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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 4 Oct 2012

Vol. 777 No. 2

Europol Bill 2012: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to present this Bill to the House which will enable Ireland to implement an EU Council decision establishing the European Police Office, or Europol. While Europol has existed since 1995, it did so on the basis of an EU convention. That convention has been subject to a number of amendments introduced through subsequent protocols. However, such legal instruments are subject to lengthy ratification procedures by member states and therefore it was agreed to replace those instruments with a Council decision which will ease any future amendments. In 2008, the Houses of the Oireachtas approved the adoption by the State of the Council decision which ultimately entered into force in 2010.

The convention and protocols, to which I have referred, were given force of law in the State by way of the Europol Act 1997, as amended. Section 2(1) of that Act states that the convention and the protocols "shall have the force of law in the State and judicial notice shall be taken of them". Such wording, which is usual for the implementation of international agreements such as conventions, effectively precludes the need to legislate for each and every article of the instrument. In effect, the 1997 Act, as amended, is relatively minimalist.

However, a Council decision must be implemented in a manner whereby each and every aspect of the instrument which has domestic effect must be provided for in legislation. For that reason, this Bill is significantly more detailed than the existing Europol Act. None the less, this Act will, in effect, maintain the status quo. Although the Council decision does introduce a small number of changes to Europol, to which I will refer shortly, it replicates, to a very large extent, the provisions of the convention and the protocols thereto.

Turning to Europol itself, I will briefly mention one change which the Council decision introduced. Under the convention, Europol had the status of an intergovernmental organisation funded by contributions from member states. However, establishing Europol under a Council decision gives it the status of an agency of the European Union. As an agency in the area of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, Europol joins CEPOL, the European Police College, and Eurojust, the EU's judicial co-operation unit. Establishing Europol as an entity of the EU ensures it is funded from the general budget of the European Union and also enhances the role of the European Parliament in the control of Europol.

The objective of Europol, under the Council decision, is to improve the effectiveness and co-operation of the law enforcement authorities of member states in preventing and combating organised crime, terrorism and other forms of serious crime affecting two or more member states. This is another difference between the Council decision and the convention and probably the most significant change from an operational point of view. The Council decision extends the mandate of Europol from that under the convention. Organised crime was originally the sole focus of Europol's activities. The Council decision removes the requirement that an organised criminal structure must be involved before Europol can act. It will be sufficient for the crime concerned to involve a serious offence, as listed in the annex to the Council decision. These serious offences include the main transnational crimes such as drug trafficking, terrorism, money laundering, human trafficking, counterfeiting or arms smuggling. They also include other more serious crimes such as murder, organised robbery and kidnapping. Europol's role in supporting and strengthening action by the member states in combating such crime is clearly set out in Article 3 of the Council decision.

It is the reality that no member state, including Ireland, despite our island status, can avoid the impact of international crime. The very nature of this crime requires the co-operation of several states to ensure an effective response. Europol self-describes its role as that of making Europe safer and it does so by providing the necessary co-ordination of and support for national law enforcement authorities. The support and assistance which Europol can offer to any investigation can be broadly categorised as information management and, to a lesser degree, semi-operational tasks. The latter tasks include the option for Europol to participate in joint investigation teams. Primarily, however, Europol co-ordinates and supports Europe-wide operations investigating serious criminal activity. All arrests and policing functions are carried out by the competent law enforcement authority in the member state in question.

Europol assists member states in combating crime on a daily basis and, in the case of Ireland, this assistance is achieved through the secure intelligence exchange between the Irish Europol national unit based in Garda headquarters and the Irish liaison bureau located in Europol headquarters in The Hague. Europol has established a number of crime priority areas which are assigned a team of analysts and which Ireland contributes to daily. The information gathered has assisted in identifying links between international organised crime groups operating in Ireland and in other jurisdictions.

In terms of operations, in 2011 Ireland assisted Europol in the provision of intelligence and information about a mobile organised crime gang which was involved in the organised thefts of rhino horn throughout continental Europe. That work continues with ongoing intelligence exchange between Ireland and other member states in relation to this gang who are also involved in the commission of crimes including burglaries, aggravated robberies, fraud, money laundering and drug trafficking.

Europol has also assisted Ireland in the area of illegal immigration. Ireland has taken part in operational meetings involving the exchange of information and intelligence concerning an organised crime gang operating in France that assists illegal immigration to Ireland. This operation, which is continuing, has resulted in a number of arrests in France.

More recently, An Garda Síochána took part in a joint operation with the PSNI targeting prostitution on the island of Ireland. Europol again assisted this operation through the deployment of analysts who worked alongside the Gardaí and PSNI personnel.

Europol continues to be of major assistance in combating and preventing crime. It is an essential means of exchanging and analysing information and intelligence and ensuring European law enforcement agencies are alerted to new threats.

Turning now to the Bill, I would like to highlight some of its main provisions. Section 2 confirms that the competent authorities for the purpose of the Act and the Council decision are the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána or, in relation to a revenue offence, the Revenue Commissioners. Competent authorities are defined in article 3 of the Council decision as "all public bodies existing in the member states which are responsible under national law for preventing and combating criminal offences".

Sections 4 and 5 provide for the Europol national unit, including the functions of that unit. Those functions are set out in Article 8 of the Council decision and include liaising with Europol and the competent authorities of other member states, responding to requests for information and intelligence and performing such other tasks as are required by the Council decision. The provision allows the national unit to refuse a request for information where to provide such information would prejudice the security or other essential interests of the State, prejudice a criminal investigation or criminal proceedings in the State, or jeopardise the safety of a person or persons. Section 5 also clarifies that the national unit may access the Europol information system as permitted under the Council decision.

Section 6 provides for the role and functions of liaison officers. This provision replicates the existing section 4 of the Europol Act 1997. Under this provision, a liaison officer may be sent from the national unit to Europol to serve in the Irish liaison bureau. A liaison officer may not necessarily be a member of the Garda Síochána and could, for instance, be an officer of the Revenue Commissioners. Currently, Ireland has two liaison officers based in Europol, one from An Garda Síochána and one who is an officer of the Revenue Commissioners. These officers provide co-ordination between Europol and the national unit in the transmission of information and otherwise co-operate with Europol in accordance with the Council decision.

Section 7 gives effect to Article 7 of the Council decision which permits Europol to request member states to initiate criminal investigations. A request must be made to the national unit which will transmit the request to the competent authority of the State, that is the Garda Síochána or the Revenue Commissioners. The competent authority will consider and decide whether to comply with the request.

The national unit will notify Europol of the decision as to whether to conduct the investigation. Where it is decided to refuse the request, the national unit will inform Europol of the reasons for refusing, unless to do so would harm essential national security interests, prejudice an ongoing criminal investigation or proceedings or would jeopardise the safety of any person or persons. This provision, which was initially introduced into the convention in 2002, responds to previous difficulties with regard to member states acting upon information provided by Europol. However, it must be emphasised that An Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners and the law enforcement authorities in other member states have absolute discretion in the prioritisation and deployment of resources.

Section 8 provides for the transmission of data to the Europol information system. This system is used to store personal information about people who are suspected or convicted of having committed a crime for which Europol has competence or where there are reasonable grounds to believe that they will commit such an offence. Subsections (2) and (3) set out the types of data which may be input and which are also set out in the Council decision. As can be expected, this data includes information concerning a person's identity, including names, date and place of birth, address and driving licence or passport information. Also included is the possibility of providing DNA data which, owing to the lack of the appropriate technology, was not in the previous Europol instruments. Now, owing to modern technology, the use and sharing of DNA information is a key element of criminal justice systems across Europe. However, it should be pointed out that neither the Council decision nor the Bill requires the obtaining of such DNA data and it will only be provided where it is available.

Section 9 concerns the transmission of data to Europol for purposes other than under section 8, that is, for input in the Europol information system, for example, Europol may include information in a system known as analysis work files. This system offers broader information than the Europol information system although with much more limited access. These files allow Europol to provide operational analysis with the aim of assisting criminal investigations. Information may also be used by Europol and transmitted to third states or other entities. However, the prior consent of the national unit is required before any onward transmission of the data by another party may take place.

Sections 10 to 14 concern the use of, access to and protection of personal data to which the Bill applies. On a general point, it must be noted that data under the legislation is subject to the provisions and protections of the Data Protection Acts. There is a very strong data protection regime in place in Europol. It is generally highly regarded, most recently in a 2012 report following an evaluation of the implementation of the Council decision and of Europol's activities. While not making any changes to Europol's systems of data protection, the Council decision does establish a data protection officer at Europol. Although such an officer has always been a part of Europol, the Council decision makes it a formal and independent role. The functions of the data protection officer are set out in article 28 of the Council decision and include ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Council decision concerning the processing of personal data. Where there are concerns concerning compliance, the data protection officer may raise it directly with the director of Europol.

In addition to these safeguards, section 10 addresses the modification, correction and deletion of data, giving effect in the main to articles 12 and 13 of the Council decision. These functions are the responsibility of the inputting party. Data must be deleted, without delay, where it relates to a case where proceedings are definitively dropped or a person is acquitted. This section also creates an obligation on the national unit or liaison officer, as the case may be, to notify an inputting party of their belief that data input by that party is incorrect or should be supplemented.

