Europol Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Europol Bill is an enabling Bill allowing Ireland to ratify the 1995 Europol Convention and related protocols. The convention provides a framework for law enforcement co-operation in the field of international organised crime. It provides for the establishment of Europol on a statutory basis to facilitate the exchange of information and intelligence between the law enforcement authorities of the member states of the European Union, and to carry out in-depth analyses of the crimes within its remit. Europol's central objective will be to assist member states in preventing and combating serious organised international crime affecting two or more member states.

As a small island nation on the periphery of Europe, we might like to regard ourselves as in some way immune to or removed from the full effects of international crime but he reality is different. There is reason to believe that our geography lends itself to Ireland being used by highly organised criminals as a gateway to and from the rest of Europe, thus leaving us particularly exposed to all forms of international crime. This is especially so in the area of drug trafficking, where Ireland's extensive coast line has been used for the importation of large quantities of illegal drugs for use not only in this country but also in other European countries, causing untold misery and sometimes even death to our young people. Also, we are recently beginning to see Ireland becoming a focus for illegal immigrant smugglers. It is all too clear to us that a small country cannot tackle these problems effectively on its own. We need to share information and intelligence with other countries regarding the operations of these criminals, theirmodus operandi, their networks and the routes they use.

Organised crime, particularly crimes such as drug trafficking which generate large financial profits, are especially hard to combat. These criminals have vast resources at their disposal, often exceeding those of countries. They are versatile and exploit weaknesses or loopholes wherever they exist. They have the resources to employ skilled people and to use a sinister carrot and stick approach, by way of bribery and threats, to overcome any obstacles in their way. It would be naive to think such ruthless criminals could be defeated by anything other than an energetic, pro-active and multi-faceted approach, embracing effective international co-operation and a zero tolerance policy in this country. My policy includes both of these elements.

The ratification of the Europol Convention, on which I will elaborate further, will be a milestone in development of co-operation between the 15 EU member states in the fight against international organised crime. It will not only enhance the flow of information and intelligence but will give significant added value to these through in-depth analysis with the aid of a sophisticated computer system.

As any police or customs officer will tell you, access to intelligence and information is essential for the tackling of organised crime, be it on a domestic or an international scale. It is absolutely crucial when crime goes beyond national boundaries. Criminals exploit differences in our legal systems. They use sophisticated aliases. They develop complex trafficking routes, often zigzagging through several countries, to avoid detection. National boundaries are no obstacle to them. In fact they are one of the tools which they use to defeat the law enforcement authorities. We must fight back. The pooled information which Europol will have and the added value which it will give to it through in-depth analysis of criminal organisations, theirmodus operandi, their ever changing trafficking routes and their personnel will be of major assistance to the member states.

The convention also includes provisions which will enable Europol to give information to and receive it from international organisations, for example Interpol, and countries outside the EU subject to certain safeguards. This will assist in tackling crime on a world scale. This is of considerable importance and particularly relevant in tackling drug trafficking and money laundering. With the exception of synthetic drugs and home grown cannabis, the illegal drugs abused in the EU are produced outside the EU. In the case of money laundering vast sums of money can be transferred in a matter of seconds by electronic wire transfer, not only from one country to another but through several countries and an intricate series of financial companies. Ratification of the Europol Convention will be a significant step in tackling these crimes.

With regard to international co-operation, I wish to congratulate the Garda and to express my appreciation for its vigilance which resulted in very significant seizures of drugs at the week end at Enfield, County Meath, and Dublin Airport. Such operations depend on international co-operation and highlight its importance.

The fight against crime on the international front is complemented by the Government's zero tolerance policy at home. The concept of zero tolerance is above all else directed at positive action against serious criminals, especially those involved in the drugs trade and organised crime generally. My objective is to provide the Garda with the means, equipment and manpower to investigate all crimes. My aim is to ensure that all crimes are investigated, where possible detected and, where the interests of justice and society so require, prosecuted. The victims of house breakers, burglars and car thieves do not regard these crimes as trivial or minor and neither does the Government.

I take seriously the duty of the State to protect the citizens' right to live in peace free of the fear of criminal intrusion. The worst form of intrusion at this time is generated by the bosses of drugs and other organised crime. They blight and often destroy young lives and, thereby, sentence entire communities in city and country to an intolerable existence. Recent research has shown that drugs are responsible for up to two thirds of all crime.

The Government's zero tolerance approach is about action on the ground and by way of legislation to curb the activities of drug dealers and other serious criminals. The citizens demand that and are entitled to it. I want zero tolerance to meet that demand in full. The Government is committed to providing 1,000 more prison spaces in two years; increasing Garda numbers to 12,000 over the next few years; giving agency status to the prison service and the courts to help them function more efficiently; encouraging various Garda operational initiatives to strengthen its hand in fighting serious crime and an imaginative legislative programme on which I will expand.

I am determined to fine comb the criminal laws to remove every obstacle to fast, efficient and fair administration of justice and to close off loopholes being exploited by criminals. As legislators we must ensure that the fight against crime is enhanced by our work. I will publish shortly the Criminal Justice Bill, 1997, which will contain measures on speedier trials; minimum sentences in relation to serious drug trafficking offences; the initiation by the courts of inquiries into the assets of persons convicted of drug trafficking and allowing technical evidence to be given by gardaí by certificate to courts, thus freeing up their time to attend to other duties.

In the context of the war we have launched against crime I wish to refer to the unprecedented increase in the Estimates for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; the increase is an unprecedented 10 per cent. Funding for the Office of the Minister will be increased by 20 per cent; the Prisons' Vote will increase by 18 per cent; the Garda Vote will increase by 5 per cent; the Garda capital Vote will increase by 80 per cent and the Courts' Vote will increase by 31 per cent. In monetary terms the total increase is £73 million. These are real increases in public spending in the Justice area for which the Government and I make no apology. The Government has identified crime as an issue of major public concern and the two parties in Government are delivering on their pre-election commitments in this regard.

