European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training: Motion

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit.

I move:

That Seanad 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 accept the following measure:

Regulation (EU) 2015/2219 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2015 on the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL) and replacing and repealing Council Decision 2005/681/JHA,

a copy of which was laid before Seanad Éireann on 13th April 2016.

I am very pleased to return to the House - it seems as though I have been here all day - to present the motion. It gives me an opportunity to describe the service provided by CEPOL and highlight the benefit it brings to An Garda Síochána.

As Senators are aware, CEPOL is the European police college which was established in 2005. It brings together senior police officers from across the European Union and aims to encourage cross-border co-operation in the fight against crime and the maintenance of public security and law and order through training and exchange programmes and the sharing of research and best practice.

Since 2005, An Garda Síochána has played an important part in CEPOL EU training by organising courses at the Garda College for participants from EU member states to attend. These include training programmes on language development, human rights, community policing, confiscation of assets and counterfeit medicines. The expertise of members of An Garda Síochána has proved beneficial to CEPOL through their involvement in training programmes in other member states on a wide variety of policing topics, including issues relating to management, public order and crowd management, Schengen, counterfeit goods, organised crime and drugs. In more recent times, CEPOL has provided training programmes to address emerging policing and security issues such as fundamentalism and immigration. As a result, CEPOL has been successful in terms of developing the talents of An Garda Síochána and its ability to network and co-operate with other European counterparts. As we can see from the almost daily terrorist attacks which have begun to define the world in which we live, terrorism and organised crime are emerging and constantly changing form and means. The sharing of good practice, prevention techniques and the use of modern tools to address these threats are vital in our efforts to protect citizens and combat crime.

The new regulation which replaced the 2005 Council decision was introduced to enhance CEPOL's operational mandate and reform its governance in line with general principles laid down in the Lisbon treaty. The general aim of the regulation is to improve EU security through the implementation by CEPOL of a new training approach for EU law enforcement officers consistent with evolving priorities for operational law enforcement co-operation. Moreover, the regulation has widened the target group of law enforcement officials that CEPOL should serve, as well as expanding its research function and association with relevant bodies. The regulation was drafted on the basis of the European Commission's communication on the law enforcement training scheme, LETS. LETS aims to make the European Union's response to common security challenges more effective, to raise the standard of policing across the European Union and stimulate the development of a common law enforcement culture as a means of enhancing mutual trust and co-operation. In that regard, the regulation identifies and addresses gaps in existing law enforcement training on cross-border matters by supporting and, where appropriate, co-ordinating the delivery of training by European and national centres of excellence. The regulation provides CEPOL with the appropriate legal mandate and necessary resources to implement the training effort envisaged in the communication.

In addition, the scope of CEPOL's mandate is broadened in order that it can support, develop, deliver and co-ordinate learning activities for law enforcement officials of all ranks, not only police officers of senior rank as was the case under the old CEPOL decision, as well as to officers of customs and other relevant services dealing with cross-border issues. This means that if we opt in, our Customs officials will also be able to benefit from the training provided.

Perhaps equally as valuable, the regulation ensures the agency remains network-based, bringing together the network of training institutes of the member states for law enforcement officials and liaising with a single national unit in each member state. This, as I am sure Senators will appreciate, will allow An Garda Síochána to continue to build networks of counterparts in other EU jurisdictions which can be used for other operational intelligence sharing outside of the CEPOL framework. Furthermore, the core objectives of CEPOL were updated and clarified in order that the agency may improve awareness and knowledge of international and European Union instruments, the institutions, agencies and bodies of the European Union. It will now also encourage the development of regional or bilateral co-operation among member states and address specific criminal or policing thematic areas where training at EU level can add value in addition to the national level.

The regulation expands and provides clarity on the role of CEPOL and improves governance in the management, accountability and procedures for the CEPOL secretariat and the member states involved in police training. For all these reasons, I hope Senators can agree that Ireland's implementation of the regulation will be of tremendous value to An Garda Síochána and the Customs service. It will also send a clear message that Ireland continues to support CEPOL and values the service it provides. The regulation came into effect on 1 July 2016 and Ireland is now no longer involved in the college because we have yet to signal our desire to participate.

