Customs and Excise (Mutual Assistance) Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. At first glance it may not appear to be very important or wide-ranging legislation but when one considers the central theme of it, one can see it is hugely important.

This Bill, which will give force of law to the convention drawn up on the use of information technology for customs and excise purposes between EU countries, should prove very useful. I hope it will result in a greater curb on illegal drug traffickers and those engaged in other illegal activity. Whatever about Ireland's unique features as an island nation and the many good things it has going for it, from an international security point of view, it must be a haven for anyone who wishes to traffick illegally in drugs, etc. It has probably a longer coastline in proportion to its size and population than any other country. It must be a nightmare to police the shoreline and this is something which has come to our notice on more than one occasion over the years. Given the ruggedness of the coastline, it must be extremely difficult to have any sort of land or sea supervision. It is, therefore, very important that some of the provisions in the Bill work.

The greatest scourge of this country is the drugs problem. During my many years as a Member of this House I have seen a great amount of legislation enacted, all with the best of intentions. The problem as always is that anybody who wants an illegal drug can get it. Where there is a will there is a way and that has been the case through the years. Whatever about the distribution chain, which is a different issue, the supply chain is alive and well. Given the technology that has become available over the years it is difficult to understand why there has not been a more concerted effort and integrated approach because those involved in drug trafficking, no matter where they come from, must be known to a police force or customs officials somewhere in the world.

There is nothing secret in the world. The key question is linking information and technology and the way they are used. The Bill could be extremely useful. When I hear of drugs seizures off our coastline I think of how blessed we are to have the personnel and agencies required to curb this activity. However, I am around long enough to know that for every seizure made many more get through and the agencies involved will agree.

There were high profile seizures over the past year or two for which the relevant authorities should be commended but the problem is that, despite such seizures, large amounts of drugs still get through. It does not matter which constituency one represents as there is now a drug culture in the smallest towns and villages. We should spend day and night in the House considering initiatives to cut off the supply line.

The Bill covers a number of other areas but if we were to effect greater seizures against drug traffickers, who are the worst people imaginable, it would be worthwhile. No words can describe the people involved in drug trafficking and no penalty would be too severe. The legislation covers hot pursuit across borders but if the individuals involved can be apprehended anywhere we will have done a great day's work.

Our society must come to grips with the problem. All aspects of the drug distribution chain must be monitored, including small-time drug pushers, although that is a debate for another day. The only hope is to cut off the supply line through whatever surveillance means are necessary, utilising an array of State agencies. The agencies could then liaise internationally with similar bodies. A great deal could be done using the databases that are available which could never even have been contemplated before. The Bill aims to utilise such information technology and I hope more countries will sign up to the convention. If there could be a reasonable clampdown on illegal traffickers it would be a job well done.

There are other illegal traffickers on the high seas, including alcohol and tobacco smugglers. These activities impinge on the economy. Potential jobs are lost and the Exchequer loses out in terms of taxes. I am extremely impressed by the operations of the Customs National Drugs Team to date. The team comprises a staff of 85 but they can only be motivators because if they do not get the co-operation of a variety of other agencies they will not win the war. I assume the 700 Customs and Excise officials are an integral part of this massive movement.

The relationship between the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners seems to be on a better footing than it was previously. There was no reason for an information deficit between them in this area.

Ireland has a long coastline. There are only eight ships in the Naval Service and they were deployed in the field of fishery protection originally. In this technological era extra responsibility could be given to the naval fleet. I do not wish to give the Naval Service more work but it is in an important role to help in the drive against drug trafficking. It is likely that the number of ships in the Naval Service will increase in the years to come. I am spokesperson on the marine for my party and the problem remains that the service is not in a position to prevent foreign trawlers from fishing illegally in Irish waters. The Naval Service has a huge role to play and I ask the Minister of State to refer to that when he replies. How much will the Naval Service be involved in future? Is it represented on an overall co-ordinating committee? What equipment is used on the naval vessels to help in the fight against drug trafficking?

I compliment the Criminal Assets Bureau. It is good to read about high powered people losing their ill-gotten gains. The CAB has an important role to play. The only problem is that the criminals must be caught first before their assets can be seized. The relationship between the CNDT, the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and the Naval Service in the battle against drug trafficking will decide whether the battle will be won or lost.

I refer to co-operation between trade associations, independent companies or anybody involved in the movement of goods. It is similar to a whistleblower's regime and it is a great idea. They also act as eyes and ears for State agencies. I was not aware of that and I would like to know more. That is similar to asking every law abiding citizen to help the Garda Síochána for the reason of keeping down the rate of crime. I assume that is what is behind it.

Will the Minister indicate the type of associations involved and the level of their involvement? Why do they do it? I assume there is a certain level of self-interest because if this could be built on, it would make the smugglers' attempts much more difficult. Many more pairs of eyes than usual would be watching them.

I am intrigued by the section and I would like to know more about it. If I interpreted the provision properly, it appears that a case can only proceed to the European court if it has been heard in the Supreme Court. I assume the purpose of this is to expedite the number of cases heard here, although I presume there are more detailed legal reasons for it.

People involved in money laundering are extremely good at their job. I understand the technical aspects of money laundering are breathtaking. It was explained to me recently by a member of the security forces that there is no known limit on what money launderers can do. It involves a web of deceit from the top to the bottom and anything that would put an end to it would be extremely useful.

No other country involved in this agreement would be more aware of the sensitivities involved in hot pursuit than Ireland because of the Border. In common with other Members, I would not like unwarranted intrusions across the Border. This view would be shared by most of the Deputies present. However, when the national interest was at stake with regard to smuggling, many difficult choices had to be made. For example, if a strict regime had not been in place during the BSE crisis over the past four or five years, there would be even more problems now.

It depends on what we are trying to stamp out. If a drugs baron was in the process of dumping illegal and damaging drugs that would affect the lives of thousands of young people, I would not be too worried about the borders I crossed in order to nail him. This is putting it at its simplest, but many people throughout Europe would share that view. I am aware of different cultures and that countries approach issues differently, but the great common denominator now is a desire to stop drug trafficking. Wherever one goes in the world, most societies are against drug trafficking.

The Minister said that Ireland is opting out of the hot pursuit provision. I have an open mind on the issue, but I would have thought that if it came down to brass tacks it would be a chilling experience for everybody concerned if a person escaped just because a border could not be crossed. I assume other measures can be put in place to counterbalance that decision.

There are many other reasons that the Bill should be implemented successfully, such as international terrorism. This is on the increase and it always amazes me when I hear that semtex has been smuggled into Ireland. I assume it cannot be smuggled in easily, but it appears to arrive anyway. Anything that would enable people involved in such smuggling to be apprehended would be hugely important.

The Government's White Paper on Defence stated there was no case to be made for broadening the role of the Naval Service. This is difficult to understand, particularly in the context of this Bill and the actions the Minister proposes to take. I do not understand why the role of the Naval Service should not be broadened. Is it the case that one Department does not know what another is doing? It is important that the Departments of Defence, the Marine and Natural Resources and Finance reconsider that matter. I do not know what the review committee on the White Paper intended when it mentioned not broadening the role of the Naval Service. It would be extremely difficult to argue against broadening its role in the context of the Minister's proposals.

Good speech.

I welcome the Bill. There are many other avenues that I did not explore but the central theme of the Bill is good. There will be much discussion about it and vested interests will be interested in it. If there is any sense in the country, it will be regarded as important legislation, provided that it is enforced properly. All the various groups do different jobs, but the idea is to pull them together under this umbrella to achieve the desired result. If that happens, the Minister will have done a good day's work.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Browne.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important Bill which I welcome. The world has become a smaller place and we hear about the globalisation of trade. However, there has also been a globalisation of drugs and arms trafficking and other forms of international organised criminal activity. This has increased greatly over the past number of years. Deputy Noonan mentioned the Mafia in the former Soviet bloc and how that is now operating in the rest of Europe.

In recent years there have been many massive seizures of drugs. Most of these have taken place in the south of Ireland because there are many inlets along that coast. Drugs are brought in by boat from as far away as South America, South Africa, southern Europe and other parts of Europe. However, with increased co-operation with police forces across the world, Customs and Excise, the Garda and the Naval Service have done a terrific job.

Deputy Noonan also mentioned international co-operation in the context of criminals in Ireland who, when they were pursued by the Criminal Assets Bureau, left the country and set up shop in Holland. They carried on their businesses without any apparent interruption in their trade. This is evidence of international co-operation in illicit trades in addition to legitimate trades. Irish customs officials have played an important role in seizing drugs shipments and in breaking up sup ply networks by their vigilance on the Border and along our coastline. The Naval Service deserves praise also in ably assisting the customs service in this work, especially off the south coast. The Garda Síochána has also taken an active role in that area. This integrated approach by the law enforcement agencies, both at domestic and international levels, is the only way of guaranteeing successful action against the drug barons and those who work for them in the illicit drugs and armaments trades.