Section 11 confirms that the national unit or liaison officers may access and receive data from the Europol information system for the purpose of preventing and combating those crimes which fall within the competence of Europol. There is also provision for limited access to the system by the competent authorities who may directly query it, although any data that is located can only be obtained via the national unit.

Section 12 concerns the use of data in the State and confirms that data obtained from any of Europol's processing files shall only be used to prevent and combat crimes in respect of which Europol is competent and to prevent and combat other serious crimes. The State is also obliged to abide by any restrictions placed on the use of data.

Section 13 provides for access by individuals to personal data. This provision allows persons to request information as to whether data relating to him or her has been processed by Europol and to have such information communicated to him or her. Grounds for objecting to a disclosure of data are set out under subsection (6) which permits the State to object where it considers that providing the information would likely prejudice the sovereignty, security or other essential interests of the State, prejudice a criminal investigation or criminal proceeding in the State or would prejudice the rights and freedoms of any person. This section also replicates, in part, section 6 of the Europol Act 1997.

Section 14 designates the Data Protection Commissioner as the national supervisory body for the purpose of the Bill and the Council decision. This provision gives effect to article 33 of the Council decision and replicates section 7 of the Europol Act 1997. The national supervisory body is responsible for monitoring the management and processing of personal data by the State in the context of its relationship with Europol. This section also confirms the authority of the Data Protection Commissioner to access data provided to the Europol information system and the requirement on the Data Protection Commissioner to inform the joint supervisory body of any action taken with respect to the Europol information system. The joint supervisory body is an independent body with the task of ensuring compliance by Europol with data protection principles. The body is made up of representatives of national data protection authorities, including the Irish Data Protection Commissioner. It should be further noted that, by virtue of section 15, the Official Secrets Act 1963 applies to facts or information which come to the knowledge of any director, member, employee or other person connected with Europol. This provision replicates section 9 of the Europol Act 1997.

Section 17 confirms the validity of acts done in accordance with the Europol Act 1997 or the Council decision prior to the passing of this Bill. The Council decision establishing Europol applies from 1 January 2010. As has been mentioned, it repealed and replaced the Europol convention and its protocols. However, existing Irish law gave force of law to the convention and its protocols and it is arguable that as these instruments have now been repealed the status of the Europol national unit and its powers as set out in the existing legislation are unclear. Following legal advice, this transitional provision seeks to put beyond doubt the status of the national unit by providing that the acts done by the national unit and liaison officers during the intervening period are valid. The Attorney General has indicated that "there is no difficulty in providing retrospective validation of anything done by the existing national unit".

The remaining provisions are of a standard or technical nature. Before concluding, I wish to draw the attention of the House to the future of Europol. It has been given responsibility for the establishment of the European cybercrime centre which will place it at the forefront in the continuing fight against high tech organised crime. Ireland, through the Garda Síochána computer crime investigation unit and the staff at the liaison bureau in The Hague, will continue to offer advice and expertise to assist the cybercrime centre when it becomes operational. In 2013, Europol will publish the serious organised crime threat assessment or SOCTA. On the basis of this document, the Council of the European Union will determine its priorities and recommendations for the fight against organised crime in Europe.

Also in 2013, Ireland will take up the chairmanship of the Europol management board, which is Europol's governing board. This board gives strategic guidance and oversees the implementation of Europol's tasks. Each year, the management board adopts Europol's final budget, the work programme of future activities and a general report on activities carried out during the previous year. These will be submitted to the Council for endorsement and to the European Parliament for information.

I will also comment on the future regulation of Europol. Article 88 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union provides for a new legal regime for Europol, stipulating that Europol shall be governed by a regulation or regulations. While the main policy objective of the new regulation will be to align Europol's legal base with that treaty, it will, undoubtedly, also seek to address any recommendations arising from the recent evaluation of Europol's activities. The implementation of the Council decision is an important step in ensuring that Europol can adapt in a flexible manner without the need for complicated ratification processes by member states. The extension of its mandate reflects the very significant contribution which Europol has made to combating serious and organised crime across borders. Since its establishment in 1995, Europol has evolved to become an essential tool for national law enforcement agencies in their efforts to combat this form of crime. Such crime is increasingly cross border and without the overall strategic analysis of an agency such as Europol, combating that crime would be a more difficult task.

I thank Members for their attention and I look forward to hearing their contributions to the debate on this important Bill, which I commend to House.

Fianna Fáil supports this Bill. It will help to empower the pan-European policing organisation, Europol, to combat international criminal gangs. The creation of pan-European freedom of movement in goods and capital has inevitably generated transcontinental criminal movements. The Bill equips Europol to help member state police forces to work together in tackling gangs involved in serious criminality across the EU and its borders. The Bill, as the Minister said, is technical in nature. It is a measure to give regard to the change in status of Europol.

Europol is the European law enforcement agency and the Council decision necessitating the Bill means it will come under the functions and institutions of the European Union. Prior to this, Europol was a separate international institution that assisted EU member states in fighting serious international crime, including terrorism, international drug trafficking, money laundering, fraud, counterfeiting, human trafficking and cyber-crime, all issues that seriously affect every community in this country.

The proliferation of international gangs is clear in the international sources for the drugs trade that fuel violence in Irish cities. So far in 2012, after a bloody September, 13 people have been killed as a result of gangland crime in comparison with a total of 11 in 2012. Many Irish gangs operate from Spain or source drugs from the Continent. Eastern European crime gangs have engaged in organised domestic burglaries across the EU, affecting numerous member states. Clearly, international cross-border crime is a major issue and Europol must be equipped to deal with it.

Europol does not represent the creation of an EU police force. Justice remains the primary concern of the member states in the EU, with two pillars of the Union looking at common justice issues and co-operation. Europol complements the hard work of the Garda Síochána and does not in any way seek to replace it. It can only act on request when two or more members states are involved and where there are factual indications that organised crime is involved. Europol cannot arrest persons nor can it conduct home searches. It facilitates exchanges of information between member states, analyses intelligence and co-ordinates cross-jurisdictional operations. This Bill places Europol under the clear remit of the EU and subjects it to financial and administrative scrutiny and accountability, as we expect of EU institutions. In 2010, the budget of Europol was almost €93 million, with 698 staff employed at its headquarters in The Hague, including 129 liaison officers. As a result of this Bill, there will be greater accountability in the organisation.

The tackling of organised crime has been mentioned and it is important to remind Members of a number of operations that have affected this jurisdiction, some of which the Minister mentioned. Operation Icarus tackled online child abuse, an issue that has come to the fore recently, with a number of current affairs programmes on it as recently as this week. Unfortunately, it has led to the deaths of some people who have taken their own lives as a result of online cyber-bullying, an issue we will return to under different legislation. This is a scourge in our communities and it is not just an issue that affects younger citizens. There are well-documented instances of adults and elderly people being victims of cyber-bullying. I note there is legislation on the B list of the Government legislation programme, the criminal justice (cybercrime) Bill, but that is concerned with cyber attacks on IT systems and does not address bullying. We must come back to this issue.

Another operation, Operation Seaweed, led to the closing down of a counterfeit operation in Borris-in-Ossory, while Operation Shovel focused on a very violent Irish-based crime gang involved in drugs and weapons trafficking. That shows the Garda interacting with Europol to tackle these issues.

On the future of Europol, there are broader issues that must be addressed. A recent report by the RAND Corporation think tank in the United States highlighted tensions between member states trying to support the operations while maintaining the primacy of the member states. The report identified four specific areas that needed further analysis. The first was evaluating whether and how the requirement contained in Article 8.4 for member states to share information with Europol is implemented. The second was understanding the scope for further involvement by Europol in joint investigation teams. The third issue was the collecting of information about the impact of the staff regulations on Europol's operations, and the fourth was identifying any possible ways the current negotiated operating arrangements could be streamlined in preparation for a new regulation. This all shows that as crime evolves, so too should the means to combat it.

The Minister referred to the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner and data protection. Almost every Bill coming through the House that involves people's personal details are being collected and kept must contain a reference to the Data Protection Commissioner. From time to time we hear of people's personal data falling into the wrong hands for whatever reason. We must give serious consideration to the resourcing of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner because the workload which is coming through these Houses is directly impacting on that office and its role and responsibilities. We recognise the constraints under the recruitment embargo but we must channel some staff to give the Data Protection Commissioner more resources to deal with the legislation that is being introduced.

Yesterday we agreed in the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to ask the Garda Commissioner to attend to address the issues that are afflicting Dublin and the wider community as a result of gangland criminality, drugs, theft and burglary. Should the Garda Commissioner take up our invitation, it would be interesting to get an oversight from him about interaction with Europol. He might give us an insight into how it is of benefit in the fight against crime in Ireland.

The area of human trafficking is also significant and I note the Department of Justice and Equality is working on the issue of prostitution. A very interesting closed briefing session was organised by Ruhama last week for members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, at which members were briefed by former sex workers. It was very harrowing to hear their life stories and this obviously is an extremely serious issue with which Members must come to grips. As for equipping Europol to deal with human trafficking, which is central to its role, anything that empowers it to do this job better is laudable. That concludes my contribution at this point.

