Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality

Forthcoming Justice and Home Affairs Council: Discussion with Minister for Justice and Equality

3:00 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Apologies have been received from Deputy Anne Ferris. The purpose of today's meeting is to get a briefing from the Minister for Justice and Equality on EU Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting to be held on 6 and 7 December 2012 and also the defence element of the Foreign Affairs meeting which was held on 19 November. A briefing document has been circulated to members. I welcome the Minister and his officials. The Minister will brief the committee and we will follow with a question and answer session.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I thank the members of the joint committee for inviting me to address them on issues relating to the forthcoming Justice and Home Affairs Council and the recent Defence Council as well as touching on the priority issues of the Irish Presidency which is now just 35 days away.

The Justice and Home Affairs Council brings together Ministers dealing with home affairs and justice issues, including asylum and immigration matters. Members may be interested to know that while I sit through two days of meetings, I watch Ministers from other member states come and go because it seems that most other member states have three ministers doing the job that I do and they stay for a morning on the first day and others come in for the afternoon, and an entirely new group appears on the second day. The Minister from Malta and I are the only Ministers who sit during all of the meetings. On that basis, a productivity claim will be made.

The topics under consideration at the Justice and Home Affairs Council have a direct impact on many aspects of the lives of the citizens of the European Union. We have received a lengthy draft agenda for the December Council meeting which starts on 6 December and which will be the last Justice and Home Affairs Council of the Cypriot Presidency. There may well be some changes to the agenda closer to the meeting. It is not anticipated that the current agenda items will create any significant difficulties for Ireland.

I draw members' attention to the briefing material on the Justice and Home Affairs Council agenda items, which has been provided to members of the committee. At the December Council meeting, Ministers will be provided with an update on the state of play of outstanding legislative proposals for the establishment of the common European asylum system which the European Union is aiming to complete by the end of 2012. Work on the common European asylum system commenced in January 2008 with the launch of the European Commission's policy plan on asylum and was then followed by its proposals aimed at having a uniform system of asylum across all member states. The proposal recast the Dublin Regulation and revised the directives on qualification procedures and reception conditions. Agreement has been reached on the qualification directive and the reception conditions directive. Negotiations on the recasting of the Dublin Regulation, the Eurodac regulation and the asylum procedures directive have entered their final phase.

Ministers will be provided also with an update on the current position of what is known as the Schengen Information System II. This system is used for national security, border control and law enforcement purposes. It is being further developed and, until recently, the revised version was expected to go live in early 2013. The Commission will update Ministers at the Council on possible delays and on mechanisms being put into place to minimise delays.

Three issues relating to terrorism will also be considered at the Council. These are the annual report on the implementation of the European Union counter-terrorism strategy, the report on the implementation of the EU strategy on countering terrorism financing, and the Council conclusions on aviation security against terrorist threats. Terrorism remains a threat to the safety and security of citizens across the European Union. These reports will add to the debate on terrorism and will help ensure our security agencies have the tools to combat effectively those who would seek to harm our way of life and threaten the fundamental freedoms for which the Union stands.

The freezing and confiscations of assets is an important issue for Ireland. In March 2012 the Commission published the proposal for a directive on the confiscation of the proceeds of crime. The proposal seeks to strengthen the European framework for the freezing and confiscation of assets through further common harmonised rules. As members will be aware, the continued success of the Criminal Assets Bureau in this jurisdiction in depriving criminals of the profits of their activities has been internationally recognised. The structure and powers of the Criminal Assets Bureau has been used as a model in some other member states. We will work through the Council and throughout our Presidency to ensure domestic procedures are effective and that international co-operation is as successful as we can make it in the area of confiscation of criminal assets.

Ministers will be provided with the state of play on ongoing discussions relating to the protection of the financial interests of the European Union. Given the current financial difficulties facing the union and individual member states, opportunities that may exist to weaken the financial interests of the Union through fraud must be reduced and eliminated. This is a common aim of member states. While there have been some concerns expressed as to the correct legal base for this measure, work is continuing to ensure a robust and effective mechanism is put in place.

There will also be an orientation debate on the proposal to create a European account preservation order to facilitate cross-border debt recovery in civil and commercial matters. This initiative seeks to facilitate the recovery of cross-border claims for citizens and businesses, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs and to improve the efficiency of enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters concerning cross-border disputes.