As with every other aspect of life, prima donnas are operating in the law enforcement branches and they must be removed for the common good. An easy approach should not be taken towards such individuals who are causing a lack of co-operation among the agencies I have mentioned.

Since the Memorandum of Understanding was established on 12 June 1996, a joint task force between the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners has resulted in arrests and the seizure of a substantial quantity of drugs. Without such co-operation these successes would not have been as great as they have been. This co-operation must be cemented and not allowed to weaken.

Changes in EU border controls, due to the Schengen protocol – which does not apply to Ireland or the United Kingdom – have provided great benefits to the travelling public throughout Europe. Unfortunately, these changes have also brought about great opportunities for traffickers in illicit drugs and arms. To control the situation as effectively as possible, more information must be made available between the various EU law enforcement agencies.

The Bill relates to two international conventions which must be given the force of law before Ireland can adopt them at EU level. The Convention on the Use of Information Technology for Customs Purposes, signed in 1995, provided for the establishment of the customs information system. This is a central data base into which each EU member state has a link. All kinds of information, including commodities, transport, business, data on persons, fraud trends and the availability of expertise, will be available in that database. George Orwell's "Big Brother" character in1984 is increasingly coming to pass, given that information is now universally available on nearly everything that everybody does.

Much of this information is vitally important and necessary to curb the growing threat to our communities posed by drug and arms traffickers. It is paramount, however, that the information contained in this database remains secure. It must not be available to those who could misuse the data contained therein. Realistically, people will obtain information to which they are not entitled, but best practice must be adhered to in order to ensure the security of such data. It should be accessible only to those who have a right to see it.

Questions will be asked as to what information on individuals will be kept on this database. Will it include details of personal taxation, health status or personal history? People have the right to pose such questions and I am sure the Minister will be able to elucidate on that matter in his reply. What role will the new convention play on money laundering and white collar crime? The Minister may also have some comments to make on these subjects in his reply.

The second instrument covered by the Bill is the Customs Co-operation Convention. Every right-thinking individual will understand and accept that co-operation between customs administrations to combat trafficking in illicit drugs, weapons and ammunition, is only right and proper. Doubts will, of course, be expressed as to the manner in which that co-operation will be enforced. Some five rules have been outlined, including hot pursuit, cross-border surveillance, control delivery, court investigations and joint speciality investigation teams.

As the Minister outlined, member states can opt out of hot pursuit, cross-border surveillance and covert investigations, and Ireland has decided to opt out of those forms of co-operation. Given our history, some of those forms of co-operation would not be acceptable to the population in general. In time, however, one never knows what might occur. Current events and the historical context may change so that such forms of co-operation may be invoked in future. The Bill allows a Minister to do so by order.

The measures being introduced by this Bill are desirable and necessary. The common good is the most important factor for us to home in on at this time when everything is turning in the direction of international trade. The only way of controlling the illegal trade in drugs and munitions is through co-operation between the European Union's law enforcement agencies. I welcome the Minister's statements and I wish him well in steering the Bill through the House.

(Wexford): I thank the Minister for introducing this Bill which is an enabling measure to give the force of law to two EU conventions and three related instruments prior to Ireland adopting them at EU level. The important factor is how such conventions and regulations are to be implemented when they come into force. Financial resources must be made available to implement both conventions once the Bill has been enacted and the measures have been formally adopted. Too often in the past we have seen Bills being passed by the House, yet sufficient resources are not always made available for the proper implementation of such legislation. The Department of Finance should ensure adequate funding for the various Departments to implement such measures.

In his speech, the Minister said that international crime was very big business and that is certainly the case. It is unfortunate, if understandable, that when so much money is to be made illegally, many Irish men and women are at the very heart of this international crime network. We regularly read about the godfathers of crime operating in this country. When pressure was put on them, many of them departed, especially after the death of Veronica Guerin, and went to England, and other places, especially the Netherlands. We now read, especially in the Sunday newspapers, of the high life they lead abroad having made millions out of international crime, especially drug trafficking. The most concerning aspect is the problems they left behind. Drug trafficking has caused major problems for families and has brought untold hardship, misery and social problems which have split up families and, in some cases, have caused the death of young people through drug overdoses or continual drug taking. It is unfortunate that the godfathers of crime were allowed to walk the streets unhindered for so long before action was taken. I am glad the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Government have continued to take strict action against such people.

It is good that there will be co-operation across the borders of the EU and further afield to deal with this problem. It is also important that there is an exchange of views and that the information customs people in different countries have is made available and that the experience of which the Minister spoke gained by customs people in different countries over the years is pooled along with resources being provided to deal with this issue.

It is difficult in a country such as Ireland to deal seriously with drug trafficking because of its many miles of coastline. It is almost impossible to have customs people at every entry into Ireland, but it is important that we have enough such people at the major ports of entry. Reference was made to Dublin Airport through which some 14 million people pass and that figure is increasing. It is important adequate numbers of customs people are stationed there.

I come from Wexford, a coastal county, and more than one million people pass through Rosslare every year. The customs people there, in conjunction with the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and the general public, are doing a tremendous job. Over the past few weeks, people entering the country with large quantities of drugs have been apprehended and I hope they will be properly dealt with by the courts. In a time of plenty, it is important that more resources, money and staff are made available to the customs people in Rosslare to deal with this problem. While they do a tremendous job, we cannot take things for granted and it is important that extra staff, modern technology and dog units are made available on a wider scale to the customs people in Rosslare.

Perhaps when the Minister replies he might comment on the co-operation between Customs, the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners. One sometimes thinks they oppose rather than co-operate with each other. They all like to claim credit for apprehending people but it is important that co-operation continues to the utmost at all main port entries to ensure the godfathers of crime are dealt with.

I question the role of the Navy, and this is not a criticism. Deputy Connaughton and others referred to the number of naval ships. We have about 100 miles of coastline in Wexford, yet we never see the Navy. Perhaps we are not supposed to, but it never seems to call to Rosslare or Wexford or any other major port in the region. That is a pity because it is important that there is greater public awareness of the role of the Navy and the great work it does. While I know it must be out at sea working, courtesy calls, getting to know people and explaining its role to people are very important. Without the co-operation and support of the public, we cannot be successful in dealing with the drug trafficking problem. Perhaps the Minister might comment on the role of the Navy.

Regarding some of the issues raised, we obviously want to see the boot put firmly into people suspected of bringing drugs through ports of entry, and Deputy Noonan referred to this earlier. However, there is a difficulty in Rosslare, which I am sure exists in other ports of entry, with the arrival of refugees. It is not a problem, but I would not like refugees who have had to come here for political reasons or because of fear in their countries being dealt with similarly to those suspected of importing drugs. There should be a major difference between how Customs deals with refugees coming through ports of entry and people suspected of carrying illegal drugs. It is a concern that, once these laws are put in place and the heavy hand of the law is applied, people are seldom treated differently. Customs deals effectively with most cases but the case of refugees should be examined.

Will the Minister explain in more detail how the joint international investigations will work across borders? For historical and other reasons, it is a very sensitive issue in Ireland. Most of the public would not take kindly to hot pursuit and cross-Border surveillance, and I am glad the Government is considering an opt-out.

How will the information on the database be kept secret? There are certainly no secrets since the introduction of modern technology. When information is on a database, it is very difficult to keep it secret. What personal details will be kept on the database? If a person's personal details are kept on the database despite the fact that he or she does not have a case to answer, how can he or she have those details removed from the database? There are many cranks and people who will make untrue and incorrect claims against others with the result that some people may find their personal details on the database when they travel from one country to another despite their not having committed a crime. How will it be ensured that will not happen and what redress exists if it does?

Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille agus tá áthas orm go bhfuil sé leagtha amach i nGaeilge chomh maith le Béarla. Ba mhaith liom go mbéadh gach Bille eile atá ós ár gcomhair leagtha amach i nGaeilge freisin. I welcome the Bill and compliment the Minister and those responsible for drafting the Bill on the comprehensive and extensive explanatory memorandum included with the Bill to help us understand it. It was very helpful to me and I appreciate it. It is a pity others responsible for drafting Bills do not emulate this.

It is important that we should be seen to co-operate in every possible way with our EU partners to eliminate or prevent drug trafficking and any other organised criminal activities at international level. We rely on Customs and the Revenue Commissioners in conjunction with the Garda to prevent and protect us from drugs reaching users. For that reason, it is essential that information and co-operation take place between member states.

