We should not have allowed ourselves to be in breach of our responsibilities at European Council level by failing to meet the deadline at the end of 2001. Deputy Deasy has curtailed his remarks on the basis of facilitating the expeditious passage of the Bill. Why has it taken so long for the Government to move on this issue?

The purpose of the Bill is straightforward and has been outlined by the Minister of State. It gives effect to the Council of Europe agreement on illicit trafficking by sea, implementing the United Nations convention against illicit traffic in narcotic and psychotropic substances which is narrowly defined and deals with limited powers. It is a very simple type of convention concerning the powers of states to board and detain vessels and their crews on the high seas if they are suspected of being involved in drug trafficking. The Bill provides for greater elaboration and explanation of the provisions of the convention and sets out the powers that Ireland has with regard to jurisdiction over such vessels and crews for the purposes of prosecution. That is the nub of the Bill.

The member states which have shared jurisdiction have not directly agreed on the issue of priority in terms of jurisdiction for prosecution. There is shared jurisdiction but not quite shared prosecution. Obviously, one of the states has to have preferential status in relation to prosecution. This has been determined in the legislation. While the flag state will have preferential standing for prosecution, this does not deny the arresting state from initiating proceedings if there is any tardiness on the part of the flag state or if the flag state waives priority. As a result, we will have many more cases coming before the courts. Resources, therefore, will be a major issue.

The legislation has been brought forward in the context of the action plan on organised crime, agreed by Heads of Government at the Amsterdam Council in June 1997, at which the target date was agreed for the ratification of the convention into domestic law. Organised crime is the nub of the issue and the greatest problem facing the country and has been so for a long time. Ireland has come from being a country which had no problem with drug trafficking and no drug crisis a couple of decades ago to being one of the countries in the world where there is a critical level of drug abuse. Any measures taken to date have had very little success in dealing with this enormous problem. Any measures taken to deal with the supply of drugs have also had no effect. The situation is deteriorating, not improving. The European Union was looking at an action plan on organised crime, of which this would be another building block to improve the situation.

As Ireland is an island nation, the question of drug trafficking on the high seas is critical from a domestic and international point of view. We continue to have a very significant drugs problem. The use of narcotic substances, particularly among young people, is one of the great blights on the social landscape. The financial, economic, social and health problems associated with the problem are immense.

Much valuable work has been done in recent years to tackle the scourge of drug addiction. The national drugs strategy, for example, has become a valuable means through which to channel resources to deal with the problem. However, as long as there is a demand for narcotic and psychotropic substances, there will be a supply. The question of supply and demand is closely linked to the legislation.

There is also a geographical element to the question of supply and demand. Ireland, an island in a peripheral location on the western seaboard of Europe, is a gateway to the rest of the Continent for drug traffickers and those who import and export drugs. In this context, I draw the attention of the House to an expert report published in 2000 by the United States Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs which identified Ireland as a potential gateway to Europe for international drug traffickers. The report stated Ireland was not considered to be a major player in international drug trafficking, although "increasing drug abuse among Irish youth continues to have a significant domestic impact." It warned, very worryingly, that an extensive and largely unguarded coastline may mean a future increase in drug flows into, out of and through Ireland, and cited the numerous coastline inlets as suitable entry points for international drug traffickers. It pointed out that there was a constant drugs flow throughout the country and stated, "Irish authorities acknowledge that the Republic remains a gateway for imports of cannabis, cocaine and amphetamines to continental Europe". We could add heroin to the list. This is a damning and revealing statement which highlights beyond any doubt the contribution this Bill will make towards ending Ireland's "gateway status" for the international drugs trade.

Our status as a gateway country for drug trafficking should not surprise anyone. As an island nation, we are a prime target for drug traffickers, particularly from the other side of the Atlantic, to be used as a useful stop-off point on the way to the continent of Europe with large quantities of illegal substances. The United States report also cited Colombia as an example of the type of country that would look on Ireland as a suitable entry point to the continent of Europe and as a country which might be perceived to have less comprehensive anti-drug legislation than other European states.