The Presidency is proposing to seek the approval of the December Council of some general guidelines which will influence the direction of future work. Ministers will have the opportunity of discussing the proposals for both the regulation and directive relating to the protection of personal data. While protections are in place for our citizens, the technological landscape such as the use of social networking sites and the globalisation of data transfers has changed to such an extent that the protections in place merit being upgraded. The new proposals will strengthen individual rights in the area and provide for greater certainty for both individuals and technology companies. The Presidency will provide a progress report on the current state of negotiations on both proposals. Ireland supports the overall objectives of the proposed regulation and agrees that strengthening individuals' control over their personal data will help to improve confidence and trust in the digital economy, leading, in turn, to increased levels of innovation, economic activity and jobs.

The Presidency will have a discussion on two linked proposals for Council regulations published in March 2011 regarding certain decisions in matters of matrimonial property regimes and property consequences of registered partnerships. The regulations introduce rules on jurisdiction, applicable law and the recognition and enforcement of decisions following divorce or separation in respect of matrimonial property regimes and dissolution or separation in respect of the property of registered partnerships. The rules would establish court jurisdiction and applicable law rules for the making of ancillary property orders on or after divorce, dissolution or separation cases with a cross-border dimension, for example, where the spouses or partners are of different nationalities or live in different member states. Ireland has not opted in to these measures.

The problems caused by drugs and drug misuse continue to plague all member states. A critical response to this issue on the part of the EU will be the adoption of the draft EU drugs strategy for the period 2013 to 2020 which should be adopted in the Council. Work will then begin on the drugs action plan which will underpin the overall strategy with concrete actions set in a definitive timeframe. Ministers will be asked to consider the mid-term review of the Stockholm programme, which is the current justice and home affairs programme. It was adopted in December 2009 and a Commission action plan was put in place in June 2010. Consideration of this item provides Council with the opportunity of ensuring that our central aim of the creation of a citizens' Europe in the area of freedom, security and justice remains on track. The protection of citizen's rights and the provision of a safe Union where citizens can travel freely, and be free from the threats posed by terrorism or serious organised crime, remain uppermost in our thoughts and are of direct relevance in this context.

I have been invited by my Cypriot colleagues to present to the Council the priorities of Ireland's upcoming Presidency in both the justice and home affairs areas. While the Presidency draws ever closer, beginning just 35 days from now, our Presidency priorities are still not completely clear. The Cypriot Presidency aim to make progress on a number of measures before the end of the year and their progress will naturally impact on our work programme. We also await the publication of a number of measures by the Commission which will also affect our final list of priorities. While not wishing to prejudice this ongoing work, the issues which I see as the important priorities of our Presidency are taking shape. The prevailing conditions of economic uncertainty will naturally dominate Ireland's upcoming Presidency. The Taoiseach has stated the overarching priorities of the Presidency will be supporting economic recovery, promoting growth and, above all, job creation. In the area of justice and home affairs, I will prioritise the measures that will do most to advance these aims under a justice for growth heading.

I refer to some of the relevant proposals and I am sorry if they are a little repetitious, as their content will be discussed during the December Council meeting, but they are some way from being finalised. Proposals on data protection will not only serve to protect the privacy of all European citizens - a valuable end in itself - but, in doing so, they will also increase the confidence and trust consumers have in online transactions and encourage their greater use. More people doing more business online is good for growth throughout Europe, and particularly in Ireland, where we aim to be world leaders in the digital economy. Both the data protection regulation and the directive will be priority measures we hope to make progress on during our Presidency. Legislation designed to reduce the risks for businesses, especially small businesses, involved in cross-border trade also has a great capacity to increase activity and lead in turn to more jobs. Such measures include the proposal for the European account preservation order and anticipated insolvency proposals. We expect the outline of these to be announced by the Commission in December and they will be discussed at the information meeting of justice Ministers to be held in Dublin on 17 and 18 January 2013. I intend to work to achieve real progress on these measures.

