Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 4 Oct 2006

Vol. 184 No. 17

Europol (Amendment) Bill 2006: Second Stage.

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

The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to three additional protocols to the Europol Convention, Protocols 2000, 2002 and 2003, which have been negotiated since the Europol Convention, and two earlier protocols in 1996 and 1997 which were given force of law in this jurisdiction by the Europol Act 1997. The protocols in question will be, on the passing of this Bill into law, Schedules to the Europol Act 1997 and will allow Ireland, subject to Government approval, to ratify them.

The creation of the Single Market and the breakdown in borders within the European Union has facilitated an increase in cross-border crime. In the context of the emergence of the Single Market and the removal of trade barriers, Justice and Home Affairs Ministers of member states were acutely aware of the need for measures to prevent the exploitation of free movement by criminals and to protect their citizens against organised crime. It was this concern which led to the decision by the European Council at its meeting in Maastricht in 1991 to establish Europol. The precise role and powers of Europol were formed over the following years and culminated in the Europol Convention in 1995, which provides the legal basis for Europol. The enactment of the Europol Act 1997 in Ireland paved the way for ratification of the Europol Convention along with the protocols of 1996 and 1997.

The Europol Convention provides a framework for law enforcement co-operation in the field of international organised crime. It provides for the establishment of Europol in October 1998 following ratification of the convention by all member states, including Ireland. The mission of Europol is to make a significant contribution to the European Union's law enforcement action in terrorism, unlawful drug trafficking and other serious forms of international crime with particular emphasis on the criminal organisations involved. Its aim is to act as the European centre of excellence for intelligence exchange, crime analysis and the fight against international crime. It also aims to improve the effectiveness and co-operation of the competent authorities in the EU member states in preventing and combating terrorism, unlawful drug trafficking and other serious forms of international organised crime.

The enactment of this Bill will enable Ireland to ratify three additional protocols which are the subject matter of the Bill. The Office of the Attorney General has advised that these protocols should be given effect by way of amendment to the Europol Act 1997. Enactment will allow Ireland to fulfil its international obligations. Their effect will be to extend the mandate of Europol, clarify certain powers and streamline the work of Europol. The passing of this Bill will not alter in any major substantive way the structure of Europol.

The Bill is divided into five sections. Section 1 amends section 1(1) of the Europol Act 1997 by adding definitions for the three protocols with which we are dealing. Section 2 amends section 2 of the Europol Act 1997 to give force of law in this State to these three additional protocols and to provide for judicial notice to be taken of them.

The first of the protocols, that of 30 November 2000, extends the competence of Europol to money laundering regardless of the type of offences from which the laundered proceeds originate. As we know, that is a very important issue. The second protocol requiring ratification by Ireland is that of 28 November 2003. This protocol clarifies certain powers regarding joint investigation teams and the privileges and immunity applying to members of Europol. It is important that maximum benefit is derived from co-operation between member states when investigating cross-border crime.

Provision for officials of Europol to participate in a support capacity — I emphasise this — in joint investigation teams is provided for in Article 1 of the framework decision of 13 June 2002 on joint investigation teams, and under Article 13 of the Convention of 29 May 2000 on mutual assistance in criminal matters between member states of the European Union. The protocol in question clarifies liability and privilege in respect of Europol's participation in such teams. The third protocol under consideration, dated 27 November 2003, streamlines the internal working of Europol, particularly in respect of liaison procedures and analysis and the processing of data

Section 3 amends section 6(1) of the Europol Act 1997 by providing that the Data Protection Acts apply for the purposes of the Europol Act 1997, the Europol Convention and the five protocols to the convention, namely, the protocols of 1996 and 1997, as well as the three protocols that are the subject of this Bill. This section was introduced at the suggestion of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to clarify that the Data Protection Acts apply for the purposes of the protocols as well as for the convention.

Section 4 provides for the addition of the three protocols in both the English and Irish languages, as schedules to the Europol Act 1997 and section 5 contains the Short Title. Hence, the core of the Bill comprises the three Protocols which are to become Schedules to the Europol Act 1997 and which may then be ratified by Ireland.