The Bill will only make a minor contribution in tackling what is an extensive and difficult problem. The resources from central government to the Naval Service are most important. The Naval Service is at the coalface in the battle against drug trafficking. There is little point in passing this and similar Bills unless those charged with responsibility for the implementation of laws are provided with the necessary resources and staffing. The enactment of the legislation will not be much of a deterrent unless the criminals involved know that Ireland intends to implement it vigorously on the high seas through the Naval Service and other coastguard agencies.

I invite the Minister of State to spell out the level of funding and resources he will provide to support the authorities which will seek to enforce the legislation on the high seas night and day and prevent Ireland from becoming a gateway for the export and import of illegal substances. The Naval Service, Garda and customs authorities have shown themselves to be very competent and effective, albeit with meagre resources at times. They continue to fight the scourge of drug trafficking daily and usually are effective. There have been a number of high profile seizures at ports in recent years. Think of what could be done with more resources. For every drug shipment seized how many are getting through? What about drug trafficking on the high seas beyond ports and customs desks? Surely there is a need for greater concentration of resources on stopping drugs arriving at ports in the first place.

The critical issue is that of resources. We can pass all the legislation we wish, but if we do not have the means of patrolling the high seas and the seas around our coast, we will do nothing to affect the importation of drugs. What new proposals does the Minster of State have? We have the skimpiest naval defence fleet anywhere in the European Union and have now been told that it is unlikely our fishermen will be able to fish in the Irish Sea and that the Irish fishing boxes are at risk. Will we receive any compensation for these limitations? What does the European Union propose to do, especially given that the US report I mentioned refers to Ireland as an international gateway for the supply of drugs to Ireland, Britain and Europe? If our seas are to be divided among the EU member states for the purpose of fisheries, the EU should make a more substantial contribution to providing this country with compensatory resources. By patrolling the high seas around Ireland, we are patrolling the coastline of Europe, in effect. As Ireland is the member state that is the most open to the Atlantic, we can easily become the gateway to Europe in many respects. Resources other than our own should be allocated to help us to patrol our seas. It is inadequate to expect a small country to fulfil the requirements of the many conventions that come from the Council of Europe and the United Nations, especially in the context of this legislation.

Drug smuggling is the most serious type of international crime at present. Pirates patrolled the high seas in the past, but drug smuggling on the high seas around Ireland, particularly around the continental shelf and the Irish Sea, is the greatest threat to our security. I urge the Minister to make proposals to fund the Naval Service in the context of the implementation of this Bill, as it will be worthless if he does not do so. The navies of other countries should assist us to patrol our seas as part of the implementation of this Bill.

Jurisdiction over a vessel which is captured and which is believed to be in possession of a quantity of illegal drugs is an important component of this Bill. That a crew which is arrested for drug trafficking on the high seas can be charged with an offence under Irish law, or under the law of the flag state, means there should be no escape route for such criminals. I welcome that central provision of the Bill.

I will address one or two more aspects of this legislation. Why does the Bill not include a definition of the word "thing"? What is a "thing"? I am sure the word has been chosen to cover every eventuality. There is a reference to it in section 14(1), for example: "a vessel or thing which has been detained or retained". An indication of the parameters of such a vague term should be indicated in the section of the Bill which deals with the definition of terms.

Why does section 29(2) state that "this Act shall come into operation on such day or days as the Minister may fix either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision"? It seems evident that the Bill should come into operation as soon as it has been signed by the President. I do not see any reason to restrict its date of implementation to a ministerial decision at some future date. If we want to implement this legislation quickly, we should delete that section entirely, thereby bringing the Bill into force on the date it is signed by the President.