As an island with a difficult coastline, Ireland is particularly vulnerable and accessible to those who wish to use this country as a base through which to transport drugs from South America to Britain and on to the Continent. Much good work has been done by all the agencies involved to prevent such smuggling of drugs and other materials, particularly tobacco and alcohol. Last year genetically modified seeds were smuggled into Ireland for trial purposes. If one adds trafficking in people one can understand how complex the situation is for the agencies burdened with the responsibility of trying to combat this problem. This legislation will be very worthwhile if it helps to combat these movements.

The Bill is complex in that it deals with all the conventions and regulations involving other countries. However, it is important that we show our commitment by introducing enabling legislation and that we do our utmost at local level to combat trafficking and other criminal activities, whether onshore or offshore.

I support the five main provisions of the Bill which enables intensive co-operation between EU customs administrations aimed at counteracting the international smuggling of drugs and so on. There is ample EU legislation, regulation and conventions but I am concerned about the meaningful implementation of these measures.

It is important to update and take advantage of new technology through the establishment of a computerised customs information system which will be a significant benefit to Ireland and our EU partners. Where will this centre of technology and information be based? Given our expertise in information technology, Ireland could have a legitimate claim to be the location for this centre which would be a great advantage. I do not know if this is possible but perhaps the Minister of State will refer to it in his reply. It would be a good example of decentralisation from Europe to a peripheral country.

Notwithstanding all the legislation, it is important to enforce these measures at local level. There is significant pressure on the agencies involved, not only to keep pace with, but to get ahead of the criminals. The Garda drugs squads, the Naval Service, Customs and Excise and the Revenue Commissioners have all played an important role.

It is a terrible tragedy that heroin is now available in Galway city and a few addicts are being treated on a voluntary basis in the Western Health Board area. This is a new development and until recently the Garda drugs squad in Galway was doing tremendous work. However, this squad was reduced by 40% to provide gardaí for other duties. As a result, this unit must be deflated and must question the commitment of the Government and legislators to provide funding, personnel and whatever else is needed to combat serious drug activity in the west.

Dublin used to be the hub of the illicit drugs trade but that is no longer the case. This is not a result of technology but the fact that suppliers have found it an advantage to move elsewhere, particularly to the west. The Shannon is an artery through which drugs are smuggled into Ireland and on to Britain or the Continent. We have identified this problem so I cannot understand why we have not provided the agencies with the wherewithal to strike hard at this obvious target. We have one Garda patrol unit but I do not know where it is. How can it effectively curtail, never mind prevent, drug barons using this gateway into Ireland and mainland Europe?

Many speakers, including the Minister of State, referred to the pressure on the Naval Service to target the fishing industry because of the amount of poaching and other illicit activities taking place in that industry. The service is over-burdened concentrating on this industry, never mind the need to prevent other criminal activities taking place.

This leaves Customs and Excise and the Revenue Commissioners which we must compliment for their activities. How can these agencies participate in the co-ordinating task force on a par with other agencies if they do not have the wherewithal to be effective in their own areas of responsibility? The task force is referred to in the case of major drugs finds on land or at sea and there is a rush by one or other of the agencies to take credit for the success by displaying the haul. That is fine, whether it be the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners, Customs and Excise or the Naval Service, but where does this type of behaviour leave the overall co-ordination of the task force? It is difficult to regularise the sentiments when all four agencies take responsibility for the haul. Before we look to Europe, there is a need for far greater co-ordination in Ireland with regard to our involvement. Basically, it is the information we are talking about being available, abroad and internally, for others to use. I am highlighting the internal difficulties and the need for a far greater input to give all the people involved in it, a reasonable response capability. I am not taking from their efforts to date. They have done a tremendous job. Let us give them the wherewithal to improve and continue their work.

On the question of adhering to the provisions of the Bill, I imagine there are difficulties to overcome if we are to provide a meaningful response. Much of the Bill is aspirational. Can we really match the sentiments with the necessary activity?

I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, to comment on the possibility that there would be greater concentration by the Garda on surveillance of the River Shannon. It is necessary to warn all involved that we are only nibbling at the edges of the trade in illegal drugs and other smuggled products. As the speaker from this side of the House who preceded me asked, for every one who is caught, how many get through? We do not really have information on that and maybe, through this involvement, we will get that information, which would help the Government in targeting resources to respond to that need.

Under section 7 which deals with five areas of involvement, the State may opt out of three of the areas. I am open to correction, but it appears that only eight of the 15 EU member states will adopt these conventions and similar legislation because of difficulties in the provision of domestic legislation. It will mean there will be only 50% co-operation. How effective can such legislation be? This proposal is mandatory in only two areas. The areas to which the Minister referred related to hot pursuit, which is a sensitive issue in Ireland, but at the same time we must face up to the reality. Why have we not taken on board the comprehensive package? Why have we opted out in particular instances? Is it that we are afraid that it will be seen that the Garda co-operate with the RUC? There is no doubt that we are co-operating wholeheartedly with the RUC on the interchange of information? Is it that if the hot pursuit related to a military matter, for example, the idea of the British Army in pursuit of somebody on our territory would be repugnant to us? It would be a pity if that was the reason we proposed to opt out. The other areas would not be as sensitive in Ireland. However, if only eight EU member states participate and we talk about opting out of certain areas, and maybe at a later date seeing our way to coming on board, this must cast doubt on our sincerity and commitment to the ideals of this legislation. I hope in his reply, the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, will give legitimate realistic reasons for choosing to opt out in that area because some people might otherwise put a spin on it.

I welcome and support wholeheartedly the provisions of the Bill and hope it will have a speedy passage here. I also hope that by its implementation we can co-operate with others in the databank within Europe to address serious crime.

Is it not difficult for the Minister to accept that, for instance, less than half a mile from the House one can see throngs of people seeking to purchase illicitly at knock down prices, a product such as tobacco which is widely available in huge quantit ies? The same applies with alcohol. The terrible aspect of it is that there is among the population, no more than in the area of drugs, people who are prepared to deal on the black market or on the shady side of trade. The most reputable managers and owners of institutions, hotels and pubs are prepared to seek illicitly imported goods out of view of the Revenue Commissioners and Customs officers. In the past ten or 20 years, some people considered tax evasion a great opportunity to prove a point. In the same context, we are seeing that people are more or less proving a point, that they can have access to alcohol and cigarettes from dubious sources. There are many other substances involved. While there is such an overall ethos within society, we must give full support to all the agencies involved, to eliminate the practice once and for all.

I was not too sure of the last speaker when he was trying to infer that many publicans and hoteliers avail of smuggled goods.

They do and the Deputy knows well.

Obviously that is going on to some extent. I am not so naive that I would believe that everybody tries to run a straight house but if it is as bad as the previous speaker suggested, maybe he might provide information to the people in a position to deal with it.

Having listened to the last few speakers, I think there is broad support for the Bill. It is not contentious. People appreciate the changes which have taken place not just in Ireland but throughout Europe and recognise how sophisticated criminals have become. More importantly, they recognise the vast amounts of money being made from crime.

A number of my colleagues mentioned that when the heat was on, some of the criminals here "upped sticks" and headed for some of the sunnier spots in Europe. They appear to be living on the fruits of crime and enjoying life to the full. As we are in a European Community, it is important that we co-operate in every possible way to make life as difficult as we can for these people. They have made vast profits and have left behind terrible misery for the thousands of young people who are addicted to drugs and for their families who must endure terrible suffering as a result of that.

Probably the first person in this House to understand or appreciate the seriousness of the situation was Deputy Gregory. I remember seeing him on television explain the difficulty as he saw it. People felt he was exaggerating the problem and that it only applied to Dublin. However, we have woken up and realise that it is a problem affecting every village and town and not just Dublin. Unfortunately, despite the resources that have been made available, the problem has got worse instead of better. We have a very serious fight on our hands if we are to fight the battle against drugs.

The exchange of intelligence and information to combat international smuggling of drugs and other items is something which any decent person would support. In the past, we have had a very ambivalent attitude towards co-operating with the Garda. However, attitudes have changed in relation to tax evasion and, more recently, to drink driving. For a long time, those who could drink and drive were looked on as being hard men. That attitude has changed and today they are looked on as being very foolish and reckless and there is a big price to be paid if they are caught. Attitudes have changed, maybe more so among young people. In my experience, it is old people who find it more difficult to change. Young people are much more mature in dealing with that type of situation. People now decide not to drink if they are driving or to take a taxi.