An extensive programme of reform of the criminal justice system is under way. The announcement today of the figures for the 1998 Estimates underpins an unprecedented programme. In plain language, the Government is putting its money where its mouth is with regard to tackling crime and inequality. The Estimates include provision for new prisons at Portlaoise, Castlerea and Clover Hill as well as a new women's prison at Mountjoy prison and a new wing in Limerick prison. There is provision for prison staff to man these institutions. There will be three new probation and welfare service centres. A new courts service will be established, there will be additional courts refurbishment and a major programme of computerisation for criminal and civil case tracking. There is provision for a continuation of high profile Garda operations such as Operation Freeflow, Operation Dóchas and Operation Cosantóir, which is aimed at protecting elderly people in remote rural areas in the west. There is provision to continue the accelerated recruitment to the Garda Síochána as promised and for computerisation in the Garda. Provision is also made for a witness protection programme.

With regard to equality there will be additional funding of £1.176 million over the 1997 figure for the Legal Aid Board and £2.415 million for the Department's equal opportunities child care programme for the purpose of meeting the commitments in this area outlined in Partnership 2000 and the Government's action programme. An amount of £700,000 will be available to the Irish Council for People with Disabilities to facilitate action to improve the position of people with disabilities.

These proposals and the provision made for them will give urgent effect to a number of commitments contained in the Government's programme in the context of the zero tolerance policy, particularly, although not exclusively, against drug pushers and other serious criminals. There is an imaginative legislative programme to back up the resources which will be made available to the enforcement authorities.

Other criminal law reform Bills which I propose to publish in this session or early next year include a Bill to deal with child pornography. This legislation was promised by my party in advance of the general election. There will also be Bills to amend the law in relation to criminal insanity and to enable Ireland to co-operate with the International War Crimes Tribunal. Another Bill will deal with the UN convention against torture. Work is also underway on legislative proposals to deal with the substantive law on fraud. Extradition treaties with Canada and South Africa are being negotiated and work has begun on the preparation of legislation to enable Ireland ratify two EU conventions relating to extradition, one on the procedures to be applied where a person consents to extradition and another on improving and simplifying extradition arrangements between member states. A discussion paper to review the law on sexual offences is being drawn up. I hope this will lead to a full debate in society about the need for a register of sexual offenders. In addition, a review is ongoing of criminal law issues relevant to the fight against crime. Where the need for legislation is identified, it will be introduced without delay.

Regarding the Europol Bill, the approach taken is to give the convention and its two subsequent protocols the force of law in the State and to provide for certain ancillary matters. The Bill, therefore, is comparatively short. For ease of reference the convention and protocols are appended to the Bill in both English and Irish, the texts being equally authentic in both languages.

Before dealing with the detail of the sections, I intend to outline the background to the drawing up of the Europol convention and then to concentrate on the provisions of the convention and its subsequent protocols. The creation of the Single Market and the breakdown of borders in the European Union has facilitated an unprecedented increase in cross border crime. Just as honest law abiding citizens can move from one country to another in the Union, so too can Europe's top criminals. The Justice and Home Affairs Ministers of member states were acutely aware of the need for compensatory measures to prevent the exploitation of this free movement by criminals and to protect their citizens against organised crime.

This led to a decision to establish Europol by the European Council at its meeting in Maastricht in December 1991. From November 1993 onwards work on the draft convention continued within the structures provided for in Title VI of the Treaty on European Union. In December 1993, the European Council meeting in Brussels decided that Europol would have its seat in The Hague. It was some considerable time, however, before agreement could be reached among EU member states on Europol's precise role and powers.

Meanwhile, and in anticipation of the time it would take for the convention to be concluded and ratified, the European Drugs Unit — the EDU — was set up by ministerial agreement of the then 12 member states. The purpose of the EDU was to allow information to be exchanged concerning, initially, illicit drug trafficking and associated money laundering activities involving two or more member states. Its mandate was extended in March 1995 by the European Council to include illicit trafficking in nuclear and radioactive substances, crimes involving illegal immigration networks and trafficking in stolen vehicles. These crimes are of major concern to EU member states as they are frequently committed by the same organised criminal groups. Often the same trafficking routes and distribution networks are used by unscrupulous criminals who will smuggle into and around the EU drugs, people, stolen vehicles and radioactive substances, all for financial gain. The aim of the criminals is to get their hands on the vast sums of money which accrue from these criminal activities. The EDU's mandate was further extended in December 1996 to include trafficking in humans, following the horrific paedophile incidents in Belgium which were uncovered last year.

The EDU, now in its fourth year of operation in The Hague, has led to considerable successes, particularly in combating drug trafficking and money laundering. However, the EDU was only ever meant to operate as an interim measure, with the result that it operates on a far more limited basis than will Europol under the convention. Its most obvious drawbacks are that it has no legislative status and it cannot store personal information. Once in force, the convention will effectively replace the EDU. The advantages of supplanting the EDU with Europol will include not just giving it a firm statutory basis for its activities or the ability to store personal information but the provision of a sophisticated computer system, access to and analysis of pooled data and liaison with countries outside the EU and with international organisations.

Once the convention is in force, Europol's initial remit will cover illicit drug trafficking, trafficking in nuclear and radioactive substances, illegal immigrant smuggling, motor vehicle crime, trafficking in humans and associated money laundering activities, that is, the forms of international crimes already covered by the EDU. In addition, it will develop specialist knowledge of the investigative procedures of the relevant authorities in the member states, provide advice on investigations, provide strategic intelligence and prepare general situation reports. Within two years at the latest of entry into force, Europol's remit will be extended to terrorism. Furthermore, there is provision in the convention for Europol to take on a wide range of other forms of serious organised crime at the discretion of the Council of Ministers.

Regarding how Europol will achieve its objectives, I emphasise that Europol is established to operate as a non-operational team with the primary tasks of facilitating the exchange of information and intelligence between law enforcement authorities and carrying out detailed analyses in relation to the crimes within its remit. I mention this because, as some Senators are aware, it is likely that the role of Europol in the field of law enforcement co-operation may in the future be enhanced arising from provisions in the Amsterdam Treaty agreed by the Intergovernmental Conference last June and signed by member states last month. Any developments concerning the extension of Europol's competence would, however, require in the first instance consensus or unanimity among EU member states and, second, they would have to be dealt with by way of completely separate legislation. They do not, therefore, affect the passage of this Bill since it is concerned with giving the force of law to the 1995 convention as it stands.