I am nonplussed by section 21, which assigns powers to the Minister in relation to the release of a person. It states that the Minister can order the release of a person remanded under section 6 if "there are no longer reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person has committed the offence in respect of which he or she has been remanded". There seems to be a suggestion that while reasonable grounds may have existed, they will somehow have evaporated. If the grounds for arrest were seen to be reasonable at that time, they must have been reasonable. It is not as if reasonable grounds disappear like snow from the ground. Grounds for arrest are either reasonable or they are not. It is dangerous to include such a provision in legislation. It is wrong that a Minister can state that he believes there are no longer reasonable grounds for holding a person, as such matters are for the courts to decide. It is appropriate to allow the courts to be the deciding body in such matters, whereas it is quite dangerous to give authority to the Minister, under this Bill, to act as a despot who can decide, willy-nilly, whether reasonable grounds for detention exist.

Despite the reservations I have outlined, I commend this Bill and I look forward to teasing out its details on Committee Stage.

I intend to share my time with Deputies Finian McGrath and Arthur Morgan.

I welcome this Bill as it stands before the House today. It goes a long way towards tidying up certain issues that need to be dealt with. When we talk about drugs, we are talking about a social justice issue, for the most part, and "the scourge of drugs", as the Minister described the problem, should be addressed in that context.

I am only too aware that certain areas of the law in this area need to be tidied up. I remember being on a vessel in the middle of Galway Bay five years ago when it was blowing half a gale. A small Zodiac boat appeared in the distance and, as it approached, we could see that six people were on board. It transpired that representatives of the Garda Síochána, the Customs National Drugs Team and the Naval Service were paying a routine visit to check our vessel, although I could have been forgiven for thinking that a high-level meeting of the various branches of the various forces was taking place at the time.

I assume everything was above board.

Everything that should have been above board was above board. The Deputy will be happy to know that the officials did not spend much time talking to us and that they left in a hurry.

It was a shot across their bows.

It certainly seemed to me that to have three branches of State coming to meet an innocent pleasure boat in the middle of Galway Bay was a misuse of resources. We need to tighten up these matters.

I am nervous about the Minister's statements about "the scourge of drugs". If a scintilla of the efforts being applied in legislation such as this was applied to the parts of Ireland affected by drugs, we would see much better results. Some people refer to a war on drugs, whereas I see it as a need to reduce the harm inflicted on certain people in society. Our resources should be targeted at reducing that harm, rather than adopting George W. Bush's style of rhetoric by referring to a war on drugs. The war on drugs cannot and will not be won, as there will always be people who use drugs. Our challenge is to ensure that we reduce the number of people taking drugs and that we provide alternatives for those who feel they need to take drugs.

Deputy Costello is well aware of the parts of Dublin where a vast amount of drug users live. It was agreed ten years ago that the hotspots of drug taking should be targeted. These areas need proper housing, health care, sports and recreation facilities and child care. It is only when such steps are taken that we will be able to say that we are really tackling the drugs problem. Fianna Fáil has made great efforts to discuss RAPID funding and various ways and means of dealing with the drugs problem, but very little RAPID funding has been spent. There have been many meetings and a great deal of discussion, but very little has been done on the ground to ensure that those who are inclined to take drugs might be deterred from doing so. We simply have to provide alternatives in the areas like recreation, housing and sports that I have mentioned if we are to tackle the problems caused by drugs.

We should be cautious of the language we use when describing drugs. To talk about the street value of drugs captured is a bit like driving around the corner of a country lane, hitting a cow and talking about the street value of it being thousands of euro. It is a language that does not help when discussing the difficulties of drugs in society. We should use more measured descriptions in order to address realistically the problems that exist. I agree that the web of bureaucracy surrounding the difficulties the Naval Service, the customs service and the Garda face on the high seas needs to be tightened up. The Naval Service needs significant reform to transform itself from where it was some years ago to being at the cutting edge of coast guard services, drugs services and so on.

In essence, I support the Bill but if we are to address what the Minister referred to as the scourge of drugs, we need to put more resources into communities from where the drug users, including future drug users, come.

Sinn Féin welcomes any move towards strengthening the laws designed to prevent the importation of illegal and harmful drugs into the State. It is particularly mindful of the need to ensure as far as possible that anyone involved in this trade does not escape prosecution because of perceived loopholes in international law governing the prevention of drugs trafficking. As such, Sinn Féin will support the Bill which makes Article 17 of the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances part of the domestic legislation of the State. It is hoped also that it will put greater pressure on countries from which these shipments originate to deal with such activities by drug traffickers using their ports and flags.