At the outset, I apologise to the Minister for missing the beginning of his speech, as I was delayed at the Disability Federation of Ireland's pre-budget discussion forum. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and while I welcome that it is mostly technical in nature and is intended to change the administrative status of Europol to bring it under the remit of the European Union, Sinn Féin will examine the Bill closely to ensure that it will serve to reinforce justice on a European level, rather than undermine it. In common with Interpol, Europol's primary focus is on intelligence-sharing between the law enforcement agencies of the EU member states. It also acts as a support service in this regard by providing technical advice and training, as well as co-ordinating technical and strategic co-operation between police services, including the exchange of information. Heretofore, however, it has not been accountable to the European Parliament - the European Court of Justice still has limited jurisdiction over its operations - but it is accountable to the European Union Council of Ministers through the Justice and Home Affairs Council. I hope this Bill has the capacity to rectify this position, as recommended in the Council decision.

Sinn Féin is not opposed in principle to interjurisdictional police co-operation on investigation of serious crimes with a cross-border dimension, where such co-operation is authorised on a case-by-case basis, limited to the necessary and where there are appropriate safeguards and accountability mechanisms in place. Indeed, Sinn Féin strongly supports effective action against cross-border organised crime, including trafficking in human beings and drugs, especially where such action strikes the correct balance between the need and right of individuals and communities to be safe from predation with the civil rights of individuals. However, information lawfully obtained in the Irish jurisdictions should only be made available to and used by the authorities in another state for a legitimate purpose, that is, for the detection, investigation and prosecution of criminal offences that are analogous to offences within the Irish jurisdiction or for the prevention of an immediate and serious threat to public safety in another state, provided that a criminal investigation subsequently is conducted. These are the circumstances under which Sinn Féin accepts it would be reasonable, responsible and in the public interest to share information with other police services. However the sharing of Garda or police intelligence should not happen for its own sake when there is no criminal Investigation and no immediate public threat as this potentially goes against the public good and violates the right to privacy.

It is Sinn Féin's view that co-operation with Interpol, Europol or other interjurisdictional police co-operation on investigation of serious crimes with a cross-border dimension must be authorised on a case-by-case basis, limited to the necessary and must ensure there are appropriate safeguards and accountability mechanisms in place. Any information shared must be lawfully obtained and only made available to another state for a legitimate purpose, that is, for the detection, investigation or prosecution of analogous criminal offences. Moreover, there are serious questions to be asked regarding Europol in this area. It is undeniable that the EU has made incursions against our sovereignty over justice matters in the Twenty-six Counties, with power increasingly shifting over successive treaties from the member states to the EU. Sinn Féin is extremely mindful that a number of EU justice system features are being developed in addition to the current ones, namely, the European Court of Justice and Europol, that are more characteristic of a state or proto-state and which certainly are indicative of super-state ambitions. The aforementioned features include a common border control agency, a common immigration policy, a European public prosecutor and an incrementally harmonised and integrated justice system, including joint investigation teams and EU-wide arrest warrants. Most important, the requirement for unanimity between member states on all justice and interjurisdictional police matters has been progressively reduced. Indeed, justice and home affairs as it was known, was removed from the intergovernmental sphere and became an area of community law under the Lisbon treaty.

Sinn Féin does not support the development of EU super-state architecture in respect of justice matters and for this reason it opposed the EU five-year justice and home affairs harmonisation plan known as the Hague programme, which ran from 2005 to 2010. The party does not support the creation of a so-called European Legal Area with a European criminal code and a European public prosecutor. Sovereignty over justice matters must remain firmly in the hands of the peoples of the EU member states. Beyond this, however, Sinn Féin has adopted a general policy of critical engagement on EU policies and legislative proposals. This means it is willing to support those it believes will be of benefit to the Irish people and to oppose those it believes will be detrimental. In deciding its position in respect of justice and home affairs matters, Sinn Féin examines any EU policy or proposal against the following critical engagement criteria. The policy or proposal is scrutinised on whether it respects or fundamentally compromise national sovereignty over justice, whether it advances or rolls back human rights protections and whether it is proportionate and necessary. Further criteria to be considered include whether it will enhance social and economic equality or whether its predictable effects are discriminatory, whether it respects or compromises the interests of smaller nations or minority groups within those nations, whether the proposal was arrived at through democratic dialogue and consultation with civil society, whether its outworking will be transparent and subject to democratic accountability and whether the proposal has the potential to promote Irish unity through all-Ireland harmonisation. Sinn Féin's decision to support, oppose or take a qualified approach will depends on the answer to these questions. To be valid, any EU harmonisation or co-operation measures in the area of justice and home affairs should require unanimity and have as their objective the increased protection of human rights.

Sinn Féin supports measures that genuinely combat international crime or assist legitimate freedom of movement. However, its MEPs, Deputies, MLAs and Ministers will oppose any EU measures that are not fully human rights-compliant and consistent with international law. Sinn Féin rejects the federalist trend towards incremental integration and centralisation of policing and judicial powers ending in the eventual establishment of an EU border guard, EU police and an EU public prosecutor. Sinn Féin believes these are matters for sovereign states. Further to this Sinn Féin also rejects the accelerating impetus to harmonise criminal law between EU member states not only on the basis of safeguarding a cornerstone of nation-state sovereignty, but also because it is being done without first ensuring the harmonisation of rights protections, which currently vary widely from state to state. Sinn Féin cannot support criminal law harmonisation measures in the absence of equivalent protections. If one judges by the EU's track record in this area to date, Sinn Féin's concern is the emerging EU criminal justice system will not be a synthesis of the best practices and procedures that exist among the member states but instead will facilitate an unwise shift in rights away from individuals towards the police and prosecuting authorities. In addition, the current EU justice decision-making mechanisms lack adequate democratic accountability but it is to be hoped, given the intent of this Bill, that this position will improve.

Unfortunately, this Bill will not address how Europol actually operates. The powers of the joint investigation teams introduced by domestic legislation in 2004 go beyond the existing Interpol and Europol mechanisms for police co-operation and information-sharing. This is considered to be an essential element of the so-called anti-terrorism roadmap. It allows for members of foreign, both EU and non-EU, police forces and possibly intelligence agencies to operate in the Irish jurisdiction, with potentially far-reaching consequences for the sovereignty and human rights of the Irish people. The implementing law does not foresee conditions under which bringing other police forces onto a joint investigation team is prohibited and does not elaborate conditions under which consent to enter a joint investigation team led by another state's police force should be withheld. It is based on a fundamentally flawed presumption that all EU police and intelligence forces are democratically sound, follow international best practice and can be trusted not to violate human rights. In fact, Amnesty International has condemned the vast majority of EU member states, including Britain and Ireland, for perpetrating abuses of human rights within their territories. Sinn Féin's concerns regarding the PSNI and the Garda are well known but one must also consider the track records of the police forces with which they will co-operate under the powers of joint investigation teams.

Amnesty International has documented well-founded allegations of police ill-treatment and excessive use of force against detainees as well as impunity for these actions in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Some of these cases have resulted in wrongful deaths.

Sinn Féin can support inter-jurisdictional police co-operation on investigation of serious crimes with a cross-border dimension where such co-operation is authorised on a case-by-case basis, limited to cases where it is necessary, and where there are appropriate safeguards and accountability mechanisms in place. However, Sinn Féin cannot support the operation of foreign police forces within the Irish jurisdiction, especially where such forces are not subject to domestic policing oversight and accountability mechanisms, and therefore does not support the use of joint investigation teams. In addition, foreign officers serving on joint investigation teams may come from a very different and in some cases much more aggressive or combative policing culture. At a minimum, therefore, foreign officers must be fully trained in human rights and must also be screened for misconduct before being permitted to serve in any capacity in the Irish jurisdiction. Human rights qualifications and misconduct screening must be essential prerequisites, therefore, for any joint investigation teams. Failure to meet these conditions must disqualify officers from serving on joint investigation teams in the Irish jurisdiction.

The Schengen information system is Europe's largest security database. It started out principally as an electronic system for migration control and deportation. As such it is an essential part of the fortress Europe architecture we oppose. It allows EU member state police forces and consular officials to access and exchange data on specific individuals for the purpose of creating a secure common external frontier to the EU. However, such data can also include a list of "persons to be submitted for discreet surveillance ... for the prevention of threats to public security". It, therefore, has obvious implications for the right to data protection and privacy, and other civil liberties.

The supplementary information request at the national entry, SIRENE, manual is a set of operating instructions and rules governing the exchange of electronic information under the Schengen information system. A human rights audit raised concerns about this system, highlighting significant flaws in the data protection regime and the need for greater accountability and increased safeguards. This first generation Schengen information system contained information on previous asylum applications, stolen cars and other stolen property, and persons registered for discreet surveillance. The second generation system, SIS-II, database has been extended to contain biometric data and information on extradition, EU arrest warrants and third country nationals refused entry to the EU. According to Statewatch, intelligence entries will also feature.

