I am speaking slightly sooner than I expected. I am sharing time with Deputy O'Connor. If he arrives in the next few minutes, I will make way. We have three and a half minutes each, if that is okay.
Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage (Resumed)
That is fine.
I welcome this legislation. I listened with great intensity to the remarks made yesterday by the Minister regarding this Bill and the importance of Ireland bringing this legislation into being in the context of the transposition of the EU's fifth anti-money laundering directive. It is a shame that there were delays in transposing the fourth directive, but we can remedy that. The importance of this legislation defines where the State stands in the context of tackling organised crime and international terrorism. Unfortunately, we have a sad history in this State of dealing with terrorism and that threat has not gone away.
Looking at what this legislation provides for and allows to be done, the important thing is to cut off finance from organised crime and terrorism, not just in this State but across the EU and beyond. Many threats are posed to the State by Brexit, but the one thing we must retain is a close working relationship between the police authorities in this jurisdiction and their colleagues in Northern Ireland and across the UK. The extremely successful work done on a European level must also be continued.
In recent months, great success has been achieved by members of An Garda Síochána, working with European colleagues, to smash an online scam, worth more than €24 million, which was operating out of Ireland. We have seen the EncroChat used by Europe's most notorious gangsters, some of whom are Irish passport holders, broken up by a dedicated effort, led by Europol, but including a contribution by members of An Garda Síochána working here and in Europol's head office.
One thing we must look at in the context of this directive is modernising the Garda Síochána's legislative tool base for addressing organised crime and the money that goes into funding it. The legislation before us will make it possible to target anonymous prepaid bank cards, existing luxury properties, virtual currencies and the high-end art trade. It will also allow us to ensure due diligence is carried out before business relationships are entered into. All of this will help to combat money-laundering activities in Ireland and allow us to work with police authorities and governments across the EU to ensure that there are benefits throughout the Union as well.
This legislation will also allow us to look at who is targeted. We all know the absolute misery poured onto the streets of the capital city and everywhere else in the country by organised criminal groups such as the Kinahan cartel. Such groups are able to move money seamlessly from bases in Dublin to Spain, the Netherlands and England. There has been such good work done in bringing so many members of that cartel to book and ensuring that they answer for the crimes they have committed in this State and across the EU. I have referred to the misery they have caused to so many families through debt, destruction and murder and, more importantly, through the vicious drugs they pump onto our streets.
We must also look to target terrorist groups. Even in recent weeks, nine members of the New IRA army council were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in Northern Ireland because of the work of and co-operation between the authorities in this jurisdiction and their colleagues in Northern Ireland. It is that kind of work, those sentences and ensuring that the funds that pay for terrorist atrocities and associated manoeuvres are restricted that are important.
I welcome this legislation. I appreciate the way it is being expedited and the manner in which the Minister of State and his colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy McEntee, are taking account of the serious nature of what is at stake. I implore the entire House, when we support this legislation, to look at what it is about and recognise that money laundering is an active threat.
I apologise for being late. We were in the middle of a meeting of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party.
I welcome this Bill, which drives home the need for transparency when it comes to the ever-changing world of money laundering and terrorist financing. The fifth anti-money laundering directive, which the Bill transposes into Irish law, is very important. In the wake of terrorist attacks and the revelations resulting from the publication of the Panama Papers in 2016, it was understood that it was necessary for several measures to be put in place to increase the level of financial transparency and ensure that our legislation keeps pace with the technological changes in our world. We must not be seen to be asleep at the wheel in this regard. Politicians are too often seen as being behind the curve of societal change and are too often accused that the legislation they pass does not reflect reality. I am, therefore, thrilled to see the Government acting on this issue.
I will highlight two aspects of this Bill, namely, the need for co-ordination among financial intelligence units across the EU and the need to adapt our anti-money laundering practices to changing patterns in consumer behaviour. I refer to the prevention of risks associated with the use of virtual currencies for terrorist financing and limiting the use of prepaid cards. These actions are of the utmost importance to our economy. While prepaid cards provided by Apple and Google may seem like a nice gift, we must think about the more sinister uses of such cards.
While the days of physical shopfronts are still with us, we must recognise the changing nature of customer spending patterns and adjust our legislation accordingly. Given the popularity of prepaid cards, and the anonymous nature of many of them, fraud experts are increasingly concerned about the potential for abuse, from petty scams to that of money laundering by drug lords and terrorists. The global prepaid market is anticipated to reach €3.5 trillion in value by 2022, and there is no sign of this trend stopping. Lowering the value limits for carrying out simplified due diligence on e-money instruments is key, and the new limit of €150 is very welcome in this regard.
Co-ordination is key and this Bill will enhance the powers of EU financial intelligence units and facilitate increasing transparency regarding who really owns companies and trusts by establishing beneficial ownership registers. It is critical to ensure that the relevant unit in An Garda Síochána has the necessary resources and skills to not only track transactions within the country, but to co-ordinate successfully with our EU partners.
The reforms of the beneficial ownership register for legal entities such as companies will enhance public scrutiny and contribute to preventing the misuse of legal entities for money laundering and terrorist financing purposes. The national registers of beneficial ownership information will be interconnected directly to facilitate co-operation and exchange of information between member states. Improvements will be put in place to ensure that the verification mechanisms of beneficial ownership information collected by the registers is accurate and reliable across those registers. It is said that information is power, so ensuring a transparent set-up with easily accessible information across member states is going to be extremely important.
It is incredibly important that this fifth EU anti-money laundering directive is transposed into law. We cannot leave inconsistencies and weaknesses open for criminals because criminality is constantly evolving and we need to ensure that our capacity to fight it also evolves. In the past while, there have been cases of online fraud and new revenue streams for criminals. We must ensure that banks and our legal and policing frameworks are able to deal with this.
The football field rave that we saw recently shows the epidemic level of the drugs scourge, leaving aside the breaches of pandemic restrictions and those difficulties. We must deal with the wanton criminality and drug dealing. This is one of the ultimate cash businesses that still remains. We need to ensure that we have forensic computing and accounting capacity and that all legal loopholes are closed. I have a particular difficulty with the fact that the national drugs strategy falls under a junior Ministry in the Department of Health. To a degree, I think we need a whole-of-Government response to the wider problem of drugs, including addiction services and so on, but also dealing with criminal gangs. That response is vital and we need the teeth and capacity to deal with them.
I am glad when we see actions on the part of the Criminal Assets Bureau because even when that is at a localised level, it has an incredible impact. I want to quickly go through some recent news stories. The Dundalk Democrat, on 18 September, reported:
The Criminal Assets Bureau conducted a search operation in County Louth this morning.