The international drugs trade is a menace to this country. It has penetrated almost every country in the world. It is a secretive economy which is worth billions of euro each year. It is responsible for the deaths of millions of people and for the social decay of large parts of the world, including sections of many of our own cities and towns. The cost of this stretches far beyond the actual crime that is a direct result of drug pushing and addiction. It affects our health services, child care and every other aspect of social policy, including the costs involved. The drugs economy is one where a small minority of extremely wealthy individuals earn vast fortunes from the misery of others. These people who finance and organise the shipments must be made to pay the price for their activities. While it is unlikely that such individuals will be on board vessels carrying drugs, I hope the ratification of the convention will make their prosecution more likely. We must also be aware – this is something Deputies will bear in mind when scrutinising the provisions under the convention – that while states have the option to prosecute traffickers caught in the territorial waters of other states, not all states are equally committed to preventing the use of their territory and ships flying their flags for the production and transportation of drugs. Perhaps this is something we might seek to address by way of amendment.

While welcoming the legislation, we would wish to enter some qualifications to our support for the Bill. One of these has to do with the manner in which it is proposed to ensure that vessels transporting drugs are actually apprehended. This State has a long coastline of some 3,000 kilometres, yet the resources devoted to protecting it from drugs smugglers are fairly minimal. Huge parts of the coastline are unprotected for most of the time. A large number of major shipments that we are aware of have been landed along the western coast over the past number of years. To a large extent, this is a consequence of the lack of resources devoted to combating the drugs trade. The Naval Service is small and could not possibly be expected to police the entire coastline. Consideration might, therefore, be given to the establishment of a dedicated anti-drugs marine-based unit, similar to those that exist in other jurisdictions as a coast guard. We would argue that if the commitments made in the Bill to tackle the drugs trade are to be fulfilled, such an investment in human and other resources will be necessary. Otherwise the Bill will become just another well meaning but ineffective gesture towards combating this menace.

As someone who has been involved in the fishing industry and in daily contact with coastal fishing communities, if even a portion of the time and energy which the Naval Service devotes to preventing Irish fishermen making a livelihood from their legitimate occupation was given to monitoring and intercepting drugs shipments, we would be in a happier position. This issue has been highlighted once again this week with the proposals to further open our waters to exploitation by other EU states.

It is also clear that the State needs to improve its intelligence and surveillance of those involved in financing the drugs shipments. As I pointed out earlier, this is a business which requires large sums of money to be invested in both the drugs themselves and in the vessels used to transport them. It is not something which most people would have the means to become involved in as they simply would not have the money to do so. It is true that much of the investment comes from well known criminal gangs, but that is not the full picture. We also know from some of the work done by investigative reporters and from the odd conviction that some seemingly respectable people are prepared to invest their money to import the drugs that cause havoc in our communities. It is not so long ago that a former member of the Irish Aviation Authority, appointed to that body by a previous Government, was convicted of importing large amounts of cocaine. Other so-called pillars of the community have been caught in similar circumstances, all apparently upstanding members of society who were prepared to make a quick buck at the expense of the most vulnerable sections of our people.

It is the need to tackle this aspect of the problem and to identify and deal with the individuals who supply the money and vessels to transport drugs from abroad into this jurisdiction that is crucial to even beginning to put an end to the current problem. I hope the Bill will be a step in that direction. I would also like to see a wider campaign by the Government to ensure the problem is dealt with in a concerted fashion at all levels. While welcoming the Bill as a further measure to prevent the importation of drugs, Sinn Féin also recognises the need to pursue a much wider strategy to curtail and, if possible, put an end to trafficking. A large part of that can be implemented as part of the enforcement of the measures contained in the Bill. It will be absolutely essential if the proposed legislation is to be effective. We will be closely following the debate and further scrutinising the Bill as it progresses through the House. We hope to make further interventions at later Stages if we feel that is necessary to ensure the legislation becomes effective.

