I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to have this opportunity to introduce the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2014 to this House. The Bill was initiated in the Seanad and completed its passage through that House on 5 November last. I am glad to say that it received general, cross-party support there. There is no doubt that this is significant and timely legislation, particularly in view of the deplorable terrorist acts witnessed in Europe and beyond in recent times.
The Bill creates three new offences in relation to terrorist activity, builds on an existing body of Irish legislation on counter-terrorism and focuses on preparatory terrorist activities. The three new offences are public provocation to commit a terrorist offence; recruitment for terrorism; and training for terrorism. These new offences are particularly relevant to the nature of the current threat posed to Europe by international terrorism. There are many who, while playing no part in actual acts of terrorism, encourage others to do so. It is important to ensure that Ireland is not seen as a haven for such activities and that we have strong laws in place to deal with this threat.
This Bill shows the Government’s commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms. The scourge of terrorism is, unfortunately, more evident in the world than ever. I am sure that Deputies will appreciate the importance of tackling it at source so as to be able to deal, when necessary, with incitement, recruitment and training for terrorist activities. From a broader legal standpoint, the Bill has two main objectives. The first is to amend the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) (Amendment) Act 2005 to give effect to Council Framework Decision 2008/919/JHA, which amended Council Framework Decision 2002/475/JHA on combating terrorism. The framework decision is covered by the Lisbon treaty and is required to be transposed into Irish law. Second, the Bill will facilitate ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism which has already been signed by Ireland. Both the amending framework decision and the Council of Europe convention cover the three new offences in relation to terrorist activity which are prescribed in this Bill.
The Council of Europe is currently working on an additional protocol to the prevention of terrorism convention, which aims to focus on dealing with the “foreign terrorist fighters” phenomenon. The protocol will encompass key measures identified in UN Security Council Resolution 2178 adopted last September in relation to foreign terrorist fighters. The resolution places considerable emphasis on criminalising and facilitating the prosecution of recruitment and training for terrorism. The protocol being developed by the Council of Europe will have regard to the UN resolution with a view to ensuring a co-ordinated approach between the two international organisations. The need for any additional measures in this jurisdiction, legislative or otherwise, will be kept under review in light of developments internationally. Terrorism is a global phenomenon and the need for international co-ordination and co-operation in combating it is paramount.
Terrorism is a constant threat to the fundamental values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. There is considerable concern across Europe and elsewhere at the phenomenon of individuals travelling to conflict areas in the Middle East and the potential threat they may present on their return from conflict areas. The recent horrific events in France, Belgium and Denmark have illustrated the serious threat posed by violent extremists in a European context. The number of European foreign fighters is currently estimated to be in the region of 3,500 to 4,000, although some have put it at a much higher figure than that, and the current focus of attention is on the conflict zones in Syria and Iraq.
The compilation of accurate statistics on the numbers of actual foreign fighters is problematic due to the secretive nature of those travelling and the many and circuitous routes some individuals take to reach their destination of choice. The rise and popularity of Islamic State, ISIS, has greatly exacerbated the threat posed. It is estimated that 80% of European foreign fighters are aligned with ISIS. The events in France, Belgium and Denmark demonstrate the vulnerability of states to attack and highlight the challenges faced in countering terrorist attacks, even with sophisticated security and intelligence infrastructures.
These terrorist attacks have moved the issues of counter-terrorism and the security of the EU and its member states to the top of the EU agenda. The importance of having an internationally coherent and co-ordinated approach is essential. The terrorist threat is multidimensional and it is necessary to adopt a multifaceted approach in dealing with it. There are different aspects to terrorism and foreign fighters: some people engage in preparatory activities such as recruitment and training, while others are actually carrying out terrorist activities or engaging in foreign fighting, returning to their countries of origin in a radicalised state and encouraging others into extremist actions. In order to break this cycle of terrorism, it is important to deal with each of its component elements.
Strong, harmonised counter-terrorism legislation is one component. This Bill implements a shared EU legal instrument. Prevention is another element. Online radicalisation must be dealt with, in co-operation with Internet service providers. Those who would seek to destroy our democratic societies have not been slow to exploit the opportunities offered by modern means of communication. The role of the Internet in radicalising people has long been recognised. There is, unfortunately, no shortage of radical content online which encourages extreme forms of terrorism. While the Internet and social media platforms have revolutionised communications for the good, we must also be conscious of the opportunities they offer to those with a malign intent. The online images are often graphic and horrific and the messages that are conveyed often present distorted versions of the truth, not least in terms of how the Islamic faith is portrayed.
The use of counter-narrative has a key part to play in dealing with this, through the involvement of credible sources and voices in communities most at risk, in order to counter the extremist message. It is very important to promote the positive message at the expense of the negative. In an Irish context, the Islamic community has made particular efforts to convey the message of Islam as being one of tolerance and enlightenment. This is to be welcomed. A counter-narrative has been developed by the Islamic Educational and Cultural Centre which not only disputes the extremist version of Islamic teaching, but seeks to dissuade potential recruits from travelling to Syria. It is to the great credit of the Islamic community in Ireland that they have adopted this positive, proactive approach.