It is all too clear that as a small country we cannot tackle effectively all the problems associated with the activities of organised crime on our own. We must share information and intelligence with other countries regarding the operations of criminals who operate internationally, their modus operandi, their networks and the routes they use. Organised crime, particularly in respect of crimes such as drug trafficking, is not easy to combat. Criminals engaged in such activities have considerable resources at their disposal to use skilled people and sinister methods to overcome the obstacles that society puts in their way. It would be naïve to think that such ruthless criminals could be defeated by anything other than an energetic and proactive approach that embraced effective international co-operation and the highest level of professional police work, both in Ireland and in terms of co-operation with police services abroad.

At the heart of the European fight against organised crime is better and closer co-operation between national law enforcement agencies and between national police services in particular. The environment within which Europol operates today is quite different from that which obtained at its foundation in 1998. Many decisions and framework decisions have been adopted by the Council in the justice and home affairs area since that time. Many of the instruments adopted formed part of the reaction and response to new levels of terrorist threats. As a result, police co-operation via European Union channels is now routine.

A number of other bodies operating in the area of law enforcement and security, such as Eurojust, the European Police College, CEPOL, and the European Agency for the Management of Operational Co-operation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, FRONTEX, have been established. In the context of the changing environment, the Austrian Presidency of the Council launched a political debate on the framework and objectives of the further development of Europol at the informal meeting of Ministers, which was held in Vienna in January 2006. At that time, Ministers were invited to discuss how Europol could be developed further, in order that the law enforcement authorities of member states could derive maximum benefit from any such development. At that meeting, Ministers gave a clear commitment to strengthen Europol and make it more effective.

Ireland's fight against organised crime and terrorism in the international sphere is closely linked to the increasing effectiveness of Europol in fulfilling its mandate. The effective functioning of the Europol information system has greatly increased the potential of the European Union in prioritising strategic crime analysis, policy advice and law enforcement. The fundamental structure of Europol is strong. It is ideally equipped to carry out its required role in respect of information exchange and analysis at a European level. Due to its historical position as the first institution of Third Pillar co-operation, it has the longest experience of any organisation in European Union law enforcement. The general consensus at present is that Europol should be allowed to continue to grow within its current framework. However, it is important to note that the future role of Europol is based on the general principle that the main responsibility for combating serious international crime and terrorist offences in the European Union will remain within the competence of national law enforcement agencies in individual member states. Europol should continue to operate as a multi-agency organisation in full co-operation with all competent national authorities.

Ireland must play its role in the work of Europol and to this end, ratification of these three protocols is important. I am confident that Members will recognise the importance of the measures contained in this Bill and I look forward to their constructive deliberations.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome this Bill. Fine Gael has always supported the timely and effective integration into Irish law of international treaties, protocols and agreements to which we are signatory in line with our international obligations.

This Bill enshrines three protocols concerned with international policing co-operation and co-ordination. As the House is aware, Europol is the European Law Enforcement Organisation and its vital function is to improve the effectiveness and co-operation of the police forces in the member states in dealing with criminal matters in a joined-up manner. The organisation, which was established by the Maastricht Treaty almost a decade and a half ago, helps all European police forces to combat terrorism, tackle unlawful drug trafficking and confront serious forms of international organised crime.

The organisation is based in the Hague in the Netherlands, not far from where the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992. Since 1994, it has co-ordinated work between the Garda Síochána and its counterpart agencies and it became fully integrated in 1999.

As of 1 January 2002, the mandate of Europol was extended to deal with all serious forms of international crime listed in the annex to the Europol Convention that was enshrined in Irish law by the Europol Act 1997. The work done by the approximately 500 people who work for Europol in the Netherlands is an invaluable tool against growing international crime, particularly in an area such as the European Union, in which ease of movement has been greatly increased and which now faces the prospect of further expansion of its international borders to the East.

When the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1953, few imagined that just 62 years later, Europe would have borders with countries such as Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, the latter two of which did not then exist independently. If and when Turkey joins, the European Union will stretch from the coast of Connemara to the deserts of Iraq, the frozen Siberian landscape and the Black Sea.

This important and progressive expansion brings new opportunities for European Union citizens and those of the accession countries alike. However, it also brings great challenges for administration and control. The European Union will soon stretch as far as some troubled regions in which instability is the order of the day. Organisations such as Europol ensure we can present a united front to elements that threaten the security of our borders, countries and citizens. Police co-operation means that dangerous criminals do not fall between inevitable administrative cracks and are caught in the wide net of police co-operation and information sharing.

