The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to three additional protocols to the Europol Convention, Protocols 2000, 2002 and 2003, which have been negotiated since the Europol Convention, and two earlier protocols in 1996 and 1997 which were given force of law in this jurisdiction by the Europol Act 1997. The protocols in question will be, on the passing of this Bill into law, Schedules to the Europol Act 1997 and will allow Ireland, subject to Government approval, to ratify them.
The creation of the Single Market and the breakdown in borders within the European Union has facilitated an increase in cross-border crime. In the context of the emergence of the Single Market and the removal of trade barriers, Justice and Home Affairs Ministers of member states were acutely aware of the need for measures to prevent the exploitation of free movement by criminals and to protect their citizens against organised crime. It was this concern which led to the decision by the European Council at its meeting in Maastricht in 1991 to establish Europol. The precise role and powers of Europol were formed over the following years and culminated in the Europol Convention in 1995, which provides the legal basis for Europol. The enactment of the Europol Act 1997 in Ireland paved the way for ratification of the Europol Convention along with the protocols of 1996 and 1997.
The Europol Convention provides a framework for law enforcement co-operation in the field of international organised crime. It provides for the establishment of Europol in October 1998 following ratification of the convention by all member states, including Ireland. The mission of Europol is to make a significant contribution to the European Union's law enforcement action in terrorism, unlawful drug trafficking and other serious forms of international crime with particular emphasis on the criminal organisations involved. Its aim is to act as the European centre of excellence for intelligence exchange, crime analysis and the fight against international crime. It also aims to improve the effectiveness and co-operation of the competent authorities in the EU member states in preventing and combating terrorism, unlawful drug trafficking and other serious forms of international organised crime.
The enactment of this Bill will enable Ireland to ratify three additional protocols which are the subject matter of the Bill. The Office of the Attorney General has advised that these protocols should be given effect by way of amendment to the Europol Act 1997. Enactment will allow Ireland to fulfil its international obligations. Their effect will be to extend the mandate of Europol, clarify certain powers and streamline the work of Europol. The passing of this Bill will not alter in any major substantive way the structure of Europol.
The Bill is divided into five sections. Section 1 amends section 1(1) of the Europol Act 1997 by adding definitions for the three protocols with which we are dealing. Section 2 amends section 2 of the Europol Act 1997 to give force of law in this State to these three additional protocols and to provide for judicial notice to be taken of them.
The first of the protocols, that of 30 November 2000, extends the competence of Europol to money laundering regardless of the type of offences from which the laundered proceeds originate. As we know, that is a very important issue. The second protocol requiring ratification by Ireland is that of 28 November 2003. This protocol clarifies certain powers regarding joint investigation teams and the privileges and immunity applying to members of Europol. It is important that maximum benefit is derived from co-operation between member states when investigating cross-border crime.
Provision for officials of Europol to participate in a support capacity — I emphasise this — in joint investigation teams is provided for in Article 1 of the framework decision of 13 June 2002 on joint investigation teams, and under Article 13 of the Convention of 29 May 2000 on mutual assistance in criminal matters between member states of the European Union. The protocol in question clarifies liability and privilege in respect of Europol's participation in such teams. The third protocol under consideration, dated 27 November 2003, streamlines the internal working of Europol, particularly in respect of liaison procedures and analysis and the processing of data
Section 3 amends section 6(1) of the Europol Act 1997 by providing that the Data Protection Acts apply for the purposes of the Europol Act 1997, the Europol Convention and the five protocols to the convention, namely, the protocols of 1996 and 1997, as well as the three protocols that are the subject of this Bill. This section was introduced at the suggestion of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to clarify that the Data Protection Acts apply for the purposes of the protocols as well as for the convention.
Section 4 provides for the addition of the three protocols in both the English and Irish languages, as schedules to the Europol Act 1997 and section 5 contains the Short Title. Hence, the core of the Bill comprises the three Protocols which are to become Schedules to the Europol Act 1997 and which may then be ratified by Ireland.
It is all too clear that as a small country we cannot tackle effectively all the problems associated with the activities of organised crime on our own. We must share information and intelligence with other countries regarding the operations of criminals who operate internationally, their modus operandi, their networks and the routes they use. Organised crime, particularly in respect of crimes such as drug trafficking, is not easy to combat. Criminals engaged in such activities have considerable resources at their disposal to use skilled people and sinister methods to overcome the obstacles that society puts in their way. It would be naïve to think that such ruthless criminals could be defeated by anything other than an energetic and proactive approach that embraced effective international co-operation and the highest level of professional police work, both in Ireland and in terms of co-operation with police services abroad.
At the heart of the European fight against organised crime is better and closer co-operation between national law enforcement agencies and between national police services in particular. The environment within which Europol operates today is quite different from that which obtained at its foundation in 1998. Many decisions and framework decisions have been adopted by the Council in the justice and home affairs area since that time. Many of the instruments adopted formed part of the reaction and response to new levels of terrorist threats. As a result, police co-operation via European Union channels is now routine.
A number of other bodies operating in the area of law enforcement and security, such as Eurojust, the European Police College, CEPOL, and the European Agency for the Management of Operational Co-operation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, FRONTEX, have been established. In the context of the changing environment, the Austrian Presidency of the Council launched a political debate on the framework and objectives of the further development of Europol at the informal meeting of Ministers, which was held in Vienna in January 2006. At that time, Ministers were invited to discuss how Europol could be developed further, in order that the law enforcement authorities of member states could derive maximum benefit from any such development. At that meeting, Ministers gave a clear commitment to strengthen Europol and make it more effective.
Ireland's fight against organised crime and terrorism in the international sphere is closely linked to the increasing effectiveness of Europol in fulfilling its mandate. The effective functioning of the Europol information system has greatly increased the potential of the European Union in prioritising strategic crime analysis, policy advice and law enforcement. The fundamental structure of Europol is strong. It is ideally equipped to carry out its required role in respect of information exchange and analysis at a European level. Due to its historical position as the first institution of Third Pillar co-operation, it has the longest experience of any organisation in European Union law enforcement. The general consensus at present is that Europol should be allowed to continue to grow within its current framework. However, it is important to note that the future role of Europol is based on the general principle that the main responsibility for combating serious international crime and terrorist offences in the European Union will remain within the competence of national law enforcement agencies in individual member states. Europol should continue to operate as a multi-agency organisation in full co-operation with all competent national authorities.
Ireland must play its role in the work of Europol and to this end, ratification of these three protocols is important. I am confident that Members will recognise the importance of the measures contained in this Bill and I look forward to their constructive deliberations.