Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill 2019: Second Stage

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

I am very pleased to address the Seanad on the Bill and I thank Senators on the relevant committee for facilitating the passage of this important legislation prior to the summer recess. The Bill will further advance the commitment on the part of the Government to addressing the position of all victims of conflict in Northern Ireland and their families.

Senators will be aware that the 2015 Stormont House Agreement concluded following 11 weeks of talks on 23 December 2014. As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade at the time, I was intimately involved in the negotiations and the agreement between the Irish and UK Governments with the parties in Northern Ireland on a range of measures to support political development there. Most significantly, the Stormont House Agreement establishes a comprehensive framework for dealing with the corrosive legacy of the past in Northern Ireland. The framework includes an oral history archive, a dedicated historical investigations unit which will investigate Troubles-related deaths, and an independent commission on information retrieval to enable victims and survivors to seek and receive information about the death of their loved ones.

The implementation phase to fill out the detail and give effect to the agreement's provisions on legacy has been a complex exercise and is very much an ongoing project.

The Bill will address the legacy issue on two fronts. In particular, it will facilitate further co-operation by An Garda Síochána with coroners' inquests in Northern Ireland. What are in question here are "legacy inquests" that, in the main, take place in Northern Ireland and will examine a number of Troubles-related deaths in which there have not been previous prosecutions or convictions. Some of these inquests will involve the coroners seeking co-operation from the Garda authorities. This will largely be in respect of paramilitaries involved in the incidents. Co-operation with the process of these inquests is self-evidently important in the context of addressing the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This was and is a key issue to be addressed in the context of political development in Northern Ireland. While arrangements have been put in place to ensure that Garda records can be made available to the coroner carrying out the Kingsmill inquest, the coroner has indicated a desire to take testimony from Garda witnesses for the inquests and there is no existing legal mechanism to facilitate this.

The Bill will also create a new section in the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to allow the Garda Commissioner to enter into co-operation agreements with non-police law enforcement bodies with the prior approval of the Government. This is an important element in giving effect to co-operation commitments under the Stormont House Agreement, as it will underpin further co-operation with the historical investigations unit that is to be established in Northern Ireland. This will have certain reporting functions separate from its criminal investigations function. I envisage that it would also support co-operation with the independent commission on information retrieval, an Ireland-UK body to be set up under the Stormont House Agreement that will seek to make information on Troubles-related deaths available to victims' families.

The Garda Síochána Acts currently provide a power for the Commissioner to enter into agreements with other police or law enforcement services. The Bill will essentially expand on that by extending this facility for agreements to encompass non-police bodies that would have functions relevant to the Garda. I am also providing a similar provision that will allow the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, to enter into co-operation agreements with similar police oversight authorities and law enforcement bodies. Currently, GSOC has no such powers. The Bill's provisions will facilitate co-operation agreements with, for example, the historical investigations unit and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. Such co-operation agreements will also require the prior approval of the Government.

Aside from these provisions, which will deliver on our commitments on the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Bill will make a number of technical amendments to existing legislation relating to international co-operation in the criminal justice area. It has ten sections, and I will briefly outline their provisions.

Section 1 contains the definitions for terms that are used in the Bill. Section 2 provides for the Minister for Justice and Equality to designate a United Kingdom coroner's inquest, subject to conditions, for the purpose of application of the mechanism for the taking of evidence for the purposes of section 3. Section 3 provides for a mechanism whereby the testimony of Garda members can be obtained by coroners in the UK conducting inquests into deaths caused by violence connected to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This section will have automatic application to inquests that are investigating deaths resulting from the Troubles in Northern Ireland. For UK inquests examining deaths that are not Troubles-related but where there may be a substantial connection to the State, the Minister for Justice and Equality may designate those inquests under section 2. Examinations under section 3 shall be conducted by a High Court judge in accordance with the specified rules and will be on the basis of written questions that will be provided in advance by the coroner. Examinations shall take place in the presence of the coroner. The examining judge may direct such provisions that are necessary to protect the safety of witnesses.

Section 4 will make a technical amendment to section 20 of the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 in order to provide greater consistency in that Act with the relevant corresponding articles of the Council framework decision of 13 June 2002 on the European arrest warrant and the surrender procedures between member states for which the Act provides a legislative basis. This important amendment will address concerns expressed by the European Commission regarding the roles of the central authority and the High Court in arrest warrant proceedings.

Section 5 provides for a new section 28A to be inserted into the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to allow for the Garda Commissioner, on behalf of the Garda Síochána and with the prior consent of the Government, to enter into agreements with non-law enforcement bodies outside of the State. Such agreements may provide for general co-operation between the parties, including the exchange of information.