The convention, in article 8, provides for member states to forward information to Europol concerning persons who are suspected of having committed or taken part in criminal offences in respect of which Europol is competent, or have been convicted of such offences, or in relation to persons who there are serious grounds for believing will commit such criminal offences in the future. In addition, Europol is to be informed of the means used in committing crimes, suspected membership of criminal organisations and criminal convictions of such persons.

The information will be collated by Europol in a central computerised data base consisting of three elements. The first element will be an information system with a restricted and precisely defined content which allows rapid reference to the information available to the member states and Europol, or, as it is sometimes referred to, an outer ring of information. The second component will concern more sensitive information, a so-called inner ring of information comprising work files for the purposes of analysis containing comprehensive information. Lastly, there will be an index system containing certain particulars from the analysis files. Specialists will analyse the information with a view to making connections and arrive at an overview, the results of which will then be forwarded to the member states concerned.

Member states will send liaison officers to Europol who will assist in the exchange of information and analysis work. Each member state must also set up a national unit to act as the centralised contact point for all relations with Europol. The liaison officer will represent the interests of his or her particular national unit. This is a formalisation of the arrangements which at present exist for the EDU. This system operates not only to communicate information but the liaison officers are also a valuable tool in overcoming problems which may arise between member states, for example, because of having insufficient knowledge of each others' legal systems.

In addition to liaison officers representative of each member state, Europol will employ analysts who will be under the Europol director's authority. The director will be appointed by the Council of Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs and will be accountable to it. There will also be a management board comprising representatives of all the member states of the Union.

Europol will only be as good as its information. It is imperative that adequate safeguards are in place to guarantee the confidentiality, the security and the accuracy of information exchanged and shared. In this regard the convention lays down extensive safeguards. It acknowledges that particular attention must be paid to the privacy rights of individuals and the protection of their personal information. It requires that, as a minimum, each member state must ensure a standard of data protection at least as high as that required by the 1981 Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data. That convention is implemented here by the Data Protection Act, 1988. In addition, each member state must appoint a national supervisory body to monitor independently, under national law, the communication of personal data to and from Europol. There will also be a joint supervisory body to monitor the activities of Europol as a whole to ensure that the rights of individuals are not violated by storage and processing of personal data.

Rules governing liability are laid down in the event of damage being caused by unauthorised or incorrect use of data. Finally, confidentiality is also protected by rules governing the dissemination of sensitive information and the obligation of discretion imposed upon employees of Europol and liaison officers.

There are two protocols to the convention, the first being the protocol on the interpretation of the convention by the European Court of Justice. One difficulty which delayed the finalisation of the convention was the failure of member states to agree on whether the European Court of Justice should have a role in relation to the Europol Convention. The protocol solved this outstanding problem by giving member states the option to declare to accept or not the interpretation of the convention by the Court of Justice by way of preliminary rulings. For those member states who did opt to accept the Court's jurisdiction, they could make a further declaration setting out the circumstances under which the jurisdiction of the Court would operate in their respective countries, that is, either at the request of all national courts or at the request only of courts against whose decisions there is no judicial remedy. We opted for the latter course so as to ensure, as far as possible, that there will be as little disruption as possible to the progress of a criminal trial once commenced.

The second protocol on the privileges and immunities of Europol, its organs, its deputy directors and employees is needed for the practical application of the Europol Convention once it enters into force. The purpose of the protocol is to grant Europol and all those acting on its behalf the same type of privileges and immunities as are usually granted to international organisations.

I should also mention that, in addition to the two protocols to which this Bill will give the force of law, there are a number of other legal texts necessary for Europol's actual operation. These deal with implementing measures concerning the rights and obligations of liaison officers, staff regulations, rules for analysis of data, confidentiality rules, rules of procedure of the joint supervisory body, Europol's budget, Europol's headquarters agreement between it and the Netherlands, and bilateral agreements between the Netherlands and member states concerning privileges and immunities of liaison officers and their families. Of those, still to be finalised are the confidentiality rules, the rules of procedure of the joint supervisory body and the headquarters agreement. All the measures must be formally adopted by the Justice and Home Affairs Council before Europol can take up its activities. However, while the legal texts are a prerequisite to Europol's entry into force, they are not necessary to the ratification process, and each member state can proceed with ratification of the convention and its two protocols without the various implementing measures being finalised.

That raises the question of when the convention will enter into force and when Europol will actually take up its activities. Its entry into force is dependent on all 15 member states having ratified it. As of now it has been ratified by only two member states — the United Kingdom and Spain - but several more ratifications are expected during the coming months. I intend that, likewise, on the enactment of this Bill, Ireland's ratification procedure would be concluded before the end of the year. This would keep us in line with the European Council's stated aim of ratification by all member states before the end of 1997.

I will not spend an inordinate length of time on the provisions of the Bill since the explanatory memorandum which was circulated with the Bill contains quite a detailed commentary on the individual sections and their related provisions in the convention.

The approach adopted in the Bill is to give the convention and the two protocols the force of law in the State. Section 2 contains this core provision of the Bill. Section 3 is concerned with the national unit which will act as a centralised unit within the Garda Síochána for the channelling of information and intelligence to and from Europol. The section proposes that the unit be headed up by a garda of at least chief superintendent rank and that it operate under the authority of the Garda Commissioner. The assignment of staff to the unit will not be confined to members of the Garda Síochána however. The Bill enables the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to appoint non-Garda personnel to be members of the unit, after consultation with the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Finance and any other Minister, as considered appropriate, and, in relation to officers of Customs and Excise, with the Revenue Commissioners.

Officers of Customs and Excise clearly have a very important part to play in relation to certain types of crime within Europol's remit. I will, therefore, give attention to the appointment of a Customs and Excise officer to the national unit as soon as this legislation is passed so that such an appointment will come into effect as soon as the convention comes into operation.

Section 4 provides for the sending of liaison officers from the national unit to Europol. Again, liaison officers need not necessarily be members of the Garda Síochána and could potentially, for example, be members of Customs and Excise. In the case of non-Garda members of the national unit, this section provides that they will be sent only after consultation by the Commissioner with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and, in the case of an officer of Customs and Excise, on the nomination of the Revenue Commissioners and, in the case of other members of the national unit, on the nomination of such other Minister, as considered appropriate.