Four residential addresses were searched during the course of the operation conducted by Criminal Assets Bureau personnel assisted by the Emergency Response Unit, the Regional Armed Response Unit, Louth Divisional personnel and the Customs Dog Unit.
During the course of this morning's search, €57,507 was frozen in two bank accounts and €4,770 in cash was seized. 30,000 in cash, believed to be the proceeds of crime, had already been seized as part of this ongoing investigation prior to this morning's search operation.
This type of operation is vital and teaches a lesson to criminals. We need more of it to happen. People were arrested after the seizure of €245,000 worth of cocaine at Dublin Airport. That shows the size of the problem.
We have also talked about money mules. This Monday, the Evening Herald reported:
A young criminal involved in the deadly Drogheda feud is one of 32 people who have been arrested for being so-called money mules.
The detective superintendent who was leading Operation Ransom is reported to have said:
It's an easy crime for gardaí to solve because the mules use their own personal bank accounts.
There's a potential conviction for people under the money laundering and terrorism financing legislation and it carries a huge prison sentence.
The article also states, "Money mules can face a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison." We need to get that message out to people, ensure that all these lessons are learned and that the State has the capacity to deal with all these new problems.
The Social Democrats are supporting this Bill in principle because it is obviously important. There is a historical context to the Bill and its predecessor, and it is important that we draw attention to this. There was delay on the part of the State in implementing the fourth anti-money laundering directive and that had a consequence. Ireland was fined €2 million, but it was also significant that we delayed. Ireland and Romania were the last two countries in the EU to transpose the directive. Both nations were responsible for EU law not being ensured at all times. The State's failure was described at the time as posing a risk to the integrity of the functioning of the EU financial system, making it vulnerable to money laundering and terrorist financing and affecting investors and citizens. It is vital that we act expeditiously to close compliance gaps. We must make sure there is no delay. Much of what happens in this area is reactive anyway and that is all the more reason to make sure that we act promptly.
Moving to consider the Bill, the law is, in many instances, playing catch-up with criminality and terrorist financing. The movement of money is not now solely restricted to concealing or redirecting hard cash but is much more sophisticated and we must, in many ways, try to get as far ahead of it as possible. Cryptocurrency is something that many of us will never come into contact with but it is fair to be rightly sceptical of it. It is an intangible form of currency but has a high value to a certain cohort of people. The proposed legislation seeks to put regulation on cryptocurrency. This is a welcome step. Why should cryptocurrency be subject to a lower standard of checks and balances than any other recognised currency or item of value?
Beneficial ownership of companies is another important element. The Social Democrats have, since our foundation, advocated for allowing free and open access to searches on the Company Registration Office, the Land Registry and the Central Register of Beneficial Ownership of Companies. In mid-2019, I asked the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, about the State's obligation under the fifth anti-money laundering directive to establish such a register by January 2020. The central register was to be operated by the Company Registration Office and was scheduled to begin accepting filings from 22 June 2019. When I asked, I was informed that details were not available regarding the number of beneficial owners that had been identified at that stage, or the number that would ultimately be identified. That was in mid-2019. Can the Minister update the House on those points if he has not already done so?
There are things that have cropped up over time. For example, I have tabled parliamentary questions about the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009, as it relates to cases which might be taken, because some people would be obviously excluded from ownership or purchase of assets under section 172(3). I asked that question in February 2019 and only two cases had arisen in the ten-year period since the legislation was enacted. One was closed without any prosecution and the other had gone to the Garda. The Committee of Public Accounts dealt with the matter and there was a gap in the definition of "beneficial owner". That is the kind of thing that we need to be able to see readily. If I remember rightly, a director of a company was not necessarily the owner and was not precluded under the definition in the Act. We need to be able to see the information for there to be adequate scrutiny. That is an example of a real case, rather than talking about these matters academically.
Money mules have been referred to and on Monday night, RTÉ and Virgin Media reported on figures from Banking and Payments Federation Ireland suggesting that more than €12 million had been channelled through Irish bank accounts as part of a complex scam that, essentially, targeted young people. Those young people were perhaps naive and did not understand the consequences and impact of their participation in those transactions. So far in 2020, there have been approximately 1,000 instances of money mule transactions, totalling some €12 million, and 98% of the bank accounts involved are linked to people between the ages of 18 and 24. The survey was useful, in that it showed that people were using their own bank accounts, as has already been referred to. The Garda finds that easy to detect because those involved are in plain sight. Those people are acting as money mules, and we do not want young people to have their lives destroyed by having criminal convictions.
It was very useful that there was media attention on that.
I want to deviate slightly to raise the matter of Wirecard, a German financial services provider and payments processor that collapsed in June after revealing that almost €2 billion previously reported as cash did not exist. The debate we are having today is focused on holding financial institutions to account and protecting customers from being used for criminal gain or being scammed outright. I mention Wirecard in the context of the hugely popular and convenient services that Revolut offers, including contactless payments, bill splitting and instant electronic fund transfers. A lot of people find it very useful and more and more people are using it. Revolut is authorised by in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority under the electronic money regulations 2011 and is passporting its services into Ireland on a freedom of services basis. Can the Minister of State provide some clarity on the way this arrangement will work post Brexit? It is not immediately clear what will happen. It may well have been taken care of in legislation already. We are due to deal with some legislation in the context of Brexit in the near future. If it is not dealt with in that, the Minister might deal with it in another way.
Section 5 of the Bill relates to the services I have referenced and attempts to amend section 33 of the 2010 Act. It is described as a technical amendment. I want to tease out something regarding the diligence of the prescribed person. Section 5 (a)(ii) proposes the inclusion of the words "at any time where the designated person is obliged by virtue of any enactment or rule of law, including the European Union (Administrative Cooperation in the Field of Taxation) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 549 of 2012), to contact a customer for the purposes of reviewing any relevant information relating to the beneficial owner connected with the customer" in the 2010 Act. The amendments continue in that manner through the sub-paragraph. It appears that many things are being taken at face value. Uploaded photographs of identification are accepted to open accounts. The onus rests on the designated person's own risk-based approach. Will the Act be prescriptive in regard to the types of documentation that can be used to verify accounts? To my knowledge, it is not that obvious at the moment. It may be just a detail, but it may cause some problems if that is not properly defined.
I want to ask about a regulatory impact assessment. We are required to transpose this directive into law and it is only right and proper that we do that, but doing that has to mean something. A regulatory impact assessment would, for example, give us some understanding of how that would impact on the enforcement of what we are putting into law and whether we have sufficient means of enforcement or upskilling of the people who are required to enforce this piece of legislation.
