Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Vol. 1021 No. 4

Eurojust: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to take part in the adoption and application of the following proposed measure:

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2018/1727 of the European Parliament and the Council, as regards the collection, preservation and analysis of evidence relating to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes at Eurojust,

a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 28th April, 2022.

I thank the House for facilitating the taking of this motion.

Yesterday, the Government approved the Minister, Deputy McEntee's request to seek the approval of the two Houses of the Oireachtas to opt in to this EU proposal. The proposal relates to the collection, preservation and analysis of evidence relating to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes by Eurojust, the EU agency responsible for criminal justice co-operation. The regulation seeks to expand the remit of Eurojust to allow it to become a central repository for evidence and to allow national and international judicial authorities to benefit from the fully fledged support that Eurojust can provide in the ongoing investigation of core international crimes in the context of the aggression against Ukraine.

Ireland has joined with others in condemning Russia's act of aggression against Ukraine. We are gravely concerned by credible reports of attacks by Russian forces that may constitute war crimes, including the targeting of civilians and civilian objects and indiscriminate attacks against Ukrainian urban centres, medical facilities and civilians fleeing the conflict. It is essential that those responsible for war crimes are identified and prosecuted. The International Criminal Court, ICC, therefore plays a crucial role. Ireland and 40 other states parties have referred the situation in Ukraine to the prosecutor of the ICC, enabling him to immediately begin an investigation into alleged crimes currently unfolding in Ukraine and to commence the collection of evidence. On 2 March 2022, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced he had proceeded to open an investigation into the situation in Ukraine. The prosecution services in several member states, as well as in Ukraine, have also started investigations of core international crimes. These investigations are supported and co-ordinated by Eurojust. We welcome and support the investigation opened on 2 March 2022 by the ICC prosecutor, which represents an important judicial step in the response to Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

National authorities are collecting evidence of the international crimes that may have been committed in Ukraine. Due the ongoing hostilities, evidence cannot be stored securely in Ukraine, requiring that a back-up storage space be urgently secured by the EU. Thus, in order to co-ordinate efforts currently deployed by member states to collect evidence, the Union has deemed it necessary to quickly set up central storage where evidence collected by Union agencies and bodies as well as by national, international and civil society organisations can be stored. This is the basis of this proposals, which aims to expand the remit of Eurojust to allow it to become a central repository for such evidence. Every effort should be made to support the prosecution of such crimes and this proposal will enhance the role of Eurojust in doing so.

An Garda Síochána, through the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, has responsibility here for the investigation of core international crime and co-operates with EU authorities on such matters. The Ukrainian prosecutor general and the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court have already welcomed the support of EU member states and the potential initiation of criminal investigations at a national level. This ensures the professional gathering of evidence, much of which may be displaced among refugees, which may be relevant to subsequent prosecutions. A strategy to identify and collect relevant information and evidence from Ukrainians who have fled to Ireland is currently under consideration by An Garda Síochána.

The main objective of the proposal before the House is to allow Eurojust to collect, preserve and analyse evidence in respect of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and related criminal offences and, when necessary and appropriate, to enable Eurojust to exchange it or otherwise make it available to the competent national or international judicial authorities. Allowing for the collection of evidence does not amount to providing Eurojust with an executive role as an investigating authority, which would not be covered by its mandate. Rather, it is meant to ensure that Eurojust can receive and centrally store evidence from different sources. By doing so, Eurojust can support case-building work in national and international investigations in a more effective way and provide additional support to the competent prosecution services.

The amendment is concerned with the likelihood that war crimes are being committed in Ukraine. The current data processing architecture does not allow Eurojust to collect, preserve and analyse evidence relating to core international crimes including those that are likely being committed in Ukraine due to the scale of the events and the vast amount of evidence that needs to be stored in the case that such crimes are committed. The amendments proposed provide the power to Eurojust to collect, preserve and analyse evidence relating to the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and, in this regard, to operate with the goal of supporting the actions of member states to combat those crimes. This is the amendment of substance and that of greatest importance in that it widens the mandate and responsibilities of Eurojust. Nonetheless, the recitals to the measure clarify that it is intended principally to facilitate closer co-operation with the ICC. Thereafter, the purpose of the remaining amendments is to facilitate the establishment of an automated data management and storage facility outside the existing Eurojust case management system and to make provision for related data processing and data protection principles.

