Other Questions

Deputy McNamara is not present to ask Question No. 6.

Question No. 6 replied to with Written Answers.

Criminal Law Review

Clare Daly

Question:

7. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality to review the Interception of Postal Packages and Telecommunications Messages Act 1993 and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009 to protect the privacy and human rights of citizens. [3014/16]

This question relates to the previous one on foot of the Minister's decision to have a review of the 2011 Act regarding journalists' records. It obviously arose from the controversy and media backlash over GSOC accessing journalists' phone records, which was a little ironic given that some of the most vociferous objectors to the powers of surveillance for GSOC over the Garda are some of the quietest people with regard to the Garda exercising powers of surveillance. Nonetheless, it gives a very welcome opportunity to review the 2009 Act and the 1993 Act from the point of view of respecting the privacy of all citizens and not just journalists. While I know the Minister's plans in that regard, we should debate it further because it needs to be looked at.

As I have said, the 1993 legislation provides that an authorisation for interception may only be granted by ministerial warrant on application from the Garda Commissioner, the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces or the chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, and only for the purposes of the investigation of serious crime or protecting the security of the State as set out in the 1993 Act and in accordance with the relevant statutory provisions.

As I said in reply to Deputy Wallace, the 2009 Act clearly provides that authorisation must be by the District Court on application by a senior officer of the relevant bodies for the purposes prescribed under that Act.

These Acts were passed by the Oireachtas and it was agreed to have judicial oversight of their operation - that is in law. They report directly to the Taoiseach. There is a complaints referee, who is a judge of the Circuit Court. All of these judges take their roles very seriously and operate completely independently.

The powers we have given to the relevant bodies arise in the context of investigating serious crime, that is to say, offences that carry a penalty of five or more years in prison, or for safeguarding the security of the State by the Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces. I will not restate the point I made earlier about how important it is to have these tools available to the relevant bodies.

There is no question of widespread powers being used casually. The investigatory powers that are set out in law are circumscribed as to their use not only by the provisions of the relevant Acts, but also by the statutory limits on the powers in the legislation as regards each of the bodies.

Nobody suggests that every householder in Ireland is under surveillance or anything like that. It comes down to how serious crime is defined and what oversight is provided. What some people might deem to be a peaceful but robust protest, other people would deem to be kidnapping and so on. The problem is that we have weak monitoring and oversight of the surveillance powers that exist, which in itself emboldens rogue elements and facilitates bad practice. There is not judicial oversight in all circumstances. Senior gardaí can self-authorise where they claim it is an emergency.

On the judicial involvement, we have no records. We cannot say with certainty because the records and reports produced by the judges are very limited. Digital Rights Ireland has pointed out that one of the judges did a very thorough job but in general the reports are on one page and they repeat a standard formula - nothing to see here.

The provisions under the 1993 Act are even worse. The judge carries out a review of thousands of data records every year and completes that exercise in one day, visiting McKee Barracks, the Garda general headquarters in the Phoenix Park, the Department of Justice and Equality, and the Revenue. None of the reports has given any information on the number of requests and their purpose, as happens in the UK and even in the United States.

I have a detailed report before me on the review of the operation of the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act, which was presented to the Taoiseach by Mr. Justice Robert Eagar. That is available and I believe the Deputy has referenced it. It contains considerable detail. By its very nature, there will not be the level of detail because of particular issues relating to the serious crime that is being investigated. However, there must be limits on these powers, and I certainly agree with the Deputy that we need oversight and a balance between the competing rights. We must always be prepared to review and, if need be, either extend or restrict these powers.

It is important to keep the general law in this area under review. The former Attorney General and Supreme Court judge, Mr. Justice John Murray, is carrying out a review. With his vast experience in the European Courts, it will be interesting to examine what he reports about best practice. I certainly want to ensure we have best practice in this area. Clearly, these are essential tools that the Garda needs to address the challenges it faces. However, if there is a need for further oversight, that can be considered. We will have that report which will be important in guiding us regarding journalists, for whom there are particular issues such as protection of sources. There are always developments in law. If it comes across clearly that further oversight mechanisms are required, I am sure that will be examined in the coming months.