Just as we have succeeded in changing the attitudes of young people through education and by highlighting at every opportunity the dangers of drink driving, it is important that we try to change the attitudes of people in terms of showing more faith in the Garda and of being more co-operative with them when dealing with the drug problem. We have a difficulty with "squealing" or "ratting" on people; we think it will mean they will be prosecuted or that they will finish up behind bars.

We could send someone out in any town and within 60 minutes, one could be guaranteed he will have found a place where he can get drugs. It is no great secret and if one talks to people in any town, one will quickly identify the people who are pushing drugs or where they are available. It is important that we change people's attitudes and try to explain to them how serious the drug problem is and that we must work together. The Garda cannot work in isolation and it is only with the provision of information and intelligence, if you like, that they will succeed in this battle against drugs. While this co-operation throughout Europe is very welcome, maybe we should look to home and realise how important it is to try to fight the battle at home.

Obviously, there are huge profits to be made from selling drugs or else people would not take the risks they now take. I met a women recently whose son is serving a five year prison sentence. He was only a young chap at school when, unfortunately, he got tangled up in the drugs scene and ran up a debt with his pusher. He was invited to travel abroad to bring home some drugs in order to offset the debt he had with the pusher. Maybe fortunately – he might have thought unfortunately at the time – he was caught, convicted and is now serving his time behind bars. That young chap, who was obviously naive in many respects, made two mistakes. He got involved with drugs, got hooked and was not able to pay for what he was using. To pay off his debt, he decided to bring some home. Now he is paying a heavy price. Maybe if he has learned his lesson, it will have been worthwhile. That is not an isolated incident, there are plenty of similar stories – indeed, our prisons house many people like that chap.

I would like to see a greater concentration on advertising the dangers of drugs, particularly in primary and second level schools. We have what I would consider a haphazard approach to dealing with the issue, particularly at school level. Parents' councils have been quite active and a couple of families from England have visited on a number of occasions and have spoken to children. In one case, a family lost their child who took an Ecstasy tablet. When the parents relive the nightmare of the death of their child it has an effect on those who are listening but very often, those who attend such meetings or seminars are not the people to whom we really need to talk. We must have a more intensive campaign in dealing with the drugs issue and we need to explain to young people the damage that can be done if they get hooked on drugs.

There are different reasons people become involved in the drugs scene and one is a lack of options. Many teenagers today will say they are bored. Maybe teenagers 20 or 30 years ago were bored but they always managed to find something with which to amuse themselves. We have to realise that the country is changing and that the demands on young people are changing. It is important that we provide proper facilities for young people.

Each day we see young people hanging around towns and, in some cases, loitering. Perhaps they do not mean any harm but it can upset old people, in particular, who feel frightened when walking past groups of young people. That is not a nice way for old people to feel and maybe we should look at that issue more seriously.

To go back to the Bill itself, we are dealing with the exchange of intelligence and information to combat international smuggling. I spoke recently to a retired English bookmaker, who was explaining the major changes that have taken place in the bookmaking industry in England, particularly on the tracks. He said that very few bookmakers who operated ten or 20 years still operate. In their eyes, the bookmaking business in Britain was used, to a large extent, to launder money and a great deal of drugs money had come into the industry. That is unfortunate, but it gives some indication of the millions of pounds that are spent on drugs and the huge profits for those involved in the drugs trade. I do not have any evidence that the same applies here. I know many of the bookmakers here. Some of the faces have been operating for a long time and I am sure will continue to operate for some time to come.

Unfortunately, most people who get hooked on drugs start off with the best intentions but find that, apart from their work suffering, a salary is seldom able to pay for the cost of the drugs and they often have to turn to crime. While we welcome the reduction in crime in the past 12 months, none of us could be happy with the current level of crime. Unfortunately, a great deal of crime is related to the drugs problem and people robbing to feed their addictions.

Regarding Customs and Excise, I pay tribute to the people who have had a difficult job trying to police the coast of our island country. Ireland's geographical location makes the job more difficult than for our European neighbours. As an island off the coast of Britain, with the United States on the other side, it is a perfect location for people to break down their drugs and send them on to the rest of Europe. While we can be happy with the vigilance and the number of drugs seizures and convictions in the past few years, this merely indicates the amount of drugs that has been brought into the country illegally. In a small country such as this, only so much resources can be made available to deal with the problem. It would be virtually impossible to police the entire coast. It is important that we continue to provide a service at our main ports. It is obvious that much of the international co-operation and exchange of intelligence is working, in that people are able to identify the culprits and pick them up when they arrive here.

I pay tribute to all who are fighting this difficult battle. It is only when we read about some of the large seizures that we realise and appreciate the tremendous work they do. It is like a war in which we are trying to save lives. The Bill is a welcome move. It is a follow-on from the co-operation we have had since we became a member of the European Union. However, with the availability of modern technology, we should exercise the maximum co-operation with our colleagues in dealing with this difficult problem. I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill and I hope it has a quick passage through the House.

The first line of the explanatory memorandum refers to international smuggling, including drug smuggling. Much of the focus of this debate to date has been on drugs. This is symptomatic of every Deputy's concern about the menace of drugs. Every provincial town and small community has felt the impact of drugs. Many of us, whether from rural or urban Ireland, are often told, by name, of people who are involved in drug peddling within their areas. Parents are very concerned about the activities of the people involved, perhaps on a small-time basis, but who are often classified as drug pushers. These people have become more sophisticated with the use of mobile phones. The main problem for the gardaí – even where Garda officers are involved – is the difficulty of pinning down these people and finding them with the drugs. In many cases they use younger people, even people under 18 years of age, to distribute the drugs.

This problem concerns every Member and parent, especially those with teenage children. Previous speakers spoke about how teenagers use their time, and said they probably do not use it in the same way teenagers did in the past. Society has changed dramatically, with the influence of television, and so on. Young people today are at a loose end as to what to do with their time. Regrettably, the pub culture has taken over. While in the past young people met in youth clubs, young people today meet in public houses. That goes back to the debate we had yesterday on a national stadium. The priority for Newcastle West would be an open swimming pool, with the possibility of covering it. That would cost millions of pounds but it would be a great advantage to Newcastle West.

Deputies said there should be more activities in local areas. The point was well made in terms of what £1 billion would provide in amenities countrywide. The point was also made that with 166 Deputies, one is talking about spending approximately £5 million per Deputy, which would provide a great deal of the infrastructure. As a result of that, many of the criticisms of our young people might dissipate because they would have other places in which to display their energies.

Regrettably, the death of the columnist, Veronica Guerin, woke up people with regard to the drugs problem. She was, therefore, the catalyst as far as we, as parliamentarians, were concerned in forcing through much legislation to take on the drug barons about whom she often wrote. Many of those drug barons have been taken out of circulation. I compliment the initiative taken in setting up the Criminal Assets Bureau, and the vision of people like Barry Galvin who was prepared to get involved and expose many of those involved in drug activities on a large basis. However, as soon as these people are taken out of circulation, there are other players, perhaps on a smaller scale, to take their place. Places like Amsterdam are probably the cockpits for the distribution of drugs throughout Europe and back to Ireland. The drugs problem is a major one.

In terms of international drugs smuggling, we must examine this Bill in the context of what is happening in Europe. There have been many laudable effects such as the exchange of information and intelligence between countries. I have no doubt but that some of the larger drug seizures were due to such intelligence. I believe it is impossible to control drug smuggling into this country. Despite the savage weather conditions that often prevail, our coastline is a haven for drug smuggling and we are an international base for such activity.

The seizure of theBrime and £20 million worth of cannabis was hailed as a tremendous success. It was said as part of the evidence given at that time that one of the reasons Ireland was so attractive for international drug smuggling was the level of policing, particularly along the coast. We have a flotilla of eight ships, most of which are involved in fishery protection. I understand there will be greater pressure in this areas because targets will be set which will involve our fleet spending 220 days at sea and boarding at least 400 vessels per year. We are in a difficult position as regards fishery protection. Some 400 trawlers operate in the exclusive zone each day. Our white fish stock is considerably reduced and we have conservation problems. In many instances fishermen get grant assistance for vessels that enable them to go out further and fish for exotic species. Even such fish are now becoming scarce. Our naval fleet must go out more than 200 miles from our coastline in order to monitor what is happening with regard to blue whiting and tuna.

When one looks at our naval fleet and compares it to the European model, every European country with a coastline has a fleet averaging 81 vessels. Each vessel in our fleet patrols 30,000 square miles but in other European countries it is an average of 1,500 to 2,000 square miles. To put the Irish naval vessel in context, it is the equivalent of having one patrol car for the entire country. There is a daunting prospect facing us. According to the international convention we must cover .25 million square miles, 20% in European Union waters. Our fleet is minimalist compared to that of our neighbours.