In respect of the ICC, Ireland has responded positively to the request of the ICC prosecutor to provide assistance to his office. During his trip to Ukraine on 14 April, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, announced that Ireland would provide €3 million in additional funding to the International Criminal Court. Some €1 million will be disbursed immediately to the office of the prosecutor. Officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs are currently engaging with the office of the prosecutor to complete the transfer of these funds. The secondment of national experts in a number of areas is also under consideration.

I am proud that Ireland is playing a strong part in the European Union-wide response to the major humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. The pace with which Ireland has mobilised to respond to this unprecedented situation is amazing. It really shows the generosity of spirit of our country. Ireland stands in solidarity with our European Union colleagues in working to support Ukrainian people fleeing the appalling situation visited on Ukraine by Russia.

With regard to the Minister, Deputy McEntee's own response and the response of my Department, the Minister lifted visa requirements for Ukrainian nationals travelling to Ireland on 25 February. This has helped to streamline and support the swift exit of both Ukrainian family members of Irish citizens and the family members of people from Ukraine who are resident in Ireland. It applies as an emergency measure to all Ukrainians travelling to Ireland. We also set up a one-stop shop at Dublin Airport, where the vast majority of people coming from Ukraine are arriving. It is staffed by officials from my Department, the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Since we activated the temporary protection directive, more than 27,155 people fleeing Ukraine have arrived in Ireland seeking safety. Almost 26,500 temporary protection permissions have been issued so far. As part of a whole-of-government response, we will continue to work across Government and with our European Union counterparts on any further measures that might be needed to assist those fleeing Ukraine.

With regard to the legal situation, this proposal uses the legal basis of Article 85 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The views of the Office of the Attorney General were sought and the legal advice received confirms that, as this is a measure under Title V of the treaty, Protocol 21 applies and Oireachtas approval under Article 29.4.7° of the Constitution is required for Ireland to opt in to the measure. The Office of the Attorney General has advised that opting into the proposed decision does not create any constitutional or legal issues for the State. This is a more expedited process than usual but, with regard to the speed of adoption under Protocol 21, I am sure that colleagues will agree that it is important that Ireland stand alongside all other member states in supporting Eurojust and member states in this extremely important work.

This proposal will not have a direct cost for Ireland but will have an impact on the Eurojust budget and staffing needs. Within the legislative financial statement accompanying the proposal, it is estimated that a further €15.705 million will be needed for the period from 2022 to 2027 to allow Eurojust to perform the task provided for by this proposal. This includes the cost of setting up and managing the automated data management and storage facility and for the necessary human resources to handle it.

Ireland has been a participating member of Eurojust since its inception in 2002 and recognises that it is an integral part of Europe's security architecture and is key to co-operation across our law enforcement agencies in our fight against cross-border crime. It is intended that Eurojust will play a key role in supporting investigations carried out by member states and international bodies into core international crimes committed in Ukraine.

In view of the gravity of the situation, the Union wishes to take all necessary measures as a matter of urgency to ensure that those who committed these crimes in Ukraine are held responsible. Therefore, the Union proposes an expedited process for the final adoption of this proposal in order not to delay the Union's adoption of this important measures. We recommend that Ireland opt in to this proposal under Article 3 of Protocol 21 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The Government has no hesitation in commending the motion to opt in to this measure in this House.

We will be supporting this motion. It is important we show our support to the International Criminal Court, ICC, in conducting investigations into war crimes anywhere, and certainly in Ukraine. We are aware there are investigators on the ground in Ukraine who are operating under very difficult conditions. Ireland, with all the people from Ukraine who have come here, has been very supportive of the Ukrainian community. There has to be a real sense that Russia will be held to account for what is going on and for the terrible trauma so many people in Ukraine are suffering. It is important we use every opportunity we have to express our outrage at what has happened and what Putin has visited on Ukraine and the world.

As many have said, it has been a long time since we have had a war on this scale in Europe. I think the Balkans in the 1990s was the last time we had something similar. It is deplorable that in 2022 we are in this situation, with tanks and missiles and armies invading a country. It is just an outrage that cannot be allowed to pass.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, visited Ukraine. What has happened in many of the areas in Ukraine, which the world has witnessed through the technology of television, and the outcome of Putin’s invasion have been a very clear breach of human rights laws and a tragedy for all of the people. We see bodies on the streets with their hands tied behind their back and shot in the back of the head. These are innocent civilians. We have seen that across many areas in Ukraine. Clearly, those who are responsible for that have to be held to account.