It is not as obvious to see where measures in the areas of home affairs and immigration can contribute to economic recovery and growth. However, we must remember that it is only in an environment of justice, freedom and security that the Single Market can flourish. Measures such as the confiscation of criminal assets and the protection of the financial interests of the Union, which aim to remove the financial incentives of crime, implicitly support and encourage legitimate economic activity. These will be priorities for Ireland's Presidency. Our young and well educated workforce is a huge draw for inward investment in Ireland but here, and across Europe, even in times of emigration, it is sometimes necessary to supplement our workforce with particular skills and expertise. Striking the right balance between securing Europe's borders, facilitating legal migration and protecting those in genuine need of protection is an important aim of EU immigration and asylum policy. Proposals on intra-corporate transfer and seasonal workers, as well as the completion of the common European asylum system, will be a focus of work during the Irish Presidency.

I attended a defence Ministers' meeting on 19 November 2012. The Foreign Affairs Council in defence Minister format meets four times per annum, twice in formal configuration in Brussels and twice in informal formation held in the member state that holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The meeting is chaired by the High Representative of the Council, Baroness Catherine Ashton, or, in her absence, the Minister of the country holding the Presidency. The recent formal Foreign Affairs Council in defence Minister format held on 19 November was preceded by a meeting of the European Defence Agency steering board. At the steering board meeting, Ministers adopted the code of conduct on pooling and sharing. This code comprises a series of concrete actions; to mainstream pooling and sharing in national decision-making processes to be implemented on a national and voluntary basis. Pooling and sharing is an EU-led concept that refers to initiatives and projects where member states agree to co-operate together in an interdependent arrangement so as to deliver and retain military capabilities among EU member states. The goal of the initiative is to preserve and enhance national operational capabilities resulting in sustainability, interoperability and cost efficiency. The decision to implement pooling and sharing projects lies entirely with member states. The code of conduct is voluntary and non-binding, respecting the national defence policies of individual member states. It does not create any issues for Ireland. A decision on pooling and sharing is a national sovereign decision on a case by case basis. The proposal from the head of the agency for the 2013 budget was not agreed by the steering committee and was referred to the follow-on Foreign Affairs Council meeting of defence Ministers for further consideration.

The steering board meeting was followed by the formal meeting of Ministers for Defence. The first issue was the budget for 2013 of the European Defence Agency, which had been deferred. The proposal was to only increase the budget to take account of inflation. This would have meant an increase in Ireland's contribution of approximately €6,000 out of a total increase of €600,000. However, one member state objected to this and proposed a flat cash budget with no inflationary increase. Despite numerous interventions in support of the inflationary increase, including by Ireland, as unanimity could not be achieved, it was decided to accept a flat cash budget for 2013. This means that Ireland's contribution to the EDA budget of €30.5 million for 2013 is approximately €284,000, the same as last year.

The next point to be discussed was the military operations conducted by the European Union under the Common Security and Defence Policy. There are three such operations at the moment: Operation Atalanta, a naval counter-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa; the EU Training Mission Somalia, an operation to train Somali defence forces; and Operation Althea, the military mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The meeting warmly welcomed the successes within the Somali region. Piracy attacks are down to the lowest level in a number of years, with only five this year, and the training mission is achieving its goals in a clear manner. To date, 3,000 members of the Somali defence forces have been trained and deployed to secure both the capital, Mogadishu, and other major towns thus driving Islamic militants out of built up areas. This training mission is led by Colonel Michael Beary of our Defence Forces.

In my intervention I praised the success of Operation Atalanta in reducing pirate activity and set out the need to be continually vigilant. I commented on the success of the training mission in making a difference and said that Ireland would support the new mandate and direction for this mission. We would continue to support the mission as well as we can, recalling that we filled vacancies including that of mission commander when there were no offers from any other state to do so. We are happy to continue to hold that post in 2013. The new mandated mission will need careful planning, incremental deployment and a proper risk assessment of moving the operation to Mogadishu. At present it operates from Uganda.

The next aspect to be considered by the meeting was the European Commission Defence Task Force on Industry and Market. The meeting was addressed by Commissioner Barnier who emphasised the need to optimise our efforts in reinforcing the defence industrial base, which is a significant industry sector and provider of jobs in Europe. He pointed to the need to mobilise all elements at our disposal to develop a global strategy for innovation and research. A communication from the Commission on defence, incorporating the work of the task force, is due to be issued in May 2013.