The White Paper on Defence stated there was no maritime threat to this country. While that may be so there are other threats, one of which is international smuggling. Those involved in that activity are becoming more sophisticated. I have no doubt but that despite the large drugs seizures, which I applaud and pictures of which are shown in the newspapers – in many cases assets are seized – it is the tip of the iceberg.

Take the position of nuclear submarines using our seas. We have no way of tracing them. We have ceded our sovereign rights with regard to such activity. World attention focussed recently on the unfortunate Russian nuclear submarine and the tragedy that befell those on board. Nuclear vessels pass through our seas on an ongoing basis. From time to time we hear of trawlers being sucked under the water, in some cases as a result of submarine activity. In Russia many nuclear submarines have been either mothballed or taken out of commission with the potential hazards that entails. There are serious question marks over the condition of many British submarines some of which have been recalled to port.

This is a time-bomb ticking off our coastline. I hear well-deserved praise for what we are achieving but there are many gaps which would require enormous expenditure to fill. It would be worthwhile for the Government to compare our facilities with those of other European countries and how they divide their fleet to cater for fisheries protection, drug seizures and so on and see if we have a coherent policy in place. I do not believe we have one.

When I was spokesperson on the marine I visited Norway and was interested in the approach they adopted. There are many lessons to be learned. We have difficulties but we are trying to cope the best way we can as a small country. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for being tolerant of me when I raised the question of the Air Corps this morning. I become emotional when I con sider our approach to some matters, particularly when I recall the tragic loss of the four Air Corps crew on 1 July 1999 on their first day on a mission from Waterford, having flown for 16 hours and 40 minutes. They lost their lives on their first flight at night time from the Waterford airbase. There are serious questions that must be asked. They should not have been placed in a position where safety structures were not in place at the airport and where there were serious deficiencies regarding air traffic control. There were inter-departmental meetings to try to agree a call-out allowance for an air traffic controller at night time. Despite having 12 meetings, on 1 July 1999 the procedures were not in place. It is regrettable, where human life is concerned, that we sometimes have such a penny pinching attitude. It is regrettable that a basic item such as an accommodation unit at the airport, which was recommended so that the airport would be accessible to Air Corps personnel, was not provided even though everyone knew it was required. They had to stay in accommodation in Dunmore East. It is regrettable that, looking at the newspapers as I did on 2 July, even though these people died at night, the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources was saying how great it would be if we had a 24 hour service throughout the country. It is regrettable that we provided a Dauphin helicopter in Waterford. Engineering personnel in the Air Corps advised about the engineering deficiencies of that helicopter for sea rescue, given our hostile coastal environment. However, that information was ignored. Is it not regrettable that spare parts often cannot be got for that particular helicopter, which was ordered in 1982 and delivered in 1986? We have five of those helicopters. One of them is still in use in Finner Camp in Donegal. In many cases, other helicopters have to be cannibalised to provide spare parts. This is an example of penny pinching in an area where safety is absolutely vital.

There is a lack of coherent policy in regard to our Air Corps, which is used greatly in sea rescue activities. There is a lack of definition of a function which is directly under the control of the Department of the Marine, which has subcontracted it out to private operators with a sophisticated Sikorsky aircraft. We applaud the work done by the Air Corps – they are the unsung heroes of our community. However, we do not provide them with proper equipment. If we take this service seriously we should provide the proper equipment. I often wonder if there is a subplot in relation to the provision of these services, whereby the whole lot could be privatised if it were scaled down. If such an insidious plot is in place people should say so.

I spoke last night to a lady who was engaged to one of the pilots. She wrote to our party leader and elaborated her concerns after having read the draft report and the complete report. She was very emotional on the telephone and cried about the senseless loss of the lives of her fiancé and the other people involved. This should never have happened. On 1 July 1999, rather than appealing to the Minister's ego by promising a 24 hour service and reading about what a great activity it was in the newspapers the following day, a decision should have been taken at that time not to proceed with the service because the proper equipment and safety structures were not in place. People would have admired the Air Corps, the Department of Defence and the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources if they had behaved responsibly in that way, but that did not happen.

There has been a minimum of comment on this issue since a report was released. It is almost as if people are hiding behind it out of a sense of guilt. That is why I have asked for this report to be discussed in the Dáil and for the Minister to face questions from this side, so that we can expose the deficiencies in what happened. I look forward to that being agreed. I am sorry for digressing into that area, but I feel very strongly about it.

This is a good Bill and will put in place legislation and mechanisms to deal with international smuggling. However, do we have the expertise and manpower to deal with the scale of the problem? My original point was that we do not and I have elaborated realistically on the reasons for that. Unless we decide a coherent policy and have an extension of the Naval Service, in terms of an extra fleet to undertake this type of policing activity, we will not be able to take on these international drug barons who are using our country as a haven for drug distribution throughout Europe.

I wish the Minister well with the legislation. I am sure he is also concerned about what I said about the airport in Waterford because it is in his constituency. I am sure he is aware of the facts. I am sure he has read the report, but if he had not he should read it. It is a shocking indictment of something that should never have happened, which it saddens me to say.

I have no doubt this legislation is necessary. This matter has been ongoing for some time and it has taken a while for this Bill to be introduced. I assume it is being done in order to co-operate with our European Union partners, because the explanatory memorandum states:

The purpose of this Bill is to enable Ireland to adopt the:

EU Convention of 26 July 1995 on the use of Information Technology for Customs purposes;

Agreement on Provisional application of that Convention;

Protocol of 29 November 1996 on the interpretation of that Convention by the Court of Justice of the European Communities;

Protocol of 12 March 1999 which corrects two deficiencies in that Convention; and

EU Convention of 18 December 1997 on Mutual Assistance and co-operation between Customs Administrations.

That is all very laudable and necessary to bring the legal fight to the drug barons who are taking every country in Europe for granted. No Member of the House could speak against the essence of this legislation, which is to help in the fight against drug traffickers. Everything that can be done in that regard should be supported by Members of this House.

A colleague of mine said here during a debate on law and order and justice that we have lots of legislation in this country but very little order. We are putting more legislation in place here to take the fight to the drug traffickers, but I do not know how well we are winning that fight on the ground. Order should be put in place in that regard.

When Deputy John Bruton was Taoiseach during the Irish Presidency of the EU, his priority for that six months was for the EU member states to co-operate to take the fight to the drug traffickers. He stated on numerous occasions that we found it extremely difficult in Ireland to patrol our vast coastline as the Naval Service did not have sufficient patrol boats. He suggested the excellent idea of co-operation between all sectors in the EU in that regard. I assume much of this legislation has been introduced on foot of that. All our EU partners agree with that. However, it must be brought forward another step or two.

While I do not want to get into a debate on drugs, they are the scourge of every community in the country. We hear this problem being highlighted in regard to the large urban areas of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, where the scourge of drugs is affecting large communities and where we are trying to deal with a large heroin problem. A great deal of time, energy and effort has been put in by Government and all political parties to try to put in place legislation and so on to reduce that drug threat.

However, I live in County Leitrim, which is probably the most rural constituency. I want to make it known that drugs are also a threat in such small communities. There is not a rural community in the country which is not affected by the massive scourge of drugs. A great deal of attention is given to the problem of under age drinking. However, young people in any small town can get ecstasy tablets without any difficulty every weekend. I am not so naive as to think we can stop this, but we have to put in place some laws to make it less easy for people to get illegal drugs into our communities, both large and small.

I wish to make a few points from a local as well as a national perspective. I recall raising with the Minister of State's predecessor a proposal to put a drug trafficking unit on the Shannon. Replies to parliamentary questions state that a unit in Limerick deals with the Shannon. I am at the north ern end of the Shannon which goes into the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland with the Shannon-Erne link or the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal. There has been no patrol on that area at any time and this is an area which could be exploited by drug traffickers. I have no idea whether that is happening. It is a massive expanse of inland waterway and drug traffickers could come in from Limerick and Northern Ireland. The increase in boating activity which has taken place on that inland waterway in the past couple of years is immense. That is one area that needs to be looked at seriously. The Minister's Department will have to provide the funding for a proper drugs unit to patrol the Shannon and the Shannon-Erne waterways.

I wish to refer to a matter concerning the Revenue Commissioners in Sligo. We had a drugs unit in Sligo port to patrol the whole north west coast but the Department of Finance decided to move it to Limerick. I raised this issue to no avail through parliamentary questions a couple of times during the past six or seven months. In the context of this Bill, where co-operation is needed, it seems illogical to remove a drugs unit from Sligo, leaving part of the west coast which includes counties Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal with no unit. That is a massive expanse of country. As my colleague, Deputy Finucane, has said, drug traffickers might come in. It may not be the most ideal place to stop but it is the height of folly if there is no drugs unit in that area to protect the north west. I call on the Minister of State at the Department of Finance to rescind the decision to remove the Revenue unit from Sligo. Sligo is an ideal location from which to patrol the entire north west and part of the west coast. I would appreciate if he would deal with that issue.