On what is happening in Mariupol, it is just outrageous that the Russian army would continue to bombard a city knowing that practically the only people who are left there are civilians. It continues to do that day in, day out, to practically wipe it off the face of the map. It is an outrage. We have to have a means of holding it to account because one day this war will be over. One day that will come to pass and it will have to be sorted out and the sooner that day comes, the better.

On the role of Eurojust and of gathering all the evidence, we have to have a proper mechanism with which to put it all together. Ireland has a role to play in that. Many of the refugees who are coming here have footage on their mobile phones of atrocities they have witnessed. I think the Minister of State mentioned that there was a role for An Garda Síochána, possibly looking to carry out investigations with people who come here. That needs to be looked at as well. We certainly need to gather evidence and feed that in wherever we can. All of us know and have spoken to people from Ukraine who have come here and who have witnessed the most horrific of situations in their home country and want to see justice being brought to bear.

On the issue of how we deal with Putin and this war in the here and now, I welcome the European Union’s move to bring in more sanctions in regard to oil and all of that. However, a little bit of me is thinking, “What other despot will we buy oil from instead?” If we are not buying it from Russia, will we be buying it from Saudi Arabia or somewhere else where their bib is not clean in regard to their actions and respect for human rights? It is the same in many of these situations. All of this is worthy of very deep consideration in terms of how we can progress in a way that will work. If oil and gas prices go up and Europe is not taking gas from Russia, Russia will start selling it to other countries at a higher price than it is getting from Europe. It is difficult to see how sanctions can work to stop this from happening. Internationally, that is one of the problems we have to try to work out in terms of how we are going to resolve this issue. The authorities in Moscow are not for turning. That is the problem internationally. However, having said that, one day it will come to pass that these issues will have to be dealt with. When that happens, we need to have the evidence and everything has to be done to ensure we have that evidence. That is why Ireland should have no hesitation in adopting this measure and ensuring that we have it in place as quickly as possible. We should co-operate with all of the other countries in Europe and the world to hold to account those who have carried out these terrible atrocities.

This proposal to amend regulation 2018/1727 in regard to collection, preservation and analysis of evidence relating to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes will be supported by us. The EU agency for criminal justice co-operation, Eurojust, co-ordinates the investigations and prosecutions of serious cross-border crime in Europe and beyond. Among other things, it investigates genocide and war crimes. We know that the prosecutor of the international Criminal Court has announced an investigation into possible war crimes committed by Putin's regime. The national authorities are collecting evidence of these crimes that have been committed in Ukraine. However, evidence cannot be stored securely in Ukraine. Therefore, a backup service or storage space must be secured. This must be set up, and this proposal envisages the establishment of the automated data management and storage facility. It is important that complies with the highest standards of data protection and cybersecurity.

It goes without saying that the details of the Russian invasion of Ukraine have been shocking and deeply worrying. Putin's regime’s contempt for international law is clear in the existence of the invasion itself, but in addition to illegal occupation and annexation efforts it has conducted in the past, there is mounting evidence it is committing war crimes as well. A few sources have corroborated these suspicions. Human Rights Watch interviewed a number of civilians from occupied areas. It found evidence of summary executions and it is worth quoting it directly. It stated:

These include a case of repeated rape; two cases of summary execution, one of six men, the other of one man; and other cases of unlawful violence and threats against civilians between February 27 and March 14 [of this year]. Soldiers were also implicated in looting ... including food, clothing, and firewood. [They] are responsible for war crimes.

The UN also expressed concern. Secretary-General António Guterres visited a number of sites in Ukraine, calling it an "obscenity". The offices of the UN must be utilised as much as possible for ending the conflict and the Secretary-General’s call for the Russian Federation to co-operate should be heeded.

I note what the Minister of State said on being proud of Ireland's response to the EU-wide response to the humanitarian crisis. I, too, am proud of the Irish response and the pace at which Ireland has mobilised in response. However, we must put a similar effort in to support the institutions in order to seek, negotiate and secure a peaceful solution. Over the past number of weeks I note that has not been to the fore as much as it should be.