When the Minister of State is wrapping up, he might come back to the question of what additional resources have been or will be put in place. He might outline what those requirements are understood to be and how they were considered. We often pass legislation and it is in place in theory, but this needs to work in practice. For that to happen, the legislation cannot just be policy or law. Something further is required to make sure the law is there in a meaningful way. It must not just be on the Statute Book; we need to ensure it can be properly enforced.
Deputy Mattie McGrath looks very at home in the Ceann Comhairle's chair. It is good to see him there.
It is a pleasure and an honour to greet Deputy Browne as Minister of State. I am delighted he is sitting in the front benches of Government to lead proceedings. I wholeheartedly support this important Bill. It strengthens and offers protection against money laundering. The Bill gives effect to the criminal justice provisions of the fifth EU money laundering directive and deals with new forms of money laundering, including virtual currencies.
I note that the Irish State was recently fined €2 million by the European Court of Justice for not transposing the fourth EU directive. It is vital that we pass this Bill without too much delay so that we do not expose the State to further financial penalties.
Earlier this week, An Garda Síochána gave a very timely warning that money laundering is alive and well in Ireland. We have long known about drug mules, but we now have a new phraseology around money mules, many of whom are very young people, including teenagers, who are very vulnerable and are laundering virtual currency for major criminals. There is a need to beef up the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, section of An Garda Síochána. It is an important arm of the Garda and is helping to take down large criminal gangs and strip them of their ill-gotten wealth. About four years ago during the tenure of the then Minister, Frances Fitzgerald MEP, the term "mini-CAB" was bandied about. This became a second tier of CAB and targeted smaller criminals operating at a more local level. Its work is excellent, but more can and should be done. Of course, this will require the Department of Justice and Equality to better resource CAB.
There is one in every village and housing estate in Ireland. We all know the guy who has no visible source of income, but lives a very impressive and lavish lifestyle in a luxury house, with several foreign holidays a year and a brand new fancy car. He lives way beyond his means. The neighbours whisper about him. They describe cars pulling up late at night, a revolving door of visitors and small packages passed through hands. His lifestyle and actions need to be investigated. CAB must have the capacity to delve deeper into this guy's lifestyle and, more importantly, his source of income. We owe it to the very decent people of Ireland to take down the village drug dealer, that is, the guy who operates in our local housing estates and villages.
We have an unprecedented number of people in every county vying for social housing for their families. Some of these people have been on housing waiting lists for upwards of ten years. The wait and uncertainty that brings is very cruel and every housing applicant understandably believes his or her circumstances carry a higher need than others. For as long as I can remember, housing applicants have been Garda vetted. The process takes time and can be very frustrating, but it is an essential component in knowing more about an individual and family who is moving into an area, and knowing that they are of good standing and not engaged in criminality. It offers a lot of comfort and reassurance to the existing tenants of the council.
At some point, we need to consider some form of retrospective Garda vetting. An individual may get the keys to a house on the basis of having an unblemished record, but what if he or she turns to criminality such as dealing drugs in an estate or becoming a loan shark in a community of vulnerable families? If a person goes down this route, he or she has in a way nullified and obliterated the clean record he or she once had. Such a person's entitlement to housing should be reviewed. In many cases, such people should be made to hand back their keys. Why should a criminal hold on to his or her council house and deny a decent family the right to a home? Why should a criminal be allowed to hold residency on a nice street? His or her presence on a nice street is malignant. Getting more kids hooked on drugs is his or her business model. Such people should be evicted and left to their own devices.
As we progress through the decade of centenaries, it is vital that the Government considers fully outlawing the wearing of paramilitary uniforms by dissidents on our streets. Our country has one Army and one Army only. It wears the national uniform of our Defence Forces with pride and dignity. The men and women who wear sunglasses, black berets, green jumpers and combat boots on our streets dishonour our Permanent Defence Force.
They dishonour people like Lyra McKee and the many people who have been victims of republican paramilitarism. I hope the legislation progresses without any delay and that the Minister of State and his departmental staff will also look at the other mechanisms required to dismantle criminality further and to stand up for the decent people of Ireland.
I welcome this opportunity to speak on this Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing) (Amendment) Bill 2020. At the outset I will speak in plain English. There has been much debate on this tonight. I want to speak to the people outside of this House and explain to them exactly what this Bill is about. We welcome it. This Bill is about safeguarding the financial transactions to and from high-risk third countries and sets new limits for the use of anonymous prepaid cards, which obviously is an no-brainer. We are aware that there are many prepaid cards and there is no control over them.
Money laundering was mentioned. Anything that sorts, quells and crushes it has to be welcomed. Bringing new and existing bodies under the existing legislation will enhance due diligence and improve the banking system. I want to emphasise the responsibilities of our banks and financial institutions in protecting all of our money as they also have a duty of care. I welcome the stringent measures and the tightening of the security in that.
I welcome the provision on the issuing of ministerial guidance regarding prominent public functions in respect of politically exposed persons. Many people are exposed and are in the public domain and there is a threat there. We are talking here about the ring-fencing of security for people.
Another matter mentioned, which was also mentioned on the “Morning Ireland” programme on Monday and which is one of the main points I wish to raise on this legislation, is money mules, because some people, more so parents, may not be aware of this. From the information that we have received, more than €1.6 million has been scammed out of Irish accounts alone. It is not that we have mules who are operating for illegal organisations but our own citizens are being scammed out of money. I want to flag up with the banks again that they have an onus and a duty to keep an eye on these matters. I also want to flag up for parents to keep an eye on their own children’s accounts because the implications of this could be life changing. Unfortunately, when young people think that there is a quick buck to be made, it sounds and actually is too good to be true. It is true to say that that money is being laundered and these young people must remember that this is for criminal activity. It involves sex trafficking, prostitution, drug money and all other sorts of illegal activity. If parents allow their children to be involved in that, they are going to be in deep trouble.
I welcome the Bill and I look forward to it moving on to the next Stage when it will come back for discussion. I commend the Government on bringing it forward.
We would all agree that we need to create an environment that is aggressive in tackling those who would scam, cheat and con Irish people. Many of us who are active in our communities will be aware of the amount of drug intimidation that is going on, and it is happening daily in many communities throughout the State. What normally happens is that it normally involves vulnerable people, or maybe their sons or grandchildren, who are possibly on the edge of criminality and are involved in drugs or whatever else. I have heard cases of people having to sell their homes as a result of that. It is the nature of how the drugs scene has changed. The nature of the global and technologically advanced world in which we live in is that criminals are becoming increasingly advanced and sophisticated in their tactics for moving and hiding their money. We must rise to meet that challenge by staying one step ahead of them in our laws and approach. Everybody would agree that we need to resource properly those who are tackling this. People will mention in this debate the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, and the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, and that we would allow them to be proactive in their fight against these gangs.
