EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement: Motion

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 take part in the adoption and application of the following proposed measure:

Proposal for a Council Decision on the position to be taken on behalf of the European Union in the Specialised Committee on Law Enforcement and Judicial Cooperation established by the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community, of the one part, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, of the other part, regarding the extension of the period referred to in Article 540(3) of the EU UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (Prüm) during which DNA-profiles and fingerprints can be exchanged with the United Kingdom,

a copy of which was laid before Seanad Éireann on 13th September, 2021.

I am speaking today on behalf of the Minister for Justice on a motion referring to a draft proposal by the Council of the European Union relating to the extension of the period defined in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, TCA, to allow the continued sharing of DNA profiles, fingerprints and vehicle registration data, also known as Prüm data, with the United Kingdom. This is an essential tool for law enforcement across the EU and, of course, is of particular value to law enforcement co-operation between Ireland and the UK.

I trust Senators understand the urgency and necessity of the motion passing this evening. It is anticipated that the European Commission will have completed an evaluation of the UK by 30 June 2022 and a mechanism will be the subject of a separate decision, which will come before the Houses in advance of that date.

I will give some background information on this measure that emphasises why it is necessary for Ireland to take part in this measure. The EU-UK TCA stipulates that member states may continue to supply Prüm data to the UK pending the outcome of evaluations required by the TCA until 30 September 2021. This interim period can be extended once, until 30 June 2022, by the specialised committee on law enforcement and judicial co-operation.

An evaluation of the UK by the European Commission to permit ongoing sharing of Prüm data will not be concluded by the end of September. Consequently, the Commission has published this proposal to facilitate the extension of the period to ensure the continued exchange of Prüm-related data. Without the extension to the interim period, as set out in the TCA, Prüm data will cease to be shared between the EU and the UK from midnight, 30 September 2021. As Senators will understand, if this was to happen, it could have serious repercussions in the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases. The views of the Office of the Attorney General were sought and the legal advice received has confirmed that Oireachtas approval, under Article 29.4.7° of the Constitution, is required.

I emphasise that the effective implementation of the EU-UK TCA is an EU priority and Ireland will play its full part in that. I have previously mentioned that this is a necessary measure to ensure there is no break in the sharing of Prüm data between Ireland and the UK, data that is vital for law enforcement. Ireland's role in the EU has changed in recent times and will continue to evolve in the coming years. Full implementation of the TCA is necessary for us, not only to play our part as a member state but to ensure that our post-Brexit relationship with the UK continues to grow and develop. Part of this relationship is ensuring that the safety and security of our citizens is protected and this measure is necessary to do that. I trust that the House can support the exercise of Ireland's opt-in in respect of this measure.

The Minister of State put her finger on the importance of the motion. The exchange of Prüm data is an essential part of law enforcement and the criminal justice consequences of that in respect of detection and, ultimately, prosecution. It is a shame that as I understand it, next year will be the final date - 30 June - to which this can be extended and thereafter, extraordinarily, there will not be such as exchange of data between us and our nearest neighbour. There is no doubt that dealing with criminal offences and investigations will be more difficult after that date. It makes sense, therefore, that we would extend this for the greatest possible period. It would be cutting our nose off to spite our face to do anything else or allow this agreement to lapse on 30 September. It is exactly details like this that bring home to us how important connectivity with our neighbours is, not just in terms of criminal matters or investigations but in a range of other activities such as trade. We benefit enormously from our membership of the EU in that regard. We benefit enormously from what we bring together as a union of countries rather than as stand-alone states.

The fact that this comes under Protocol No. 21 and is subject to the provisions of Article 29 of the Constitution is another important recognition of the fact that at every step along our journey with the EU, in a healthy way, the State and body politic have referred to the people and the Oireachtas and brought questions to them to be decided instead of them only being done by the Executive, as happens in many other member states. This is one of the factors we can point to as to why there is such extraordinary and continuing support for our membership of the EU.

In respect of this motion, I agree entirely with what the Minister of State suggested in terms of the continuation. I am confident Senators will agree with that. It makes sense for us to continue to share this data so we can continue to the greatest extent to deal with criminal investigations in as effective and fruitful a way as we can. I am happy to have moved the motion and I hope it will pass.