The International Criminal Court is the correct body, of course, to pursue the investigations and its investigators on the ground are facing numerous challenges. Accordingly, this motion should be supported because the difficult and dangerous task of documenting should be supported by the international community. Where European co-operation upholds international law and natural justice, of course, it should be supported. Now is not the time to go into such matters in great detail, but the scandal within Frontex, the EU border agency, where illegal pushbacks of refugees were found to have occurred, stands in contrast to the intention of this motion.

International law should be upheld in all its aspects and it is only as good as those charged with enforcing it, which are frequently the rich and the powerful states. Ireland is undoubtedly part of the wider western nations and we should reflect long and hard before sacrificing our military neutrality. A militarised Ireland will not retain credibility when seeking to enforce international law, and as imperfect as the international institutions are, they represent a path towards peace and the upholding of human rights. As I said, neutrality is not about isolationism but, rather, it is about active engagement in the global community and pursuit of global justice through peaceful means.

I welcome the recent poll where 75% of people support maintaining our neutrality. I met a man recently in west Cork who said that he would be first protesting if there was any change to that. Our neutrality needs to be defended, and all Deputies should state clearly where they stand on that issue - that they will fight to preserve and strengthen neutrality. We do not want to pay the extra billions per year that it would cost if we abandon that and join military alliances. Our status as a neutral state with no colonial baggage and independent foreign policy has stood us well and allowed us to play a valuable and honourable role in peacekeeping around the world.

It seems that almost on a weekly basis the Minister of State brings a resolution before us to amend the justice co-operation arrangements we have in the European Union, all with very good reason. Eurojust, which is 20 years old, is one of the most important institutions to facilitate co-operation on criminal matters for law enforcement across the Union and beyond. As we repeatedly say in debates of this kind, criminality knows no borders.

As has been indicated by several speakers, Eurojust is important in the investigation and prosecution of serious cross-border crime. In the current context, the most important issues are those crimes that involve genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. All of us have been horrified to our core at what is unfolding in Ukraine. Putin's aggression in the illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine seems to be almost bestial in its horror and the suffering and pain that his regime is willing to unleash upon the civilian population of Ukraine. What has been uncovered so far in Bucha and other satellite towns and villages of Kyiv is quite horrific. What is even more shocking is what is happening this very minute in Mariupol, where it is thought that 20,000 or more people are already dead and the notion that portable crematoria are being brought in to dispose of the bodies. This is beyond shocking. It is something that we thought we had left behind us in the middle of the last century, in the Nazi regimes and the horror that they unfolded. We certainly need to amend the capacity to ensure the perpetrators of such appalling crimes are held to account.

I support the adjustments in the regulations that are proposed in the proposition before the House. As other speakers have said, they will allow the collection, preservation, and analysis of evidence and to secure it in a safe way. At other times we can talk about data security and cybersecurity because such a depository would be subject to cyberattack as well, in addition to the exact nature of the data to be stored. That is for us to flesh out perhaps on another occasion.

In the two minutes remaining, I want to mention another issue, that is, our own response to dealing with this issue. The Minister of State has instanced our welcoming of some 27,000 refugees. That is a really good thing. The Minister of State is aware that communities, particularly our own community, have opened their hearts and arms to refugees. A Bill I introduced, the Proceeds of Crime (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill, has been before the House for some time. It passed Second Stage and the Minister of State responded to it. It is before the committee, but it still has not received a money message authorisation from the Government. This is more than symbolic, but it is symbolic as well. I hear international commentators now talking about the legislation that is before our Legislature as an important part of the Magnitsky suite of laws that are being enacted everywhere, in particular on foot of the horrors unfolding in Ukraine. The Proceeds of Crime (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill 2020 is before the committee. I hope we will deal with it in the immediate future. Will the Minister of State go back to the Taoiseach and the senior Minister in his Department and ask that the money message would be sent to the committee in order that this very important legislation can be enacted? People might say it is not practical and ask how we link the human rights abuses to the perpetrator but that is true of all the investigations we are talking about in this context. It is a signal that those who aid, abet or assist in any way gross human rights abuses will be held to account, either through the International Criminal Court or if any of them want to stash their loot here, we will hold them to account and we will take it from them in the proceeds of crime legislation that we have in our jurisdiction. My final comment is to ask the Minister of State to take that back and perhaps to come back to me with clarity on the issue.