One of the criticisms that many people have, particularly in the drugs task forces, and which has been echoed many times down the years to various Ministers with responsibility for justice is that CAB needs to start focusing on those who are in the middle management and who are torturing communities. We hear of the Kinahans and of the other big drug barons and so on. What people want to see is those who have no visible means of income, who are displaying their wealth every day, who do not work and have never worked a day in their life but yet are buying up businesses, restaurants, garages and many companies in our communities. Businesses are being bought and run in many of our communities by gangs, both Irish and international. We probably have people going into many of these companies completely unaware that they are facilitating the laundering of the illegal proceeds of drugs.
What do we need to be doing? We need to be doing things differently. We need to allow the Garda to identify and shut down these businesses and to seize the assets and money which fund further illegal activity. We need to be much more strident and reactive in respect of those funds that are recovered as these need to be reinvested back in the communities which are affected by the daily use of drugs supplied by the drug barons. We must act much more quickly.
I will give an example of this. There has been a house in my constituency where it was supposed to have been repossessed by CAB. The person in question was involved in criminality all his life and is now dead. The house was supposed to have been repossessed by the State. This has been going on for years and at the same time people have to live beside this house which has no electricity. Generators are going day and night in the place. It is decent people who are living alongside this. We need to be much more proactive and act more quickly in this.
Other people have mentioned the mules and so on but I stress that we must do more to keep these criminals in check to counter their increasingly advanced tactics before they dominate more communities and ruin more lives.
To begin, I wish to extend my very best wishes to the Minister of State and his family on his recent appointment in the Department of Justice and Equality. Law and order are significant priorities for me and my constituents and I very much look forward to engaging with him over the coming years in that regard.
From the outset I am very happy with the legislation that is before us. It is long overdue and I will certainly support its passage through the Dáil. I have seven points to make which I will try to keep as brief as possible so that others can get to speak. My first point is the only negative one I have which is on the delay. I know that it has been mentioned before but it is a pity that it has taken so long to get this legislation to the floor of the Dáil. I totally accept that the Minister of State has just recently assumed his role, so this is not a slight against him in any shape or form, but it does reflect very poorly on the country and unnecessarily damages our international reputation. The European Union was quite decent with us and gave us plenty of time to enact this legislation, and it is a pity that we are now eight months behind its enactment timeline.
A central component of this legislation is the deterrent factor. We should ask ourselves how many crimes have been committed in the past eight months that were not deterred. How many of the crimes that were committed in the past eight months cannot now be penalised because we cannot apply the law retrospectively? I fully agree that there is collective Cabinet responsibility and it is up to the Government to drive the legislative programme, but I am also of the view that there is a collective responsibility on all Deputies in the Dáil, be they a member of a party or a member of an Independent grouping, to stick to the timelines and advance legislation, especially important legislation like this which has an international deadline. From a Regional Group perspective, we will certainly be supporting any such legislation and will play our part in that regard.
My next point is that I certainly agree with the content of this legislation.
Any measures that are brought in to tighten up procedures in respect of cryptocurrency or money laundering through expensive works of art and any restrictions that can be placed on drug trafficking, human trafficking and the likes are to be welcomed. I believe, however, that we will be back here before the end of the Thirty-third Dáil because we will need to amend and update this legislation. As technology advances and there is greater sophistication from a terrorist and organised crime perspective, we need to ensure that our enforcement agencies have all the necessary powers to combat and deter this type of activity.
The third point I want to make is that it is not enough to have only legislative powers. We also need to resource our people, particularly the enforcement agencies. If we task, we must resource. I join the vast majority of Deputies in the Chamber in commending the actions of the Criminal Assets Bureau, in particular over the past ten years, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, and a lesser-known entity, J2, the military intelligence service, which has been operating in this space also. The J2 in particular is finding it very difficult to retain its people and that level of expertise, so if there is anything the Minister can do at the Cabinet table to improve retention in the Defence Forces, it would be greatly appreciated.
The fourth point I want to make is that in this country we are especially susceptible to organised crime and the financing of terrorism for a number of reasons. First is our massive financial services industry, which employs up to 40,000 people, and at least €2 trillion is being managed through international funds through this country. That makes us very vulnerable but it also places a huge obligation on us to make sure that any money that is pushed through these pathways is done for legitimate purposes only.
The second reason we are vulnerable is because of domestic terrorism. We still have a number of armed elements on both sides of this island who are engaged in terrorism. They are not on ceasefire. We probably have the greatest terrorism issue in the European Union here on this island, and we should not forget about that. As recently as last Friday night a viable, live, improvised explosive device was found in Galway, so it has not gone away. Somebody paid for that detonator. Somebody paid for those explosives. Somebody paid for the bomb maker's labour. As the former four-star general in the US and former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said, money to a terrorist is like oxygen. If the supply of money is cut off, it cuts off the supply of oxygen. I very much support this Bill from that perspective.
The third reason we are vulnerable is because of international terrorism. The perception, rightly or wrongly, is that Ireland is a soft spot for terrorism. One can come to Dublin, train, look after the logistics and financing, and then launch attacks on mainland UK and continental Europe. That is an area on which we have to focus also.
The fifth point I want to make is about improvement. We are unique in this Parliament in that we do not have a special committee. Most sovereign republics would have a defence, intelligence and security committee. Any country which takes its sovereignty and security seriously would have such a committee. We have a foreign affairs and defence committee but we do not have a committee that covers intelligence and security. Parliamentary oversight of these agencies is very important in western democracies to ensure that they are properly resourced. Many of these agencies are uniform services. They do not have the luxury of the same number of voices that civilian agencies have, so it is very important that they have an opportunity and a platform to voice their concerns in respect of resourcing, staffing and premises. If there was one constructive suggestion I would make it is that we should consider setting up a defence, intelligence and security committee. All of the testimony would not have to be in open forum. It could be in closed session, if required. I very much recommend that for either this Dáil or the next Dáil, we would look at setting up a defence, intelligence and security committee.
Sixth, the National Security Analysis Centre is an agency that was established last year under the Department of the Taoiseach. Dermot Woods is the civil servant in charge. We have not heard a whole lot about it. It was set up to integrate and co-ordinate all the information coming from the various intelligence agencies in the country, be it military, police, Revenue or customs and excise. The Minister might mention that when replying or, subsequently, by way of a written reply. Where are we with the National Security Analysis Centre? Does it have a premises? How many staff does it have? Is it effective? Has it been consulted on the drafting of this legislation?