Section 6 provides for a technical amendment to section 51 of the 2005 Act to remedy a potential defect identified by the Attorney General in respect of amendments made previously to section 51 by sections 91(a) and (b) of the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008 and section 35 of the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) (Amendment) Act 2015. The provisions in question concern the assignment for service abroad of Garda members, for example, in joint investigation teams in accordance with the 2002 European Council framework decision on joint investigation teams.

Section 7 provides for a new section 81A to be inserted into the 2005 Act to facilitate GSOC, with the prior consent of the Government, to enter into agreements with police oversight bodies and law enforcement agencies outside the State in order to exchange information consistent with the functions of GSOC under section 67 of that Act. Currently, the provisions of the legislation on GSOC do not enable the commission to exchange information with appropriate bodies outside the State. This provision will address this deficit.

Section 8 provides for an amendment to section 107 of the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008. This is a technical amendment arising out of an incorrect reference in section 208 of the Data Protection Act 2018 that provides for an amendment to the 2008 Act. Since the incorrect cross-reference in section 208(d)(i) amends subsections (2) and (3) of section 107 of the 2008 Act, the cross-reference in subsection (3)(b) should be to subsection (2)(b) rather than subsection (5)(b).

Section 9 is a general provision relating to the expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of this legislation being paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas and sanctioned by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Section 10 is the Bill's Short Title and commencement arrangements.

I am introducing this legislation at short notice, so I am grateful to Senators for taking it now and for sitting on Friday, the last day of the session. In the current political vacuum in Northern Ireland, however, it is essential that we be seen to continue to make progress on these important issues. This legislation is a clear statement of our commitment to address these legacy issues in the interests of reconciliation on the island of Ireland. Accordingly, I am pleased to present the Bill to the House and I hope that it will proceed through the appropriate stages of debate. I commend the Bill to the House.

Fianna Fáil will support this important legislation. The historical investigations unit has been due to be established since 2014. We must get on with it. The Minister mentioned the political vacuum. We should not allow our dealings with the North and Britain to fall into that vacuum also.

The PSNI has listed approximately 1,188 killings as legacy investigations. It is important that they be investigated, families get answers and communities be given the opportunity to heal.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. While having some points to make, I welcome the introduction of this legislation overall. As the Minister knows, it is a long time coming. He was intimately involved in the negotiations with the British Government and the parties in the North.

I noted the Minister's use of the term "corrosive" when referring to the legacy of the past. He was right, as the legacy of our past can be corrosive in many ways. However, what remains most corrosive is the overall inability and, in some instances thus far, refusal to resolve this issue and get truth and justice for families.

Part of today's legislation seeks to do that and it is welcome. I wish others with responsibility were taking this as seriously and moving as swiftly. As the Minister knows, I will support this legislation. I regret, as the Minister acknowledges, that we are dealing with it in such a hasty way. Much justice legislation is passing through the House and I am sure that other colleagues across the board would have appreciated more time to engage with this Bill in a more detailed way. I concede that we are where we are.

This Bill is important and Sinn Féin supports it. For a long time, we have called for such legislation. Like the Minister, our negotiating team was part of the talks at Stormont House. There are ongoing issues in trying to deal with the legacy cases and we need to do much more. The Stormont House Agreement was reached between the parties and both Governments on this very contested issue of legacy cases. That was a difficult thing to achieve, with much involved in it, not just for the political parties but mostly for the families, victims and survivors. The agreement was reached after difficult negotiations and the issue of legacy cases is sensitive and complex. To achieve that agreement was one thing but unfortunately we have not made much progress on it to date. This is one of the obligations of the Irish Government and I hope the passage of this Bill today will prompt the British Government to act and legislate.

The British legislative requirement is much more substantial. There are ongoing requirements for inquests and inquiries, such as in the case of Pat Finucane and several others. The British Government has had this legislation on its desk for a considerable time. The PSNI has indicated that it does not believe it has the capacity to properly investigate legacy cases and this is impacting on its ability to police in the here and now. It needs the independent commission on information retrieval and the historical investigations unit but the British Government has been very slow to act. I hope that this will prompt some movement today.

I also recognise that the legislation is necessary in the context of ongoing inquests into the Kingsmill massacre and the case of Arlene Arkinson. It is important for this legislation to be expedited if it can assist with those inquests. The Bill primarily facilitates the co-operation of An Garda Síochána with coroners' inquests and allows gardaí to give statements. It appears that the mechanism provided is as tight as it needs to be as it relates to the coroner in the North or, in certain circumstances, a designated coroner in Britain could make a request for assistance to the Garda Commissioner. The Garda Commissioner can decide to agree, agree in part or refuse. The coroner can be present while a garda of a rank no lower than chief superintendent is questioned by a High Court judge. That is appropriate as gardaí have, in the past, provided documentary evidence but have not been in a position to provide testimony. Private individuals can do so as matters stand but gardaí cannot. It would be of value to such inquests if gardaí were able to testify.