On behalf of the Social Democrats, I strongly support the motion on Eurojust. It is exactly the kind of area on which we should be working together. I condemn in the strongest possible terms the war crimes being carried out by the Putin regime against the civilian population in Ukraine. Soldiers have been implicated in looting civilian property including food, clothing, fuel and firewood. There have been threats against civilians, unlawful violence, torture, sexual violence, repeated rape, summary executions, the use of cluster ammunition, indiscriminate attacks in densely populated areas and the shooting of refugees as they flee. These are all repulsive and abhorrent acts. There have been horrific reports of corpses found stuffed into wells with bags over their heads.

In war, it is always the civilian population that bears the brunt of military aggression. We must stand in strong solidarity with the people of Ukraine and redouble our efforts to provide practical support. I acknowledge the practical supports that have been put in place to date. The response of people in Ireland has been very generous, with many opening up their homes to people fleeing war and communities rallying around to provide practical support and assistance. People escaping from Mariupol have told of the hell on earth in which they have been living. We have also had reports of people fleeing being directed by members of the Russian armed forces to go to Russian-controlled areas against their will.

A significant amount of work has been done on the documentation of war crimes to date by organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. They are playing a crucial role on the ground gathering and documenting evidence of war crimes and they have already published evidence of war crimes. Under international humanitarian law, civilians should never be the deliberate target of attacks, yet that is what is happening. Following the atrocities at Bucha, shocking satellite images showed the bodies of murdered civilians that lay for weeks on the ground. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous incidents, including where Russian forces pulled civilians out of vehicles and summarily executed them and shot at vehicles containing civilians attempting to negotiate the delivery of humanitarian aid. In addition, it has documented harrowing reports of rape and repeated rape. I will read out an account that was documented by Human Rights Watch:

On March 6, Russian soldiers in the village of Vorzel, about 50 kilometers northwest of Kyiv, threw a smoke grenade into a basement, then shot a woman and a 14-year-old child as they emerged from the basement, where they had been sheltering.

The people of Russia have a long history not just of suffering under dictatorship but also suffering the consequences of war. More than most, the people of Russia should understand the horrors of war and of war crimes and have a key role to play in opposing this war. All of these abhorrent war crimes reinforce the importance of international institutions such as the International Criminal Court and international law. They also underline the importance of multilateralism, co-operation, peace and diplomacy. In that regard, we cannot be silent about countries that are not members of the International Criminal Court and have not signed up to it. In addition to Russia, such countries include the United States, Israel and China. In condemning the war crimes committed by Russia against the civilian population of Ukraine, we must be consistent and condemn all war crimes. We cannot be silent about war crimes and atrocities committed by other countries. We cannot be silent, for example, about the horrific war crimes that were committed in Iraq by US soldiers. These include the horrific rape and murder of a 14-year-old child. I reiterate in the strongest possible terms our condemnation of the war crimes carried out by the Putin regime against the civilian population in Ukraine. The strength of this condemnation must be met by every practical action and assistance we can give.

There is little doubt in my mind or I think in most people's minds that Russia has committed and is committing war crimes in Ukraine. Any efforts to hold them to account, to bring out the truth of those war crimes, to prosecute them and to deliver justice to the people who are victims of those crimes should be pursued. We absolutely must do that. However, I have little faith in the International Criminal Court. I say this because previously, in most cases in which it has been charged to look at these things in other similar instances, it has failed pretty dramatically. I do not see why we would trust it to do this.

It is also interesting to look at who has signed up to the ICC and who has not. The United States has not subscribed to the International Criminal Court because it does not want to be held accountable for its war crimes. At one point, I believe it signed it but then it withdrew its signature and it never ratified it. Israel did the same in order that it cannot be investigated. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates refused to sign it. Russia and Ukraine signed it but never ratified it. That is interesting. Many countries, including two of the countries that are directly involved in this, never wanted to ratify the International Criminal Court. There is a problem, is there not, if we are serious about this?

The whole point about war crimes and crimes against humanity is that they include any war crime. They are not just war crimes that occur in a particular place at a particular time and that we decide we are going to investigate. The whole idea is that a war crime is a war crime, no matter where it is committed. As for a crime against humanity, the clue is in the name; it is a crime against any member of humanity that falls within the definition of a crime against humanity. It seems we now have great enthusiasm, all of a sudden, to pursue the war crimes and crimes against humanity that are undoubtedly being committed by Vladimir Putin in his bloody and inexcusable war. Yet, many of the people who denounce the crimes against humanity and the war crimes do not themselves want to be subject to this court. They have avoided doing it because they might themselves be found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Is anybody going to call out this hypocrisy?