Section 5 is a technical provision amending certain sections of the Garda Síochána Act, 1989, so as to apply them to members of the Garda serving with Europol. Sections 6 and 7 are concerned with data protection. The main purpose of section 6 is to apply the Data Protection Act, 1988, to relevant provisions in the convention subject to modification where necessary. As I already mentioned, the 1988 Act gave effect to the principles contained in the 1981 Council of Europe convention on data protection, which is the standard of protection laid down by the convention. Section 7 designates the Data Protection Commissioner for the purposes of the convention so that he will be empowered to monitor implementation of the data protection provisions.

Section 8 gives Europol corporate status so as to enable it to enter into contracts and other commercial relationships and to sue and be sued in the courts. There is provision in section 9 for the application of the Official Secrets Act, 1963, to provisions of the convention which impose obligations of confidentiality.

Turning now to the protocol on the interpretation of the convention by the European Court of Justice, section 10 provides that judicial notice shall be taken in this country of any ruling or decision or expression of opinion by that court. There is provision in sections 11 and 12 for the making of ministerial Orders, to be laid before both Houses, which appear to be necessary and expedient for carrying out the convention. All matters of substance pertaining to the convention and its protocols are covered by the Bill and the purpose of the provisions in sections 11 and 12 is merely to enable incidental requirements to be met from time to time.

Section 13 contains the standard expenses provision. In this regard, the financial arrangements for Europol provide for annual estimates to be drawn up and approved by the Justice and Home Affairs Council. The budget will be financed from member states' contributions which are determined by reference to a formula of the percentage of GNP attributed to each. While additional cost will arise in respect of Europol's new computer system, in the absence of experience of operating the convention it is impossible to say what level of contribution we will have to make. Some indications, however, may be gained from our current contributions to the EDU's budget. The EDU budget for 1997, when savings made last year are taken into account, is ECU 7 million, 0.7 per cent of which we pay for from the Garda Síochána Vote.

The convention is a desirable measure which will provide a weapon to us and our EU partners for combating international organised crime. It will provide for greatly enhanced co-operation among the 15 at a level commensurate with the threat posed by the increasingly sophisticated techniques of today's organised criminals. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill which was drafted by the previous Minister, Deputy Owen. I am delighted the Minister has brought it forward in its original form. He may be assured it will not receive a negative response from this side of the House, as it might have if our roles were reversed. This is necessary legislation resulting from our obligations under the Maastricht Treaty.

A section deals with justice and home affairs and co-operation between member states. This arises from the opening of borders between the 15 members states, although there were only 12 when the treaty was signed. Crime is no longer a national phenomenon. Organised crime is transnational and involves huge sums of money, sophisticated technology and an extraordinary level of ingenuity and cleverness. Opening borders, in accordance with the Single European Act and the treaty on greater European union, leads to the easier movement of people, goods and services between members states but it also enables criminals to ply their trade with greater ease across borders and transnationally. This response, which we support, has its genesis in the Maastricht Treaty and involves the gathering on computer and sharing of information between the police forces of the Union.

I hope the Minister will press the Justice and Home Affairs Council to move forward because Europol will probably not come into force until late next year as there must be a three month waiting period after the last country has ratified the convention. I ask the Minister, assuming he remains in office that length of time, to press the Justice and Home Affairs Council to ensure that we go further and that the war against transnational crime is better facilitated by agreements between member states.

This country should take the initiative in this area. We made drugs our priority during our presidency of the EU and we should continue in that vein. I am talking about hot pursuits across state boundaries, as happens in the United States. Obviously, this would not apply to Ireland but to France and Germany and any other countries with a contiguous border with a fellow member state.

The Bill also deals with the availability of evidence. The same crime may be committed in several countries, for example, France, Germany, Ireland and Denmark. When bringing somebody to trial, it is important the court system accepts evidence made available by witnesses in each member state. It is extremely important we continue down this road because the war against crime and the type of criminal with whom we are dealing will not be won until we have such ease in prosecuting these people and making them amenable to the courts and the law.

I refer to high profile crimes, usually fraud, which have been committed here by individuals in the past 15 to 20 years. Some years ago RTÉ did an interesting investigative programme in its "Today Tonight" series on a number of high profile criminals who committed major fraud and absconded particularly to Spain where, as we saw from the television footage, they lived the high life. The Cathaoirleach will know that one of those people came from our county. I understand the rules preclude me from naming him in the House because he may not be able to defend himself. He defrauded farmers of about £2.5 million and absconded to Spain. In 1982 there was a warrant for his arrest on foot of a firearms charge in County Limerick, yet in 1992 he was able to commit another major fraud by defrauding an elderly lady in this city of a substantial sum of money. Proceedings have been instituted in the High Court for his return from Spain to make him amenable to the court system in this country. It is difficult to understand how this man can use every type of legal stratagem in the Spanish legal system to prevent his return. He is like all other high-profile fraudsters, who defrauded people and institutions of millions of pounds and absconded to Spain to live the high life.

It is difficult to believe Spain is still a member of the European Union. These fraudsters rob people of moderate means. A small farmer is in financial ruin as a result of the activity of this individual. I hope this Bill will result in the apprehension of such people and that there will be no high-profile criminals living abroad in a member state of the EU where they are not amenable to the Irish courts. Witnesses could be sent and evidence provided to a Spanish court to try them there if that is what needs to be done.

I welcome the publication of the Estimates and the increase of £73 million in the Department's Vote. This is in line with the substantial increase provided for by the former Minister of Justice last year. Much of that £73 million is needed to pay for measures initiated by the previous Minister. The Minister said a new prison is being built in Castlerea. We all know the history of Castlerea Prison which was officially opened last October. There are 50 prisoners there and a second high security unit is under construction which must continue to be funded. This is not a new prison. Castlerea Prison was popular locally, which is unusual, and we are disappointed that when announcing the creation of further prison spaces a few months ago, the Minister did not identify Castlerea as a site for a further 150 prison spaces. The Castlerea site is the largest prison compound in the country. There are 25 acres of land within the tutelage of its new walls. The high security block under construction is being merged with one of the old hospital blocks to form a "T" shape — I hope they are not called "T Blocks" after H Blocks. There is another hospital block which could have been used to house 150 to 200 more prisoners.