Importantly, SIS-II is not just a database of information on migrants or on criminals. It is a mechanism that allows Europe-wide surveillance of the population in its entirety. The Government has introduced biometric passports and these biometrics will be stored on the SIS-II. In other words, soon enough we will all be on it. SIS-II is, therefore, a database of sensitive information to which a large number of authorities from all the member states and bodies such as Europol that are completely unaccountable to the Irish people -it is to be hoped that might change somewhat with the provisions of this Bill - will have access as of right. That is, if the information is on the joint system, they can have it. There is no need to request it from the national authority, from which the information originates, and no need to explain to the national authority why it is being requested.

This is in marked contrast to the requirement of judicial authorisation before law enforcement agencies can access sensitive data, which Sinn Féin supports. Under the principle of availability, access to SIS-II data will be automatic regardless of the nationality of the data subject or the rules that apply in his or her country of residence. Moreover, Europol will be able to share this sensitive information with third countries. This is a dangerous prospect, given that the CIA kidnapped individuals from EU member states during its programme of extraordinary renditions under the Administration of President George W. Bush.

For all of these reasons, at a minimum, we seek the following: a guarantee that there will be no latent development of additional SIS-II functions to allow even more agencies access to extend the purposes for which data obtained from SIS-II may be used and the types of information that will be uploaded; sufficient safeguards against function creep towards "fishing expeditions" as opposed to the current "hit or no hit" and towards biometric searches without judicial authorisation instead of simple verification functions; and full respect for and enforcement of data protection rights.

Current EU justice policy is fixated on security to the detriment of freedom, justice and rights. This fixation is embodied by the set of draconian measures that make up the so-called EU anti-terrorism roadmap, including the common definition of terrorist offences and terrorist blacklists, the Schengen security database, the EU arrest warrant, and the establishment of joint investigation teams.

Sinn Féin opposes ongoing attempts to create an EU security and surveillance super-state in the name of the so-called war on terrorism, because we do not believe that any approach which involves draconian measures will make people or communities in Ireland or the EU any safer. We believe that security and human rights are indivisible and we will challenge the EU securocrat agenda. We will continue to oppose actively the evolving EU surveillance state, including such measures as universal mandatory data retention and the introduction of biometric identifiers on passports, visas and residency permits. The so-called EU anti-terrorism roadmap and related measures should be scrapped and replaced with a human rights-compliant strategy based on a human security approach, that is, one that seeks to prevent and resolve conflict by recognising and resolving the root causes of conflict.

There are additional concerns over data protection. We know that Europol can enter into agreements with third countries. There are two classes of agreement: organisational agreements and strategic agreements. Organisational agreements exist where the European Council has given approval for transfer of classified information and personal data because it is satisfied the country has adequate arrangements for handling and protecting such data. Organisational agreements exist with Australia, Canada, Croatia, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the United States. While quite stringent data protection guidelines are being developed within the EU - although in Ireland the data protection infrastructure is under some pressure to meet its responsibilities - we need clarity as to the framework and criteria we would seek from those countries regarding data protection.

Deputy Niall Collins mentioned the RAND report, which gave an analysis of the changes that would result from the Council directive and the Bill before us. It would introduce a data protection officer, who is a member of Europol staff but acts independently. While on the face of it that is very welcome, we could do with clarification on the level of the independence, which would be important regarding the issue I just mentioned of third country access to data. How would this data protection officer oversee that? I ask the Minister to give clarification on that.

Section 13 provides that anyone with concerns about possible information held can apply to the Data Protection Commissioner, as with other data protection requests, although the release of information can be refused on the grounds that it would: prejudice national security or be contrary to public policy, prejudice criminal proceedings in the State, or jeopardise the safety of a person. I seek reassurance that it would not be applied arbitrarily but as presented.

The Bill would mean that changing Europol in the future should be easier, as changes will no longer require ratification. What would be the level of accountability to the Irish people with any proposed changes to or increases in the powers of Europol in the future? I understand the board will have qualified majority voting. If the Bill is passed, what assurances can the Minister give us that the Irish people will have the ability to oversee the changes to ensure we do not cede more of our sovereignty in this area? I look forward to discussing the issue of Europol further on Committee Stage.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Europol Bill 2012. In recent days with the slaughter on our streets and the gangland murders, it is important we all see the European and international dimension to these crimes.

This Bill is an important part of the strategy to tackle crime in Ireland and across the European Union. It is important to point out that this is not about bureaucratic legislation coming through the system, rather it is about the bigger and broader picture. It is also important all our citizens understand the purpose of Europol and aware of its precise workings. Accountability and transparency must be part of our overall justice system. A regular complaint from citizens across the European Union is that they are not informed or updated on what is happening in the European Union. This Bill is important in terms of its setting out the workings of Europol.

The purpose of the Europol Bill 2012 is to take account of changes in the administration of Europol at a European level. Under this legislation Europol, which is the European law enforcement agency, becomes part of the EU institutional framework. Up to now, Europe was, under a Council decision, a separate institution, albeit funded by individual EU member states. Amendment at European level requires amendment to Irish legislation. This Bill is adjudged not to require a regulatory impact analysis given it is necessitated by EU membership. This is the purpose of and background to this legislation.

It is important people understand the workings of Europol. Europol is the European law enforcement agency which assists EU member states in fighting serious international crime, including terrorism, international drug trafficking, money laundering, organised fraud, counterfeiting, human trafficking and cyber-crime. I will deal later with each of these important issues, all of which are relevant in the context of what is going on the streets of our country. It is important to note, as some Deputies appeared to be under this impression, that Europol does not have the powers of a national police force. Also, it can only act on request when two or more member states are involved and where there are factual indications of organised crime. It is also important to point out, as some Deputies were also under this impression, that Europol cannot arrest persons or conduct home searches. Europol facilitates the exchange of information between member states, analyses intelligence and co-ordinates cross-jurisdictional operations. This, essentially, is the day-to-day operation of Europol.

The agency uses its unique information capabilities and the expertise of approximately 700 staff to identify and track the most dangerous criminal and terrorist networks in Europe. Law enforcement authorities in the EU rely on this intelligence and the services of Europol's operations co-ordination centre and secure information networks to carry out approximately 12,000 cross-border investigations each year. There is a great deal of work going on about which many people would not be aware. These investigations have led to the destruction of many criminal networks, the arrest of thousands of dangerous criminals, the recovery of millions of euro in criminal proceeds and the recovery from harm of hundreds of victims, including children, trafficked for exploitation.

Europol also acts as a major centre for expertise in key fields of law enforcement activity and as a European centre for strategic intelligence and organised crime. Its organised crime threat assessment is a product for EU policymakers, chiefs and police. Europol also enjoys excellent co-operation with law enforcement partners in Europe and beyond. It values its accountability arrangements and data protection regime, which are among the most robust and transparent in the world. This is important as data protection is a key issue. I welcome the public interest in this positive work.

Europol is funded by contributions from member states. Europol's 2010 budget was approximately €92.8 million. As I stated earlier, there are approximately 700 staff in Europol's headquarters in The Hague, including 129 Europol liaison officers. I will also deal later with these particular issues. Given the amount of work being done, we are getting a great deal of value for money.

It is important to set out the history of Europol. Agreement on the establishment of Europol was first mooted in 1992 in Article K.1(9) of the Maastricht treaty, to ensure police co-operation between member states to combat terrorism, drug trafficking and other international crimes. Explicit reference was made in the treaty to a European police office, Europol. It is important Irish and European citizens are aware of and understand this. It is also important that the political context of Europol is understood by Members of this House and the broader public. I will deal later with concerns around this in terms of integration by stealth rather than honest and upfront information in this regard. In my opinion, we are getting value for money in terms of the excellent work being done by Europol with its €92.8 million budget. I am a Member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which deals regularly with this issue. Given the amount of effort, lives saved and organised crimes dealt with, Europol has been very effective.

Another issue which comes within the remit of Europol, which is a major issue in this country at present, is that of drugs and the consequences in this regard. In recent days, a man was murdered at his home having taken his children to school. These types of incidents are no longer a one-day wonder. I know that the Minister is concerned about this and we cannot allow it to continue. One often privately hears comments to the effect that it is okay because these criminals are only killing each other. However, we cannot wait for innocent bystanders to be shot. Innocent people from my constituency who were outside the Players Lounge having a cigarette were shot by a particular gang. This type of crime is unacceptable regardless of who is involved. There is a need for more protection of our citizens. I acknowledge this is a complex issue and that dealing with organised crime and drug gangs is difficult. Only this morning there was a massive operation in my constituency in relation to bombs, guns and drugs.

There is a strong link between gangland crime and Europol. Many of these gangs are intimidating communities. Many people will not come out of their flat complexes at night time and people with vital information will not bring it to the attention of the Garda because they know if they do their homes will be burned down. I have met many mothers and fathers in my clinics who are up every night of the week worrying about their sons and daughters getting sucked into these gangs. Many young people who are on the fringes of these gangs and involved in petty crime locally are often forced to do favours for them, which they are told if they do not do they will be shot. These threats are often carried out. Petty criminals who might owe someone €100 or €200 are also being told that if they do not carry drugs from one area to another they will be shot. There is widespread intimidation going on underneath the radar. We hear about the shootings and murders but we do not hear of the many families who will not go outside their doors at night.