If it is to be selective in this regard, I do not see what credibility the International Criminal Court has. If Putin’s war against Ukraine is a war crime and a crime against humanity, then the US-UK War in Iraq definitely is a crime against humanity. It was a war based on a pack of lies, with a million people being directly and indirectly killed. There was the horror of Fallujah, to name just one terrible example. There was the torture in Abu Ghraib. What did the ICC do? It had a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes that may have been committed. They could not investigate the US because, as I said, the US has not signed up to it. The preliminary investigation into the UK was closed down in 2006 with no prosecution. Some new evidence was provided later. They had a look at that and then they closed it down in 2020.

Israel has just been indicted by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and a UN special rapporteur on the Middle East for committing war crimes, which come under the ambit of the International Criminal Court, as matters it should pursue. Where are the announcements that this will happen? There are none. There is no announcement about the fact that they are being accused by the UN special rapporteur and two of the most respected human rights organisations in the world of ongoing, 70-years-long crimes against humanity. As for the siege of Gaza, there has been no investigation. There has been no clamour for the prosecution of the war crimes. Therefore, I do not place much credibility in this.

If we are serious about stopping war crimes and crimes against humanity, we have to be calling them all out. We have to be demanding investigations into all of them and not just the ones where it happens to suit the geopolitical or geostrategic interests of the European Union, this or that power, the United States or whoever else. We have to call out those countries that do not wish to be held accountable for crimes against humanity, which include many of Europe’s allies.

I thank the Minister of State for his opening statement. Having read the motion, I do not have any major difficulty with it and will be happy to support its passage through the Dáil later on this evening. I will do so for a number of reasons. First, Eurojust has established itself as quite a credible and competent agency over the past 20 years, since its inception in 2002, in relation to the exchange of criminal justice information between law enforcement agencies. All we are being asked to do here is to expand the mandate of Eurojust which, in light of changing circumstances, seems to make perfect sense to me. We also all know what is happening in Ukraine at the moment. It is being beamed into our living rooms every evening. If even half of what we see is true, it is obvious that major numbers of war crimes, crimes against humanity and atrocities are taking place. There are many investigators on the ground at the moment, both national and international, as well as from civil society. It is important they have a central hub or co-ordinating point to store all their information safely. Because Ukraine is an active war zone, it is not safe to store information there at present. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to use Eurojust and its facility in The Hague, which is where I presume they will store this information. This is particularly true in light of the fact that many of the personal testimonies are now scattered all over the European Union, because they have been brought by refugees into various European Union countries.

The second point I wish to make is on deterrence. This is a point that should not be forgotten. It is important that the belligerents on all sides recognise there is a system in place for the safe collation and preservation of data and evidence. Into the future, they also should recognise that the chances of being prosecuted for war crimes as a result of their actions are increasing by the day. That is a important point to make from a deterrence point of view.

My last point is on justice for the victims. It is important that the European Union and Ireland in particular are as supportive as possible of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The Minister of State mentioned in his opening statement that consideration is being given to seconding Irish experts to The Hague to support the International Criminal Court. I would be grateful were the Minister of State to elaborate on that during his closing remarks. How many people are we talking about and what kind of expertise would they have? When is a decision likely to be made?

To conclude, I am happy with the motion before the House and will be happy to support it later on this evening. I look forward to its swift implementation.

This motion is so important because if history has taught us one thing, it is that war crimes can be dealt with many years after they have been committed. However, the evidence and data that must be collected, collated and kept, in order to deal with these atrocities are important. That is why Eurojust is doing such important work. It also co-operates with the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

National authorities are collecting evidence of the international crimes that may have been committed in Ukraine. Due to the ongoing hostilities, evidence cannot be stored securely in Ukraine, requiring that a backup storage place be urgently secured by the European Union. Thus, in order to co-ordinate efforts that are currently being deployed by member states to collect evidence, it is necessary to set up quickly a central storage, where evidence that is collected by European Union agencies and bodies, as well as by national and international authorities or third parties such as civil society organisations, can be stored.