This is not a parochial point. An enlightened approach was taken in buying enough land to allow for recreational facilities on this site. It does not compare with the fetid awfulness of Mountjoy where the majority of the prison population has a drug problem which is not addressed and where there is no proper recreation outside its prison blocks. I do not believe we can tackle crime solely by providing more prison spaces or that the approach should only be based on punishment. The genesis of crime has to be examined. Eighty per cent of crime in this city is drug-related. What are we doing about the drugs problem? Often those who commit crimes are ill. I know that victims, who suffer horribly, may have difficulty understanding this. However, we must understand the nature of the crime and the unfortunate person who commits it.

The Minister is unusual for a Fianna Fáil Minister in that he has taken a hard line on crime, which to a great extent I congratulate. He is unlike some of his predecessors. I mentioned a Minister in the 1980s who would not use the word "inform" on a television programme because of its connotation. If I have a criticism of the current Minister it is that he is often too hardline. I welcome the provision of minimum sentencing in the Criminal Justice Bill. However, the Minister should be careful not to cross the line by infringing on citizens' civil rights. There is a feeling that the law needs to be strengthened, with which we all agree. However, one can go too far with this argument and I counsel the Minister to be careful. We will oppose the Bill if the civil rights of the individual are infringed upon by new draconian legislation.

We do not have any difficulty in dealing with the hardened criminal or with the horrible phenomenon of vicious urbanised crime. The incidence of crime is lower now than three years ago. In the hysteria generated about crime figures, we often lose sight of the fact that a greater percentage of crimes of both a summary and indictable nature are reported and we are getting better statistics. The Department of Justice discussion paper,Tackling Crime, was rubbished by the Minister at the time of its publication in May 1997 — perhaps he will tell us if he continues to do so and whether the document has any status in his Department. According to this paper, 487,340 summary offences were reported to the Garda in 1992. In 1993 this figure increased to 562,260; it decreased to 500,747 in 1994 and to 478,733 in 1995. I have no reason to believe it increased significantly in 1996.

In 1992, 95,391 cases of indictable crime were reported to gardaí. This increased to 98,979 in 1993, to 101,036 in 1994 and to 102,484 in 1995. The 1996 provisional figures, which may now have been made official, were down to 100,894. While the figures are worrying by European and international standards, we are in a better position than five years ago. What has changed is the amount of violence and viciousness accompanying criminal activity, such as the recent rural phenomenon of attacks on the elderly living alone in isolated areas. I welcome the Garda operation to deal with these attacks.

I mentioned this the last time I spoke on a justice and law reform issue, but the point cannot be made often enough. Almost 80 per cent of crime occurs in Dublin and Cork but that does not take from the horrific nature of some rural crime which often does not receive the reportage it deserves. Gardaí in rural areas are not able to respond to criminals who come from the cities or large urban centres to prey on people, usually old age pensioners, who live alone on isolated roadways. There have been a number of horrific cases, including murders, in my county. I appeal to the Minister to ensure there is a sufficient number of gardaí in our towns and villages. No Garda station should have fewer than two gardaí. It is useless having one garda doing an eight hour shift because this means there will be no cover for 16 hours of the day. I live in an area where there is only one garda. His work may take him outside the area. If criminals know that towns, villages and the surrounding countryside are unprotected, they will take advantage of it. Gardaí must be based in these areas. The people who carry out such heinous crimes must be made aware they will meet a garda on the beat if they decide to attack an elderly lady or couple on an isolated roadway. I am not trying to score political points. I am sure Senator McGowan agrees with me as he comes from a county similar to mine.

Perhaps the Minister could tell us what he means by zero tolerance. The Fianna Fáil general election manifesto states that given the threat the nation faces, it is important that the Government's attitude to crime is clear cut. In Fianna Fáil's view there are no insignificant crimes today. Does the Minister mean summary or indictable offences? Many summary offences are minor, while indictable offences relate to serious crime. The manifesto also states that no crime, no matter how small, is insignificant and that there is a definitive connection between lesser and more serious crimes. The Minister is obviously talking about summary and indictable offences. I ask him to define zero tolerance.

The manifesto also deals with other issues related to crime and drugs. Nine promises are made under the heading drugs and rehabilitation. What action has the Minister taken on each of these nine promises to tackle the drugs problem and what progress has been made?

I welcome this informative debate. Zero tolerance is an ideology to which we should all aspire. We would love to see a crime free society. The communist regime in Russia believed it could achieve that but, unfortunately, it did not happen. Zero tolerance is a good concept which sends a message to all criminals that this Government and Minister will not tolerate intimidation of people, particularly the elderly.

I welcome the Minister's announcement that an extra £73 million will be made available in the Estimates to combat crime. The last Minister made a mess in this regard. Crime is spiralling and that is why we must introduce this Bill to tackle drug trafficking. It is laudable that the Minister is spending extra money providing more prison spaces. It is an indictment of our society that we must lock people up. Over the next two years there will be in excess of 3,000 prison places.

I welcome the Minister's announcement to spend more money recruiting extra gardaí. The green man system in small rural barracks has not worked. I agree with Senator Connor that many rural Garda stations are being demanned. The number of gardaí in west Cork has decreased by eight or nine in the past ten years. Drug trafficking is a problem in the areas around west Cork and Kerry because of our coastline. However, the Garda station in Bantry is outdated, although this is the responsibility of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Cullen. Bantry is probably the biggest town west of Cork city, yet its Garda station is like something from the 1940s and 1950s. I levelled this criticism also at previous Ministers and Governments. In a recent serious crime on Mizen Head, a station closer to Cork city, 60 or 70 miles from the scene of the crime, had to be used. Garda manpower in Bantry has decreased and the technology is outdated. This should be rectified.

As an area, west Cork is as rural as Donegal, Roscommon or Mayo. The green man is not a proper substitute for a garda on the beat and its operation should be examined, although I am not saying it should be abolished. Members of the public do not make sufficient use of it and it is not very effective.