Senators will be mindful of the importance of training for our law enforcement agencies. The Garda Inspectorate, in its report of 2007 on the future of policing in Ireland, indicated that historically police services have dedicated substantial resources to recruit training but did not invest appropriately in the long-term professional development of personnel. The recently published Garda modernisation and renewal programme for the period 2016 to 2021 identifies training and development as a key requirement in developing a modern, efficient police service. It stresses that training is critical to the success of the modernisation programme. CEPOL can continue to provide a valuable service in that regard.

I strongly believe continued participation in CEPOL will be of huge benefit to An Garda Síochána and the Customs service at no cost to the Exchequer. For all of these reasons I invite Senators to support the motion before them which will allow Ireland to opt in to the new CEPOL regulation. By doing so, we will allow our police force to continue to benefit from the invaluable training provided by CEPOL and learn from and engage with other European partners to assist in the fight against crime.

I welcome the Minister of State back to the House and thank him for his contribution.

CEPOL is an EU agency dedicated to providing training and learning opportunities to law enforcement officers on issues vital to the security of the European Union. Its main activities are providing education courses and organising seminars and conferences in that regard. From speaking to a senior member of An Garda Síochána last night, I know that the organisation is a very active contributor to the agency and is keen to continue to benefit from participation of CEPOL as a full member. I understand that on this occasion it will have representation on the agency's management board. It is very keen to ensure continued participation as a full member because it has benefited greatly from it since its inception in 2005. In accordance with the provisions of Article 4 of Protocol No. 21 to the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Ireland needs to notify the Council and the Commission that it wishes to accept the measures as described in the regulation. This requires completion of the implementation of the CEPOL regulation. Our function, if we agree, is to pass this legislation to ensure An Garda Síochána continues to be a full member of this very worthy organisation.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as ucht a bheith anseo linn arís. I do not need to reiterate, because the Minister of State knows better than most, the scope of the crime and criminality with which we deal in an increasingly globalised world. Anything that seeks to enhance, refine, professionalise and improve policing services throughout the European Union is to be welcomed. From our perspective, it is well known that Sinn Féin has its criticisms of the European Union and the subversion of sovereignty, but co-operation is welcome and, I contest, necessary in that regard to counter some of what we have seen manifesting on the streets of this city.

We discussed it at length during the Minister of State's previous appearances before us. Anything that assists the Garda in this instance is to be welcomed and encouraged. It has been Sinn Féin's position to support international co-operation on justice matters within a sovereign framework that ensures human rights compliance. That is the key component in this issue.

As I listened to the Minister of State and read over my notes, I wondered whether any thought had been given to the impact of Brexit on co-operation between the Garda and the PSNI? We are in uncharted waters and I do not mean to veer off from the content of the motion, but this matter is critical. We know that cross-Border co-operation works particularly well when dealing with issues of human and drug trafficking. Many issues may arise for us as the Brexit decision across the water takes shape and begins to be implemented. To be valid, EU harmonisation or co-operation measures on justice or training for those engaged in the administration of justice should have as their objective the increased protection of human rights. Does the Minister of State believe that is the case in this instance? I ask this question in the light of the reasons I have outlined previously. I do not need to rehearse them.

Within a human rights-based framework, Sinn Féin supports international co-operation on justice matters where it is necessary to fight crime, in particular child protection concerns and the cross-border trafficking of drugs, weapons and humans. I support this endeavour and hope we, as legislators, including the Government, will continue to have oversight of broader policing matters and final decisions and will not concede any ground to unelected officials or quangos at EU level.

I appreciate that I may be catching the Minister of State unaware, but perhaps he will make reference to the issue of Brexit and express how he believes it will impact on participation in CEPOL.

I welcome the Minister of State to discuss this issue. He pointed out that he had been in the Chamber for an extensive time today. Those of us who have been Senators for some years will know that there is typically a flurry of justice legislation in the House every July and December. Justice spokespersons tend to spend long periods in the Chamber. It may be the new politics, but today certainly seems to be less contentious than usual. Consensus has broken out all over in terms of these justice measures.