The Bill, together with a strong agency to enforce it, will have the capacity to reduce some of the misery and hardship which people are suffering as a result of these drugs shipments getting through. I commend the Bill to the House.

I am pleased to contribute to this debate and I am happy to acknowledge the presence of my good friend and colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, who was my leader when I first became a public representative ten years ago. I am pleased he has since kept a close eye on me and I wish him well with his work.

The menace of drugs continues to be a major social and community problem throughout the country. My constituency of Dublin South-West which has major population centres, including Greenhills, Templeogue, Firhouse and Tallaght, has witnessed first hand the effects of the drugs culture on families and neighbourhoods. I support all measures that will serve to limit or reduce the exposure of so many to this hideous trade. Since entering public life, I have not had a week – I know many of my colleagues also experience this – without receiving representations from mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, even grandparents, asking for assistance and advice on where to go for help because family members have become victims of this illicit trade. In addition, I receive representations from many local groups regarding anti-social behaviour within their neighbourhoods as a result of the drugs culture. I compliment the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, on the excellent work being done by him and his officials in implementing the Government's national drugs programme, which was launched by his predecessor, my friend Deputy Eoin Ryan. I hope the good work will continue.

Within my area, particularly in Tallaght, many support groups are working very hard on behalf of the community, including the Tallaght Drugs Task Force, which until recently was chaired by my friend, Mr. Chris Flood, whom I replaced in the Dáil and who was a Member since 1987. His work as Minister of State with responsibility for local development impressed many on all sides of the House. Many other groups in the area such as the SWAN family support group, the Tallaght Rehabilitation Project and the various community drugs support groups in Killinarden, Brookfield and Jobstown, Tymon North and St. Dominic's parish, and others throughout the country, work untiringly in support of the victims of drug abuse. Equally importantly, their families need the full support of this House for their aspirations and acknowledgement for their achievements.

The impact of drugs within communities can be described easily by many of us. We all have many examples of what happens. The increase in crime as a result of the drugs menace and the undermining of the sense of security of our elderly is to be abhorred. Actions taken initially to control and eventually to eradicate this menace must be supported.

I commend the Bill to the House as it brings our legislation into line with the Council of Europe's Agreement on Illicit Traffic by Sea and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. The detail in the Bill appears to be a regularisation rule which will be common to all members signing up to these conventions. In terms of its impact, I cannot help but wonder as to the point of the Bill. It gives representatives of this country the right to board a ship of another convention state while it is outside our territorial waters, but only with the express permission of that state. I thought all drug seizures worldwide were the result of intelligence gathering and the co-operation of police forces across the globe. The need to monitor suspect vessels is vital, but where is the point in boarding or arresting a vessel in international waters and having it brought to an Irish port? Surely the law enforcement agencies at the port of destination are best positioned to effect the necessary swoop on the vessel's illegal contents.

Considering the various strands of procedure necessary to effect this arresting activity, involving the courts and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the bottom line is that these conventions, while admirable in concept, only add a layer of smoke to the illicit drugs trafficking system. The Bill states that if we choose to arrest the vessel of another convention member, that country's permission is required. Its first option is to repatriate both vessel and crew and in the event that the arrest is found to have been in error, this country will be liable for any damages incurred.

Anyone found to be in the process of importing drugs into this country should be dealt with by our justice system and serve the sentence imposed by the courts. The ability to serve a sentence in the perpetrator's home jurisdiction should not be possible in cases of drug trafficking. The families and communities affected by the drugs menace deserve better. All of us can give examples of how that menace affects our communities. My constituency is in Dublin and I know that you, Chairman, represent huge population areas, including Finglas. The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, is in my neighbouring constituency and Deputy Costello, with whom I spoke this morning, represents the inner city. As I said last week, it has been an incredible experience for me as a new Dáil Deputy on the Fianna Fáil benches, having the opportunity of interacting with colleagues and sharing experiences. This great menace affects every area and Tallaght is no different from any of the places of which I have spoken. I am sure my colleagues opposite will tell me that Kildare and Waterford are exactly the same.

