There are few who would argue that Ireland's membership of the European Union has not been of enormous benefit to Ireland's citizens, both economically and in terms of the progressive social development of this State. The freedoms enjoyed by EU citizens and the real and genuine protections afforded to their fundamental rights are the envy of many throughout the world. This commitment to protecting fundamental rights is not some empty aspiration but rather a reality backed up by formal structures such as the European Court of Justice and the European Parliament.
The freedom of movement of EU citizens is one very clear benefit of membership of this Union. Our people are now true Europeans, who identify themselves as such and who cross borders freely, engaging on an equal basis with their fellow EU citizens. Our own society, once insular and inward looking, has benefitted enormously from the arrival of people from many parts of Europe who wish to make a valued contribution to the vibrancy and welfare of this cosmopolitan State.
Of course there are always those who will seek to exploit privileges such as freedom of movement for their own nefarious ends and much recent EU law in the criminal justice sphere has been aimed at trying to counter the abuse of these freedoms, while also protecting them. The European Arrest Warrant is one such example.
Another example is that of Eurojust. Eurojust has been operational for the past 17 years and Ireland has been a member of the agency since its inception. Eurojust was set up to stimulate and improve the coordination of serious criminal investigations, prosecutions and cooperation between competent authorities in the Member States, where such investigations involve two or more Member States.
Eurojust provides Ireland with access to a network of European public prosecutors and law enforcement agencies that provide essential assistance to each other in the investigation of serious offences including murders, rapes, drug trafficking, people trafficking, child sexual exploitation, international money laundering and terrorism. Eurojust also benefits from a much valued Irish involvement in the organisation. Members of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions provide Irish representation at Eurojust, which operates a 24/7 on call service to Member States.
Regulation (EU) 2018/1727 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 November 2018 on the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust), replaces and repeals Council Decision 2002/187/JHA, its predecessor.
The purpose of the new Regulation is to provide a modern and updated framework for the management of the agency. For example, a key innovation in the new Regulation makes Eurojust subject to the EU's updated data protection framework, thereby providing the protection of the world's most advanced data protection regime to data held by Eurojust. This includes supervision of Eurojust data related operations by the European Data Protection Supervisor. Eurojust will also be required to report on its operational activities to the European Parliament, the Council and national parliaments.
The approval of the Oireachtas in accordance with Article 29.4.7 of the Constitution is required for Ireland to opt in to the new Regulation, a process which arises as a result of Article 4 of Protocol 21 to the Lisbon Treaty. Opting into the new Eurojust Regulation is necessary in order to continue to participate in Eurojust. If we do not opt in, Ireland will cease to be a member of Eurojust from December 2019.
As Minister for Justice and Equality, I do not believe it would be desirable to lose access to this network. International serious crime is an issue which affects all member states and their citizens and it has countless victims. Coordination of measures to disrupt this activity, and ongoing communication between states in relation to such measures, is essential. Eurojust provides an efficient and effective way of ensuring this cooperation occurs.
Furthermore, from an overarching perspective, there is a general obligation upon Ireland as a Member State to make a tangible contribution to the welfare of this Union and it is important that Ireland demonstrates a real commitment to assisting in combatting serious crime which affects the Union
The solidarity with Ireland displayed by the other member States in the context of Brexit must also not be forgotten. A withdrawal from Eurojust membership would send a negative message and be reputationally damaging for the country. Ireland would be left in a position where, if it wished to maintain an involvement, it would have to negotiate associate membership of the agency, leading to a much-diminished status.
Therefore, the rationale for seeking to maintain membership of Eurojust is derived from an understanding that being part of a union of democratic states carries with it responsibilities to protect the fundamental principles of democracy that underpin that union and an obligation to protect its citizens from those who would seek to harm them.
Finally, the funding arrangements for Eurojust are set out at Chapter VI of the Regulation and, as can be seen, the agency is resourced centrally from the EU budget. Eurojust's budget is also subject to the scrutiny of the EU Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union (the Member States). There is no expectation of a budgetary contribution required from Ireland in the context of the running of the agency. Ireland's national member is of course remunerated by the State in the same manner as any official of the State who is assigned to duties overseas.