We already have that knowledge. The Government's human rights watchdog has stated that we need to review this. Internationally Ireland is out of kilter. The Minister has repeated that the information cannot be given for security reasons and so on. Even in Britain the report that is published runs to hundreds of pages and details the numbers of operations, the reasons for each operation and even catastrophic failures where mistakes were made. How can we learn if we do not have that information? Even in the United States, the NSA reports for Congress have that type of detail.

The exclusion of ordinary surveillance from any of these Acts needs to be looked at. Who monitors that people could be trailed or have their houses or cars watched? There is none of this and it only applies to devices. The privacy of citizens is really important. This was sparked by the privacy of journalists whose stories were actually invading the privacy of citizens, which is a separate issue. The privacy of people needs to be balanced and protected, but that is for everybody and not just journalists. I appeal to the Minister to include the other Acts and to extend it to the records of citizens and not just journalists.

The Deputy has made an important point about privacy. In this House in 2014 she asked me to carry out an inquiry into the leaking of information to the media regarding the Roma children. At that time she said, "the Minister could do some work about sources in An Garda Síochána leaking information to the media". She made that point quite strongly.

I agree with the Minister 100%.

She also said that GSOC should have the kinds of the powers I have said today are important. The Garda is under strong legal obligations under the 2005 Act regarding the privacy of individuals. Let us ensure that is also on the table. It is about a balance of interests, as she has said.

The Deputy said that Ireland is out of kilter with other countries. I have very clearly asked Mr. Justice Murray to examine the international situation.

One can see that we are not out of kilter when one looks at quite a number of countries. We saw what happened recently in France and Belgium. We do not have to go very far to see the type of powers the French must use. I do not want to exaggerate this because terrorism is one issue, and a very important issue, but clearly the French are in an emergency situation and have had to give very wide-ranging access powers to their police forces to deal with terrorism. This is a very clear example of where this tool is needed. There are incidents in Ireland of many forms of criminal activity where the Garda must act very quickly to access information to safeguard children and adults in dangerous situations. We need a balanced debate on this.

On Question No. 8, the Deputy is not present, so I call Deputy Niall Collins on Question No. 9.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

Sexual Offences Data

Niall Collins

Question:

9. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her response to the year-on-year increase in sexual offences; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3020/16]

Will the Minister comment on the year-on-year increase in sexual offences? There has been much high-profile reportage of sexual offences which occur throughout the country and in the capital. Will the Minister comment on this?

I observe that the recorded crime statistics published by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, for quarter 3 of 2015 show some encouraging trends across a number of crime categories. Everyone in the House will welcome the latest official figures which show a notable decrease of 47.4% in the number of murders recorded as well as reductions in other important crime categories such as robbery and weapons offences, which went down 9.1% and 7.3%, respectively. I wish to put this in context.

On the very important area of sexual offences which the Deputy raised, the CSO figures show 2,262 such offences were recorded in the 12-month period, which represents a 14.1% increase compared with the previous 12 months. As with many offence categories, we see considerable variations in crime statistics over years. For example, the highest number of sexual offences in this decade was in 2010, when the number was 2,366, but it is widely accepted there are particularly long-standing factors associated with the reporting of sexual offences. As a consequence, an increase of this nature may reflect, and I am sure the Deputy will accept this, greater willingness on the part of victims to report this type of crime as much or more than any underlying increase in victimisation. It is very important to make the point we live in a society where, one hopes, women and men are more likely to report this crime, get the support they need and ensure the perpetrator is brought to justice. This is one element.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill is very wide-ranging legislation which will extend the categories of criminal activity in this area to ensure more people are brought before the courts. I do not say what I have said in any way to underestimate the seriousness of this issue and how on guard we need to be. I published the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence last week which has many actions which must be implemented. We must do everything we can to work with the victims of crime and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The 14.1% increase in sexual offences is truly concerning. I am not pre-empting the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, which will come before the Dáil this week and which Fianna Fáil will support, but will the Bill finish its passage through the Oireachtas prior to the Dáil being dissolved, which we expect to happen next week? We should work collectively to try to achieve this. We are concerned about the removal of some provisions contained in the Bill to protect victims. These are on the supervision and monitoring of sex offenders after their release from prison. Why were these provisions removed from the Bill? Does the Minister accept there are major gaps in the protection of victims of sexual assault because there is an absence of a definition of consent in the Bill? Other jurisdictions, such as Canada and the UK, have a definition of consent. Will the Minister comment on this?