My final point is on the national security strategy, which was to be devised by the National Security Analysis Centre. There was public consultation up to 31 December last year but since then nothing has happened. We have not heard anything. If the Minister would update the House when replying or by way of written reply subsequently, it would be very much appreciated.
We completely support the Minister in his role. Organised crime and law and order are massive issues across regional and rural Ireland and in coastal communities. The Minister can be assured of the full support of the Regional Group in respect of any measures he takes that will curtail these type of activities. Any expertise I have is at the Minister's disposal should he choose to avail of it.
This is an interesting week to be discussing this particular Bill and these considerations. At the start of the week we had the latest revelations of shady practices within the global financial system involving many top global institutions. The so-called FinCEN Files of approximately 2,500 leaked documents involving about $2 trillion of transactions have revealed how some of the world's biggest banks have allowed criminals to move dirty money around the world. They also showed how Russian oligarchs have used banks to avoid sanctions that were supposed to stop them bringing money into the West. It is the latest in a string of leaks over the past five years that have exposed secret deals, money laundering and financial crime. We have had the Lux Leaks, the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers in addition to a whole host of other leaks, all of which have revealed massive tax avoidance and evasion, money laundering as well as other criminal activities.
On Sunday, The Irish Times noted that a network of bank accounts was used over a number of years to move an enormous amount of capital out of Russia into the West. The banks involved included one near Moscow that had a cousin of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, as one of its directors. As The Irish Times pointed out, some of the bank accounts that made up the network were in the name of British shell companies provided by a company services group located in Dublin. For most people that sounds unusual. Ireland is about the farthest European country from Russia, yet we have this article in The Irish Times, and Ireland is mentioned also.
According to new research from Trinity College professors James Stewart and Cillian Doyle, between 2005 and 2017 there were 106 Irish registered shell companies connected to some of Russia's largest state-owned and private companies which raised gross funds of approximately €118 billion, making Ireland one of the main jurisdictions for the raising of these funds. In terms of net debt flows, Ireland was the second highest EU jurisdiction, just behind Luxembourg. These type of shell companies have raised enormous sums of money for different companies which have been alleged to have engaged in serious wrongdoing. Some of them have been subject to economic sanction. Some have been identified as having engaged in insider trading and market manipulation, while several recently collapsed Russian banks were accused of creating fictitious loans, defrauding customers and then requiring bailouts.
What is common to all these Irish shell companies is that they all availed of the section 110 tax concession, meaning their effective rate of tax was zero or near zero, and they generally use complex, anonymous trustee ownership structures. The Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing) (Amendment) Bill looks to bring greater transparency. Specifically, we need greater transparency around beneficial ownership of company assets. In other words, it helps us demonstrate who owns what. The problem, however, is that it allows trustees to be listed as beneficial owners even when they are often acting as an intermediary for the ultimate beneficial owner and therefore they provide a layer of secrecy that criminals can seek to exploit. That is my biggest concern about it.
Deputy Danny Healy-Rae is sharing time with Deputy O'Donoghue agus mé féin.
I have little to say on this but I support any measures taken to impede criminals, especially drug lords, who are dealing with massive sums of money. I support any means by which they can be apprehended, slowed down and got out of the scene, and I support taking their funds from them.
One of the biggest issues we all have to deal with today concerns drugs and the amounts of money involved. The slaughter we hear about in this city day after day is all drug-related. We, as elected representatives, must support any laws to stop that.
I have a small bit of a grudge about something I know is also affecting other Deputies and their families. The banks now consider Deputies and, indeed, councillors to be politically exposed and they ask them to sign documents in that regard. I resent being targeted in that fashion. I have the same couple of accounts for God knows how many years. Surely with all the modern equipment the bank now has, it would be able to notice any unusual transaction and notify the Garda, Criminal Assets Bureau or other relevant authority. It would be entitled to do so. That would be sufficient. It is unfair on all politicians that they are asked to sign a document that considers them to be politically exposed. I do not consider myself to be in this category because I make up my own mind.
I welcome any system or Bill that makes the security of our country more robust and makes us compliant. The onset of cryptocurrency brings money laundering to a new level. Ireland must not be a tax haven for criminals and terrorists. If we do not get this type of updated legislation through the Dáil, Ireland's financial system will be used for money laundering and terrorist financing.
We need to be mindful of certain circumstances. For example, funds were illegally taken from a customer's account in a prominent Irish bank by way of a scam. Had it not been for the media pressure on the banking institution, there would have been no reimbursement. In that case, was the bank liable? We can see that the criminals in this world are so far advanced that they always seem to be one or two steps ahead in respect of how to launder money.
I learned a new term today. Criminals are now targeting 16, 17 and 18-year-olds and paying them a certain amount to lodge money in their accounts, up to a limit of €5,000 if it is a bank or €3,000 if it is a credit union, and to take it out in the form of a cheque a week later. The people targeted are called "mules". I learned this only today.
Criminals are determining every way to buy various properties with cash. They are washing their money in this system. In the past two to three years, CAB has intervened and caught many companies involved. The bureau seizes assets, be they associated with car trading or otherwise, but the criminals go to another county and open up again. We have to get this legislation right, not only to protect this State now but also to protect the next generation. We must not allow what is happening. We need to send a clear message that we are going to get this legislation right and that everything in it will stop all the criminal activity, which is terrorism. I support any measure in the Bill in this regard. I support it 100%.
I welcome this legislation. It is behind time. I acknowledge there was an election and a long delay in forming a Government. We are eight months behind time and, once again, we are being fined by the EU authorities. If we are in the EU, we have to play our part but we are being fined regularly by its authorities over many issues. On this matter of criminal justice, in respect of which every citizen of the State needs protection, it ill-behoves us to foot-drag and not play our part. We are very good Europeans in many ways. When it comes to signing statutory instruments for the fishermen, we crucify them. The Taoiseach could not even wait for the appointment of a Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, albeit the third in a month, to sign the statutory instruments. He rushed to sign them and I would say he had not even read them. This is what happens. The severe penalties imposed on the fishermen because of the statutory instruments are scandalous. One can go to court, defend one's good name and have penalty points annulled but they stay on one's licence. Did you ever hear the beat of it in your life? A person may be cleared of the offence for which he was charged and for which he received penalty points but he cannot remove the penalty points from his licence. We were so quick to allow this but we are so slow to deal with important legislation such as that before the House.