There followed a joint lunch of Foreign and Defence Ministers at which two items were discussed, the situation in Mali and the European Council on Defence which is to take place in late 2013. That will be a meeting of Heads of State and Government addressing EU security and defence issues.

It was noted that the crisis in Mali is multidimensional and the preparations for an EU operation were well advanced. The planned mission is similar to the training mission being conducted in Somalia and will not be a military mission per se. The debate centred on a number of issues, and the need to reinforce the elements relating to interaction with other partners, namely the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States as well as force protection requirements in view of the deployment was stressed.

The final item discussed was preparation for the European Council debate on defence issues in late 2013. The importance of this planned debate was noted as was the occasion to engage EU Heads of Government and State on Defence issues. There was a need for political guidance at the highest level regarding the strategic context and the need to rationalise budgets. As yet there has been no detailed framing of debates to come but general orientations by Ministers would be particularly useful.

A range of views were put forward by member states with the issue of capabilities development being stressed by many as a core issue to be addressed in this exercise. All agreed that the opportunity should not be missed, and that it was highly desirable to get clear political orientations from the Council on critical choices facing Ministers in the context of defence generally and in regard to the Common Security and Defence Policy.

The need to strengthen the technological and industrial base, including the research and development and dual-use dimensions, was evoked by many, as well as the need to develop a more competitive single market in this area. Member states looked forward to the Commission's work in this regard. I had a number of meetings around the Council including with the chief executive of the European Defence Agency, the High Representative, Baroness Catherine Ashton, the Secretary General of NATO, and the UK and Polish Ministers.

The key priorities in the defence area for our Presidency will include preparations for the European Council in December 2013, as I mentioned; continued development of the Common Security and Defence Policy and the comprehensive approach to crisis management; addressing the impact of the financial crisis on defence, including collaboration in the provision of defence capabilities in regard to pooling and sharing; support for current and future Common Security and Defence Policy operations, including flexible use of EU battlegroups - Ireland is likely to continue to provide the lead in the EU training mission in Somalia; enhancing EU-UN relations, in particular, through EU engagement and participation in UN peacekeeping; EU co-operation in the area of maritime security and surveillance with a particular focus on improving co-operation between EU navies and other EU security actors and leveraging innovation through security sector research and development; development of capabilities in support of Common Security and Defence Policy through enhanced co-operation between the EDA and the European Commission in the field of research and innovation in the security sector; and support for jobs, growth and innovation through restructuring of the European defence industry to eliminate duplication and fragmentation, and also an increased focus on the role of SMEs in fostering innovation in the security sector.

I wish to highlight the proactive part Ireland has played and continues to play in Justice and Home Affairs Council meetings and also in Defence Council meetings. Our participation in such high-level meetings underscores Ireland's commitment to the creation, development and protection of a European Union where fundamental freedoms and the rights of citizens are cherished and upheld. Our involvement in European affairs will take centre stage in a few weeks. Despite the challenging economic situation in Europe, I look forward to Ireland's upcoming Presidency with optimism. Ireland has an opportunity to help lead Europe towards better times and, in the area of justice and home affairs and defence matters, that is what I hope to achieve. I very much look forward to working with colleagues, both domestic and international, to ensure the Irish Presidency reflects in a positive way on our country. In the context of the European Union generally and Ministers with whom I will engage I hope that at the end of the Presidency we will be seen to have made a positive and beneficial contribution to European Union affairs.

3:10 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister. That was some marathon. He has certainly been busy and there is considerable information in that.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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We do the odd bit of work.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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It is very useful to have these reports before the Minister goes and after he returns. There is a considerable amount in his report. although I am aware it has been paraphrased in places.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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While it is not specifically referred to for this Council meeting, I ask the Minister to have regard to concerns over how the European arrest warrant is being implemented in different states. There are different models of protection of human rights in the European Union. One of the issues that has come to the fore in France has been the arrest under the European arrest warrant of a French citizen, Aurore Martin, who has been extradited to Spain for participating in protests that were illegal in Spain but would be legal in France. It has been criticized by political parties across the spectrum from left to right. The French Interior Minister has disassociated himself from it and has said this was a European decision. The person concerned was arrested for a traffic offence and because of the nature of the warrant she was taken into custody and has been handed over to the Spanish authorities. I ask the Minister to consider those criticisms of how it is being implemented.