I would like to see the sexual offences legislation enacted. It has arrived to us rather late from the Seanad. The Deputy could propose cross-party agreement on the floor of the House. It would mean there would not be time for amendments from the Opposition if all Stages were taken tomorrow. There would need to be cross-party agreement on this. If it is the wish of the Opposition, I have no difficulty doing it, and I would certainly like to see the legislation enacted.

There are various views on consent. We have strong common law definitions. I have met people who have done detailed research on this who have strongly suggested it would be more protective to include it and we are examining it. We were planning separate legislation to deal with the points the Deputy made on the provisions of the Bill, but the new sexual offences legislation includes a new harassment order, which will be very helpful for victims of crime.

Deputy McEntee is not present so Deputy Boyd Barrett has the next question.

Question No. 10 replied to with Written Answers.

Refugee Data

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on the European Union-wide settlement programme for 160,000 refugees only delivering for 0.17%; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3040/16]

It is reported that of the 160,000 refugees the European Union has agreed to resettle, a pathetic 0.17% of them is all that have been taken, despite the quite vile hysteria whipped up by certain governments, most recently the French Government, about these desperate people fleeing the most desperate circumstances. In fact, Europe has done very little to implement even what it said it would do to resettle 160,000 people. Will the Minister confirm that fewer than 100 of the 2,500 this country was supposed to take in by the end of 2015 have come to the country? The figure I have heard is 32 and perhaps the Minister can give us the actual figure. When will we take our full complement of these desperate people who need our assistance?

To take up the phrase the Deputy used, that Europe has done very little, I attended the meeting of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers on Monday, and if the Deputy heard my Swedish, French, Belgian, Croatian and many other colleagues, he would not say this. I understand the perspective he is using to state it has to do with the relocation programme. The reason I state he would not say what he said, that Europe is not doing very much, is if he saw the hundreds of thousands of refugee migrants who are arriving in those countries which are all responding and providing facilities of varying types and trying to do their very best. In fact, the situation now is that it is very difficult for countries such as Austria and Sweden, to name just two, to take any more of the flow that is coming across the Balkans in particular. Those countries have tens of thousands of those people who have crossed the Mediterranean and who have come in through the Balkans. They are looking after them in their countries.

The point the Deputy made on the relocation programme is correct. Very small numbers - a couple of hundred - have been relocated to various European countries. The reason for this is the migrants who are arriving are not registering and there is not the capacity to force them to register in the various hotspots being set up for the relocation to start working effectively. This is because the migrants want to move to Germany and Sweden and this flow is continuing. We discussed this in detail. Ireland is ready and recently accepted the first Syrian family. It is not because we are putting up any barriers that people have not arrived. It is because of the situation I just described. We are ready.

We have had all the task force meetings. I had a meeting with all the church bodies just two weeks ago and they are all ready to help migrants, who in all likelihood will be assessed very quickly as refugees, as is the Red Cross, which co-ordinated the voluntary offers of help. The relocation mechanism depends on these hot spots working effectively and the migrants registering in them and understanding that relocation to different European countries is possible and that they do not have to continue their flight to Sweden and Germany, because that is often their choice.