The Minister of State is new and I wish him well. I have no issue with him whatsoever, and I had no issue with his father before him. I respect the Minister of State. He is a legal brain and is qualified, much more than I am, but the situation is scandalous. Night after night and day after day, we hear about atrocities in Dublin and Drogheda. They are spreading down to Mullingar and we fear they will spread to Clonmel because of the activities of drug gangs.
We hear the horrible term "mule". When I was growing up, a mule was a cross between a jennet and an ass. "Mule" is a horrible term. We had drug mules and now we have money mules. It is disgusting. Young teenagers, perhaps barely in secondary school and perhaps with learning difficulties or on the spectrum, are being used in a horrible, disgusting fashion. As soon as they reach the legal age to open a bank account, they do so. We saw a survey that indicated 98% of money mules were youths with bank accounts. They have a serious criminal record for the rest of their lives. They probably do not get away with being assigned a juvenile liaison officer or anyone like that. They receive a horrible criminal record. They get a fairly good reward for being the mule who carries the funding into the bank account and transfers it out again. They like this; it is manna, a quick buck. They get into the way of life and it becomes so hard to change it. They get in deeper and deeper and it becomes so difficult to get out of it. It is so difficult for people in the community, including parents, Garda liaison officers and therapists, to talk them out of their activity because it is lucrative and there is a big buzz with high octane levels. They get sucked in and carry on with their activity.
I support this legislation but, like Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, I have an issue over persons who are regarded as exposed, such as politicians. I, like all Deputies, am one of those - I certainly accept that - but my wife and each of my eight children, including my 14-year-old daughter, and my son in law, who is not related to me as such although we are on very good terms, thank God, and he is a great man to have around the house to help us with issues, are not. They all get registered letters from my bank stating they are exposed persons. It has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.
My child has no way of earning money. She has passed the leaving certificate now and is going on to college. The expense will be on us to keep her there. God bless her, she has achieved what she wanted to and got her place. It was a very anxious year last year. The present year with the exams was anxious and now the students do not know what they will have. Will they have lectures or will they have study? It is unfair on them.
However, she is an exposed person and that is ridiculous. When I got onto my bank I got no hop. When I got onto my legal adviser I was told to comply. I have no notion of complying for my children, especially ones who are not involved in my business or my political scene or anything else. Some of them are married and imithe and are setting up their own clann and family. We must be mindful of that.
I am talking to the drafters of this legislation, who I am often critical of, but it is a step too far. It is ridiculous. Why should they inquire about my children? As Deputy Healy-Rae said, the banks are under this legislation now and they notice more than anybody if there are big money movements involving an account holder, be it me or anybody else. I am all up for that because that is the way it should be.
I have eight children. My wife and I are blessed with them, thank God. That they be all exposed persons and classified to get registered letters is kind of intimidating. The system has gone mad. It should not be happening. I am sorry I do not have the amendment down on this but the Minister needs to look at it and say, "Come on a minute here". Why would a bank put a family under stress with these letters? We did not know what was happening. They were registered letters. Any time there is a serious enough event one would sign for them and whatever but that needs to be changed in the legislation.
We need the legislation to tackle who it should, that is, the heinous, dastardly people who are involved in drugs and financial crime, in drug and people trafficking, in child labour, you name it. Whatever comes up, they do not mind. They see lots of money and quick ways of getting it. We are lagging behind with this legislation. However, under the existing legislation I got all those letters one day from the fear an phoist isteach an doras. We got the letters so that is ridiculous. I do not want to say any more about it but I want to see that changed because it is not right as far as I am concerned. I am a political person and, of course, my wife is, as are some people who are involved with me. Other family members, however, should not be. It is not right.
We were fined €2 million recently. I will be putting in a Dáil question because I would love to know how often and by how many millions we are being fined by our European friends. We used to get much support from them but now we are on the paying end of it. I saw that after the most recent crunch talks we were going to be net contributors. We are the fifth highest contributor in the whole EU. That is bad enough without paying all these fines as well.
As I said, it is not right to have these drug barons do what they like. As regards ordinary, small drug criminals and many of these mules that I am talking about, the person may be male or female. I hate calling them that term but that is what they are called. I call whoever got sucked into that a vulnerable person. He or she may then get involved in moving drugs. In my own county, in Clonmel and other towns, children as young as seven are distributing drugs for family gangs that are out of control and controlling the drug trade in the town. I spoke about it here before.
I will support the gardaí 100%. I will support superintendent Willie Leahy and his team, sergeant Kieran O'Regan, garda Clare Murphy and many others on the community side of it. They have really come to the fore through Covid-19. If the Minister saw the Dickensian station they are expected to work in he would not believe it. I will not compare them to animals but one would not expect to put anybody in it in this day and age. It is not a suitable premises for any workplace, let alone members of An Garda Síochána who are the front line, and it is a thin line between anarchy and peace and the public. They need the public's support at all times.
We need robust legislation and I salute the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, and support the excellent work it has done. It gives me a sense of pride when I see a bus with CAB and, perhaps, the customs and, possibly, the Garda dog and drugs teams and they unearth huge amounts of drugs. It was referred to earlier. One was referred to in Drogheda. They are literally seizing and, more importantly, freezing bank accounts and finding wagons of cash in that number of houses. Often, these are domestic houses and then there are warehouses in which we see the opulence; cars and watches and so forth. This must be stamped out. We are behind the curve in stamping it out but I support the CAB in what it does. That needs to be done and we must support it and take solace in that. The Garda must take solace in that as well as regards getting these thugs off the streets.
These young and vulnerable people, the so-called mules, get involved as well. Their families do their best but they are sucked into this. Then we see they are living in housing estates; they are on the street and they are giving a terribly bad name to the whole community and people know about it. They are feared by some and revered by other young people because of their money and what they can do. It is a difficult area to deal with.
However, the housing authorities and housing legislation must be strengthened to come up with ways of dealing with this. As was said earlier by an Teachta Crowe, I believe, Garda vetting is there for everything. I have people now who are involved in the community and might be involved in five different organisations. They must get separate Garda vetting for all of them. It is madness. When we have Garda vetting for a house, some people are slipping through the cracks. There is also a relocation policy in a city not too far from me and people ended up in our towns in County Tipperary. We were not told about them. Where was the Garda vetting? Worse than that, if a person gets a clear Garda vetting, is housed in a family home and then gets involved in the drug business or all this dirty, murky business, there should be a review of the Garda vetting. They are not in as a good tenant. The council and social workers are slow to act and it is not easy.