I have reviewed some of the reports of the meetings the Minister has had on defence. In those meetings, including, for example, in meetings he has had with the Secretary General of NATO, is he asserting Ireland's position as a neutral country and our capacity to play a role in certain conflicts, most obviously in the Middle East and other evolving situations? When the Minister meets the High Representative, Catherine Ashton, what is the interplay between him and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade? Do they both sing off the same hymn sheet and have the same common set of objectives on behalf of Ireland in terms of what we might ask her?

Can she play a stronger role in resolving that conflict in the Middle East? Ireland is a neutral country and therefore of no relevance to NATO, but there are obviously areas of security co-operation. Recently, this committee met the naval services, who gave us an excellent presentation. Clearly, co-operation in tackling international crime is relevant. I would like some clarity regarding the Minister's approach on how Ireland as a neutral state engages with defence matters.

Another point that was raised concerned how we develop the defence-industrial base when it would be the objective of many campaigners internationally to reduce the international arms industry, which has played a very negative role in conflicts across the world and led governments to be slow in reacting to and addressing conflicts because of their financial interests. I could name so many in that regard. What is our strategic framework when we engage as a neutral state with these players and what are our objectives in doing so?

3:20 pm

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Due to time constraints, I will avoid getting into a conversation as to what we mean by neutrality, but that might be an interesting debate for another day. I presume we are not neutral when it comes to international terrorism. We are not neutral when people get blown up on the underground in London or in Spain. We are not neutral about cyber-crime, which has the capacity to cause major disruption in this country and others. We are not neutral when we see conflict in other countries where we believe an intervention is required to bring about either peace enforcement or peacekeeping. The term "neutral" is often bandied about without being analysed. We are neutral in the sense that we are not aligned with any other army and will not declare war on anyone. We are neutral for historical reasons in particular circumstances. Within the European and treaty framework, our position is well stated and understood.

In dealing with defence issues, what is our involvement with NATO? We are part of Partnership for Peace, which provides for peacekeeping and enforcement in co-operation with EU member states that are members of NATO. EU member states that are not members of NATO participate in Partnership for Peace and NATO is a lead organisation in the context of that arrangement. For that reason there is a relationship, but we are not formally part of NATO in that sense. There is connectivity. A total of 21 members of the EU are members of NATO, while others are not. In the context of Europe itself, Finland, Sweden and Austria are neutral states, but they have no difficulty in engaging. There is a very important and constructive engagement which centres around peacekeeping and enforcement and playing our role in security issues in Europe, which is very important. We cannot be in a position, as a state, in which we seek financial help from Europe but are not willing to help others who have difficulties. As a state, we are recognised as possibly contributing above our weight. The type of thing we do is ably described by the training mission in Somalia, which is a UN-authorised mission co-ordinated at EU level, with a member of the Irish Defence Forces effectively in charge of a multinational group training young people to be efficient soldiers in Somalia to support the government there and to address the terrorism that has bedevilled that country. When I meet the Secretary General of NATO, I do not need to enter into a diatribe about our neutrality, what we are not doing and what we are against. It is a constructive engagement on issues of common interest based on our playing a meaningful role in European security and defence policy in the EU context. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and I are absolutely ad idem on these issues. We both attended the defence meeting that took place a couple of weeks ago, to which I referred. The morning and lunchtime sessions concerned defence. At the lunchtime session, the foreign Ministers joined the defence Ministers, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade was there for the conversation we had about Mali and the Council Ministers' meeting to be held. A foreign affairs meeting was held thereafter.

We must adopt an approach that is realistic. The pooling and sharing issue is important and indirectly relevant to all of this. For example, in south Lebanon, we are engaged with troops from Finland on a UN mission rather than an EU one. The first 12 months of that mission involved Irish troops solely and then the Finns joined us. Pooling and sharing simply means that to an extent, when one is engaged in a joint peacekeeping and enforcement operation, everyone has equipment that is similar. If one is working with Finnish troops, there is no point in having two communications systems that are incompatible with each other. It also ensures that one has similar types of arms. I will return to the point about armaments made by the Deputy. In the current financial environment, there may be a particular type of resource that our Defence Forces would need on another UN mission. It may not be financially necessary for us to acquire that particular resource at the moment but it may be that, in conjunction with a defence force from another state, members are trained in the use of that resource and it might be made available on a sharing basis. There are issues of that nature that are important.