However, while the Eurojust regulations provide for its support for member states' actions in investigating and prosecuting serious crimes, they do not explicitly allow Eurojust to collect, preserve and analyse such evidence relating to this purpose. I do not want to eat into my colleagues' time so I will stop at that.

Eurojust co-ordinates investigations and prosecutions of serious cross-border crime in Europe and beyond, including, among others, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, collectively referred to as core international crimes. These are crimes Eurojust is competent to deal with. There are reasonable grounds to believe war crimes and crimes against humanity have been and are being committed in Ukraine. We all see, day and night, across our computer screens, our televisions, our newspapers and our phones the reality of these war crimes.

However, as a country, we need to be more careful about how we treat refugees. Initially, we had no plan for bringing thousands of people into our country. We are now putting them into already overcrowded areas. I said at the start of this crisis that community buildings should have been used to help. I still believe that. Why not bring some of the Ukrainian refugees to rural parts where we need more people? Unfortunately, many of these places are already underpopulated and we would very much welcome refugees to them. We also need more services in these areas, for example, transport.

The proposal outlined in this motion will allow Eurojust to collect, analyse and preserve evidence relating to core international crimes and to process data, such as videos, audio recordings and satellite images, and share such evidence with the relevant national and international authorities, including the International Criminal Court. The sharing of such evidence would only take place when appropriate and with full respect to EU data protection rules. There must be a judgment day for the war crimes being committed. Evidence is surely one way to have the people responsible held to justice whenever that day will come.

I am also glad to get the opportunity to talk about this very serious matter. It is sure we must do everything we can. It is very clear that what is going on are war crimes affecting civilians. The way they are being treated, bombarded, hurt, maimed and killed, it is clear war crimes are being committed at present. We must monitor and ensure that if it can happen, it should happen that this fella, Putin, will be prosecuted and get the proper penalty he deserves.

In the past week, one of his lieutenants has suggested doing something to Ireland. In that vein, there have even been calls in the Chamber this morning for the Russian ambassador to be sent home. I say no such thing. We should keep him here. If Russia and Putin do anything to our country or to our people, if they suggest or do anything untoward to our people in our country, the ambassador should be the first fella to be targeted, locked up somewhere, the key thrown away, and an odd bite to eat thrown to him now and then to keep him barely alive. We never did anything out of the way to Russia and it is wrong of it to target us here in the middle of the ocean. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that the Russian ambassador does not go home, or his entourage and the people with him in the ambassador's residence, wherever it is. Not one of them should be allowed to go home. If they do any act or hurt Ireland in any way, he should be the first man to be targeted and minded to ensure we get some good out of him and do not let him go. Certainly, do not send him home.

I am aware the committee of permanent representatives to the EU is meeting today to discuss the adoption of this proposal, which is a sad and sobering reminder that the input and discussions of national parliaments seem to have little or no effect whatsoever on discussions at EU level. The fact that this proposal will be rushed through no matter what concerns are raised by Deputies today is an unfortunate trend that has been occurring at EU level in the past few years and is something we need to seriously consider in future. The EU is supposed to amplify countries’ voices, not take them away altogether. It is incredibly disappointing to come to the Chamber to discuss EU proposal after EU proposal, when it is clear that not only Opposition Deputies but Government Deputies have no real input to anything at EU level anyway. The fact that discussions are going ahead today regarding the implementation of this proposal, before our national Parliament has even had the opportunity to consider it, is just proof of this. That being said, it is important we voice our concerns regardless and I will continue to do so. I hope we take into consideration that we are being blatantly ignored, however.

I have been very disturbed to read about alleged war crimes that have occurred in Ukraine over the past couple of months. Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office has opened more than 9,300 investigations into alleged war crimes and has identified hundreds of suspects from Russia, with the true number expected to be much higher considering they have yet to access the east, where some of the most violent fighting has occurred. The prosecutor general, along with the EU special representative on sexual violence in war, said this week that dozens of cases of sexual violence by invading forces are already under investigation. In order to properly pursue these investigations, there is no doubt there is a real need for central storage for evidence relating to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, which is what this proposal intends to address.