I am informed that the reason for the Revenue change was to have a more co-ordinated approach. I cannot see the logic of co-ordination, given the long distance from Limerick to Donegal to Malin Head. I realise we are under pressure to patrol all our coastline but the Navy does not have the capacity to do so. A unit was in place and had made some good seizures, though not massive publicity seizures. Drug traffickers will be aware of that and will keep away from the area. Given that the unit has been removed from Sligo the drug traffickers will return. It is impossible to patrol that area from Limerick. I plead with the Minister to restore that unit to Sligo. Many parents in Sligo town have raised that issue with me. They are of the view that the unit did excellent work and they were happy that it existed. A number of drug traffickers were found bringing drugs into the area. The people of Sligo are of the view that they have been abandoned in their fight against drugs. It is impossible to patrol the entire north-west coast from Limerick. Given that the unit was in place and the people on the ground were patrolling the area, it may be easier to put it back in place than to put in a whole new unit. I ask the Minister to consider that.

While I am digressing a little from the Bill which is all about co-operation in Europe, a number of speakers have made the point that there should be more co-operation on the ground here. I congratulate the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and the Naval Service who have done some excellent work. This is legislation on which no political party has a better say than anybody else; we are all in this together. I merely wish to highlight deficiencies in the system with a view to resolving them together. I am not critical of this or any other Government. Given that our heart is in the right place we have to be aware of the seriousness of the drugs scourge and put in place extra finances to alleviate the problem. Co-operation between all the agencies could be better in that the Garda, the Revenue Commissioners and customs are at different stages and doing their own thing. I have no proof of this, I have only read what has been reported. I have no doubt those individuals are putting their lives on the line because those with whom they are dealing have no regard for life. They will murder and cause mayhem to any society that thinks it can stop the illicit drug trade.

We can take examples from co-operation in Europe and try to put them in place here. That will involve resources and work between the various agencies. I have no doubt if the Government provides the necessary finance to enable this co-operation to take place it will be easier to fight the drug barons. It is a difficult war. If the drugs problem could be resolved we would be relieved of the most awful consequences in the large provincial towns and cities which we witness daily as political representatives. If we could stop this mayhem and make it more difficult for the drug barons, this country would be a much better place in which to live. It must be a priority of Government to deal with it. If my party was in Government I would make the same plea. The necessary funding will have to be provided. It is not easy to patrol all our coastal waters. We do not have the wherewithal to do so. If the funding were provided and the structures put in place in the long-term it would relieve the social difficulties which have been experienced by a large number of people.

The Bill is worthwhile. Many Members are interested in contributing to the debate because it is difficult to deal with the drugs issue. I hope the Bill has a speedy passage through the House. I doubt there will be major amendments. Co-operation is the name of the game.

As legislators, we must prioritise the fight against drugs, as our European colleagues appear to be doing. If we do, it will go a long way towards stopping the mayhem that is caused among the underprivileged and socially excluded in society. They are the people who are suffering and have missed the benefits of the Celtic tiger. Theirs are the children who do not enter second or third level education and who get involved in crime. The only way to resolve their problems is to put more money into education for the disadvan taged. In particular, we must put more money into policing our coasts and into policing the drug trafficking that takes place within this country.

We know from experience that a large number of young Irish people are involved in this illicit business. It is easy to arrest the junkie who is injecting himself or herself with heroin on the side of the street, but it is more difficult to arrest the individual who is importing this mayhem into our community. The way to do that is to put more gardaí on the beat and in the drugs unit, increase the Naval Service and give greater support to the Revenue Commissioners. That will cost an excessive amount of money but if we can control the mayhem caused by drugs in our society, it would go a long way towards eliminating social exclusion and developing the society we would like to have.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute briefly to this debate. I wish to make three main points to which I hope the Minister will give consideration. The first relates generally to mutual assistance between jurisdictions on customs issues, the second relates to the drugs issue and the third deals with greater co-operation in general.

When I saw this Bill on the Order Paper for today, I decided to bring to the Minister's attention a matter which has caused concern and grief for many people and which I hope is not considered too far removed from the remit of the Bill. There is a complete lack of co-operation or mutual assistance in the manner in which the Revenue and Customs and Excise officials treat the lawful import of motor vehicles between jurisdictions, particularly between the North and South of Ireland. The situation has changed in recent years but, unfortunately, our regulations have not moved with the times.

The booming economy has given rise to two major developments. The first is the return of many of the emigrants who were forced by economic necessity to emigrate ten or 15 years ago. The second is the job shortage which has given rise to immigrants arriving in this jurisdiction from other EU countries, particularly Britain, seeking work or in response to the many advertisements seeking workers for this country.

In the past 12 months I have encountered a number of cases where people from Northern Ireland have taken up job offers in this jurisdiction. They have brought with them motor vehicles they purchased lawfully in Northern Ireland but on which they are obliged to pay an exorbitant rate of duty on their arrival. It was fine to introduce these regulations when we did not have the same movement of persons and where strict enforcement of the regulations prevented people making a quick buck by importing vehicles into the State without paying the appropriate duty. Now, however, given the increased movement of persons between the two juris dictions, the hard and fast rules regarding the ownership of motor vehicles should be relaxed.

Many young women are taking up nursing or social work positions in this jurisdiction because they do not have the same career opportunities in Northern Ireland or Britain. In many cases they are young single women in their twenties who are starting their careers with a contract of employment for two to five years. That gives them the opportunity to earn money and to build up experience in their careers. Most of the cases which were brought to my attention involve women, although the situation affects men too. These women do not have houses or major assets other than a motor vehicle that was purchased in Northern Ireland or Britain. The rigorous interpretation of the rules restricting the importation of vehicles has given rise to hardship in many of these cases.

There is an appeals mechanism but it takes time and is often no more than a rubber stamping of the original decision. The Minister should examine the regulations with a view to relaxing them in response to our economic boom and the increased movement of persons. We are committed to the latter in the context of our membership of the European Union. There is a need for greater flexibility particularly when people are taking up jobs in this jurisdiction. Freedom of movement means little where there is a VAT or VRT regime which is so expensive and inhibiting.

My second point relates to the scourge and menace of drugs. As Ireland is the only island nation in the European Union greater consideration must be given to developing crack Customs and Excise teams and police squads for our coasts. We must have a strong resistance force to combat the importation of illegal drugs. Ireland is on the western periphery of the European Union and the EU has not been fair in recognising that our coasts are, in essence, the western border of the Union. The EU should think in terms of financing an appropriate crack squad which would ensure the Union's borders are as secure as possible against the illicit importation of drugs and other criminal assets from the USA, South America and other parts of the world. The European Union should foot the bill because what is involved is securing not only our borders but also the western peripheral border of the Union.

One of the greatest challenges facing western society is the scourge of the Russian mafia and the Muslim mobs who are working to huge effect in eastern Europe, peddling drugs and other criminal assets and engaging in the trafficking of humans. That is most disturbing and requires the concentrated attention of the European Union. That attention can be given to good effect only by ensuring there is a high degree of co-operation between the various forces, including Customs, Revenue, Army and police, within the security apparatus of the European Union in its fight against this new threat from the former Soviet Union.

The Minister of State spoke about unacceptable delays where cases may be pending in the European court. I accept this, but he should direct his attention at the delays in our criminal court system. Reports in today's newspapers claim that approximately 100 serious criminal charges cannot be heard because of a lack of judges and inadequate court facilities. Some 100 rape and murder charges are ready to be heard against individuals but there is an unnecessary delay in hearing them because of insufficient judges and courtroom staff. While European court judgments may be awaited, we should get our own house in order and ensure the delays in our courts system are kept to a minimum.

On greater co-operation between countries, the microscope must be firmly placed on co-operation between this jurisdiction and the UK, with particular reference to the Border with Northern Ireland. In the context of the Good Friday Agreement and the new political dispensation, about which we hear so much and with which we all agree, the level of co-operation is probably not advancing sufficiently to ensure the greatest results are garnered. I am referring to co-operation between the police forces and Customs and Excise forces, North and South. The Minister of State was explicit in his speech when he referred to aspects of the customs co-operation convention with which we will not accord. The Minister of State will apply the opt-out clause and states that the convention allows member states to opt out of applying some of the provisions, that is, hot pursuit, cross-Border surveillance and covert investigations. While some of the other provisions are mandatory, he said the Government proposes to avail of the opt-out provision and it will make a declaration to this effect when Ireland lodges its instruments of adoption of the convention. I wonder should we take that as a given, as the Minister of State appears to do. I would have thought, in the context of the Minister of State's speech when introducing this legislation, that this aspect might have warranted more than just a cursory four lines. I wonder about this in the context of a high degree of co-operation, North and South. In the past we have probably not given sufficient consideration to the concept of a high degree of co-operation which would involve exchanges from time to time. In the context of the Good Friday Agreement, should we go further? I venture to suggest that we should.