We must recognise that criminals are becoming extremely sophisticated and, regardless of whether we like it, it has been proven over the years that crime pays. Some criminal gangs have international operations with access to the best technology and, as the Minister said, huge sums of money and their trafficking of drugs, among other items, can undermine the security of various states.

The European Drugs Unit was a temporary measure and the purpose of this Bill is to ratify the Europol Convention and give legal force to the existing situation. As a result of the Maastricht Treaty and the Single European Act, the borders between the 15 member states have, in effect, been removed. The primary purpose of that move was to ensure freedom of movement between member states. Unfortunately, it has also enabled drug barons and other criminals to have free access to those countries. The implementation of this legislation, in conjunction with the existence of a European police force, will assist us in that regard. Drug trafficking is the greatest scourge in our society.

Illegal immigrants are being shipped from country to country. One of the greatest disasters in the last 20 years has been the development of major paedophile rings. The Minister and the previous speaker referred to what has happened in Belgium. The Italian police force recently uncovered an international ring in which children from China, Japan and Thailand were being trafficked through the European Union to be abused in Great Britain, the rest of Europe or America. It is a scandal that innocent children are being trafficked through the EU, including possibly this country. I welcome the expansion of the operations of Europol to include this regrettable trade, which is morally much more serious than drug trafficking. It is also welcome that the operations of Europol will encompass international terrorism and the illegal trafficking in cars and other items.

Ireland has, unfortunately, been a gateway for the trafficking of drugs into Europe in the past ten or 15 years. There has been a number of incidents in my area over the past ten years, some of which were successfully intercepted, off the coasts of Kinsale, Courtmacsherry, Schull and Castletownbere. We have a huge coastline with many accessible harbours in areas which are too remote to be policed properly. I compliment the Garda and Customs and Excise officers who have had major successes in the interception of large consignments of drugs. As a result of those interceptions, such illegal trafficking seems to have moved to the west coast, with recent incidents off the coast of Clare.

While I recognise that the present and previous Ministers have tried to tackle this problem, only about 20 per cent of the drugs which land in this country are intercepted. It would be more than welcome if this Bill and Europol could go some way towards addressing this issue. Given the huge volumes of marijuana, cocaine and other drugs which have been intercepted here, and those which go undetected, it is obvious they are not all for use in this country but are shipped to Great Britain, France and other parts of Europe.

The purpose of Europol is to assimilate information at an international level. We will have a national unit which, as the Minister said, will be headed by a garda not below the rank of chief superintendent, and will be staffed by members of the Garda Síochána with the possible back-up of Customs and Excise officers and others. This is important because each of the 15 member states will have their own national network, with a central body based in Europe with a database of all criminals who fall under the remit of Europol as set out in the convention and protocols. That development must be implemented as soon as possible.

Great Britain and Spain have already enacted legislation to implement the convention and protocols. I hope this Bill will become law before the end of this year. However, as my colleague pointed out, Europol will not be fully recognised by the EU until 90 days after the last member state has ratified the convention, which may take another 12 months. However, by urging the ratification of the convention and passing this Bill, we will play our part on the greater European stage in assisting the fight against drug related and other crimes.

Article 8 of the convention requires member states to forward to Europol information concerning persons suspected of having committed crimes so that a proper database can be established to assist the European fight against drugs and related crimes. It is hoped that Europol will be as effective as Interpol, if not more so.

The other important point the Minister emphasised was the liaison between member states and between the various national units throughout Europe. This is crucial. Up to now we had good will in the Europol drugs unit and among the various countries. This new liaison which will have force of law in all 15 European Union countries will make it obligatory for each country to have its own unit to collect information on various criminal activities, to correlate that information, to liaise with a central body and to provide a system by which the police, the courts, governments and administrations in the various jurisdictions, with officials of Customs and Excise and other agencies of the State who are out to tackle crime, will be working hand in hand to ensure that things like drug trafficking, terrorism, the illegal transportation of children, illegal immigrants and aliens can be combated. This is a most welcome move.

There are other areas of debate. The Minister, for example, has indicated that he intends to bring in a new criminal justice Bill to deal with the question of mandatory sentences for certain drug offences. This too must be welcomed. I am sure that when this Bill comes before the House there will be a very full debate from all sides. I understand my colleagues' observations with regard to the rights of the individual. Certainly they must be protected, but there is a cancer in our society, which has been getting worse for the last 20 years, of drugs and drug related crimes. It is a sad statistic that 80 per cent of crimes are drug related. Drugs of various descriptions are available in every village and town throughout Ireland. Sometimes we are afraid to admit that places like west Cork, Mayo, Donegal or Kerry are not free of drugs but regrettably this is the case. Drugs are becoming more and more accessible. Ruthless and well organised criminals throughout Ireland and Europe have networks to distribute these drugs. This is something we must tackle. If the Minister espouses zero tolerance but needs extra legislation, better manpower in the Garda Síochána, more prison spaces, more sophisticated technology etc., then so be it.

Most members of the Garda Síochána passing out now are very well educated. The day of the big burly Garda on the beat is gone. We are picking highly intelligent, well trained young people who, when they come through their courses in Templemore, are very capable of serving the people. More gardaí should be available and I am glad that the Minister has decided to increase Garda numbers.

While we are aware of crime in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and the bigger cities we must also protect the less privileged and the old people who live in very remote areas, I fully concur with my colleague, Senator Connor, when he says that we forget the elderly and under-privileged in rural Ireland. In the Minister's fight against crime he should take a serious look at the questions of rural crime and the demanning of rural Garda stations.

I thank the Minister for his contribution. He has a number of Bills in the pipeline over the next few years because I believe he will be in office for quite some time. I trust that this Bill will be accepted and I commend it to the House.

May I share my time with Senator Quinn who wishes to speak for only five minutes? I may not take 15 minutes.