It is clear that the process of holding Vladimir Putin responsible for these alleged war crimes will be very long and complex. Ukrainian and international experts have stated that it will take years, if not decades, to collect evidence, build cases and prosecute people. It is essential then that all evidence found is stored in centrally located, protected storage. Given the incredibly violent situation in Ukraine, it is clear this evidence cannot currently be stored securely there and will have to be kept at a location outside the country. It makes sense for the EU to offer a role in this. There is no doubt a co-ordinated effort will be required by all states collecting evidence and it would not make sense for any one national authority to take on this role. It also makes sense that this role will be given to Eurojust, which has the expertise and experience to support the investigations and prosecutions of such crimes. Eurojust’s current role is in supporting member states’ actions in investigating and prosecuting crime but it does not allow for the collection, preservation and analysis of such evidence, which this proposal intends to address by expanding the remit of Eurojust to allow it to become a central repository for such evidence.

Although I am glad the proposal clearly states the collection of evidence does not amount to providing Eurojust with an executive role as investigating authority, I am wary that it states, "when necessary and appropriate" Eurojust will enable the exchange of evidence "or otherwise make it available to the competent judicial authorities, national or international". Who decides when it is "necessary and appropriate" and who decides on the "competent judicial authorities"? I have often talked of the importance of Ireland’s neutral voice. I believe our neutrality could be of huge importance in making sure that extremely important decisions, such as these, are made fairly. This is where we can most effectively lend our highly respected neutral oversight and input. Although the evidence storage role of Eurojust is suitable in Ukraine’s situation, I have concerns about expanding its remit in general. I would not like it to be the case that Eurojust is allowed to take and store evidence of any state should it be the request of a member state to do so.

Overall, I support this motion in the context of the Ukrainian situation. However, I am always concerned about proposals with an expedited negotiation process, especially at EU level. Member states must ensure that all proposals are scrutinized adequately and concerns must be listened to and addressed.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions. Ireland has joined with others in condemning Russia's active aggression against Ukraine. We have grave concerns regarding reports of attacks by Russian forces that may constitute war crimes, including the targeting of civilians and civilian objects, as well as indiscriminate attacks against Ukrainian infrastructure. It is essential that those responsible for war crimes are identified and prosecuted.

The current proposal will allow Eurojust to play a key role in supporting member states' and international bodies' investigations of core international crimes committed in Ukraine. As has been outlined, the main objective of the proposal is to allow Eurojust to collect, preserve and analyse evidence relating to genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and related criminal offences and, when necessary and appropriate, enable its exchange or otherwise make it available to the competent judicial authorities, national or international.

In view of the gravity of the situation, it is vitally important that all necessary measures are taken as a matter urgency to ensure that those who committed those crimes in Ukraine are held responsible. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and the prosecution services in member states and in Ukraine, who have started investigations of core international crimes, need to be supported in the best possible manner.

This proposal will allow for national and international judicial authorities to benefit from the fully fledged support that Eurojust can provide in the ongoing investigations of core international crimes in the context of aggression against Ukraine.

National authorities are already collecting evidence of international crimes that may have been committed in Ukraine. Due to the ongoing hostilities, evidence cannot be stored securely in Ukraine. This requires that a backup storage place be urgently secured by the European Union. Thus, in order to co-ordinate efforts currently deployed by member states to collect evidence, the Union has deemed it necessary to quickly set up central storage where evidence collected by Union agencies and bodies as well as national and international civil society organisations could be stored. That is the basis behind this proposal which aims to expand the remit of Eurojust to allow it to become a central repository for such evidence. It is imperative that every effort be made to support the prosecution of such crimes. This proposal will enhance the role of Eurojust in doing that.

Ireland stands in solidarity with its European Union colleagues in working to support Ukrainian people fleeing the appalling situation visited on Ukraine by Russia and in ensuring accountability for crimes committed. Ireland has been a participating member of Eurojust since its inception in 2002 and recognises that Eurojust as an integral part of Europe's security architecture and is key in the context of co-operation across our law enforcement agencies in the fight against cross-border crime.

Ireland supports the key role intended for Eurojust in this proposal in supporting member states and international bodies investigations of core international crimes committed in Ukraine. The Government has no hesitation in commanding the motion that we opt into this proposal to the House. Doing so under an Article 3 opt-in will ensure that we send a strong statement of solidarity to our European partners that we will take the necessary steps to support ongoing investigations of core international crimes and ensure accountability in the context of aggression against Ukraine.

I commend the motion to the House.

Motion agreed to.
Top
Share