Experience indicates that a combination of community relations approaches and traditional security techniques offers the most effective means of minimising the terrorist threat. The Garda Síochána operates a progressive community relations programme through its racial, intercultural and diversity office. That office is in regular contact with our minority communities through its network of ethnic liaison officers and it is available to discuss all matters of concern to these communities, including those related to the conflict in the Middle East. The office has received favourable comment on its operation from the UN counter-terrorism committee. The work of this office is very important in breaking down any perceived cultural barriers between the State and its minority communities. It is often these barriers which cause a sense of marginalisation which the extremists are keen to prey upon. It could be said that the Garda approach to this issue is a form of counter-narrative in itself.
Disrupting the travel of those seeking to engage in or return from foreign fighting is another aspect requiring attention. Strengthening the security of our national and international borders is a key element in protecting our citizens from terrorist threats, particularly from radicalised individuals. This has been strongly emphasised by the UN Security Council. The tracking and early identification of terrorists will greatly assist in protecting our borders. Ireland has expressed its full support for an EU directive on passenger name records, known as the PNR directive. This will provide for the transmission of data by airlines to police and security authorities in respect of all flights in and out of the EU for the purposes of combatting terrorism and serious crime. The importance of this proposal has been stressed by a number of member states, including Ireland, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in France and the arrests in Belgium. It is clear that PNR data can be a tool of great value to police and security services in combatting serious crime and terrorism. Such data is currently shared by EU member states, including Ireland, with Australia, Canada and the United States. It would seem entirely logical, therefore, that EU member states should share this information among themselves within an EU framework. Under the proposed PNR directive, air carriers will be required to send the passenger name record data in their reservation systems to the competent authorities of the member state into which or from which it operates flights. This is data about passengers and their travel plans which the air carriers already collect and hold. Member states will share data with other member states where such sharing is necessary for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime. In addition, member states will have the right to request data from other member states in support of a specific investigation. The proposed directive contains clear safeguards for data protection and data security and will require member states to put in place specific measures in this regard. The European Parliament is currently considering the proposals, which I hope will be progressed in the near future.
It has been recognised by the European Council of justice Ministers that another area requiring priority action is trafficking in firearms. Fighting illicit firearms trafficking is one of the EU’s crime priorities for the period 2014 to 2017, as agreed under Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Preventive measures must be taken to make it more difficult for firearms to get into the hands of terrorists. The trading of firearms over the Internet needs to be adequately addressed and the traceability of firearms needs to be improved. Also, the rules across Europe for the deactivation of firearms vary greatly, which means that it is far easier than to reactivate those deactivated weapons in some member states than in others. It will be important, therefore, to aim at establishing high minimum standards in this regard across the EU. Engagement with third party states, most notably Turkey, which is the main gateway into the combat areas of Iraq and Syria, is also recognised at EU level as being of great importance. The EU has been active in persuading Turkey to engage on this front.
While the threat to Ireland from international terrorism is generally considered to be low, the Garda Síochána keeps the level of threat under continual review in light of ongoing developments, and continues to take all appropriate measures to counteract this threat. In this, the Garda Síochána has the full support of the Government, which is determined that all practical steps be taken to deal with any threat. Assessment of the threat level is based on a range of factors, including current intelligence, recent events and what is known about terrorist intentions and capabilities.
The Offences Against the State Acts and the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005, the latter which is updated by this Bill, contain offence provisions covering a broad range of terrorist and terrorist-related activities. The 2005 Act incriminates terrorist offences as a separate category of crime and contains lists of offences which, with the requisite intent, would constitute terrorist offences. Penalties for such offences are severe and, if sufficiently serious, include life imprisonment.
The financing of terrorism is already an offence under the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005. It is an offence for a person, either directly or indirectly, to collect, receive or provide funds knowing or intending that they be used for terrorism. The penalty where a person is convicted of such an offence is imprisonment for up to 20 years, an unlimited fine, or both.
The legislation before the House will enable Ireland to further fulfil its international commitments in the area of counter-terrorism and to stand united with our European colleagues, and with democratic nations across the globe, in combatting terrorist crimes and protecting innocent citizens everywhere. Those who would threaten the lives of ordinary people by engaging in acts of terrorism, whether on this island or elsewhere - we have had our own experiences - must be brought to justice and know that the international community will not tolerate their activity and will take all possible action to prevent and punish it.
As I have said, there are three main elements to the Bill and it creates three new offences. The first is public provocation to commit a terrorist offence. The Bill sets out a description of what that means. The second is the offence of recruitment; again, there is a description of this in the Bill. The last offence is training for terrorism. This is committed where a person provides instruction or training in the skills of making or using firearms or explosives, nuclear material, biological, chemical or prohibited weapons or other such weapons or noxious or hazardous substances as may be prescribed, knowing that the skills provided are intended to be used for the purpose of terrorist activity. This offence also covers training in techniques or methods for use in terrorist activity. A person convicted of this offence is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine or imprisonment for up to ten years or both.
There are a number of standard provisions in the Bill, all of which allow us to comply with the European directive. This is important legislation at this time and it is important that the Government is in a position to bring it forward. I appeal for the support of Deputies across the House for this Bill.