The people on the coalface fighting against the scourge of drugs are doing their utmost to undo the problems in their areas and they deserve all the support Dáil Éireann can give them. I hope everybody will support this Bill, despite the reservations I mentioned. We should be clear in our approach. People should not be allowed to profit from the misery of families. Families come to my advice clinics every week with sad stories, detailing the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves. Sometimes it is difficult to help them, but we must try. On a day on which we are to debate Estimates and the economy, it is important that we make it clear to the Government that we must continue to support strongly the social inclusion policies with which we all agree. We must do this for the sake of communities affected by drugs, not only by supporting the programmes and ensuring they continue to prosper, but also by considering, in the context of the Estimates, the provision of infrastructure.

I have a guest with me today from São Paulo in Brazil and I know he has been fascinated by the workings of this House. He was also interested in this Bill when I told him about it. I have expressed some reservations about the impact of the Bill, but I support it as it attempts to reduce further the ability of illicit drugs cartels to undermine our family and community lifestyles.

Like other speakers, I welcome the Bill, notwithstanding the fact that it merely gives effect to the Council of Europe agreement and the UN convention it has on board. I agree with all the previous speakers about the ongoing and increasing problem of drug addiction and the need to bring to a halt the activities of those involved in conveying drugs and creating misery for others. There are two elements to the illicit drugs scene – those who are affected negatively as a result of drug-taking and those who benefit. The target of this legislation is those who benefit. In the past few years we have seen increases in the number of incidents and improved policing, but unfortunately there has also been an increase in the numbers of people involved in drug-taking. All of them will tell, after they have become hooked, of their misery and their anxiety to break the habit. The problem is that before this happens, ruthless people who only want to make more money use other people's misery for their own selfish reasons. No legislation or condemnation will affect or change them; they will continue to do as they have always done. It reflects well, however, on the international community that it has at last awakened to the fact that things have been happening on the high seas which can be attended to and that illegal drug traffickers can be apprehended and trafficking discouraged.

The legislation should be observed by all countries. We know from past experience that international law has a different strength in some countries depending on the jurisdiction. This legislation will operate on the basis of Irish intervention or the intervention of the flag state. I am glad to see that section 22 refers to capital punishment and makes it clear that the Irish State takes precedence and that, in the event of a ship being seized in Irish territorial waters, it would not apply to a person having to return to a country where capital punishment is acceptable.

All drugs are not conveyed to their final destinations by ship or boat. They have been conveyed in the past by way of a canister or similar container that is dumped off-shore in certain currents and when the tide comes in it is carried on to the shore and is picked up on a pre-arranged signal. This country has a very long shoreline and because of that we have extra responsibilities. It is difficult to police a shoreline of this nature effectively without help from overseas. Some assistance has been given through the European Union to extend existing provisions. That assistance allows for the fact that this country is an EU member state and has been targeted in the past by those involved in drug trafficking and will be targeted in the future to the same extent. In such circumstances, the action taken by the authorities when this legislation is enacted must tackle not only the drugs issue in this country but within the European Union. If we apply this with gusto, we will be doing a good job and will succeed. We cannot equivocate or talk in terms other than those condemning the whole drug trafficking question.

Recently a hijacker was alleged to have boarded an aeroplane bound for a European destination in another European airport. I do not know why he was carrying a gun on an aeroplane. He may have wanted to do so for self defence purposes, although it would be unusual to travel that way, or it may have been to attack someone else, but the person was released due to lack of evidence. This legislation, as applicable to us, has connotations for our colleagues in other countries in the EU and countries outside of it. It is essential that the spirit and the letter of the law is applied universally. It is of no benefit to us to enforce this legislation if it was to transpire that some other country, a signatory to the Council of Europe agreement or the UN convention, was to ignore some aspect of the law. We would then only go through the motions and we should not be prepared to do that because of the trauma, hardship, misery and death caused by drug traffickers throughout the world.