We have a good Minister of State. That is the reason.

A new Minister of State and new politics.

That is perhaps the most important part.

On a more serious note, I am happy on behalf of the Labour Party group to support the motion on accepting the CEPOL measure. The Minister of State outlined its import. Sadly, almost daily terrorist attacks are beginning to define the world. The atrocity in Nice was mentioned on the Order of Business. I condemn the perpetrator of those awful killings and express my sympathy to the victims who remain in hospital and the families of the deceased, some of whom were children. It was an appalling attack.

In times of such atrocities, it is important that we be able to see the co-ordination across Europe of good policing networks, policing that can respond to a transnational terrorism threat and security and crime concerns in compliance with fundamental human rights and civil liberties. It is important that the key principles underpinning the European agenda on security include that compliance. For example, it is right to condemn the attempted coup in Turkey, but also the disproportionate response of the Erdogan Government. Many of us would be concerned by the calls by members of the Turkish Government to bring back the death penalty. It would be at odds with the European agenda on security, the European conception of fundamental rights and membership of the Council of Europe and the European Union which requires the abolition of the death penalty. Compliance with fundamental rights, transparency, accountability and democratic control of policing are important, as they give citizens confidence in policing and law enforcement generally. This is an important framework within which to consider the CEPOL regulation.

In recent months, there have been significant concerns in the United States about how its policing operates, perceptions around racial bias and so on. That underlines the importance of having proper governance of and accountability for policing. I am glad that we have a policing authority in this jurisdiction. Long overdue, it was a missing element of the major reforms of 2005.

For all of the reasons I have cited, I support this measure. It underlines the benefits of training and development which were identified in the Garda modernisation and renewal programme for the period 2016 to 2021 as key requirements for developing a modern and efficient police service. As a former Chairman of the justice committee, the Minister of State will recall our hearings with the Garda Inspectorate regarding its reporting on flaws and inadequacies in policing, many of which stemmed from poor training practices, little oversight of newly recruited gardaí, etc. We are all aware of the importance of training and development.

I have a question about something that the Minister of State said. As the regulation entered into force on 1 July, Ireland is no longer involved in the college because we have yet to signal our desire to participate. We are coming to the table late with this motion, given that today is 19 July. The measure has been lapsed for the past two weeks. Will the Minister of State clarify the position? If the motion is passed by both Houses, we will be back in the college, so to speak, and can continue our co-operation. I believe the Minister of State is confirming this. I just wanted to check. I remember from the justice committee the imperative of agreeing EU motions before particular deadlines. Why have we come late to this one, given its importance?

Before calling Senator Martin Conway, I welcome a group of sisters to the Visitors Gallery, one of whom I understand is over 100 years old. It is a great honour to have someone here who has served for all of her life. I hope the sisters enjoy their visit to the House. They are more than welcome. I must confess that one of them is a sister of mine. It is a conflict of interest.

I welcome the good lady at her wonderful age and the Cathaoirleach's own sister.

This is an important motion. As we know, crime no longer has borders. With the development of technology and elaborate webs of communication, criminals now operate in multiple jurisdictions across the world. I welcome the motion. It is appropriate that we participate in this process. That there has been a lapse is a pity, but, to be fair, we are still in the early stages of a new Government that took a protracted period to be put together. I do not doubt that, once we re-engage with the process, we will do so fully and bring the Garda's wonderful skills to the fore, particularly in mediation, diplomacy and so forth. Specialist gardaí will benefit significantly from the exchange of knowledge and the development of an international skill base that will equip them in what is a new world order. Consider what we have seen in the past week alone in terrorist attacks.

There is an absolute need for as many resources as possible to be provided for CEPOL which has to work. International knowledge needs to be developed to deal with and profile crime and the people involved in it. I have no doubt that this approach will be a success, but it will not succeed without the active engagement of all countries and policing authorities. Equally, it will not succeed unless the proper financial resources are made available.