I am disappointed the Minister of State is so willing to apply the opt-out clauses. If we are to engage in an adequate and appropriate fight against the scourge of drugs and the menace of the transfer of various criminal assets, including money laundering and similar shady activity, we must use the best resources at our disposal. Will the Minister of State comment on Customs and Excise co-operation between North and South, Ireland and the UK and whether there might be a facility for the secondment of our inspectors who could gain the best experience possible by work ing hand in hand with inspectors from other jurisdictions? Perhaps there could be exchange courses or people could be seconded from one jurisdiction to another. There might be appropriate eligibility schemes which would allow for that. If we look at the very close working relationship between similar security forces in Belgium and Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg or France and Holland, for example, the Minister of State would see a far greater level of co-operation than anything envisaged between North and South. Two years on from the Good Friday Agreement we should be experiencing the same high degree of co-operation not just in relation to information, but in relation to personnel, as exists between many European jurisdictions.

Given that Ireland is on the western periphery of the EU, it would probably make more sense if we were to look at what the inland jurisdictions within the European Union apply by way of adequate and proper exchanges. It is unacceptable that a motorist from Northern Ireland can speed and drive with impunity between Dundalk and Drogheda, for example. If he or she is not caught red-handed here, apprehended and brought to a local Garda station, and flees across the Border at speed, which many of them do, there is little that can be done within this jurisdiction. It was reported recently in the newspapers that speeding tickets issued in Dundalk to Northern registered motorists are unenforceable. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle would know more about this than I do given his close proximity to the Border. It is quite extraordinary and unacceptable that an appropriate protocol has not been put in place to allow for fairly basic matters such as parking tickets to be mutually enforceable between the jurisdictions. How can we put our best foot forward when dealing with the drugs barons if we cannot tackle fairly simple road traffic issues?

Deputy Reynolds referred to our island status and the fight against drugs, with particular reference to the Shannon which bounds my constituency in the midlands. Like previous speakers said, the scourge of drugs has infiltrated my rural constituency as has happened in almost every other constituency in the country. In relation to the Shannon being a gateway or inlet for illicit activity, what is the position regarding Waterways Ireland and its role as the overriding body dealing with the Shannon and our inland waterways? Has consideration been given to a water unit on the Shannon to tackle the drugs menace which would obviously be subject to the cross-Border Waterways Ireland Body? I hope consideration will be given to having a squad operate from the Erne to the Shannon. I would not like to think persons could travel the waterways from Northern Ireland to Munster or through my constituency without being apprehended.

I ask the Minister to consider those points. My overriding concern is the ease with which the Minister invokes opt-out clauses. It is unfortunate that we on this side of the EU, almost as a matter of course, avail of opt-out clauses under so many conventions and EU directives rather than examining them closer and making the hard decision on the basis that the consequences will be better for society. Nobody could quibble with any aspect of the transposition of these conventions into domestic law and that is why if we want the best result we should be less reluctant to, as a matter of course, apply the opt-out clauses.

When I first heard about this Bill I thought it was good news and a move in the right direction. I thought the Minister for Finance and the EU had finally decided that cars could be bought in Europe and brought into Ireland tax free. I then read the Bill and realised this is not what was promised ten years ago. It still upsets me that when Ireland joined the EU the big carrot dangled in front of people was that they could go to Belgium, France or elsewhere, buy any car they wanted and bring it into Ireland at no additional cost. If Deputy Flanagan wanted a Mercedes he would have been able to drive from Brussels to Portlaoise and park it outside his house without incurring any extra cost. That has not happened yet because Ireland was permitted to introduced its own rules and regulations.

It is time there was a European police force to deal with the drugs problem. Drugs are the greatest scourge in Ireland. They are available in every town and village and nobody should pretend otherwise. Young people tell me they go to discos every Saturday night and are offered every available drug. Drugs are now given to them for nothing to get them hooked and involved in the drug scene. Once they are hooked they become customers for life.

I want to pose a question to the Minister and to the Garda. How do so many drugs get into Ireland? When one returns from a foreign trip having bought cigarettes and alcohol on the way home one can be told by Customs and Excise officials at the airport that one has 100 cigarettes, a half bottle of whiskey or a bottle of wine too much, yet huge quantities of drugs come into Ireland on a daily basis because thousands of people are addicted. Why can this serious problem not be addressed?

Ireland is a member of the EU and it is time to establish a European drugs squad. It could be based in Ireland with resources drawn from all EU member states. The drugs squad would deal solely with the trafficking of drugs through every member state and would liaise with its counterparts in America and Asia. The Garda cannot do every job, given its resources. It cannot police petty and serious crime and monitor ports and airports at the same time.

People joked three years ago when I suggested the establishment of a coastal watch to monitor strange boats coming into port, particularly on the west coast. At the time many people were unemployed and coastguard stations were closing down. At least when they were open people lived in them and when they saw strange ships off the coast they knew what was happening. I suggested the setting up of a scheme in conjunction with the Garda and I am glad that two months ago a coastal watch scheme was established in my county. People laughed when I asked for that to be set up. Everybody claimed there was not a drugs problem and that we should not talk about one.

It was similar to the discussion about sex onThe Late Late Show 20 years ago. It was as if people did not have sex in Ireland then but it was the only time the programme attracted a large audience. It is amazing how we brush many things that happen in Ireland under the carpet. We want to pretend there is not a drugs problem, yet every town, village and parish has been affected.

I spoke to a garda regarding a minor incident that occurred outside my house a few weeks ago. A guy passing the house smashed the rear view mirror on my car. There were three or four people with him but one of them felt sorry for me and the gardaí arrived. When the gardaí arrested the guy responsible they asked him why he did it and he said he was frustrated and lashed out. I am not a doctor or a judge but I know what happened to him because he is not a bad young fellow. He took something that night leaving a disco and it was not a pint of Budweiser or Guinness or a cigarette. This incident involved private property but he could have lashed out at an old man or woman or a child. How many savage murders have taken place involving people who have gone off their heads because they took drugs? It is a serious issue which must be addressed.

The Minister of State should lead the campaign to establish a European police force on drugs. It should be given all the powers it needs. If members of the force want to follow a suspect into any part of Europe, whether it is Northern Ireland, England, Belgium or France, the legislation should be in place to allow them do so. The drug barons should be taken on. Lord have mercy on Veronica Guerin. She fought hard against them for two or three years before she died. On a weekly basis she identified people who were receiving social welfare payments but who had big houses and cars and had amassed huge wealth and pointed them out to the public, the Garda and politicians. These individuals generated their money from selling drugs, not ice cream or sweets. Veronica Guerin lost her life. Fine Gael was in Government at the time. We introduced the necessary legislation, rushed it through the House and the Garda was given the powers it needed. The Garda did a good job. Many of the drug barons are behind bars but like everything else once the parents have been dealt with, the sons and daughters and their associates must also be addressed. Some drug barons are behind bars but their associates on the outside continue to trade.

The Government set up the Criminal Assets Bureau. Its officials can seize the property and money of drug barons if they cannot prove from where they obtained their wealth. I compliment it and I hope its resources are increased and that it gets more staff. It started at the top and it should now move down. Men and women in every town go to the local social welfare office on a Thursday or Friday and draw benefit. Yet, people who listen to their children know that these individuals are involved in illegal drugs. They have cars registered in 2000 and in some cases they have two or three cars. It is time the Criminal Assets Bureau dealt with these people and asked them from where they acquired their wealth. How can they get £100 or £200 a week from social welfare and have two or three new cars outside their doors?

The next target should be these people at the bottom. The CAB started at the top and it did a good job. It should get more resources, more assistance and more staff. It has done well and it has proven that with sufficient resources and staff, it can recoup money for the State. It has saved the State much money through the manner in which it dealt with those people.