In the past we have looked at the legislation applying in other European countries with regard to drug trafficking and abuse. The authorities here were not always satisfied that the full rigour of the law was being applied by all who subscribed to it. It would do no harm if the Minister insisted that all of our colleagues within the EU who are signatories to the agreement and the UN convention recognise that they also have responsibilities for the enforcement of the legislation.

The Minister referred in his speech to the fact that the UN is silent on the consequences of shared jurisdiction. That can lead to interesting and unclear situations whereby the whole purpose of this exercise would be called into disrepute.

I welcome this legislation and hope it is effective, that it is vigorously and rigorously enforced and that it is embraced equally by all signatories, including those outside the European Union and those who have not signed the UN convention.

As a Deputy from the west coast, I am aware of the potential for drug smuggling by sea.

The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the Council of Europe Agreement on Illicit Traffic by Sea. The Criminal Justice Act, 1994, already gives effect in Irish law to the convention but the convention is silent on the consequences of shared jurisdiction, in particular on which state ought to prosecute in such circumstances. The Council of Europe agreement seeks to establish an agreed method of dealing with such a situation by giving the flag state, the state where the ship is registered, preferential jurisdiction where the ship has been arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking on the high seas.

Section 22, which deals with capital punishment, provides that the Minister shall refuse the request for surrender from a convention state which is party to the agreement where the offence for which the person is sought is punishable by the death sentence in their country, unless the Minister receives satisfactory assurances that the death penalty will not be carried out. As a doctor I cannot agree with the death penalty, but how many deaths is a drug trafficker responsible for every day? I am glad to support any measure that will deal with the terrible scourge of drug trafficking, the effects of which are clearly visible on our streets. What parent in the State is not concerned about drugs and the terrible toll they inflict on families across the country.

Is it any wonder Ireland is such a soft touch for drug dealers when according to the Naval Service estimate, given as evidence during the Brime drugs trial in 1994, a drug trafficker has a 20 times greater chance of travelling undetected to Europe through Irish waters? This legislation is badly needed.

In my previous incarnation as a GP I used to go out to Clare Island, a beautiful island any time of the year but particularly in summer, and see the lighthouse at the far end of the island perched on a cliff which looked over the broad Atlantic ocean. It was very isolated. In the past a lighthouse keeper lived there with his family. The lighthouse that replaced the Clare Island lighthouse on Achill Beg is also deserted due to automation of lighthouses. The man who used to keep the lighthouse fire burning was an unofficial coast watch minding our terrain. Given that there are 2,700 miles of coastline, that is a great deal of coastline to be watched. More than 90% of our trade is by sea, yet only a handful of the 900 landing points have harbour policing, not to mention surveillance, or any offshore method of watching what is going on. When one considers that many of the beaches in Counties Mayo, Donegal, Sligo, Kerry and Cork cannot be approached by public roads, it may well be that people have knowledge of these locations and can easily land illicit drugs or whatever. With GPS it is possible for ships to drop any type of container under the water with an anchor and the GPS reading can tell anybody the location. It is clear from this that it is easy to traffic in drugs and the profits are great.

According to the RACO, the representative association of commissioned officers, naval committee, Ireland's control capability in 2000 was the equivalent of less than two Garda cars for the entire island of Ireland. Two Garda cars on Clare Island would probably be enough, but two Garda cars overseeing the whole of Ireland is a laugh. Is it any wonder the Customs national drugs team warned that less than half of the total amount of drugs passing through Irish waters is detected? The level of trafficking is on the increase and could double over the next 20 years. The amount seized is only a percentage of what is actually there, only an estimated 35% of the amount dispatched to Europe from north Africa and South America. The international trade in narcotics is estimated to be worth at least £175 billion sterling and is second only to the arms industry in terms of the global scale.

Ireland, because of its location on the west of Europe, is a wonderful location for drug traffickers and is the sea route to Europe for cocaine from South America and cannabis from north Africa and the Caribbean.