We need to focus on this issue. I am not in this regard having a go at the Government. It is the responsibility of all of us to address this issue. We must be united on it, otherwise our country will be destroyed by these people.

Again, this is an important issue in respect of data protection. Section 9 goes into further detail about data for purposes other than those under section 8 and concerns the input of personal data in the Europol information system. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill states:

Where the data is transferred for another purpose such as analysis work files, the national unit shall determine the conditions for the handling of the data transmitted, including the dissemination and use of such data (subsection (1)). The prior consent of the national unit shall be required before any use or dissemination of the data by another party may take place (subsection (2)).

This is an important provision and I welcome section 9.

It is also important that the prior consent of the national unit shall be required because there is a human rights dimension to section 9. I am not trying to be awkward in raising this issue. I am trying to solve issues and support sensible policies, but I am also trying to highlight the importance of respect for our citizens across Europe and for human rights. In section 9, determining the personal data issue relating to the prior consent of the national unit is very important. I do not know if it is still ongoing but we have had a debate about what is going on in Shannon Airport in respect of the role of the US in Iraq, the Middle East and Afghanistan, and there has always been a quiet, keep this under cover, so to speak, air about this. People on the Government side look up to heaven any time we raise the matter. If something is going on at Shannon Airport, people should know about it. Are there cases of rendition at play here? These are human rights issues that should be raised. It is important we do not duck or fudge these issues. When I regularly criticise US foreign policy, it does not mean I am critical of US citizens. It is the foreign policy I disagree with. That is the point I making about issues like rendition. Friends of the US who do not tell it when it is going wrong are doing the US no favours. This business of ducking and diving for economic and investment reasons does not work. One should always be straight with friends, neighbours and people with whom one works very closely.

The information gathered by Europol includes date of birth, name, nationality, sex, whereabouts and driving licence, among other things. It also collects information on a criminal offence or alleged offence; time, place and method of such an offence; the means used or that might be used to commit a criminal offence; suspected membership of a criminal organisation; convictions for criminal offences; and the designated competent authority for investigating such offences. We should be using information on suspected membership of a criminal organisation more regularly in respect of recent events because too many people are being shot on our streets in connection with drugs or gangland issues.

The national unit is obliged to carry out the functions relating to information held by Europol, but Ireland does not have to provide information to Europol when it is felt that it is likely to prejudice national security. It is important that every state has its own independence and authority. As I highlighted in respect of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings or the Pat Finucane case, however, states should never be allowed to cover up issues. States also have a duty to protect their citizens, regardless of what one might think of some of those citizens. We know that many citizens go to other countries and get involved in organised crime. Some of these so-called Irish citizens let the country down and gave Ireland a bad name. We should not be afraid to say that and stand up for people because it is not acceptable for them to behave like that.

A number of Deputies mentioned Operation Shovel, which focused on an Irish-based gang involved in drugs and weapons trafficking. This was a very successful operation and Europol helped detect the group's criminal proceeds and identify people associated with the group. The group's main activities moved to Spain in 2010. In May 2010, a large operation across Ireland, the UK and Spain was launched. Europol assisted with the production of several analysis reports and deployed mobile offices, or so-called virtual operational rooms, in the three countries for the immediate and secure exchange of intelligence. More than 700 investigators were involved, there were multiple house searches and a total of 38 arrests were made. That was one example of how the system dealt with Irish-based organised crime that moved to the UK and Spain.

I welcome this very important debate on Europol. The different sections contain many ideas and proposals, which I raised in this debate. The Minister is back in business and I wish him well from a health point of view. We can talk about Europol, sections and amendments but I urge the Minister to examine this issue seriously in the next 48 hours and deal very strongly with the Garda Commissioner in respect of what has gone on over recent days. It is not acceptable that people, regardless of who they are or whether they are in a gang, are shooting each other in the streets. I predict that the next big development in the next week or two, and I do not like doing so, is that an innocent person who is not involved in gangs will be affected or a bomb will go off in a back garden and someone will get his or her fingers blown off. That is what I am concerned about. We need to focus. We all have problems. There are priorities within the Garda Síochána every day but one must send out a strong message to the weakest and poorest sections in society who will not open their mouths. They come to Deputies' clinics and tell us privately about how their street is being intimidated. They cannot even go near the Garda station in parts of my constituency. They tell me and ask me to do it. This undercover, under the radar violence is going on throughout the State and is not being faced up to by the establishment. We need to wake up to this and take it very seriously. Otherwise having debates in the Dáil about Europol will not make any impact. I wish the Minister well in dealing with these issues. This Bill deals with Ireland and Europe but the bottom line is that it is about people in this State who need our protection and support.

We must also face up to those who are feeding this market. Drugs do not sell where there is no market. I ask those who take drugs to think about the major problems they cause. I welcome Europol's involvement in this as a positive development because the world is very small and many of those leading and involved in gangs can nip across to other parts of the European Union to hide out or disappear, and killings related to Ireland have occurred in Spain. We need to tackle this issue in a professional way and we will not be able to do so nationally because it has an international dimension, part of which is the debate on this legislation on Europol.
Another issue which, as far as I am concerned, has not been highlighted enough is organised fraud and white collar crime. We concentrate on the crimes of the poor, weak and marginalised sections of Irish society but white collar crime should be tackled. I feel very strongly that this issue should be covered. Financial crimes have been committed here and throughout the European Union. We need expertise at national and European level and a team within Europol has this expertise. This issue cannot be fudged by any government or state throughout the European Union because we cannot have one set of standards for the dysfunctional, weak or marginalised sections of society which are involved in crime and another for a different rung of society with loads of money who rip off the state, taxpayers and small businesses and get away with it because it is not seen as serious crime. We should have consistency and strong sentences should be given for these offences. I emphasise that at all times there should be justice.
Europol deals with terrorism and political violence, and this is also important because the world is a small place. We must also ensure that a state should never be involved in violence or intimidation. A state should never sanction murder or be involved in such issues. Otherwise, it will lose the moral ground and the respect of its citizens. At all times when fighting crime nationally or internationally, the state should have the high moral ground when carrying out its functions. At times states have not acted from the position of the high moral ground and I will return to this point.
Europol also concentrates on human trafficking and cyber-crime and bullying. These are issues about which we must be very vigilant. Many young people are bullied, and many children who are the victims of human trafficking are exploited and sexually abused throughout the European Union and this is not acceptable. Europol has played a very important role in dealing with this.
To return to the issue of organised crime, it is not a couple of gangs on the north side of Dublin or Limerick in a vacuum. Organised criminals are in a network supported by people who do not break the law, such as those in the legal profession or business professionals. How they survive and exist are fundamental questions because individuals in other sections of society support them. This must be highlighted.
If this legislation on Europol is part of a bigger picture, the Irish people should be told straight. The Government should not pull stunts or introduce measures through the back door whereby all of a sudden in ten years people discover we have a European police force throughout the European Union. Is this part of a broader debate on European integration? Perhaps this would have benefits and I have an open mind on it. I have great respect for the Garda Síochána from whom we must always have good practice and good public service. If a political game is being played, I ask the Minister to be straight with the people and tell them the plans so they understand the issue.
On digging further into the legislation, one sees the functions of the national unit are laid out in section 5. According to section 5(2), a national unit may refuse a request for information where to provide such would prejudice the security or other essential interests of the state, prejudice a criminal investigation or criminal proceedings in the state or jeopardise the safety of a person. On the face of this, my instinct would be to say it is fair enough because one has to watch one's back and every state must protect its services. However, it has a downside and I ask the Minister to deal with this in his response. Does this mean a state can decide it is in its essential interests to pull back from providing information on something the state or one of its citizens did which was wrong?
The Dublin-Monaghan bombings come to mind. The files are being held in London and there has been a huge outcry with regard to the role of certain people in it. I sat on an inquiry conducted by a sub-committee of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights and serious questions have arisen for the security forces North and South and across the water. There is no co-operation with regard to the files and the British Government refuses to hand them over. It would probably state it is in its national interest not to hand over the files but is this an excuse to fudge something which is very important? We are in the middle of a peace process which has been ongoing for the past ten years. In fairness to Prime Minister David Cameron, he put up his hands over Bloody Sunday. To be fair to people on all sides of the conflict, we must have a peace, truth and reconciliation forum where people will have an opportunity to put up their hands. Terrible things were done by those on all sides of the conflict. Will section 5(2) provide cover for governments which do not want to make decisions which would damage them politically? With regard to the murder of Pat Finucane, the Finucane family has major concerns about the role of security services in the assassination of their father and husband. Is this part of the agenda? I am asking these questions because I do not know the answers. It is important that these questions are raised.
Section 6 deals with liaison officers, who will play a key role. Under section 6(1), the Garda Commissioner will be required to send one or more members of the national unit as a liaison officer to Europol and section 6(2) will require the Garda Commissioner to consult the Minister or other persons as appropriate where the member of the national unit to be sent as liaison officer is a person other than a member of the Garda Síochána. As liaison officers will have a key role, it is important that they are of the right calibre. As people in my constituency say, they would prefer one good Garda sergeant who speaks to people than 100 gardaí flying around in squad cars. A good garda on the beat or a good sergeant in a village or town can prevent 60% of crime getting out of hand. If we pick the cream of the crop as liaison officers, we will prevent much crime.
Section 8 deals with the provision of data to the Europol information system, which is used to store personal information about people suspected of or convicted for committing a crime for which Europol has competence or where reasonable grounds exist to believe the person will commit such an offence.