I do not think comments such as those of the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, regarding the threat of destabilisation across Europe because of the refugees, in which he also said that Europe was incapable of taking this number of people, were very helpful. We have had other far-right-influenced comments and statements by certain leaders across Europe. Much of what was agreed at the European Council seems to be about stemming the flow of people getting into Europe and putting up Europe's borders rather than assisting people. There are thousands of people in these camps in harsh winter conditions. Forty people drowned last Friday, including kids, off the Greek islands. This is horrendous stuff.

I am not pointing fingers at the Minister, but it seems to me that the reason refugees are not going to certain countries, notably France and also Hungary, which has a particularly vile record, is that it is being made clear by certain European leaders that they are not welcome. These European leaders are essentially pandering to racism and xenophobia and creating hysteria when there should not be any. One point I like to make is that in the highest year of immigration into this country, during the boom period, more than 10,000 people came into Ireland in one year. Almost as many people came into this country in one year as Europe is planning to take in over the entire resettlement programme, and virtually nobody noticed.

To take up the Deputy's last point, if one attends the citizenship ceremonies, one can see that on any one occasion, 1,000 or 2,000 people are getting Irish citizenship. Of course, that arises from people following legal routes and being welcomed into Ireland and other countries. Well over 1 million people have now arrived in Europe from the various countries. One of the features of the current crisis, as it is developing, is that migrants are coming from many countries from which one would not necessarily expect refugees to come. We are now seeing a very wide range. It is not just people from Syria, which is understandable, but from a wide range range of other countries in north Africa, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan. That is a feature of the current flow.

There is concern about the flow that is coming into Europe and there is a wish to put structure on it. The relocation initiative was the attempt by the European Commission to begin to do that and to help migrants and refugees to understand that they did not have to go via smugglers - that there was a route for them to come safely into Europe. The vast majority of European countries are willing to help and have shown that they are willing to help, but it is a formidable challenge. This huge flow of humanity that is coming through the various routes presents enormous challenges. I believe we have to work with the countries of origin as well as with Turkey. There is a big debate about external borders and the threat to the Schengen area at present because of what is happening. I do not believe that would be in anyone's interest.

I do not know whether the Minister is familiar with the singer Manu Chao, but he has a song called "No Human Being is Illegal". That is the narrative we need to put out there. I do not even think terms like "flood" and "huge" are helpful. A very serious crisis has occurred in Syria, but the truth is that, because of the demographics of Europe and our ageing population, we need people to come in. Immigrants add, rather than subtracting, economically, socially, culturally and in every way. We have to be very forceful and robust in standing up to certain leaders and certain voices across Europe who are, frankly, misrepresenting in a racist, xenophobic manner and creating hysteria when none is required.

Of course there are logistical questions, but I fear some leaders are moving towards "fortress Europe" policies that are directed more at keeping people in Africa or the Middle East. How the hell are Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which are much poorer than most of the European countries, able to handle it? I am sure there are problems for them, but they manage. We have to be more generous, we have to change the narrative and we have to stand up to the racist voices, including some of the European leaders, who are not being helpful in this.

I agree with the Deputy regarding standing up to racist voices. However, I do not agree that there has been a "fortress Europe" response. I do not think that is accurate when one sees what is actually happening and the major initiatives and responses to the tens of thousands of refugees arriving into communities across European countries. We were not under any legal obligation to respond to the European request, but we did so immediately and have given a number of 4,000. We are certainly open to that.

I also take the Deputy's point regarding immigration. Peter Sutherland would say again and again in his role as UN representative on this that there is very strong evidence of the contribution immigrants make to economies and that it is a plus as opposed to a minus. Very often, the narrative, as the Deputy says, does not reflect that. It is very important that we have a balanced narrative in respect of the huge numbers we are seeing, but we do need legal routes and we need proper processes in place for all sorts of reasons. We need people to register and be fingerprinted and to be offered the kind of relocation that was the European Union's response to the crisis in the first instance.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.