I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The objective of this Bill is to give effect in our domestic law to three protocols to the Europol Convention. The protocols, dated 2000, 2002 and 2003, relate to the competence of Europol in the area of money-laundering, as well as clarification of certain matters concerning joint investigation teams, and the streamlining of certain matters relating to the internal working of Europol. This Bill will enable the protocols to have the force of law in the State and will amend, for that purpose, the Europol Act 1997. The three protocols will then become Schedules to the 1997 Act.
Before discussing the protocols in more detail, I will discuss Europol and its development since the Europol Convention came into force in this jurisdiction in 1998. In tackling organised crime, access to intelligence and information is essential, both in the domestic and the international arena, and is of crucial importance when tackling serious crime, including terrorist offences, which usually involve networks of people in several countries who are very well resourced, both financially and as regards technical know-how. In this situation, co-operation between police administrations across national borders is needed to tackle crimes of this nature in an effective way. The Europol Act 1997 gave the force of law to the convention on the establishment of a European Police Office, or Europol Convention. Europol was established to operate as a support service to police services in all member states with the primary task of facilitating the exchange of information and intelligence between law enforcement authorities, as well as carrying out detailed analyses in respect of the crimes within its remit. In general terms, the Europol Convention provides for member states to forward information to Europol concerning persons who are suspected of having committed or taken part in criminal offences in respect of which Europol is competent or who have been convicted of such offences. The primary purpose of Europol is to facilitate the exchange of information and intelligence, as well as certain analytical work, in order to assist the member states in preventing and combating serious international organised crime.
Europol does not have any executive power. It is simply a support service for police and other law enforcement agencies in its member states. Europol generally acts on request from police services in the member states. There are preconditions to be established before Europol can become active in a case. The investigation must involve two or more member states, there must be an organised criminal network implicated and, of course, the matter must be within Europol's remit.
While Europol does not have any operational powers, its purpose is to support national law enforcement authorities and to facilitate EU police co-operation. Ireland has liaison officers posted to Europol to assist in the exchange of information and analysis work and under the convention, each member state is required to establish a national unit to act as a centralised contact point for all communications with Europol. The Garda Síochána provides practical support to Europol through the exchange of intelligence and participation in analytical work for purposes of contributing to the objectives of Europol. I pay tribute to the gardaí for their work in this regard.
I will briefly discuss the recent Irish experience of Europol. In Ireland, I am informed that the subject of the requests dealt with by the Garda Liaison Bureau tends to be transactions linked to serious crime such as fraud. This is in contrast to the situation a number of years ago where the predominant area of activity was in transactions related to drugs. Nevertheless, the fight against drug-related crime is still a significant part of the interaction between the Garda Síochána and Europol. One example was the case of an international gang of drug smugglers which was intercepted with a substantial cache of ecstasy tablets, resulting in a number of significant arrests, following intelligence received via the Europol network.
The effectiveness of Europol is, of course, dependent on the nature and extent of the information which it obtains. In this regard, it is very important that adequate safeguards are in place to guarantee the confidentiality, security and accuracy of the information exchanged and shared. The Europol Convention provides for particular safeguards for this purpose. It acknowledges that particular attention must be paid to the privacy rights of individuals and the protection of personal information, requiring each member state to provide for the application of data protection law in regard to information processed through the Europol system. In this connection, the Bill contains an amendment to the Europol Act 1997, providing that the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 apply in respect of the processing of information relating to individuals which is processed automatically at Europol. The Data Protection Commissioner is designated under the Europol Act 1997 as the supervisory body in the State for purposes of that Act and of the Europol Convention. The functions of the Data Commissioner, pursuant to Article 23 of the convention, include independent monitoring and supervision of the activities of the national unit within the Garda Síochána, which was established under section 3 of the Europol Act 1997, in so far as these activities are of relevance and relate to the protection of personal data.
Turning to the detail, the Bill, when enacted, will enable Ireland to ratify three additional protocols to the Europol Convention. The Office of the Attorney General has advised that these protocols should be given effect by way of amendment to the Europol Act 1997 in primary legislation. Enactment will allow Ireland to continue to fulfil its international obligations. Their effect will be to extend the mandate of Europol to clarify certain powers and streamline its work. However, I emphasise that the passing of this Bill will not alter in any substantive way the structure of Europol.
The Bill under consideration is divided into five sections. Section 1 amends section 1(1) of the Europol Act 1997 by adding definitions for the 2000, 2002 and 2003 protocols. Section 2 amends section 2 of the Europol Act 1997 to give the force of law in this State to these three additional protocols and to provide for judicial notice to be taken of them. The first of the three protocols, that of 30 November 2000, extends the competence of Europol to money laundering, regardless of the type of offences from which the laundered proceeds originate. The detection and control of money laundering is a key element in the fight against terrorism and organised crime and it is essential that Europol is armed with the powers necessary to ensure it operates effectively in this sphere. The issue of illegal money laundering has rightly acquired a more central role in Europol's work. We are all aware that developments in modern technology mean that vast sums of money can be transferred in a matter of seconds through several countries by electronic transfer through an intricate series of financial transactions.
The second protocol, dated 28 November 2003, clarifies certain powers in respect of the participation in joint investigation teams and the privileges and immunity applying to members of Europol. It is important that maximum benefit is derived from co-operation between member states when investigating cross-border crime. Provision for officials of Europol to participate in a support capacity in joint investigation teams is provided for in Article 1 of the Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on Joint Investigation Teams and under Article 13 of the convention of 29 May 2000 on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between Member States of the European Union. The protocol in question clarifies liability and privilege in respect of Europol's participation in such teams. The third protocol under consideration, dated 27 November 2003, streamlines the internal working of Europol, particularly in respect of liaison procedures and analysis and the processing of data.
As I mentioned earlier, section 3 of the Bill amends section 6(1) of the Europol Act 1997 by providing that the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 apply for the purposes of the Europol Act 1997, the Europol Convention and the five protocols to the convention in respect of the retention, use or disclosure of certain information relating to individuals that is processed automatically at Europol. This section was introduced at the suggestion of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to clarify that the Data Protection Acts apply for the purposes of the protocols, as well as the convention itself.
Section 4 provides for the addition of the three protocols in both the English and Irish languages as Schedules to the Europol Act 1997, while section 5 contains the short title of the Bill. The protocols in question will, on the passing of this Bill into law, become Schedules to the Europol Act 1997 and will allow Ireland, subject to Government approval, to ratify them.
The Europol Convention provides a framework for law enforcement co-operation in the field of international organised crime. It provided for the establishment of Europol in October 1998, following ratification of the convention by all member states, including Ireland.
A number of other bodies operating in the area of law enforcement and security, such as Eurojust, CEPOL and FRONTEX, have been established. In the context of the changing environment, the Austrian Presidency of the Council launched a political debate on the framework and objectives of the further development of Europol at the informal meeting of ministers, which was held in Vienna in January 2006. On that occasion, ministers were invited to discuss how Europol could be developed further so that the law enforcement authorities of member states could derive maximum benefit from any such development. At that meeting, ministers gave a clear commitment to strengthen Europol and to make it more effective. I commend this Bill to the House.