Is Deputy Stanton sharing his time?

Yes, with Deputy Buttimer.

I will be very brief. I welcome this Bill, which is very important. I note the role of Europol is to improve the effectiveness of and co-operation between law enforcement authorities in member states in preventing and combating serious crimes affecting two or more member states. The Minister said in his speech that this is on foot of a Council decision. I also note that it enhances the role of the European Parliament in the control of Europol, which introduces more democratic accountability, which I welcome.

I note the list of crimes under the remit of Europol. The Minister has listed a number of them and there are many others as well, such as illegal trafficking of cultural goods; swindling; fraud; racketeering; extortion; counterfeiting; product piracy; computer crime; corruption; illicit trafficking in arms, endangered animal species and plant species; environmental crime; and illicit trafficking in hormonal substances.

I had a meeting this morning with Françoise Le Bail, Director-General for Justice at the European Commission, and her main focus, in which the Deputy from Sinn Féin would be interested if he were present, is the extent of reform of the EU data protection regime and the protection of the citizen. The Deputy from Sinn Féin rightly raised the issue of data protection, but what I am hearing from the European end is that it is also very concerned about reforming the data protection regime and bringing it up to date.

I know some Members were interested in cyber-crime. Project 2020, which is a study of cyber-crime by the International Cyber Security Protection Alliance and led by Europol, will analyse current trends in cyber-crime and how they may evolve over the next eight years and beyond. The past two years have seen the industrialisation of cyber-crime, which is frightening. Criminals can draw on an entire supporting infrastructure of criminal service providers from web hosting to generating credit card verification data. There is more information about all of us on the world wide web than ever before. We have also seen a sharp increase in targeted cyber attacks, which is known as spear fishing. During the past 24 months, critical infrastructure in countries around the world has been under daily cyber attack from organised criminal networks and state-sponsored entities.

This means the role of agencies such as Interpol is even more critical. There are organised, serious criminal industries making a lot of money from cyber-crime. We must not be blind to the problem or turn our backs. We must be very careful and ensure there is co-operation across member states. If two or more member states are involved, Europol can have a role.

Last year, at least €600 million was lost to the European Union through fraud alone. This is possibly only the tip of the iceberg. It is important, therefore, that we combat cyber-crime.

I welcome the Government's commitment to introduce the criminal justice (forensic evidence and DNA database system) Bill to establish a DNA database. I hope it will be published before Christmas. It will be important in fighting crime. It is referred to in the Bill before us and that is why I raise the matter.

The objective is to make Europe safer. Members who raised this subject are correct that there is a need for us to work towards striking a balance between ensuring the rights of citizens and their safety. There is a very strong data protection regime in Europol. The Minister stated this and I welcome the content of his speech in this regard. The data protection officer whose formal role will be established under the Council decision will be independent under the legislation. This is important.

Data is to be deleted where it relates to a case where proceedings have definitely been dropped or where a person is acquitted. This relates to what the Director-General for Justice is proposing regarding the right to ensure data can be forgotten. The right to be forgotten is being proposed by the Commission. This is intended to help individuals to control online personal data and thereby reduce the risk that data posted during teenage years could have unintended and detrimental consequences later in life.

The thrust of the legislation is to protect the individual from unauthorised data use and minimise the amount of data on the Internet and, above all, ensure it is secure. Recently, Interpol has warned us that the trade in counterfeit agricultural chemicals is growing in Europe. This trade is driven by rising input costs and is facilitated by experienced organised criminals. Europol has stated that low risk, high profit margins in the illegal pesticides market have attracted criminal gangs and have given rise to circumstances in which an estimated 25% of pesticides in circulation are believed to have come from illegal sources. The agency said the trade exists throughout Europe and suggested the use of banned or counterfeit chemicals could have serious health and ecological implications. This is another matter on which Europol is working.

In the past two nights, we debated drug and alcohol abuse. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction said that a powder combination of ecstasy and the amphetamine PMMA found in Cork last month may be the first of its kind in Europe. Previously, reports referred only to tablets. There is now talk of an early warning system for new substances, using information provided by Europol.

Europol was set up in 1995 and is now to be established on a more formal footing. There is to be more democratic control. It is an important agency and, therefore, I support the Bill. During the Private Members' debate in the Chamber yesterday, I expressed my concern that much good work is being done on drugs and alcohol by the various agencies in this State but that the Oireachtas could do more. I suggested that we consider establishing a parliamentary committee whose sole task would be to focus on drug and alcohol abuse in the State. This would cut across all the agencies and committees. The committee, chaired by Deputy Buttimer, produced a very good report on alcohol abuse and other committees are doing similar work, but they are all fragmented and all in their own silos. As a Parliament, we need to bring the work together because the drug threat is one of the largest we are facing nationally and internationally. We should consider my suggestion to try to deal with this. I am thankful for having had the opportunity to speak.

I thank Deputy Stanton for his proposal on the committee. There is merit in his suggestion because we are all operating in a silo, looking after our own sectoral interests. With regard to drugs, particularly illegal drugs, there is a need to have a dedicated committee. I hope the Whip and all the relevant Departments could consider this.

This is an important Bill. We are debating it in a Chamber in which no members of the Opposition are present. This is extraordinary given that we are in a parliamentary democracy. What level of interest do they have at all?

It is important that we consider this matter in the context of what the ordinary person would think about Europol. It is not a question of a European police force or an organisation similar to Interpol. Europol is a law enforcement agency, not a police force. It cannot arrest people or search homes but what it does quite well is facilitate the exchange of information between member states through the analysis of intelligence, co-ordination of operations between two or more countries and the sharing of information on the activities of police forces. In a world where international travel and the sharing of information are easy, it is crucial that there be co-operation at a high level between all national police forces. If we are to combat sophisticated crime networks, state law enforcement bodies must have the systems and resources designed to tackle the international aspect of criminal activity.

Deputy Stanton referred to cyber-crime and cyber-activity. These comprise a growing phenomenon in Europe and across the world. Europol is one international organisation that can assist in the battle against international crime.

The Bill is technical and makes a number of changes to improve the operation and effectiveness of Europol. The organisation was established as a formal agency under an EU convention in 2009. The European Council decided to replace the convention with a Council decision. This requires the Oireachtas to enact legislation to provide for the operation of Europol. From a practical perspective, it is making it easier to make further changes, if needed, in the years ahead. This is good because we must not allow inter-country activity to be made more complicated. Particularly in regard to crime, we must share information, including technical information.

The Bill makes a number of significant operational changes, which are important. The legislation will mean that Europol can take action where there is a serious offence involving two or more member states. I hope this change, which stipulates there is no longer a need for a factual indication of organised crime before Europol can become involved, will improve the co-operation between member states when dealing with serious offences.

Another change is that the Bill expands the categories of crime in respect of which Europol can become involved. It can become involved where there has been suspected drug trafficking, money laundering and human trafficking. These three crimes are becoming very prevalent on the Continent, not just in Ireland.

I welcome the Minister's commitment and the resolve of An Garda Síochána, including the Garda Commissioner, on gangland crime. It is imperative that the State stamp out the thugs who are operating in our capital and other cities and killing people, including their own acquaintances and other criminals. It is most distressing that they are killing people in front of young children. We must never condone or allow this kind of activity to be carried out on our streets. The State should pursue those responsible and ensure they are put away for a long time.

I commend the Minister for Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána on their work. I know that Deputy Shatter, as Minister, will continue to prioritise the protection of the ordinary citizen in the State. It is not a question of headline grabbing, as has been done by some members of the Opposition. An Garda Síochána is doing great work and is sharing information with other police forces across Europe. It is very easy to enter the House as a mouthpiece on the closure of Garda barracks. The reality is that we must work to eliminate crime. This requires members of the Opposition to have backbone also and be able to stand up to the thugs and criminals. The State requires that we be firm about crime, stand up to criminals and not use this Chamber as a soapbox. We ought to support An Garda Síochána and give it the necessary resources. This is important and the Minister will do so.

The Garda should be given squad cars.

It is also important that we commend the work being done. Almost one year ago to the day Cork city saw the benefits of Europol. On 13 October, the Garda conducted a strategic intelligence-led investigation into an international drug trafficking gang. It led to the arrest of five people and the discovery of cocaine with a street value of €5 million. The Garda believed that the consignment of drugs arrived into Cork Port from Rotterdam. The Garda, Revenue, customs, Europol, Interpol and the Dutch law enforcement agencies worked together and showed the benefits of sharing and co-operation. This type of activity has been eliminated in Cork city and the cocaine in question was taken off the street before it could damage people. In the context of this Bill, it is important that our nation plays its part.