The number of seizures at all these isolated places tells the story, but how much more is going on that we know nothing about? Drug trafficking is terrorism of the highest order. It is modern day terrorism that attacks the core of society. I support any measure that can be used to bring those people to justice and to punish them severely because of the havoc they wreak on people's lives. I see the damage done as a GP, as do my colleagues. Anything we can do to stamp out the ravage of drugs should be done. That is why I support the Bill.

I express my appreciation to all Deputies who have contributed to this debate. In particular, I thank the Fine Gael spokesman, Deputy Deasy, for his most constructive approach and Deputy Costello for his helpful remarks. I hope the Bill can be enacted quickly so that we can continue to reinforce our commitment in conjunction with our international partners so that no effort will be spared in our attempts to bring drug traffickers to justice wherever they may seek to operate.

Part V of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, made provision for the United Nations Vienna Convention, and the Council of Europe agreement, which gives rise to this legislation, builds on the Vienna Convention by making provision for the concept of preferential jurisdiction.

The Bill may appear somewhat technical but when taken in conjunction with the 1994 Act, enactment of this legislation will bring a certainty to international co-operation in this area which will serve to act as a further deterrent to drug trafficking at sea. This is an excellent example of the Government's commitment to continue the co-operation of recent times with our international partners in the fight against drugs. In Europe and on the broader international stage my officials and I participate in the various fora which aim to provide new solutions to the problems of international drug trafficking and organised crime.

A new EU strategy was approved by the Council of Europe Union on 27 March 2000 – Prevention and Control of Organised Crime for the New Millennium – which will ensure a continued co-ordinated response to tackling organised crime at EU level. The strategy provides the framework for an integrated and multi-disciplinary European strategy to prevent and control organised crime and contains 11 political guidelines and 39 detailed recommendations on the prevention and control of organised crime. The EU action plan on drugs was endorsed by the European Council in June 2000. It sets out detailed measures to achieve the objectives and targets in relation to tackling the supply and demand for drugs set out in the EU drug strategy which was endorsed by the European Council in December 1999.

At an international level in 2000 Ireland also signed, subject to ratification on behalf of Ireland, the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime and two protocols to the convention, a protocol to suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, and a protocol against smuggling of migrants by land, sea or air. This convention is an important milestone in the efforts to combat the threat posed by cross-border crime.

As the borders of the European Union continue to expand further it is imperative that co-operation with the countries of central and eastern Europe is enhanced in the fight against organised crime to defeat our common enemy. Ireland is participating and will continue to participate in the development of EU measures to improve co-operation with these countries. Co-operation at bilateral level is vital. In this context we have already signed intergovernmental drugs on organised crime agreements with the Republic of Hungary, the Republic of Poland, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Russia. Requests to enter into similar bilateral intergovernmental agreements have been received from a number of other candidate countries and they are being examined.

I pay tribute to the commitment and dedication of the members of the Garda Síochána, the customs national drugs team and the Naval Service in the exercise of their duties in the fight against trafficking of drugs in what are often very dangerous circumstances. There must be no safe havens for those who engage in drug smuggling. This Bill will ensure such people, when apprehended, will not be able to exploit any conflict between jurisdictions where states are working in close co-operation to tackle this evil trade.

Deputy Costello asked for a definition of the word "thing". We are trying to ensure we cover everything other than the drugs. We are making the definition as broad as possible. We can discuss this matter in more detail on Committee Stage.

As regards implementation of this legislation, I would like to put on the record of the House that it is the Government's intention that this legislation be enacted immediately following signature by the President. Regarding the right of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to order the release of a person, there may be some circumstances in which an innocent third party may be aboard a seized vessel and the Minister should have the residual power to order the release of that person if it is found he or she was not involved.

Deputy Durkan asked about the implementation of this legislation by other member states. If other member states do not respond to a notice of jurisdiction then this State will automatically have jurisdiction by default under the legislation. I thank everybody for their constructive approach to this legislation. I hope we can get this Bill through Committee Stage and the Seanad speedily so that we can enhance the powers of the navy, about which Deputy Deasy spoke so eloquently. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.