The Bill before us amends the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005 by creating three new offences in order to give effect to two Council Framework Decisions from 2008 and 2002. These offences, as we all know, are public provocation to commit a terrorist offence; recruitment for terrorism and training for terrorism. I and my party broadly support this Bill but we have some concerns about it. I am conscious that the Government is implementing a European directive but there several points contained within the Bill that we are concerned about and are seeking clarification or reassurance from the Minister on.
Why has it taken the Government so long to transpose this? It seems highly unusual that the transposition of something like this would take such a long time. Perhaps the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Murphy, can explain this to the House or ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to respond on Committee Stage or later.
Our main concern regarding this Bill is the definition of terrorism as it is formulated in the Framework Decision 2002/475/JHA. It is a very broad definition which could include virtually every act that has some element of organisation or planning. This seems unworkable and something we would be quite concerned about. By reiterating the framework decision definition, the Bill legitimately raises the question whether this instrument has a built-in function creep in order not only to combat terrorism, but to extend the definition in such a manner as to cover most public order situations and more common criminal acts as they apply under national law.
While there is a definite need for cross-border co-operation in this area, even international co-operation, criminal sanctions and definitions should be solely the realm of the member state. We do not want to hand over this type of power to Europe. Such issues are for member states alone to deal with. We do not want to see the EU become involved in this area of our citizens’ lives. We would like to see greater checks and balances contained within the Bill to ensure there is no such function creep in this area.
To deal with the threat from the dark net, it is not all bad. There are human rights activists and journalists in some countries who need to protect themselves from very dangerous regimes and need something that could not be monitored in order for them to communicate and tell the stories of their communities. It can be a benign force. However, it has also been used by very dangerous criminals and issues such as child abuse are a real concern. I have raised with the Minister the poor resourcing of the Garda computer crime investigation unit's information technology equipment and its capacity to conduct forensic examination. We need to ensure that An Garda Síochána is resourced and has the most up to date equipment possible to combat this threat. We need to make sure that people engaged in serious criminality, organised criminal gangs and paedophile rings, who pose a threat to our communities, have nowhere to hide and there is nothing in the Internet they can use as some kind of haven for their heinous activities. To combat that we need to resource An Garda Síochána properly.
The milestone Garda Inspectorate reports into the investigation of crime, which were carried out over three years, contained very serious criticism of the IT equipment within An Garda Síochána so I wanted to avail of this opportunity to draw attention to that as a real challenge.
I want to briefly mention another concern, namely, data protection issues. Any data collected under this legislation should have to comply with standards in this State and not those of any other member state. We do not want to see a situation where data shared in good faith leaves the hands of another member state and is no longer under the standard at which it left Ireland. We simply cannot afford to see an abuse of power by governments in this area. The clearest example of this in recent years was the case of Frank McBrearty from my county of Donegal. He tried to enter the US with his family and was refused entry by the US authorities because according to US immigration records, he had a conviction for assault despite the fact that the conviction had been overturned and he was found to be innocent of the charges levelled against him. This case raises very serious concerns and questions about how data on individuals is retained in this State and exchanged with agencies from other jurisdictions. This is something we will seek to strengthen on Committee Stage of this Bill.
The challenge with all these measures in the area of justice and protecting our citizens from real threats is that we must strike a balance between a state's responsibility for security with civil liberties. We want to ensure that any of the powers being introduced do not impinge on civil liberties and are not used to spy on law-abiding citizens who challenge the Government and foreign policies. We know in this House that there is grave concern about the use of Shannon Airport by the US military in the theatre of war in Iraq, a war that was not sanctioned by the UN. We have concerns about the tolerance of the Israeli regime and how it essentially imprisoned millions of Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank and keeps stealing land. An appalling government has been formed there and its approach to settlements is very worrying. There are many regimes we tolerate or co-operate with under the guise of the EU which are a concern for the Irish people. We need to ensure that we have a balanced approach and that we protect our citizens from real threats. All of us are appalled by the development of Islamic State and reject utterly that creed which is an insult to the honourable people who follow the Muslim faith in Ireland and across the world. It is an honourable faith and I have huge respect for many people who adhere to the Islamic faith. We need to get that balance right in terms of the civil rights and liberties of our citizens and those across the EU versus a state's need for security mechanisms.
I will wrap up by mentioning the need for consistency. If we tolerate the Israeli regime and what it has done in Palestine and what is happening in Egypt, we send out a signal to young Muslims in the Middle East. In Egypt, the former government has been locked up and sentenced to death and an Irish citizen, Ibrahim Halawa, is locked up there. When we tolerate these regimes and co-operate with them, we send a message to young people that radicalises them and allows them to fall into the hands of the very organisations we seek to protect our citizens from. We need consistency in foreign policy and courage from our Government. One step we can take very soon is to recognise the state of Palestine. The two Houses of the Oireachtas have asked for this to happen and our Government needs to ensure it happens. If we are consistent in our approach to human rights internationally and if we live up to some of the great names who have come before us - Irish leaders who have advocated for human rights across the globe - we are in a strong position to confront the terrorist threat and extremists out there. That is my plea.