This year, we saw Europol's effectiveness in tackling computer crime. In May and June, a Trojan virus was released to lock computers and charge a "penalty" of €100 each to unlock them. The message displayed the logos of local law enforcement agencies, for example, the Garda. Europol was involved in analysing the attack and hosted a meeting attended by agencies from 18 of the countries affected by the hoax to discuss ways to combat it. In Italy, there were 4,000 victims.

Not only did Europol work with national law enforcement agencies, but also with a private company called Trend Micro, which is located in Cork. I pay tribute to the company for its involvement in the investigation and for its commitment to employment in Cork city. For nine years, Trend Micro has based its European, Middle East and African headquarters in Cork where it employs 200 people. The benefits of sharing information with Europol are evident in Cork's local economy, although the Opposition would not admit it.

Europol has enabled the sharing of information between countries to tackle cross-border crime. This Bill will enhance Europol's effectiveness, strengthen the Garda and allow the latter to access and share information on a wider range of crimes. I hope that these provisions will enable an increased rate of detection of serious offences with cross-border aspects. Our job is to make Europe, including Ireland, safer and it behoves us all to work with the Minister and the Garda. Using the Chamber as a soapbox achieves nothing. We must protect, enhance and strengthen our law enforcement agencies.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this debate. As Deputy Buttimer stated and regardless of which side of the House we are on, it behoves us to support all law enforcement agencies, including the Garda and the Army. I compliment the Minister and his team on introducing this Bill, the primary purpose of which is to give effect to the European Council decision establishing Europol. Europol has been established since 1995 under an EU convention. However, owing to difficulties with amending the convention, which required a lengthy ratification by member states, it was agreed to replace the convention with a Council decision. This was welcome, as it gave Europol the strongest basis. Since Europol's inception, we have seen only fleeting glimpses of it in news reports on the apprehension, charging and conviction of major criminal gangs.

In this technological age, it is important that we stay abreast of all types of crime, including computer, drugs, smuggling or human trafficking. As an island nation, we cannot survive on our own, let alone in terms of law enforcement. Sharing experiences and intelligence with other police forces is important. I compliment the Garda, Revenue, the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, etc., officials from each of which have learned from other cultures, travelled to The Hague, worked with Europol, gained valuable experience and assisted in solving international crimes. Since criminal gangs have become as sophisticated as law enforcement agencies, we must share resources and knowledge, play our part as a European state and involve our police force at the highest level.

Europol assists member states in combating crime every day. In Ireland's case, this assistance is achieved through the secure intelligence exchange between the Irish, Europe and international unit based in Garda headquarters and the Irish liaison bureau based in Europol headquarters in The Hague.

Europol has established a number of crime priority areas that are assigned teams of analysts. Ireland contributes to this work every day. The information gathered has assisted in identifying links between international organised crime groups operating in Ireland and other jurisdictions. Ireland has a vast coastline, securing access to which is difficult. We have been a target. Many of our homegrown criminals have emigrated and send drugs and other contraband back to Ireland. It is a large and lucrative industry. There must be no place for these gangsters, given the appalling level of misery they cause in terms of drugs and human trafficking. Every right-thinking citizen must support the actions of Europol and the Garda.

I have a concern which I hope the Minister will listen to instead of texting. I am concerned about the lack of resources available to the Garda. We cannot keep cutting back in certain areas. We are discussing community defences. I have been a member of a community alert scheme since 1986 and am a strong supporter and board member of Muintir na Tíre, which runs the community alert scheme in conjunction with the Garda. There is no replacement for a garda in a local station or on the beat. Occasional hit and run patrols, as they are called, from 20 miles away are pointless. Just as with Europol, the Garda cannot fight crime without the confidence of the people. Gardaí attending community alert and neighbourhood watch meetings admit that they cannot police without the support and co-operation of the general public.

The dismantling of the Garda's resources is frightening. Gardaí regularly tell me that they do not know whether they will see replacements for squad cars that will be off the road in two days' time because they have 299,000 miles on the clock. Will it be like the Donegal case, in that a person who rings the Garda must collect the gardaí? This is not good enough. The vehicles are old and not up to scratch, but they are a visible presence. Gardaí might have used their own cars 25 or 30 years ago to patrol the beat, but times have moved on and there is nothing as good as a patrol car. It shows support for ordinary people living in their homes. The Minister will need to fight hard to ensure the Garda's budget is ring-fenced.

Last night, the House debated drugs. Europol is dealing with that scourge. County Tipperary's drugs squad has only seven or eight officers of various ranks. This beggars belief.

That small number of people do tremendous work, and there are approximately 40 in the traffic corps. I have had many issues with the Road Safety Authority over the years but it and the traffic corps have done a great job and reduced fatalities on the roads, although one is still too many. We should amend any imbalance and set up an agency within An Garda Síochána to deal with the scourge of drugs. The money would be well spent as we would get it back tenfold. It would help in tackling the cost of ill-health from substance abuse and repairing the misery and broken homes arising from drug use.

We are now seeing gangland murders on what is almost a daily basis, and people are almost getting used to them. These are cold-blooded murders of people, with some of them criminals. One might hear on the news that the victim was known to the Garda - we are all known to the Garda - but such killings can never be acceptable. One would not do to an animal what is being done to these people, and shooting a parent in front of a child is appalling. We must give this issue the urgent response required, which is to send out a message that this will not be tolerated. We should not close down rural Garda stations, take away vehicles and other resources or supply poor quality equipment. Many Garda stations do not even have e-mail facilities. It is time to give gardaí the tools of their trade and let them do their job, with the support of the public.

An Garda Síochána recently took part in a joint operation with the PSNI targeting prostitution on the island of Ireland. Europol assisted this operation through the deployment of analysts, who worked alongside the gardaí and PSNI. That is a positive aspect of Europol's work, and all the security agencies on this island must share information to stamp out this activity. I attended a very harrowing presentation in Buswell's Hotel last week and met a group of people who were forced to work in the sex trade. There is an appalling misery visited on such people, so we should introduce legislation to deal with the activity. I wish the Minister well in this respect and promise to support that required legislation.

I compliment the victims who have escaped the trade, and they were helped by an organisation the name of which eludes me. The people are making a good recovery and, most important, are willing to tell their horrific stories. It would shock us all, and has certainly shocked me, to learn how vast is the trade and the type of extortion and criminality involved. A large amount of money is made by shoddy businessmen - they are gangsters - in activity that is all under the table. There is no such thing as records or income tax but the trade is shameful and visits misery on people. I am delighted that Europol could assist both An Garda Síochána and the PSNI, and I look forward to a further strengthening of those ties.

In 2011, Ireland assisted Europol in the provision of intelligence and information in mobile organised crime gangs. Most crime gangs are now highly mobile and involved in organised activities, including the theft of rhino horn throughout continental Europe. Work continues, with ongoing intelligence exchanges between Ireland and other member states with regard to the gang in question, which is also involved in crimes such as burglaries, aggravated robberies, fraud, money laundering and drug trafficking. It is a lucrative business and the gangs know they can get away with it. That is why we must provide resources for the Garda Síochána and play our part as a European state in assisting in any possible way. The public must have confidence in us and know local gardaí and liaison officers.

Data protection is also very important. The Minister noted that data under the Act is subject to the provisions and protection of the data protection Acts, which is crucial. All data obtained in confidence must be protected, and there is a very strong data protection regime in Europol. It is generally highly regarded, most recently in a 2012 report following evaluation of the implementation of a Council decision. This is important because people must be assured that data is protected if they are feeding it in. The days of the informer label having horrible connotations when we were under British rule are long gone.

It is in the interest of all our families and futures to help the Garda Síochána and Europol in dealing with crime on an ongoing basis. There must be confidence that we will be able to support and be at ease when dealing with An Garda Síochána. The security agencies must also play their part, which they do. Nevertheless, it can be frustrating for ordinary members of the Garda Síochána, us as politicians and the public when we hear a Minister argue there is no issue or concerns about crime when rank and file gardaí are saying the opposite to me. The Minister must accept what he gets from the Garda Commissioner, who contends that everything is hunky dory and there are enough resources to deal with any issues. Clearly that is not the case, and we could never have enough resources to deal with these kinds of heinous organised crimes. We must listen and respond to any needs. In my own county there is a highly visible rapid response unit. Although there may be only one or two people there, they are quick to action and ready to deal with all kinds of crime. I compliment them on this backup to the ordinary unarmed civil police force personnel.

I am pleased to have had the chance to contribute to the debate on this Bill. I wish it speedy passage through the House. We can never co-operate enough in trying to ensure that gangsters and highly organised criminals are taken on. There must be law and order. The Judiciary must insist that when criminals are charged and found guilty by jury or otherwise, the punishment must be severe. The criminals should not be able to continue money laundering or drug trafficking from within the prison system and such activity must be stamped out as well. We should consider more restorative justice schemes like the one in Nenagh in Tipperary, along with community service. It costs too much to have people in prison and a deterrent is lacking. We should be more imaginative in dealing with the issues.