The Minister, the Government and the EU should consider establishing a police force to cover all parts of Europe, particularly in relation to drugs. Everybody in the European Union would favour such a force. They want people who bring drugs into their countries and destroy their children, other young people and society to be dealt with. There is nothing worse in Dublin, Westport or Cork than seeing a young person aged 17 or 18 or older walking around town in the middle of the day, staring ahead because they are under the influence of drugs. It upsets me to see these young people. It annoys me that the individuals who sell them the drugs live in the lap of luxury. Many of them have the best possible lifestyles and some of them fly in and out of the country. I know of people who spend six months in Ireland and six months in the sun abroad without any visible means of income. Nobody knows for sure how they do it. Some think they may have won the lottery while others think they get their income from shares. However, others think they may get their money from drugs. It is a scandal that this problem has not been addressed and the situation is getting worse.

It was stated earlier that the crime figures are down. That is not the case. The number of reported crimes is down because many people who have petty crime committed against them or have their property damaged do not bother reporting the incident to the Garda Síochána because they feel gardaí have much more important things to do. They live with the loss and replace the property.

In the context of this Bill, whatever powers and assistance states can give to each other must be provided. We must take on the drug barons and evil people in society. They have resources and in some cases they have protection in the form of bodyguards. What worries me and many others is that many of these people no longer have respect for life. They do not care about people or their lives. They do not care who they take out. We often hear when nasty crimes are committed that the Garda believe they are drug related. When one hears that, one knows that bullies, gangsters, thugs and murderers are involved. They inflict terrible tragedies on families and young people. These individuals move in every circle and it is terrible that they cannot be identified.

It is terrible that we cannot stop the supply of drugs into this country. Ireland is a small nation and it is a pity that resources cannot be provided at ports and airports. I suggested the idea of the coastal watch scheme a long time ago and I am glad it is now in place. However, it operates on a voluntary basis and I would like it placed on a non-voluntary basis. People should be paid to monitor the coastline. These people could encourage, help and train others on a voluntary basis, but there is a need for professionals. People should be paid to do the work because Ireland has a massive coastline. This is why so much drugs get into the country.

There are problems with the fisheries and ships are patrolling, trying to stop fishermen plundering and stealing our natural resources of fish. I was in Porturlin yesterday to meet fishermen there. They are suffering daily because of the big trawlers from Spain and elsewhere that are damaging their oyster and crab pots. Nobody can do anything for them, but they say it is amazing that in the middle of the summer people are nabbed for fishing a day outside the salmon fishing season. They are brought before the courts and their nets and fish are confiscated. They are nabbed quickly because they are an easy target. Other fishermen cannot be caught as quickly because they are on big trawlers. It appears that a blind eye is turned.

Deputy Flanagan spoke about parking fines. I come from a tourism town which, in common with every other town, now has a traffic problem. During the summer, when the town is busy, one sees Northern Ireland and British registered cars double parked. People leave these cars blocking the street and go off shopping. When they return there might be a ticket on the window – it would have a ticket if it was a local car – but the people concerned tear it up and drive away. It is time that problem was addressed. Instead of putting tickets on cars registered outside the State, they should be towed away or clamped so that people have to pay to get their vehicles back.

A new European police force should be established to deal with drugs. All European countries have failed to deal with them on an individual basis and it is time for new thinking and more resources in this area. Whatever information or help is needed should be provided. If a person of a shady nature was being watched coming to and from Ireland on a regular basis, that information could be given to the European police force. Individual countries could give information to each other. They would not be dependent on each other but they could watch and target certain individuals. Perhaps this would, once and for all, stop the terrible scourge of drugs.

Despite all the finds at Dublin Airport and elsewhere that we hear about on a daily basis, increasing quantities of drugs are getting into Ireland. Perhaps the Minister of State could consider a suggestion I made some time ago about drugs that are taken from criminals at airports and ports. I was amazed to learn in a reply to a parliamentary question that these drugs are put into storage and I proposed at that time that a committee, similar to the Prison Service's visiting committee, should be established and meet on a monthly basis. When the courts are finished with the evidence, the committee would oversee the public disposal of the drugs.

I do not doubt people but, at the same time, it is not a good arrangement for drugs to be kept in storage. Temptation exists and drugs are a very valuable commodity. This matter should be addressed. The national media could be invited to cover the disposal of drugs from, for example, a seizure two years previously in Cork or a year previously in Dublin. The people responsible for importing them would be behind bars and the drugs could be burned in the presence of the media. This has never happened and that worries me.

People did not like me making this suggestion, but there should be public accountability in this regard. I hope I will get some response to this proposal which would also demonstrate to the public that the drugs have been destroyed. They would see something being done in this area.

Mr. Coveney

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Customs and Excise (Mutual Assistance) Bill. All Members recognise the necessity of enacting this legislation without delay. It puts in place a legal framework for mutual co-operation on customs and excise between EU member states. The Bill will give the force of law to two EU conventions and three related instruments prior to Ireland adopting them at European Union level. The need for increased co-operation and mutual assistance in sharing information between EU member states is now more important than ever. European trade barriers are being systematically removed as European trade becomes increasingly integrated. While that is a welcome development, one of the unfortunate consequences is that illegal activity between EU states, including drug trafficking and other forms of smuggling, will become easier.

I wish to highlight the large amount of drugs available at present and I also wish to comment on the resources being put in place to tackle drug trafficking by sea. Few people need to be reminded about the current levels of hard drug abuse, particularly in our capital city. Cocaine and heroin are devastating thousands of families and such drug abuse in Dublin is greater than it has ever been. Certain measures are being taken to control the problem, including the national drugs strategy which is making some progress, but insufficient inroads are being made into combating the supply of illegal drugs.

Soft drugs do not always attract the same media attention as hard drugs. This is partly because soft drugs do not constitute such a big issue in Dublin, where the abuse of hard drugs is at centre stage. I remind the House of a number of facts, however. Ireland has the highest levels of ecstasy abuse among 15 and 16 year olds in the EU. More than one in ten students in their mid-teens use ecstasy here, while almost one in five uses cannabis. Ireland also has the highest drug-related death rate in Europe.

We should be reminding parents that this problem is not confined to any one sector of society. A person's address does not seem to matter because children generally are being equally exposed to recreational drug use. Most frightening of all, experimentation with such drugs is now the norm for many teenagers. Despite recent large-scale drug busts by members of the Garda drug squad, particularly in Dublin and Cork, drugs are more freely available now than ever. Every drug bust sends home the message that drugs are more difficult to smuggle into the country, yet we are still not seeing a real reduction in supply. Part of the problem is that we are an island nation, as previous speakers have stated.

We had an opportunity in the recent White Paper on Defence – the first such document in the history of the State – to highlight the strategy that should be put in place to enable the Naval Service to deal with its responsibilities in the area of illegal drug trafficking. Ireland claims sovereignty over some 265,000 square miles of sea, which constitutes 16% of total EU waters. With that claim comes a responsibility that the White Paper largely ignored. There should have been a comprehensive strategy for the future of the Naval Service, yet this has not been formulated. The White Paper dismissed that service's responsibility for patrolling our seas against drug smuggling, stating that the matter was essentially a policing one. It was as if the Naval Service did not even have such a role to play.

The Naval Service is not receiving the finance or other resources it deserves to ensure it can play a role in reducing drug smuggling. We spend a tiny 0.1% of GDP on our Naval Service each year, which is one of the lowest percentages among European states. A country like Belgium – whose designated maritime area is more than 200 times smaller than ours – is committed to spending a higher percentage of its GDP on naval patrols than we do. In real terms, Belgium spends four times more than Ireland on its naval service, despite its much smaller coastline. Our response to tackling drug smuggling is pathetic compared to our European partners.

Some years ago, I recall sailing into French waters on holiday and we were immediately stopped and boarded by a French naval patrol. Our boat was searched for drugs as if we were criminals. It took some time to convince the French patrol that we were going on holidays, and we were only allowed to continue our journey after a thorough search of our vessel. I sometimes wonder if we are taking our maritime policing responsibilities as seriously as other European states.

The Garda drugs squad is doing a fine job in Cork where between £200,000 and £300,000 worth of drugs have been seized so far this year. I appeal to the Government to expand Garda drug squads outside Dublin and Cork in order to tackle the scourge of drug abuse that is destroying so many lives in rural areas. While I welcome the Bill and hope it is swiftly enacted, we still have much to do in this regard.

I thank all Members who contributed on the Second Stage of the Bill. Later, I will deal in some detail with the wide range of important points made by Members. Various Members raised the issue of personal data being allowed on the CIS database. Although I will elaborate on this point on Committee Stage, for clarification purposes I wish to confirm that personal data will not be allowed in that database. I know that was a matter of concern for many Members. On Committee Stage I propose to deal with the weighty matters that have been raised during the debate. As Members have said they wish to see the Bill moved though the House quickly, it is appropriate for me to conclude Second Stage now so that we can move into the appropriate detail on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.