In respect of armaments, from talking to Catherine Ashton, I am aware that she knows where Ireland stands on all of these issues. We are playing an important and meaningful role. One issue we are looking at is whether our naval service might play some role in Operation Atalanta off the Horn of Africa, where very substantial work has been done and where lives have been saved. Occasionally, we need to get real on the issue of munitions. When we send peacekeepers to southern Lebanon or Bosnia-Herzegovina or when members of our Defence Forces are in different parts of the world where they may be at risk, they do not go there with water pistols. Our Defence Forces need modern resources that allow them to fulfil their capabilities at home and abroad and play a meaningful role in UN missions. This means that they must have access to armaments and other resources, appropriate vehicles, tanks and whatever particular type of resource is required, such as guns or defensive protective resources. Europe does need an armaments industry. There is no point in having defence forces with bows and arrows, because we would be putting them in danger. There is a need to be realistic about this. Of course, since time immemorial, bad people have obtained armaments and done bad things with them, but to defend our sovereignty we need a defence force that has a degree of capability and sufficient armaments. Therefore, these must be manufactured somewhere. This country does not manufacture arms but Europe has an interest in ensuring this industry works efficiently. We have an interest in ensuring that if there are resources we require, we can get them without unnecessary expense.

In the maritime area, interesting work is being done in Haulbowline, with many start-up businesses and research and development into the type of resources used by the Naval Service, whether for diving or identifying threats at sea. A range of work is being done in this area.

Resourcing our Defence Forces and other defence forces has manufacturing and jobs benefits to Ireland, as has our doing much more in this area, particularly in providing the type of resources genuinely needed in peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions which are common to defence forces throughout the world. It is an area in which we could be doing more. We are starting to do some things and we have a meaningful role to play.

Members may be interested to know that one of the issues to be examined at the informal defence meeting to be held in February is how the European Union, as a Union as opposed to simply under other mechanisms, can play a more co-ordinated role in UN peacekeeping and peace enforcement, and we hope a representative from the high leadership end - if I can put it that way euphemistically - of the UN will attend this meeting. It would help us stamp our individual identity on what we want to see in peacekeeping and how we want to see greater connectivity and co-ordination between EU member states, and the EU as an entity, with the United Nations.

3:30 pm

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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Will the Minister comment on the European arrest warrant?

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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The European arrest warrant is of real benefit to every European state, including Ireland, in that it facilitates the transfer of people charged with very serious crimes, organised crime and terrorism from one European state to another with relative ease with all of the human rights protections in the context of court proceedings. There has been a difficulty whereby some member states allegedly - and I deliberately use the word "allegedly" - seek to have the nationals of other member states extradited back to them for minor charges. This is an issue being examined at European Commission level and is an issue I have discussed with Commissioner Reding. It has not been a major problem for this country. I know the UK has been particularly focused on two or three people whom the Polish authorities sought to have returned from England to Poland for minor traffic offences. At the end of the day, the European arrest warrant is about ensuring we have in Europe law and order and freedom and security for individual citizens to go about their business. If someone is charged with a criminal offence in another member state we have a mechanism which ensures he or she attends the courts and face up to his or her responsibilities. I do not want to comment on the individual French case the Deputy mentioned and I am sure he understands my reasons for this.

Photo of Marcella Corcoran KennedyMarcella Corcoran Kennedy (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his comprehensive report. With regard to the proposals on the protection of personal data, will the Minister examine proposals on dealing with the prevalence of the use of social media and networking sites to indulge in cyberbullying? We have all seen the awful results of such behaviour. Will he also examine proposals on the inaccurate claims being made on such sites and the use of social networking for inciting hatred or advocating law-breaking? What proposals will the Minister consider? Will legislation be required or does existing legislation cover these issues?