Much that needs to be said has been said but I would like to say some things that I do not think have been fully ventilated. I would like to pick up two elements in the Minister's speech. First, he said that the victims of house breakers, burglars and car thieves do not regard these crimes as trivial or minor and neither does the Government; I can concur. I had a burglary in my house the day I returned from South America about two or three weeks ago and I would like to place on the record my congratulations to the Garda Síochána for a very efficient job of detective work. The police from Fitzgibbon Street were supplied with a description of the man involved, they apprehended him and he confessed to the crime. However, I do not particularly want this man to go to jail. I think it would be a complete and utter waste of taxpayers' money. I would like him to do something constructive in the community and to be forced by the law to make amends by doing something positive. On this subject I am less impressed than most of my colleagues with the statement that the Government's programme includes the provision of 1,000 more prison spaces in the next two years. I wish this money was invested in areas like the north inner city in decent housing, decent education and decent job opportunities. If this massive investment were diverted into resources for the deprived and marginalised areas of our cities then, I am convinced we would halve the level of crime.

The business of the war against drugs is a nonsense. It will never be won. We have seen this all over the world. The United States, which spearheaded this notion of the "battle against drugs", has thrown money at it and simply increased the profits of the mafia. There is only one way to undercut the scourge of drugs and that is to destroy the economic base by deregulating drug use and by establishing a system of quality control. I recognize this as a global view and that this would have to be looked at on a Europe-wide, if not a world-wide basis. It is, at the end of the day, the only system that will work. Speaker after speaker has indicated that, despite the intensive war on drugs, the problem is increasing and multiplying all the time. It is obvious that we are losing this war and I believe that we are losing it because we are fighting it the wrong way. It is just like Prohibition. All we are doing is increasing the profits of the drugs barons.

I also have very grave reservations about this Bill. I acknowledge the need to establish some kind of network of information and co-operation among police forces throughout Europe and I can well understand the reasons people decided to set up Europol. The rationale for creating it seems to be that the opening of frontiers between the states of the European Union requires a co-ordinated response from the police forces and it is argued that organised crime can now operate transnationally, right across borders, without hindrance, and move money laundering activities from place to place with ease.

A number of other factors exist. The collapse of the Soviet Union has introduced the new threat of the trafficking of nuclear material, vehicle crimes and the growth of organized crime in the former Soviet domains. Anybody who had travelled in Scandinavia or in eastern Europe recently will have become aware of the massive penetration of the Russian mafia into all the countries that border the former Soviet Union. I recognize the existence of this difficulty. Then there is the emigration and spread of the Italian mafia, increases in drug trafficking and the emergence of organized illegal immigration networks.

The response which is considered by this instrument is to create a modern, computer based information system with a central capacity for analysing intelligence. That is fair enough. Let us look at the process by which we have arrived at this. One immediately starts to get worried because of the absolute lack of transparency and accountability in the entire process from day one. This Europol agreement was forged, initiated and brought to its present state without any reference to national parliaments or to the European Parliament and that must worry people.

The European Parliament was not consulted under Article K.6 of the Maastricht Treaty at any stage during the two years of negotiations over the convention's content. This Article explicitly states that the Council should consult the European Parliament on the principal aspects of activities and ensure its views are duly taken into consideration. At the meeting of the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers held in Luxembourg in June 1994 it was decided that the European Parliament should only be given a copy of the draft convention informally, specifically to avoid the requirement to consult it formally. It is a significant problem that we were actually obviating the requirement for democratic accountability.

Other difficulties include the fact that there does not seem to be any clear definition of what constitutes organised crime. There is a suspicion that what is being got at here is the principle of transnational criminal activity of whatever seriousness. It is not really serious organised crime all the time; it can go down to comparatively petty offences. This is worrying, particularly where there is no proper definition.

The Meijers committee which met in Utrecht in the Netherlands told a House of Lords inquiry into Europol that "A member state might have to provide information about behaviour which under its own law was not criminal". That is surely something that ought to give anybody interested in human and civil rights pause for thought.

The report by the House of Lords on Europol came to the conclusion that crimes appear on the list not because they are the most serious offences but because they are particularly transnational in character and therefore require a transnational response.

I am concerned by suggestions that the type of information that may be gathered by this pan-European police force includes information data on race, sexuality and politics. Perhaps the Minister can comment on this. A draft regulation on work files for the purposes of analysis being discussed by the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers would allow Europol to hold information on a person's sexuality and political opinions.

Setting out the rules to be followed under Article 10.1 of the Europol Convention, the regulation, Article 4.3, enables Europol to hold information on 3.1 ethnic origin, 3.2 political views, 3.3 religious views, 3.4 information on health, and 3.5 information on sexuality.

This has to do with people who are suspected criminals. What has happened to the old notion that a person is innocent until proven guilty? If we can compile this kind of dossier and information on people who are merely suspected of crimes — including information on their sexuality, health status and political opinions — we should be careful, bearing in mind the behaviour of some police forces, in particular the French, who frequently flout their own domestic law in pursuit of suspected criminals.

I remember a period in Germany ten or 15 years ago when theBerufsverbot was in operation throughout the civil service. Under this rule information of this kind was stored and could be retrieved by the authorities. It was used against the careers of people employed in the German civil service. For example, although homosexuality had been decriminalised, information on people's sexual orientation was stored and was a bar to employment. The individual, however, had no recourse to access his or her file. We must have this kind of accountability.

The Europol force is able to withhold from individual citizens any data relating to them if they could affect the proper performance of Europol's tasks. That is a broad definition which would make it difficult for an individual to get proper access to information about them that is contained in files. I regard that as a worrying factor. I would like the Minister to address these points and come up with some answers for the House.

On the question of data protection, the Meijers committee argued that "since Europol could store data received from non-member states or through circuitous channels, there were serious risks of inaccuracy, and the right to information might well be illusory". If a senior committee of experienced people believes that the right to information becomes illusory because of the serpentine nature of this legislation, we ought to be careful.

I would remind the House that national parliaments are not permitted the right to amend this protocol. We either accept it or reject it and it is obvious that it will be accepted. As a national parliament we are being asked to rubber stamp something that takes away or seriously diminishes the human rights of our citizens. This is worrying in European terms.

Article 19 of the Europol Convention deals with the right of access. Article 19 starts out well and appears to be positive but then, bit by bit, it whittles away all the apparently positive elements contained in the beginning. An application by an individual for access to data must be made to the competent national authority, which in the United Kingdom is the Data Protection Registrar, which will refer it to Europol which will reply directly to the individual. Such requests must be dealt with within three months.