I see it in Clonmel in a housing estate. I do not see it, I am sorry. However, people are on to me on a regular basis. There is a constant flow of people in and out over the wall. If the residents open their mouths they get abused and get all kinds of missiles thrown into their garden. That is from a particular grouping of people who we all talk about here. We give them ethnic status as well and they cannot be touched. It is shocking. We need this regulation to be more robust and even-handed to take those vagabonds, gangsters and fraudsters off our streets because it is a thin line where they will take control.
It is that lacuna we have now with the children out of school and much time on their hands. We saw that party, and I will not be criticising na daoine óga. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. I have spent time dealing with issues in Clonmel and antisocial behaviour. It is not really antisocial behaviour; it is gangs of people with nothing to do because all the sports were stood down. All their activities, whether it be arts work, music, scoil rince nó rudaí mar sin, they were all closed up so people had nothing else to do. There is an old saying, and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will probably agree with me. The devil finds work for idle hands, and that is what happened. They did not have the work or recreation or those outlets.
I appeal to parents of teenagers, and I am one myself, to know and care and wonder where their young people are because we do not want them turning into this terrible term of money mules. It is shocking and it is a simple transaction. The money goes into one's account and it has gone out an hour later. However, it is a diversion and they are easily traced, which is a good thing. As I said, Deputy Murphy referred to a survey where 98% of the people involved here where young people between 17 or 18 and 24. It is a vital time because there are a lot of pressures on those people.
I support the legislation, certainly, but I am concerned and I appeal to the Minister to examine the situation I outlined. Deputy Healy-Rae did likewise because common sense could be applied. It is a scarce commodity in this modern world. As I said, however, we need common sense. We also need to ensure that legislation is prepared and put through the House in time. In this case, we must and should have it in time. We are behind the curve all the time in catching up with these criminals with this cryptocurrency. I have not even referred to it but we saw it all this week throughout the world with big financial institutions. Some €40 billion went through them here in Ireland. We pride ourselves on the financial headquarters and companies we have here. However, we are open and ripe for picking. Our children, however, na daoine óga, are ripe for picking and it is the wrong kind of picking. It must be stamped out, so this legislation must go through swiftly. I ask the Minister to try and address the questions I have put to him.
It is just as well I was here as I might have missed my slot. Five people submitted their names to speak tonight and have not bothered to turn up.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the impact the Bill will have across the State. It was interesting to read the Bill and what it attempts to achieve. As with everything in society, money makes the world go around and that is certainly true for those who use illicit funds to support their activities. Along with other legislation that preceded it, the Bill aims to make the activities of illegal organisations more difficult. For that reason I support the Bill. The reasons have been outlined by many Members tonight about what is actually happening with targeting individuals involved in criminal activities such as drug dealing. We need to look further than that with this Bill.
The Bill provides for several possibilities in managing and looking at transactions from particular countries that might attract attention, which is appropriate. It also defines more closely who a politically exposed person is and the need to maintain a register of them. In the Irish context I thought these politically exposed people were individuals who might abuse their office to hide money, as we are well used to here in Ireland. However, it seems that it is more to highlight individuals who, perhaps through their job, have a role in detecting money laundering or being targeted by money launderers to be in that role. There may be a need for a second register of political people who might deal in money laundering themselves as well, which would be no harm.
Interestingly what caught my attention was the introduction to the Bill by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, which did a great job on this Bill as it does all the time. It stated that the Bill softens the requirement to examine the background and purpose of a transaction, by qualifying that this only needs to be done as far as is reasonably possible. This led me to wonder why this would be the case.
I looked at what happens with this and who launders funds. The financial system, of course, must be protected at all costs. There is no doubt, possibly, that the financial institutions do not actually launder funds themselves or set up funds for laundering, possibly, but they are all laundered through banks and financial institutions. The crux of the issue is that the banks and financial institutions allow for the money laundering and facilitate it. Everything that it does they do. Therefore, the banks must have knowledge of where the money laundering is happening and how it is happening, but it is not done to them.
The amounts of money involved are staggering which gets to the crux of the issue of why the banks are not touched in this regard. The amounts are mind boggling. The US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network showed that in 2017, $2 trillion - I do not even know how many zeros are in $2 trillion - in suspicious transactions are reported globally by banks. Its files show that important institutions such as Deutsche Bank and HSBC Holdings plc, which we know well here, continue to facilitate suspicious transactions despite having been fined for doing that. The value of the fines is insignificant compared with the amount of money they get access to and can move through their transactions.
As an interesting aside, Deutsche Bank is also the main banker for the President of America. That may give some indication about how reputable Deutsche Bank is. It has been reported that $1.3 trillion of that $2 trillion has been moved through Deutsche Bank, which is very significant.
Surely the way to tackle money laundering is centrally based in the banking system, but there seems to be little appetite to move against them and target the banking system. There have been no prosecutions within institutions. Sadly that does not surprise me because official Ireland places banks at a high level well above citizens and, of course, only citizens commit crimes, not institutions and financial organisations. We need to get to the heart of that and change that responsibility. We need to make the banks responsible for their actions.
They are not innocent bystanders in this. It is not that somebody happens to lodge $1 billion or €1 billion in an account and the bank does not know anything about it. The banks know where the money comes from, but they choose not to tell. The financial system, the government system and the whole system choose to turn a blind eye. We will target the drug dealers and the people who are hassling youngsters and getting them to do transactions through their accounts. They will get publicity over prosecutions for that. Meanwhile the banks will continue what they are doing in facilitating money laundering on a mass scale that would make our eyes water. Sadly Dublin is probably a very important cog in that wheel to allow that to happen in Irish financial transactions. That is possibly why we will never question it seriously and look at what causes the problems.
If we are serious about this, we need to tackle the banks and make them responsible for it. The fact that there have been no prosecutions under any regulations for financial irregularities in this country shows where we place this.
I thank all the Deputies for their very constructive contributions to this very important debate and for the support they have shown for the Bill. I pay particular thanks to the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and all State agencies that are involved in fighting money laundering and terrorist financing. They do a very difficult job very well in the face of very well resourced and well organised national and international criminals.
As I stated earlier, this is an important area of law. The reports arising from the FinCEN files in recent days demonstrate how important these measures against money laundering are. Ongoing development and improvement are necessary in this area. I echo Deputy Howlin's comments on this; the job will never be finished. As new ways of laundering money are found, we need to keep pace. Part of that is ensuring we incorporate European Union and FATF measures into domestic law, as we are doing here. Many aspects of the directive and this Bill reflect the supranational risk assessments done by the European Commission in recent years. This has particularly informed proposals relating to virtual assets and beneficial ownership matters.
