I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to present the Bill to the House. This important legislation will further advance the commitment on the part of the Government to addressing the position of all victims of the conflict in Northern Ireland and their families. Deputies will be aware that the 2015 Stormont House Agreement concluded on 23 December 2014, following 11 weeks of talks. As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade at the time, I was intimately involved in the negotiations and the agreement between the Irish and UK Governments with the parties in Northern Ireland on a range of measures to support political development there. Significantly, the Stormont House Agreement establishes a comprehensive framework for dealing with the corrosive legacy of the past in Northern Ireland. This framework includes an oral history archive, a dedicated historical investigations unit, which will investigate Troubles related deaths, and the independent commission on information retrieval, ICIR, to enable victims and survivors to seek and receive information about the death of their loved ones. The implementation phase, to fill out the detail and give effect to the agreement’s provisions on legacy, has been a complex exercise and is very much an ongoing project.
The Bill will address the legacy issue on two fronts. It will facilitate further co-operation by An Garda Síochána with coroners’ inquests in Northern Ireland in particular. What are in question are legacy inquests, which, in the main, take place in Northern Ireland and which will examine a number of Troubles related deaths for which there have not been previous prosecutions or convictions. Some such inquests will involve the coroners seeking co-operation from the Garda authorities, which will largely be in respect of paramilitaries involved in the incidents. Co-operation with the process of these inquests is self-evidently most important in the context of addressing the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This was and is an important issue to be addressed in the context of political development in Northern Ireland. While arrangements have been put in place to ensure that Garda records can be made available to the coroner carrying out the Kingsmill and Arlene Arkinson inquests, the coroner has indicated a desire to take testimony from Garda witnesses for the inquests but there is no existing legal mechanism to facilitate this.
The Bill will also create a new section in the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to allow the Garda Commissioner to enter into co-operation agreements with non-police and non-law enforcement bodies with the prior approval of the Government. This is an important element of giving effect to co-operation commitments under the Stormont House Agreement as it will underpin further co-operation with the historical investigations unit to be established in Northern Ireland, which will have certain reporting functions separate from its criminal investigation function. I envisage that it will also support co-operation with the ICIR, an Ireland-UK body to be set up under the Stormont House Agreement that will seek to make information on Troubles related deaths to victims’ families.
The Garda Acts provide a power for the Commissioner to enter into agreements with other police or law enforcement services and the Bill will expand that for non-police bodies that have functions relevant to the Garda. I have included a similar provision that will allow the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, to enter into co-operation agreements with similar police oversight authorities and law enforcement bodies. At present, GSOC has no such powers and the provisions of the Bill will facilitate co-operation agreements with, for example, the historical investigations unit and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. Such co-operation agreements will also require the prior approval of the Government. Aside from these provisions that will deliver on our commitments on the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Bill will make a number of technical amendments to existing legislation relating to international co-operation in the criminal justice area.
The Bill has ten sections. Section 1 contains the definitions for terms used in the Bill. Section 2 provides for the Minister for Justice and Equality to designate a UK coroner’s inquest, subject to conditions, for the purpose of application of the mechanism for the taking of evidence for the purposes of section 3.
Section 3 provides for a mechanism whereby the testimony of members of An Garda Síochána can be obtained by coroners in the UK conducting inquests into deaths caused by violence connected to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The section will have automatic application to inquests that investigate deaths which are the result of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. For other UK inquests examining deaths that are not directly Troubles related but where there may be a substantial connection to the State, the Minister of the day may designate that inquest under section 2. Examinations under section 3 shall be conducted by a High Court judge in accordance with the specified rules and will be on the basis of written questions provided in advance by the coroner. Examinations will take place in the presence of the coroner and the examining judge may direct such provisions that are necessary to protect the safety of witnesses.
Section 4 will make a technical amendment to section 20 of the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 to provide greater consistency in the 2003 Act with the relevant corresponding articles of Council framework decision of 13 June 2002 on the European arrest warrant and the surrender procedures between member states, for which the Act provides a legislative basis. This important amendment will address concerns expressed by the European Commission regarding the roles of the central authority and the High Court in arrest warrant proceedings.
Section 5 provides for a new section 28A to be inserted into the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to allow for the Garda Commissioner, on behalf of An Garda Síochána and with the prior consent of the Government, to enter into agreements with non-law enforcement bodies outside of the State. Such agreements may provide for general co-operation between the parties, including the exchange of information.
Section 6 provides for a technical amendment to section 51 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to remedy a potential defect identified by the Attorney General in respect of amendments made previously to section 51 by sections 91(a) and (b) of the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008 and section 35 of the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) (Amendment) Act 2015.
The provisions in question concern the assignment for service abroad of members of An Garda Síochána, including, in particular, to joint investigation teams in accordance with the 2002 EU Council framework decision on joint investigation teams.
Section 7 provides for a new section 81A to be inserted into the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to facilitate GSOC, with the prior consent of the Government, to enter into agreements with police oversight bodies and law enforcement agencies outside the State to exchange information consistent with the functions of GSOC under section 67 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The legislation relating to GSOC does not have an enabling provision that provides for the commission to exchange information with appropriate bodies outside the State. This new provision will address that deficit.
Section 8 provides for an amendment to section 107 of the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008. This is a technical amendment arising out of an incorrect reference in section 208 of the Data Protection Act 2018 that provides for an amendment to the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008. There is an incorrect cross-reference in section 208(d)(i), which amends section 107(2) and (3) of the Mutual Assistance Act. The cross-reference in subsection (3)(b) should be to "subsection (2)(b)", not "subsection (5)(b)".
Section 9 is a general provision relating to the expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of this Act being paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas and sanctioned by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Section 10 is the Short Title and commencement arrangements for the Act.
I inform the House at this stage that I will bring forward three minor amendments to the Bill on Committee stage. These are technical amendments to the Long Title of the Bill that will in no way change the substance of the legislation. Rather, they will simply modify the Long Title slightly to reflect accurately the Bill's provisions. I am bringing forward this legislation at short notice but it is essential, in light of the current political vacuum in Northern Ireland, that we continue and are seen to continue to make progress on these important matters. In that regard, I very much acknowledge the co-operation of Deputies, the Business Committee and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, which enabled this legislation to be taken tonight, or at least before the end of this Dáil term. The Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill 2019 is a clear statement of our continuing commitment to address these legacy issues in the interests of reconciliation on this island of Ireland. I commend it to the House.