I wish to share time with Deputy Seán Kyne.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to the Bill. This legislation will ensure that Europol becomes part of the EU institutional framework and it is a timely and sensible measure. Europol assists EU member states in fighting serious international crime, including terrorism, international drug trafficking, money laundering, organised fraud, counterfeiting, human trafficking and cybercrime. The fact that Europol does not have the powers of a national police force is one of its strengths; it relies on facilitating the exchange of information between member states and co-ordinating cross-jurisdictional operations. Rather than posing a threat for European citizens, it simply facilitates members to compile the best possible information in the fight against crime. Although Europol cannot arrest people or conduct home searches, it has proved a particularly effective weapon and has been responsible for the arrest of thousands of dangerous criminals and the recovery of millions of euro in criminal proceeds. The trafficking of children for sexual exploitation is something that Europol has been particularly effective in combating but a significant task remains in this respect to ensure that children within the borders of Europe remain safe from traffickers.

Globalisation has become an aspect of everyday life and it is so embedded in our lives that it is hard to comprehend that Europol or the European Police was first referenced just 20 years ago and came into force just 14 years ago. The abolition of internal borders between member states in the late 1990s necessitated the creation of Interpol as it was easier for criminals to move from one state to another.

As time moved on, so too did science and this Bill gives greater clarity on the use of data, particularly regarding DNA profiles, which is a very welcome development.

Many people, when considering the activities of Interpol, will see it as an agency that can help safeguard Irish people from unscrupulous criminals elsewhere in Europe, but in fact Europol has been busy in recent years focusing on the activities of a number of Irish gangs involved in drugs, robbery and other forms of illegal activity across Europe. In the past year Europol and the Garda have been working to counteract the actions of an organised crime gang from Ireland involved in the theft of rhino horns. The gang has been responsible for thefts from antique dealers, galleries, museums and zoos and their activities led to the Natural History Museum withdrawing rhino horns from display in March 2012. Two years ago a bunker near Borris-in-Ossory was found to contain an elaborate counterfeiting set-up involved in the printing of euro, pounds and dollars, while Operation Shovel focused on a violent gang of Irish-based criminals involved in the trafficking of drugs and weapons. Meanwhile, the activities of Interpol have also resulted in the identification of cigarette smuggling operations, the identification of Vietnamese groups cultivating cannabis on a large scale and the disrupting of the activities of a Lithuanian organised crime gang involved in theft and robberies. In the past ten years, the number of staff employed by Europol has more than doubled, now standing at 777, with just 18 of those staff members being Irish.

I particularly welcome the provision in the current Bill that removes the need for an organised criminal structure to be involved before Europol can act and instead it now suffices that the crime is listed in an annex, which includes such crime as drug trafficking, terrorism, money laundering, murder and kidnapping.

The availability of high-speed Internet throughout Europe has certainly made the Internet more attractive for consumers, but unfortunately it has also made it more attractive for criminals and the ability of Europol to deal with Internet-related fraud and crime in general will have to be enhanced in coming years as the criminals become ever more sophisticated in the methods they are employing.

The sharing of information between various jurisdictions is vital in the fight against international crime, but I welcome the fact that the Data Protection Commissioner is designated in Ireland as the supervisory body under the Bill and I have every confidence that the commissioner will ensure that Irish citizens are safeguarded from any exploitation of the information collected or collated by Interpol.

The Bill seeks to improve the effectiveness and co-operation of law enforcement authorities in member states across Europe to prevent serious crime. It builds on the Europol Act 1997, taking cognisance of advancements in various areas in the intervening years and updating the Bill as necessary to ensure the work of Interpol is properly represented on the Irish Statute Book.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I also welcome the Minister. The area of judicial and policing matters has always been one of the more contentious issues in the development of the European Union. This can be seen by the arrangement under the Maastricht treaty of a separate pillar for social policy areas and the retention in many areas of the unanimity requirement for decision making. While the configuration changes somewhat under the Lisbon treaty, a number of countries, including Ireland and the UK, have secured opt-outs. For example, neither Ireland nor the UK is a signatory to the Schengen Agreement which removed the internal borders within the Union for the purposes of movement or travel, be it for business or leisure. Our decision to remain outside is perhaps more of a consequence of our geographical location as an island which has of course shaped our history.

For the purposes of crime prevention, however, it would imprudent and unwise for us not to be involved. The various Acts establishing Europol are an indication of closer and mutually beneficial co-operation between the member states of the European Union. This Bill will give effect to the 2009 Europe Council decision. This decision has a number of objectives, notably it will transform Europol from being a separate international institution to one which is at the heart of the European Union, consolidating its role as the European law enforcement agency.

Although the Bill is largely technical, it is necessary to build upon the positive objectives of the Council's decision. With the move to create a single marketplace with free movement for goods, services, people and capital, barriers needed to be broken down. The result after many years of work and effort on the part of thousands of officials across the Union was double-edged. On the one hand the people of Europe enjoy new freedoms never thought possible by their forefathers but, on the other, criminal elements are able to exploit the unintended opportunities.

Crime is increasingly occurring across national borders and this requires greater co-operation between national police forces. If we are to combat criminal trafficking activity successfully, including terrorism, drug smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering and so forth, we need to work together and Europol is the answer. Europol effectively works to provide intelligence and expertise to national police forces in order that member states can act decisively and effectively on the ground. Before detractors and critics of the European project begin to comment on this, I should point out that this Bill has nothing to do with extending the powers of Europol so that it would work like a national police force such as the Garda Síochána. Europol is not like national police forces and I do not believe it is envisaged that it would be such.

Europol cannot make arrests or conduct searches and it can only act at the request of two or more member states. Furthermore, this Bill facilitates an Irish law, the Council decision to lower the threshold for Europol action from having factual information of organised criminal activities to the new threshold of serious criminal offences involving two or more member states. The Bill will see the continuation of Ireland's co-operation with Europol through the information exchanged between our national Europol unit and Garda HQ and Europol HQ at The Hague.

Law enforcement agencies of whatever type or scope, however, must also be subject to checks and balances and I welcome the feature of the Council decision to enhance the role of the European Parliament in the oversight of Europol. Section 14 of the explanatory memorandum confirms that the Data Protection Commissioner will be designated as the national supervisory body under the Bill and will be responsible for independent monitoring in accordance with national law of the management of personal data by the State. The Data Protection Commissioner will fulfil his role in accordance with various provisions of the Data Protection Act. Under sections 8 and 9 it is stated that the Europol information system is used to store personal information about people who are convicted or suspected of having committed a crime or in relation to whom it is suspected that they will commit a crime. That might create a certain degree of concern in that it might be a step too far in terms of under what circumstances or what level of proof information might be given across member states regarding an individual who has a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. I have a slight concern about those sections.

It is interesting to note that Europol will now be funded from the central EU budget rather than the existing method which is based on contributions from member states. Overall, I welcome the Bill and recognise the importance of co-operation among the member states of the European Union in judicial and policing matters.

I understand Deputy Conway is sharing time with Deputy Seán Kenny and I advise that they will not have the full time slot to make their contributions as we will have to move on to the next business.

I welcome the opportunity, however slim it might be, to contribute to the debate. As the Minister said, this Bill is largely technical in nature but it offers an opportunity to open up the discussion on some of the functions that will come under Europol and to learn a little more about what it does as, thankfully, it is not something we hear about in our everyday lives. That is because it is largely an intelligence sharing operation but intelligence sharing is becoming increasingly important in combating the crimes that have been outlined by previous speakers such as organised crime, drug dealing and in particular human trafficking.

I am a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and we are currently working on a cross-parliamentary basis on a report examining the area of human trafficking and have taken evidence in London and Wales and we will do so in Scotland and then in Dublin to gather information and collate the experiences of what the different parliaments are doing to try to counter the horrific crime of human trafficking that is becoming increasingly prevalent. The Minister might indulge me by reading that report when it is finally published.

I draw the attention of the House to a recently published report commissioned by UCC and the Children's Rights Alliance. It examines the problem of child trafficking in particular and the alarming increase in the number of such cases. The report shows that many children in the asylum process were disappearing before 2010 because they were living in hostels, but I am very glad to say that practice has now changed. Unaccompanied minors were entering the country and being placed in temporary accommodation such as hostels, often with little or no supervision.

These children arrived in the country at the weekend when no out-of-hours social work service was available. They were delivered to the hostel and then disappeared before someone was back on duty in the hostel the following Monday. There was a loophole in the system and the traffickers exploited children because of it. The children went missing and often were never found again. I am glad the HSE has changed its practices to ensure that does not happen and unaccompanied children for the most part are placed with foster families, which is only right and proper. According to figures released to me by the Minister's office, in 2010, there were 69 cases of alleged human trafficking involving 79 victims, the majority of whom were women. However, there were only five convictions, which is low. It is more alarming that, in 2011, six separated young people or unaccompanied minors who were seeking asylum were reported missing and they are still missing. Anything we can sign up in the context of Europol and sharing of information to combat such crimes would be significant and beneficial to the State, which wishes to ensure people are safe and well looked after.

Trafficking at all levels and of people of any age is a major problem but I am worried about the statistics relating to children disappearing from care and I am glad this has been highlighted in the new Children's Rights Alliance publication in conjunction with UCC. Given the low number of convictions, there is a risk of these children being exploited for pornographic purposes. These are the most horrific crimes imaginable.

Debate adjourned.