Thursday, 8 June 2006
Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Bill 2005 [Seanad]: Second Stage.
Gerard Murphy (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
As a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, I understood his explanation well. More than half of the legislation that is going through the Dáil originated in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It does not all come in the form of Bills, as many changes are made by means of amendments being added to Bills by the Minister, Deputy McDowell. This Bill is no exception in that regard. The Seanad will have a better understanding of this system of legislating by the time it has completed its adjudications on the Criminal Justice Bill 2004.
The Minister said that we need to prioritise, but what can be more important than clamping down on child pornography and the trafficking of children and women and the new phenomenon known as the war on terror? Society is changing rapidly. Child pornography and people trafficking are big international businesses in which profits of billions of euro are being made. Crime syndicates are being operated by most ruthless people who are willing to kill and maim to maintain their empires. Such savage people have the money to buy and create technology systems to protect themselves and their rackets in ways we cannot imagine.
While the Minister might be right to take steps in this regard, I cannot understand the rush to bring these instruments into Irish law before we have the resources or expertise to implement them. The Garda Síochána does not have a satisfactory radio system. It does not have a computer system that functions for basic uses, let alone technological systems. It cannot communicate with or interpret systems being used by other states. It cannot deal with the sophisticated systems being used by those involved in organised crime. Do we have a specialised technology unit? How is it resourced? Does it have enough qualified personnel who have expertise in the varied and advancing technology? Are expert personnel being employed to deal with changing ways?
Irish children are using simple systems such as text messaging to code their conversations. Does the Garda have a specialised decoding section? As I have said, half of the Bills that are going through the Oireachtas were initiated by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Most of them deal with domestic law, but none of them has had any real effect as a consequence of the Garda's lack of resources. The Garda needs proper radio and computer systems and modern cars, which are the basic elements needed to fight crime.
The problems to which I refer mean that we will be able to implement the international co-operation measures being introduced in this Bill at the most basic level only. I accept that we are coming from a fairly low base in this regard. Many of the crimes we are fighting are organised by worldwide criminal organisations. While this is a relatively new problem in Ireland, we can catch up quickly by putting properly resourced systems in place to deal with the increasing threats we will face in the future. It is clear that co-operation between EU member states and other like-minded countries will be a key element in this fight.
While it is essential for Ireland to transpose these seven instruments into law, the required effect will not be achieved if we do so without providing additional resources. The transposing of the instruments into Irish law will help this country to build on the success of the Criminal Assets Bureau, which has been the biggest achievement of our criminal justice system over recent years. The success of the bureau has helped Ireland to take spectacularly effective action against home-grown organised crime. Ireland's inability to pursue the same kind of action in other European jurisdictions has, however, been a problem. The enactment of this legislation will help us to take our successful action against organised crime to an entirely new level. It will mean that the ill-gotten gains of crime bosses will be tracked down in Europe and other parts of the world. I hope other countries that have not yet understood the effectiveness of the Criminal Assets Bureau or developed similar structures of their own will take the Irish example on board.
The loss of certain personal freedoms and the threat to human rights are, unfortunately, among the disadvantages we encounter in certain instances when we try to take action against organised crime, drug barons, prostitution, child pornography and terrorism. Crime bosses and terrorists will always have an advantage in this regard. Civilised society must balance the need to fight evil with the need to show respect for personal freedoms, civil liberties and human rights. While that is not always easy, we must be vigilant. The Minister's decision to refer the heads of this Bill to the Irish Human Rights Commission before it was published is to be commended. I understand that most of the commission's recommendations have been taken on board. However, the Government and the State must avoid being drawn into conflicts which are not of their own making with allies which generally subscribe to the objectives of this Bill, but which, like the United States, can be accused of being in breach of those standards which the Bill seeks to uphold.