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Data protection legislation is substantially about protecting the privacy of individuals and ensuring, if I can put it this way, that human beings are not commoditised. When people access social media sites or individual websites to purchase a product or research holidays, one way in which this area is profitable is through the accumulation of information about the product, holiday, reading or sexual preferences of individuals or their religious background. Effectively, for a long time this information has been accumulated, commoditised and sold on. This happens when individuals who believe they are engaging in a one-to-one exchange with a particular web page do not realise their information is effectively being harvested, accumulated, used and sold. This is why people receive communications and spam about all types of things, although I have never quite figured out why for many years there has been a spam obsession with targeting everyone with offers of Viagra. I have not quite figured out what it was I once did online to merit multiple offers----

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Do not go there.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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----of that particular product. I am particularly conscious that Cork gets a manufacturing benefit from it so I would not want to say anything about the product itself.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Touché.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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What is being examined, and there is some controversy surrounding it, is the type of consent individuals should give for personal information to be used; the circumstances in which information put on the web can get lost - in other words, that it can be removed and not maintained; and the regulatory factors of registering with a data protection commissioner. At present if one is involved in business in this area throughout Europe one may have to register with 27 different data protection commissioners, so perhaps we might have a base commissioner with which one registers and this would apply throughout Europe. It does not specifically deal with the issue of cyberbullying, which is a separate issue, although there is some indirect relevance to this in the context of trying to have material personally related to an individual removed, but some of the issues the Deputy spoke about would really arise under another heading.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased the draft EU drugs strategy will be part of the plans. Will the Minister give us a timescale for it? Will it be finalised during this Presidency or will it go into the Irish Presidency? Will the Irish Presidency have to lead on the drugs action plan which will follow?

The issue of the right to be forgotten, which is linked to what Deputy Corcoran Kennedy stated, is being discussed at EU level. Quite often people put information on the Internet when they are quite young and regret it afterwards. I know this issue is also being discussed with the United States. Will it be agreed and introduced? It would mean one could ask for one's information to be removed from the web.

I noticed much of the Minister's presentation had to do with asylum, and the issue of forced labour in the European Union is something about which we are concerned. We had a very interesting debate last year on missing persons and I know the Minister was interested in it at the time, as was the Taoiseach. Is there any possibility we might see something happening at European level with regard to missing persons?

The committee visited the naval base in Cork recently and we were very impressed with what we saw. The innovation and research being undertaken there is significant and important. The Minister mentioned consideration is being given to sending one of our ships to the waters off Somalia to assist in the very important and successful work being done there. I would support this. It would be important for us to play our part there as much of our trade comes through that part of the world. Even for a short period, if we can at all, we should have one of our ships out there. The Naval Service is more than capable of playing its part and it is very important that it does so.

Last week the Garda Commissioner came before the committee and he spoke about 25 criminal gangs operating in the State with international links. I am pleased the issue of terrorism and the fight against organised crime will be part of the Presidency.

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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We will not necessarily be sending a ship to Somalia. What is being examined is whether we would send members of the Naval Service to perhaps engage with others who are there. I do not know whether it will occur but it is being explored.

With regard to the drugs strategy, the Commission will make a presentation at the meeting I mentioned, which will begin on 6 December, on the strategy to run from 2013 to 2020.

The Council will then be asked to adopt the draft EU drugs strategy. To follow, work will be undertaken to adopt it, commencing with the provision of an action plan that will seek to ensure specific tasks are undertaken to underpin the aims of and implement the strategy. Consideration of the action plan will be a feature of the Irish Presidency. It will land on our laps.

The issue of missing persons was raised at one of the European meetings I was at some time ago. No specific measure has been proposed by the Commission to deal with it at present.

3:40 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Can we give the lead in that area?

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Certainly we can consider that proposal.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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The committee is very interested in the subject, which was raised earlier this year. We are anxious that Ireland do something about it during its Presidency.

I thank the Minister and his officials for coming to our meeting and engaging with members. On behalf of members I wish the Minister well in the work he is doing on behalf of the State. As he said himself, he is doing the work of three, but he is more than capable of doing that.

The joint committee went into private session at 5.53 p.m. and adjourned at 5.55 p.m. until 9.45 a.m. on Wednesday, 28 November 2012.