It is therefore incumbent on every member state to ratify the protocols and to enshrine them in national legislation as soon as possible. I regret that Ireland does not do so more expeditiously and this regret is not restricted to matters concerning Europol. I have raised this matter in the House before, as the Government always seems to have something more important to do as it limps from one crisis to another. As the pertinent protocols to the Bill are six, four and three years old respectively, the Minister should have found time to integrate such important agreements into the Statute Book before now. Nonetheless, Fine Gael supports this Bill and its implementation and will not delay or obstruct its important passage.

It gives me great pleasure to be the first to welcome the Tánaiste to the House. I wish him continued success as Tánaiste.

There is unanimity in this House on the purpose of and the need for this Bill, which I welcome. The purpose of the Bill covers a number of areas. First, it extends the competence of Europol to money laundering, regardless of the type of offence from which the laundered proceeds originate. Second, it clarifies certain powers relating to participation in joint investigation teams by members of Europol and the privileges and immunity applying to members of Europol. It also streamlines the internal workings of Europol, particularly as they relate to liaison procedures and the analysis and processing of data.

That is where the future lies. Criminals today work in an international environment, in which the ability to transfer funds from one bank account to another is instantaneous. The Europol (Amendment) Bill 2006 addresses that. We need to be able to follow the money trail because those who put money before life, limb and liberty have already made a conscious decision to make money their god. It would give me great pleasure if we could take that from them. As part of that goal we established the Criminal Assets Bureau to take assets and the proceeds of crime from convicted criminals, which I welcome.

Together with the freedoms we enjoy there are people who hate our lifestyle and oppose the liberty we enjoy by means of terrorism. Terrorists today may have access to different types of weapons than heretofore. I do not welcome the proliferation of countries with nuclear capability. It is a dangerous development and I hope it can be contained. The more countries that have nuclear weapons the greater the opportunities for terrorists. Having seen the way a weapon of mass destruction, in the shape of an airline carrying fuel, was used as a weapon to kill large numbers of people, I cannot exclude the possibility that it may happen again in the future, which we must address. The only way we can do that is by intelligence gathering and by giving Europol the means to counter the current capabilities of terrorists and criminals. Therefore I welcome the Bill and recommend it to the House.

I welcome the Minister. I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, where a delegation from Poland served as a reminder of how European we are and why we need such legislation. I also welcome the Bill, but I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms at the delay in bringing these measures before the House.

The Bill gives effect in Irish law to three protocols to the Europol arrangements. The first of these protocols dates back to the year 2000. The most recent of the three dates from 2003. Here we are, towards the end of 2006, in our customary leisurely manner, finally getting around to putting them onto our Statute Book. What kind of a message does this send to the criminals of Europe, who are constantly adapting their techniques and strategies to evade the forces of law and order throughout the Continent by identifying the countries where they can most easily do so?

What kind of a message does it send to our partners across the EU, who must be growing rather impatient at the adamant and repeated refusal of this country to become fully involved as an integrated part of a Europe-wide system of justice? From time to time we hear offered as an excuse for delays in implementing EU directives that they need an immense amount of time and widespread consultation before Irish legislation can be put together to translate them into Irish law. That excuse will hardly hold up in this case.

This is not a complicated Bill with widespread ramifications across a raft of existing legislation. On the contrary, it is to a great extent a technical Bill, one that will not have caused the Parliamentary Counsel to lose much sleep or expend much midnight oil. Most of the pages of the Bill — 39 out of a total of 43 — are taken up with an exact, word for word transcription of the three protocols in question. In these days of cutting and pasting, it would have taken no more than three or four minutes to carry out that part of the work. However, for such a simple measure, it takes us upwards of six years to take the necessary action. Why? Can it be that the authorities consider that these protocols are of such little importance that they deserve no sense of urgency at all? Can it be that the authorities attach a very low priority to the business of co-operating with and interacting with their counterparts across the EU?