I am delighted that the Garda College in Templemore reopened approximately three years ago. I would like to think it will never close again. Similarly, I hope our involvement in CEPOL will never cease. I suggest not only that we become active participants in all of its programmes, but also that we become leaders. We have the capability and the human resources within the structures of the police force to ensure this can happen. Given that An Garda Síochána is primarily unarmed, it has achieved remarkable success. We all like to see crime figures going down. We all regret it when they are going up. When one examines the figures in an international context, however, it is clear that An Garda Síochána, as a primarily unarmed security force, does a wonderful job.

I would like the Minister of State to comment on British involvement in CEPOL in the light of the new narrative emerging in Britain's relationship with the European Union. How does this new dynamic affect CEPOL? It is extremely important, particularly from an Irish perspective, for England to have an absolute unity of purpose, engagement and involvement in this project. I would be worried if it were to be affected in any way by the upcoming Brexit negotiations. I am not sure of the extent to which Britain is involved in CEPOL. Perhaps the Minister of State might enlighten me in that regard.

Education and upskilling happen in many sectors. Members of An Garda Síochána who have been in the force for a number of years should have an opportunity to benefit from upskilling opportunities. I encourage the Garda Commissioner to look at increasing the number of upskilling programmes. We all know from the justice committee and other forums that the Garda's ICT facilities are not fit for purpose. The Minister of State might tell us at some stage how the roll-out of the advanced ICT programme within the Garda - I cannot remember its name - is progressing. I would not expect him to have that information to hand. While the PULSE system was absolutely groundbreaking at the time of its inception, it is probably not fit for purpose now.

As Leader of the House, I acknowledge the presence in the Visitors Gallery of Sr. Maureen. I congratulate her on being 100 years young and wish her a happy and enjoyable day.

It is a tough task to follow Senator Martin Conway because everything he said was apt and important. I am thinking particularly of what he said about the reopening of the Garda College in Templemore, the best way to learn from the Garda's participation in activities of this nature and the efforts to improve the skill set of the valued members of our important police force. There is no doubt that we are living in turbulent times. I refer, for example, to the fallout from the Brexit vote, the attacks in Baghdad, the attack on the airport in Istanbul, the shootings of police officers in America, the prevalence of gun crime and the attack in Nice. The world and the European Union should be craving peace and security. Instead, we face huge challenges as we strive to protect and preserve law and order. When I was a student at Maynooth college, Professor Ronan Drury used to say, "The world is not half settled." That comes to mind today. In this world, when we should be talking about solidarity and security, we are under threat.

The motion before the House gives us an important opportunity to build and develop co-operation across Europe with our law enforcement officials. I want to look at what we are trying to achieve. We are trying to eradicate conflict at a time when the threat of conventional and unconventional terrorism seems to be growing. That is why the motion is so important. On a daily basis we hear stories of ordinary people being killed or injured by supposedly ordinary people who do not have links with any terrorist organisation but who have resources that would put some of the other armed leaders in the world to shame. We must move the world in which we live and co-exist towards one in which security is built and - this is the key phrase - co-operation developed.

I would like to refer to what is at the fundamental heart of CEPOL. It is about encouraging cross-border co-operation, fighting crime, protecting and providing security, enhancing the public security of all citizens across the European Union, facilitating intercountry co-operation and, as Senator Martin Conway rightly said, sharing ideas and research. In this new modern world it is critical that we consider how best to engage with and help our law enforcement officials to train and be a pillar and bastion of security. It is worth mentioning another important point in this context. The motion is not just about law enforcement officials; it is also about extending these structures of co-operation, training and development to Customs officials. The Leas-Chathaoirleach and I live in coastal areas. County Cork is on the coast. While the threat of terrorism in our localities may be limited, there is a need for Customs officials to develop links with law enforcement officials and work in tandem with them. For that reason, I am glad that the motion mentions Customs officials.

I was struck by Senator Martin Conway's remarks about specialist gardaí who have demonstrably brought a significant amount of knowledge and information to bear across the world and who would benefit from training and development. Senator Ivana Bacik mentioned the fundamental principles of human rights that relate to law and order and decency. One cannot have a state stating it intends to impose the death penalty on citizens who were involved in a coup, regardless of how right or wrong it was. We all accept that the coup in question was not right. We are trying to build an emerging consensus for co-operation across Europe in how we handle law and order and security issues.