The Minister of State is welcome to the Chamber. Fianna Fáil very much supports the motion, which allows for the continuation of the supply of Prüm data to the UK. Serious crime does not recognise any borders and we need the co-operation of all member states and indeed those outside the EU, such as the UK in this instance, to fight crime in all its forms across all borders. For that reason, I fully support the motion and am confident that other Members will do likewise. It is just another example of the fallout from Brexit and the UK leaving the EU, which is disappointing across many facets. Where we can have co-operation, we must have co-operation and this is an example of where we can co-operate. For that reason, I am happy to support the motion.

Sinn Féin supports this motion to opt into the Prüm convention decision for an extension on the time period to exchange DNA profiles, finger prints and vehicle data with the UK. In doing so, we wish to highlight a number of concerns, some of which relate to civil liberties and the need to subject the strictest oversight to particular types of technology that are associated with the measures contained in the Prüm Convention. For example, there are plans to build similar databases such as Eurodac, which traces migrants. This is a worrying development. However, Sinn Féin accepts the need for a co-ordinated, EU wide approach, including the post-Brexit UK, to deal with the threat posed by criminals.

The Prüm convention and decision are a series of measures that cover cross-border co-operation. This State is not a full signatory to the convention and decision but voluntarily opts in to certain aspects. This motion is an interim measure approving the sharing of data with the UK for a further period. Ironically, given the anti-EU Brexit obsession of the British Government in its desire to leave the EU, it was the one state, more than any other EU state, that used certain shared crime databases administered within the EU. As with so many areas, the disastrous Tory Government put the UK in the position of talking out of both sides of its mouth with the UK Government talking tough on crime while tying its own hands in trying to get the resources to do so. Where agreement is possible, however, we should enable it but not at any cost. The Taoiseach's approach on the protocol and Brexit more generally is to appeal to what he wrongly believes is pragmatism on the part of the British Government and the DUP. This approach has not worked and like everything to do with Brexit, the Irish Government must have its own view based on the needs of the people of Ireland, North and South, working in conjunction with the rest of the EU.

Cross-border criminal networks are becoming an increasing issue of serious concern with signs there is collaboration among the larger and better organised and more threatening criminal organisations. Accordingly, while it is important to expose the anti-Brexit contradictions in the British Government's approach to co-operation across the EU, the UK cannot be allowed to become a blind spot for crime within the EU. That is the risk the consequences of Brexit pose and this is a situation not of Ireland's making, North or South. We need to deal with the issues as they present themselves and in supporting this proposal, with the stated concerns, I believe we can do precisely that.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The reason we are here is, unfortunately, another example of the fallout from Brexit - a fallout following more than 40 years of co-operation that has seen our nearest neighbour remove itself from agreements and co-operation that were by all reports and particularly in this case working very well. It is, of course, vital that we acknowledge the importance of what is before us for the safety of our citizens and the security of our country. Given the closeness of our neighbour and the ease of travel between our two countries in the past, this is an important motion. We are all aware of the reported criminal activity between both countries and the continued need for co-operation between their respective police forces. It is vital for the running of both police forces that this co-operation continues and as we did in the Dáil earlier, the Labour Party will support the motion.

It is unfortunate, as has been said by many Senators, that we are only discussing this agreement now in its final week. More important, however, is the concern many of us have that this agreement can be extended only once. As our briefing note explains, the interim period can be extended once, until 30 June 2022, by the specialised committee on law enforcement and judicial co-operation. Given that it can be extended only once, for nine months, how can we copper-fasten this so important agreement and ensure it will be extended? Without it, both police forces will find all their operations very difficult.

I thank all Senators for their contributions. On the data protection issues that were raised, Prüm is limited to fingerprints, DNA and vehicle registration data. The Prüm measures set out particular, bespoke requirements in respect of data protection and countries need to demonstrate how these are respected in the national implementing legislation and other arrangements. This will be subject to assessment as part of the evaluation undertaken. In addition, the European Commission has adopted an adequacy decision, including strong safeguards for law enforcement data exchange with the UK, designed to ensure that proper protections are in place for data that any member state shares with the UK for law enforcement purposes. This has been subject to consultation with Parliament and includes a sunset clause of four years.

As I mentioned earlier, this measure is essential to ensure the continued close law enforcement co-operation Ireland shares with the UK. It is vital we meet the highest standards in the investigation and prosecution of crimes, and the ongoing transferring of Prüm data will help to ensure that. This extension allows until 30 June 2022 for the European Commission to complete its evaluation and any further measures will come before the House in advance of that date.

Again, on behalf of the Minister for Justice, I thank all Senators for attending the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.03 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 September 2021.