Looking forward, the Commission has raised the possibility of moving from the directive-based regime to a more harmonised regulation-based one with direct effect. There will undoubtedly be challenges in achieving this across the disparate legal and regulatory structures across the Union. In the interim, there is a focus on administrative co-operation between regulatory bodies. The Bill includes several measures to facilitate this co-operation, notably in the amendments to sections 68A to 68D. Co-operation has also been enhanced by the regulations we adopted last year in SI 578/2019.
As I mentioned in my opening speech, Directive 2019/1153 further strengthens the framework by speeding up the access to information for law enforcement authorities and by enhancing the exchange of financial information between law enforcement authorities and financial intelligence units. This is due for transposition by August 2021.
Deputies Howlin and Conway-Walsh mentioned the financial sector. There is a strong focus on anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism issues from both the Central Bank of Ireland and the European Banking Authority, with the latter having recently concluded a consultation on risk factors. New provisions on information sharing and dissemination will also improve co-operation among supervisors.
Deputy Conway-Walsh asked about sanctions for violations of the Bill by those in the financial services industry. The first thing to note is that these may be criminal offences and can be prosecuted as such by the Garda. The Central Bank also has strong administrative sanction powers in respect of regulated firms. It can impose a fine of up to the greater of €10 million or 10% of a firm's turnover, and can potentially suspend its authorisation to conduct business. Individuals can face fines of up to €1 million and be disqualified from managing a firm.
Deputy Howlin asked about resources within the Garda to target economic crime, as did many other Deputies this evening. I acknowledge the very significant successes achieved by An Garda Síochána in recent years, particularly the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Criminal Assets Bureau in their work targeting organised crime gangs and groups.
A recent example of this was Operation Omena, under which the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, working with colleagues in Finland and with the support of Europol and Eurojust, successfully took action against a group involved in cyber fraud and money laundering. CAB has been central to many recent significant operations to combat organised criminal activity. Deputy Howlin will be aware that as part of Operation Coronation, on 17 June, more than 170 members of An Garda Síochána from Limerick, Clare and Tipperary divisions, supported by CAB, carried out 67 searches of dwellings, businesses and land in those counties. Significant evidence to support the investigation, including financial accounts and property documentation, was recovered.
Deputy Howlin noted that significant resources are assigned to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and CAB. The former has a dedicated money laundering investigation unit. To further build skills across the force, the Garda Síochána training college and University College Dublin offer an accredited postgraduate certificate in fraud and e-crime investigation to some 44 gardaí per annum drawn from all Garda divisions and from specialist units.
Several Deputies asked about the timing of the transposition of the directive. Ireland takes its EU obligations very seriously and we are progressing this Bill as a priority. However, this is a complex area which spans not only multiple Departments but many sectors of the economy. Different bodies are involved in regulating the different designated persons, from the Central Bank in respect of financial services firms to the professional bodies for accounting, legal services and more. There was a need to engage in appropriate consultation and consideration and to ensure the legislation is robust enough to underpin criminal and regulatory sanctions. It needs to be effective and enforceable. It also needs to be communicated through designated persons to enable people to properly comply with their obligations. The non-criminal justice aspects of the directive are also complex, with beneficial ownership being particularly challenging from both a legal and an administrative perspective. Officials have been in contact with the European Commission throughout the process and have advised it of the publication of the Bill and the priority the Government places on its progress. The Commission has also been advised in detail of the individual measures Ireland is putting in place in this area.
Deputies Howlin, Daly and Kelly referred to money mules. As Deputies Howlin, Buckley, Cathal Crowe and others noted, it is vital to emphasise that a person who acts as a mule may be convicted of a money laundering offence and face a maximum sentence of 14 years. Such a conviction can affect visa applications, the ability to work in the financial sector and the ability to access financial products in the future. Whatever the temptations for those in a financially precarious position, the reality is that many mules ultimately receive no payment and may instead be defrauded themselves or coerced into future transactions or criminal activity. This is an area of particular focus for the anti-money laundering steering committee, the Garda and the financial institutions concerned. For any young person thinking that this might be a way to make a few easy euro, they should be aware that having a criminal conviction with the terms "money laundering" and "terrorist financing" in that conviction could destroy any potential future career. I ask anybody, before they enter into such activity, to think seriously about the potential outcome for their long-term future.
Deputies Richmond and Buckley mentioned co-operation between the Government and police forces in the UK, throughout Europe and internationally. They are correct that this is an important aspect of dealing with this type of activity. We are talking about criminals who are very organised and are operating at an international level, and we must be the same. We have to be organised, resourced and operating at an international level to stop them.
Several Deputies referred to the misery caused by the activities referred to in this Bill. This is a point that must be hammered home. Behind all this money, whether it is laundered for criminals or used to finance terrorism, is absolute and pure misery. It is misery in the socioeconomic sense and also misery in terms of the physical impact it has on people, including serious harm and, in some cases, death. The amount of damage being done to our society through this money is unbelievable. Not only is there no easy money to be made but what money is made is secured on the back of very serious damage to society right across the board. Some of what is going on is shocking.
Questions were raised in regard to the register of beneficial ownership. That will be a matter for the Minister for Finance to address further.
Deputy Catherine Murphy raised the issue of prepaid payment cards. We are not banning all such cards but simply introducing some restrictions on the anonymity aspects. For example, certain prepaid cards for purchasing items or gifts will require customer verification. The Department is working very closely with all stakeholders on the impact and implementation of this Bill. While legislative provisions are important, they are of little benefit if they are not implemented. We will work with all Departments and State agencies to ensure the implementation of these provisions.
Deputy Mattie McGrath raised the issue of the application of the provisions to family members. There is no scope or possibility to derogate from the requirements or to exclude family members. That is a crucial part of the Bill. While we all believe our family members would not be involved in anything like this, it is an important aspect of this issue and one on which the State needs to be able to keep an eye.
In regard to virtual currencies, they are clearly an important and evolving area of activity. The directive covers custodian wallet providers and services providing exchange between virtual and fiat currencies. This is reflected in the Bill but it will be necessary to go further in due course. Policing the conversion from fiat to virtual and vice versa will ultimately not be sufficient, as outlined in the latest Financial Action Task Force, FATF, recommendations. The priority in respect of this Bill has been the transposition of the directive. It may be possible to incorporate some of the current developments on virtual currencies into it. If not, they will be implemented in the future. This is a fast-moving area of law and a fast-changing area of criminal activity but we are determined to keep up with developments.
I thank Deputies for supporting the Bill and I look forward to working with them as it progresses through the Oireachtas.