Article 19.3 implies that an individual can apply for access to the data held on them not just in their home member state but in any member state, that is, a United Kingdom citizen or an Irish citizen could apply to the German or French data protection authorities. Where the member state has data access laws, and some countries including Italy and Greece do not have such laws, the request can be turned down "if such a refusal is necessary to: 1) enable Europol to fulfil its duties properly; 2) protect security and public order in the member state or to prevent crime; 3) protect the rights and freedoms of third parties".

Further reservations then apply to each of the three levels of the Europol computer system: where it relates to the "information system"— Article 8 — no data can be given unless the member state which entered the data and the member states which the data concerned agree, and they may refuse; where data has been entered by Europol, i.e., from a third party, the member state affected by the data has to agree and is allowed to reserve the right to refuse to comply; and for data in the "work files"— Article 10 — there has to be a consensus among Europol, member states participating in the analysis and the member states affected. If there is not a consensus then "Europol shall notify the person that it has carried out the checks, without giving him or her any information which might reveal to him or her whether or not he or she is known". This needs a good deal of examination and causes me considerable concern.

Articles 20 to 22 concern the deletion, correction and review of data files. If a citizen feels that he or she is misrepresented factually in this material, surely the ability to retrieve and alter it is crucial. Article 20 appears to go some way but when one starts to read it one realises, once again, that progressively the rights and entitlements are whittled away.

Readers of the full convention will sometimes find themselves referring backwards and forwards to different provisions. Such an instance occurs in Article 21.3. This says data referred to in "point 1 of the first subparagraph of Article 10(1) may not exceed a total of three years". The said "point 1" says: "Persons as referred to in Article 8(1)" [qualified by reference to Articles 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3]. Article 8.1 covers people "suspected of having committed "or where there are serious grounds "for believing [they] will commit. .". As if this is not complicated enough, Article 21.3, which appears to set a time limit of three years, then sets a quite unique provision: "Each time limit shall begin to run afresh on the date on which an event leading to the storage of data relating to that individual occurs". The term "event" is nowhere defined — again a lack of definition — but appears to refer to any significant new input of data on people "suspected". So we have it, endlessly running on in three year jumps.

I have considerable worries and concerns about this because of the way in which emerged the lack of democratic accountability, the apparent intention to obviate parliamentary control either at European or national level and the apparent desire to place the operation of Europol above and outside the operations of the European Court of Justice. I understand, however, there has been some small move in these directions, in particular in the storage of what seems to be tendentious material about people's political opinions, religious views and their sexual orientation. For these reasons, I urge the Minister and the House to carefully consider the provisions in the Europol convention.

I welcome this Bill. It forces us to realise how the world is changing, especially in the areas of technology and the ease with which it is possible to cross borders. There are almost 15 different approaches to drug trafficking in Europe. We have taken a strong view on this issue and the great strides made in the last 15 months by the Garda Síochána should be applauded. By contrast, the French consider the Dutch to be too liberal.

We must find ways of using weapons to compete against drug traffickers who cross borders and against those criminals who use the benefits of technology. The main justification for this Bill is that it deals with this issue. It is also to be welcomed for its approach to the area of information. While we do not need a European FMI at present, because it would amount to a supranational police force, it may be necessary at a future date. At present, neither Europol nor Interpol amounts to this and there is no indication that this Bill is a move in that direction.

Europol is essentially about the sharing, coordinating and speeding up of the flow of information between national police forces. The better this is done the better we will move against drug traffickers.

While we must be realistic in recognising that all policing involves some dilution of civil liberties we must be vigilant in ensuring that we strike the right balance between the needs of policing and the preservation of these liberties. Consideration of a measure such as this in our Legislature should be deliberate and accompanied by a wide ranging national debate. It is regrettable that the passing of this Bill, like the legislation on the bail referendum, has not received the public attention it deserves. Similarly, one of the reasons the referendum on Cabinet confidentiality amounted to bad legislation was there was no national debate. It was not understood and the poor turnout in the referendum is indicative of this.

I supported the bail referendum on the basis that, on balance, it was the right thing to do. However, it was not right that such an important change to our legal system should have proceeded without a national debate. The referendum raised a fundamental issue which is also a feature of this Bill — the need for informed agreement when important changes are made, especially those affecting civil liberties. We should not sleepwalk where our fundamental freedoms are involved.

However, this Bill is broadly acceptable. Doubtless it could be improved. Given the war on crime, the benefits are probably worth the price. There is a danger that the Bill may start us down a slippery slope which we may later regret. However, the best defence against that is the public attitude to such legislation. As legislators we should be unwilling to consider Bills of this kind except in the context of a national debate about the issues involved.

I wish to share my time with Senator McGowan.

Is that agreed?

Agreed.

I welcome this Bill. It appears at an important time for this country. There is an escalation in organised international crime, including drug trafficking and money laundering. More recently, evidence has emerged of paedophile rings and trafficking in illegal immigration.

The involvement of highly organised gangs, with their local networks, in these areas pose big challenges to states. They are engaged in lucrative operations and there are huge incentives for them to continue to develop and become more sophisticated. They have intricate networks and routes available to them and can afford to use modern technology and advice to avoid the laws of states by exploiting loopholes.

In view of this, the challenge they pose is beyond the scope and resources of individual states. They can only be effectively tackled at international level. The Bill proposes a framework that will facilitate the speedy flow and exchange of information, analysis and co-operation and will provide a European focus for tackling international crimes in an organised way.

I welcome the significant initiatives announced by the Minister which are in the process of preparation. I am not surprised that he has introduced them at this early stage in his term of office. He had an active record in Opposition and introduced 13 Bills, some of them significant and important. Some were accepted by the then Government, others were adopted and reintroduced under a different guise. On the question of the Minister's initiative regarding 1,000 extra prison places, I support a policy of inclusion which targets those who feel alienated. The President referred to this in her inaugural speech yesterday. The Taoiseach has promoted social inclusion as one of the major policies of the Government.

However, we should not live in a fool's paradise. We should not believe that providing resources for an additional 1,000 prison places and targeting programmes of social inclusion will, in the short to medium term, result in the disappearance of hardened criminals who are marauding our streets both as individuals and in gangs. Those who purport this are naive. We must confront these gangs and criminals.

Debate adjourned.