The Government's unqualified support for Bush and his war in Iraq, the questionable use of Shannon Airport and the undue demands made by the Bush-led superpower on other nations while itself failing to honour the most basic of human rights, as well as world and UN conventions, undermines the commitment of the Government and the free world to fight terrorism. This undermines Ireland's commitment to justice and human rights. Members should reconsider their position, as the American people are doing at present. The indications are that they will punish the Bush Administration in the mid-term elections for its handling of the Iraqi war.
When the chairman of the Irish Human Rights Commission publicly states that Ireland must find a better way to ensure that Shannon Airport is not illegally used to facilitate the transportation of alleged terrorists, Members must listen. Mere unquestioning acceptance of the word of the Bush Administration is no longer sufficient. True friends and allies, like Ireland and the United States, should be able to facilitate each other by proving that Ireland's co-operation with the United States respects international standards. It should be in our mutual interests to put this question beyond debate and doubt.
Our law enforcement agencies must be provided with all the requisite legitimate laws. They must be provided with the best equipment and technology and must co-operate to fight the great threats of terrorism and organised crime. It must also be remembered that it is all to no avail if human rights, civil liberties and justice are ignored because the basic human standards for which we fight will be lost.
As part of Europe and as a civilised nation, Ireland must always keep to the forefront the idea that laws, police forces and armies alone will not win this fight. While these problems may be contained with good laws, armies and police forces, ultimately we will never be successful without tackling the underlying inequality, prejudice and injustice that exists throughout the world.
There has been some criticism of this Bill from eurosceptics who believe the entire principle of subsidiarity is undermined by this type of Europe-wide legislation. When one considers the enormous challenges we face, such concerns are unfounded and unrealistic. Most legislation and regulations coming from Europe have transformed Irish society for the better. I refer in particular to social and equality legislation. If such progress is to be maintained, it must be realised that the only way to succeed is through total co-operation and, to a great extent, integration.
Ireland has experienced significant changes to a greater extent than most other countries. Most Irish people travel throughout Europe and the world and many Irish people own property or live in other countries. Similarly, many Europeans and others live and work in Ireland. New situations demand new solutions and to deal with such trends and threats, more co-operation will be required in all facets of life. Fine Gael has always been the most pro-European party and has always embraced change which would improve the security of our citizens and that of our fellow Europeans. However, this should not be done at any cost. Ireland must honour its traditions, laws and, above all, Constitution.
The Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Bill covers diverse areas such as accessing bank accounts in all EU states, collecting and transferring evidence, setting up joint investigation teams, producing prisoners to give evidence in other European jurisdictions and most importantly in the modern world, interpreting telecommunications across national boundaries. It will cover telephone calls from mobiles and land lines, as well as e-mails and Internet connections. The monitoring of bank accounts will make it easier for member states to confiscate the assets of criminals who live outside their jurisdictions.
In general, Fine Gael has welcomed all legislation introduced by the Minister to combat terrorism and crime. However, it has repeated continually that passing legislation without resources has a limited effect on a serious situation. While the Minister's record in introducing legislation is impressive, his record in providing resources is extremely poor. It will be an extremely expensive matter to make this legislation work. The requisite information technology and expertise will demand enormous resources. While the legislation will be passed, the major question will be whether the law enforcement agencies, including the Garda Síochána, will receive the specialised manpower and equipment to do the job.
It goes without saying that crime lords and terrorists will always have an advantage. To an extent, adherence to the maintenance of basic human rights and civil liberties in the laws drawn up by the EU and the free world in general will make law enforcement less effective. Hence, unlimited resources must be placed at the disposal of specialised law enforcement agencies. Although Ireland probably needs to establish several sections with varied specialties, we have not yet begun to examine the matter.
The EU member states and the free world must realise that even with unlimited resources, as well as the best technology and expertise that money can buy, the best they can hope to achieve is to contain the situation. It must be realised that the only long-term solution is for these nations to seriously tackle the injustices, inequalities and prejudices which are rampant throughout the world.