I welcome the motion. It is important that we equip the men and women of An Garda Síochána who have shown across the world that they, as Irish people, are able to perform in and bring life to many difficult situations. I thank the Minister of State for bringing the motion before the House. It is important that we allow for this type of activity which enables gardaí to learn from their counterparts in other states as part of their training in the Garda College in Templemore. I am glad that this is going to be done. Equally, I am glad that my party reopened the college. As Senator Martin Conway said, it is to be hoped we never see it closed again.

I thank Senators for their considered views, support for the motion and questions on the issues raised.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson was very supportive of the motion and CEPOL, for which I thank him.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile raised a number of issues, including Brexit, which was also mentioned by Senator Martin Conway and others. Obviously, its impact is not yet known. We will be quite anxious for cross-Border co-operation between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána to continue. This will not be determined until negotiations start after the United Kingdom triggers the necessary mechanism.

Again, as the Senator said, it is an area unknown to us, but the Government is anxious for the co-operation to be maintained. As is known, it is very good at present. The Senator mentioned important issues such as human trafficking, drugs and so forth. Other Senators, including Senator Martin Conway, mentioned the fact that crime did not respect borders. It is important, therefore, that we have co-operation.

I emphasise that CEPOL is not a harmonisation instrument. There will be no sharing of operational information. There is no transfer of sovereignty or powers in any way. It relates to training and learning opportunities in order that members of An Garda Síochána can benefit and learn from the expertise of police services in other jurisdictions and vice versa. We also have information to impart. We have a very good police service which is improving all the time. As mentioned by Senator Ivana Bacik and others, there is a great deal of oversight of An Garda Síochána by the newly established Policing Authority, the Garda Inspectorate, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, and the excellent justice committee that is being formed. In addition to this oversight, there is a lot of support for An Garda Síochána.

I join Senator Ivana Bacik in referring to the tragedy that took place in Nice and conveying our sympathy to the people who have been bereaved, as well as to those who suffered and are still suffering. As Senator Martin Conway said, the nature of these activities is changing all the time and police services across Europe must keep up to date with what might happen.

Senator Martin Conway referred to the ICT programme. Additional funding has been provided by the Government and the programme is being rolled out. It is referenced in the modernisation and renewal programme of An Garda Síochána, on which we will be happy to provide further information for the Senator, if required.

Senator Ivana Bacik mentioned the delay. Obviously, many things were delayed until the Government was formed. Many issues could not be progressed. We are now progressing this matter with the support of Senators and will progress it further in the future.

Senators Ivana Bacik and Niall Ó Donnghaile mentioned human rights. Both Senators were right to stress their importance. In the past few weeks I attended the Fundamental Rights Forum held by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna on Europe and empowering rights. I also addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week on human rights. We are very conscious of the need to keep this issue at the forefront. I thank both Senators for their comments on this important topic and invite them to continue mentioning it. We must maintain the importance of human rights, continue to develop our understanding of them and learn what they mean when we talk about them.

The European Police College was established in September 2005 and is dedicated to providing training and learning opportunities for law enforcement officers on issues vital to the security of the European Union. It is a cost-effective means of upskilling members of An Garda Síochána and Customs officials in critical policing areas in times of restricted budgets. It provides a diversity of training courses in areas where there might not be a national skills base such as dismantling illicit laboratories, fundamentalism and so forth. It provides a European and international context for the understanding and learning of new crime trends, which are key in an increasingly transnational crime environment. The training courses involve participants from many European jurisdictions which provides opportunities to network and build professional contacts which are invaluable as member states operate in an increasingly transnational context. They also provide opportunities to examine best practice in other European jurisdictions, thus providing a useful resource in policy development at home.

I invite Senators to support the motion in order that we can continue this excellent work at European level.

I join the Cathaoirleach and other Senators in welcoming Sr. Maureen and her colleagues. I wish them well and hope they thoroughly enjoy their day. I have no doubt that the Cathaoirleach will look after them well.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 3.15 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.