If either of these explanations is true, that is a fundamental misjudgment. It fails to take into account a growing reality that we ignore at our peril. I first became aware of the concept of Europe as long ago as 1959 — few Members in the House today would have been around at that time. I finished university and boarded a boat in Cobh for Le Havre. Spending the winter in Europe I understood, for the first time, what Europe meant. Young people my own age were excited about a united Europe and had a vision of the future even before the EEC came into being and 12 or 13 years before Ireland joined. I am not sure that the excitement of that time still exists, in Ireland at any rate. We need to show our commitment to Europe but when we take such a long time to pass legislation we send a different message.

The open borders of Europe, which we all appreciate and enjoy so much on a personal level, have greatly increased the facility with which criminals can operate across international borders. The vast steps forward in communication over the past decade, whether in cheap and frequent air flights between international destinations or in the now myriad ways of sending messages instantly and in total secrecy over the Internet, have a downside as well as obvious benefits. That downside is something that is very well known to those who lead a life of crime, but it is something that our forces of law and order have been much slower to recognise. To do its job properly now, our law and order system must keep fully abreast of these new developments.

Co-operating effectively across international boundaries should be a top priority of our national system. All the evidence, including the tardiness with which the measure before us now has been treated, is that this matter is far from being a top priority, if indeed it is a priority at all. I have the strong impression, from previous excursions into this area, that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is far more concerned with jealously preserving the differences between our legal system and those across most of the rest of Europe than it is in finding ways of bridging those differences in the interests of defeating crime.

In this context we see the dragging of heels in the implementation of even the simplest and most straightforward of technical measures that will bring about better co-operation. There is a lingering mindset within that Department which we have seen at work in regard to immigration matters. It is what I term a "Little Ireland" mentality, a mentality that until recently used to rejoice in using the term "alien" for anyone it felt minded to exclude from our shores. It is a mindset that thinks it can do its job perfectly well without letting the outside world impinge on it to anything more than the most minimal extent. If there ever was a time for that kind of mentality, it has long since past.

We need to develop an attitude to our neighbours that reflects the kind of Ireland in which we now live, the prosperity of which depends crucially on foreign trade, with open and free interaction across national borders. We have everything to gain by opening an enthusiastic co-operation with the forces of law and order the length and breadth of Europe and much to lose by approaching it half-heartedly, dragging our heels in the way that the timing of this Bill so glaringly illustrates. I spent my few minutes not commenting on the technical aspects of the Bill but rather urging us to commit to taking a different attitude to ensuring we become part of Europe because it would serve us well to do so.

I am grateful to Members for their contributions and agree with Senator Quinn that the inordinate delay in bringing forward this Bill cannot be defended. The Irish Parliament should perhaps simplify this process although the law officers advise that primary legislation is responsible for every change in the protocols to the Europol Convention. Perhaps we could deal with future changes by a resolution, instead of presenting the memorandum for Government, going to the Parliamentary Draftsman's Office, then to the Houses and committees, in order to make relatively insignificant changes. As Senator Quinn said, there is no implication for our sovereignty in co-operation of this kind. It mystifies me that these matters gather dust for so long unratified. We and one other member state are holding up the ratification process.

We are not the only people in Europe who are open to criticism. When I took on the presidency of the Justice and Home Affairs Council in 1994 I tried to resolve a wrangle about who should be appointed head of Europol. That agency had no head for more than 18 months while France, Germany and Italy were deadlocked on which of three candidates should be appointed. The other member states were clear that they would decide this by whatever means were possible but it required unanimity. These three founding member states of what was then the European Economic Council, and subsequently the European Union wrangled long over which of their candidates would be appointed. My efforts to arrive at a consensus by agreeing that we would take a vote to determine the majority opinion was frustrated for more than a year because people thought it better to hold out and gain more leverage on the issue through other events in other places.

This does not have earth-shattering consequences but co-operation is important. We must ask ourselves whether, if there is to be another amendment to the Europol convention by way of protocol, it is necessary to have primary legislation. Could we instead provide for some system of delegated authority to each House by simple resolution to approve future amendments to the convention within certain limits? We do not want Europol to become a police force in Ireland without the approval of these Houses. Subject to that caveat this is a somewhat cumbersome procedure for making relatively small changes to the Europol Convention.

I take the criticisms offered and do them the justice of offering no defence, spurious or otherwise. That something has not been addressed since 2000 is not the right way to do business. I thank the Members for their Second Stage contributions and ask the House to agree that the Bill be read a second time.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Tuesday.

Sitting suspended at 2.35 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.