The other issues, as the Minister acknowledges, are largely technical so I do not need to cover them in great detail. There are key components of this Bill which are important. It is our view that the Bill could be strengthened with a modest amendment on Committee Stage which would have a positive impact on accountability and oversight of this process moving forward. I listened to the debate in the other House and noted with great interest the suggestion made by Deputy Jim O'Callaghan of Fianna Fáil that there was a need for international involvement in this process. It has long been Sinn Féin's view that there is a strong case for an international truth and reconciliation commission. In the absence of agreement on a process of that kind, the best roadmap agreed by both Governments and the political parties North and South is through the use of the Stormont House mechanisms. It is past time to implement them. This is a step towards that but more is required from us and, especially, the British Government. My hope, which I have expressed numerous times, is that the families, who have had to go to the courts and, more recently, take to the streets in their thousands to see their right to truth and justice fulfilled and realised, will start to see some movement from the British Government.

I welcome the Minister back to the House on the final day of our sitting for this term. This week, we have been quite successful in passing and finalising legislation. After more than 100 hours, the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill completed Committee Stage. The Parole Bill was also passed and I hope this important legislation will swiftly move through the House. I commend Senators Clifford-Lee and Ó Donnghaile on their support for this important legislation. It is an incremental step in reconciliation. It is necessary in order to enable the police forces, An Garda Síochána, the PSNI and others, to deal with the legacy cases because people need closure and justice for reconciliation to progress in the direction in which we want it to.

It is a great pity that we have a political vacuum in Northern Ireland. I hope that the summer period will allow for some reflection on the difficulties and damage that this vacuum is causing, especially given what will happen on 31 October. The last thing we need on this island is a political vacuum in Northern Ireland. I hope we will see progress in that regard in the coming weeks rather than months. I thank everyone for their co-operation on this Bill and during the course of this very busy week.

I acknowledge the contributions and support of Senators. I particularly welcome the support of the Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin parties and of others in the House. In response to Senator Ó Donnghaile, I acknowledge that Senators are frustrated that the all-party Oireachtas motions which have called directly on the British Government to allow access by an international independent judicial figure to all original documents in its possession relating to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings have not yet been responded to. I share that frustration. I do not believe that we can allow this to cause procrastination on the part of the Irish Government. The needs of victims, families and communities cannot be allowed to become a negotiating position.

As I mentioned earlier, this legislation is a demonstration of our conclusion that there is an urgent requirement for initiative and progress, as Senator Conway has said, in addressing the needs of victims of the conflict in Northern Ireland and their surviving family members. It is time for action and leadership that will demonstrate to all other actors that it is possible to make progress. I am sure that every Senator here shares this view. To that end, I welcome that the Northern Ireland Department of Justice was in a position to announce earlier this year that necessary funding for reform of the system of legacy inquests is in place for the budgetary year of 2019 to 2020. These legacy inquests will benefit from this legislation. I acknowledge the engagement by the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, to see that that was achieved. It was important to demonstrate to victims' families that steps forward can be made on the legacy cases. I believe it creates a dynamic for moving ahead with the broader Stormont House framework.

Sustained leadership is now required in Northern Ireland. That leadership was shown in 2014 when the Stormont House Agreement was reached. The parties in Northern Ireland need to show that same courageous leadership now to get the Executive and the Assembly back in place and working to the benefit of all people in Northern Ireland. We in the Government are determined to play our part in ensuring that the Stormont House legacy bodies are established in a way that will meet the legitimate needs and expectations of all victims and survivors.

I am pleased that the all-party talks are continuing in Northern Ireland. I wish to acknowledge the leadership role of my colleague, the Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney. I am hopeful that the current round of talks will deliver a successful outcome leading to the re-establishment of the power-sharing institutions in Stormont. Dealing effectively with the legacy of the past will be one way to honour the memory of all those killed and injured in the dark days of the Troubles.

This Bill will provide further assistance from the Irish authorities within the legacy framework. It will be of benefit to victims and survivors and to society as a whole. Some 21 years following the Good Friday Agreement it is important that we acknowledge what has been achieved in Northern Ireland and that we renew our commitment to the full promise and spirit of the Agreement. It is important that we acknowledge the day on which are passing this legislation in the Seanad. It is 12 July, a day that resonates strongly across the island of Ireland and in particular in Northern Ireland. It is important that we renew our commitment to the full spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and that we challenge ourselves to take up the crucial work of reconciliation throughout the island of Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?