Thursday, 16 November 2006
Europol (Amendment) Bill 2006 [Seanad]: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The objective of this Bill is to give effect in our domestic law to three protocols to the Europol Convention. The protocols, dated 2000, 2002 and 2003, relate to the competence of Europol in the area of money-laundering, as well as clarification of certain matters concerning joint investigation teams, and the streamlining of certain matters relating to the internal working of Europol. This Bill will enable the protocols to have the force of law in the State and will amend, for that purpose, the Europol Act 1997. The three protocols will then become Schedules to the 1997 Act.
Before discussing the protocols in more detail, I will discuss Europol and its development since the Europol Convention came into force in this jurisdiction in 1998. In tackling organised crime, access to intelligence and information is essential, both in the domestic and the international arena, and is of crucial importance when tackling serious crime, including terrorist offences, which usually involve networks of people in several countries who are very well resourced, both financially and as regards technical know-how. In this situation, co-operation between police administrations across national borders is needed to tackle crimes of this nature in an effective way. The Europol Act 1997 gave the force of law to the convention on the establishment of a European Police Office, or Europol Convention. Europol was established to operate as a support service to police services in all member states with the primary task of facilitating the exchange of information and intelligence between law enforcement authorities, as well as carrying out detailed analyses in respect of the crimes within its remit. In general terms, the Europol Convention provides for member states to forward information to Europol concerning persons who are suspected of having committed or taken part in criminal offences in respect of which Europol is competent or who have been convicted of such offences. The primary purpose of Europol is to facilitate the exchange of information and intelligence, as well as certain analytical work, in order to assist the member states in preventing and combating serious international organised crime.
Europol does not have any executive power. It is simply a support service for police and other law enforcement agencies in its member states. Europol generally acts on request from police services in the member states. There are preconditions to be established before Europol can become active in a case. The investigation must involve two or more member states, there must be an organised criminal network implicated and, of course, the matter must be within Europol's remit.
While Europol does not have any operational powers, its purpose is to support national law enforcement authorities and to facilitate EU police co-operation. Ireland has liaison officers posted to Europol to assist in the exchange of information and analysis work and under the convention, each member state is required to establish a national unit to act as a centralised contact point for all communications with Europol. The Garda Síochána provides practical support to Europol through the exchange of intelligence and participation in analytical work for purposes of contributing to the objectives of Europol. I pay tribute to the gardaí for their work in this regard.
I will briefly discuss the recent Irish experience of Europol. In Ireland, I am informed that the subject of the requests dealt with by the Garda Liaison Bureau tends to be transactions linked to serious crime such as fraud. This is in contrast to the situation a number of years ago where the predominant area of activity was in transactions related to drugs. Nevertheless, the fight against drug-related crime is still a significant part of the interaction between the Garda Síochána and Europol. One example was the case of an international gang of drug smugglers which was intercepted with a substantial cache of ecstasy tablets, resulting in a number of significant arrests, following intelligence received via the Europol network.
The effectiveness of Europol is, of course, dependent on the nature and extent of the information which it obtains. In this regard, it is very important that adequate safeguards are in place to guarantee the confidentiality, security and accuracy of the information exchanged and shared. The Europol Convention provides for particular safeguards for this purpose. It acknowledges that particular attention must be paid to the privacy rights of individuals and the protection of personal information, requiring each member state to provide for the application of data protection law in regard to information processed through the Europol system. In this connection, the Bill contains an amendment to the Europol Act 1997, providing that the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 apply in respect of the processing of information relating to individuals which is processed automatically at Europol. The Data Protection Commissioner is designated under the Europol Act 1997 as the supervisory body in the State for purposes of that Act and of the Europol Convention. The functions of the Data Commissioner, pursuant to Article 23 of the convention, include independent monitoring and supervision of the activities of the national unit within the Garda Síochána, which was established under section 3 of the Europol Act 1997, in so far as these activities are of relevance and relate to the protection of personal data.
Turning to the detail, the Bill, when enacted, will enable Ireland to ratify three additional protocols to the Europol Convention. The Office of the Attorney General has advised that these protocols should be given effect by way of amendment to the Europol Act 1997 in primary legislation. Enactment will allow Ireland to continue to fulfil its international obligations. Their effect will be to extend the mandate of Europol to clarify certain powers and streamline its work. However, I emphasise that the passing of this Bill will not alter in any substantive way the structure of Europol.
The Bill under consideration is divided into five sections. Section 1 amends section 1(1) of the Europol Act 1997 by adding definitions for the 2000, 2002 and 2003 protocols. Section 2 amends section 2 of the Europol Act 1997 to give the 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 three 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. The detection and control of money laundering is a key element in the fight against terrorism and organised crime and it is essential that Europol is armed with the powers necessary to ensure it operates effectively in this sphere. The issue of illegal money laundering has rightly acquired a more central role in Europol's work. We are all aware that developments in modern technology mean that vast sums of money can be transferred in a matter of seconds through several countries by electronic transfer through an intricate series of financial transactions.
The second protocol, dated 28 November 2003, clarifies certain powers in respect of the participation in 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 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.
As I mentioned earlier, section 3 of the Bill amends section 6(1) of the Europol Act 1997 by providing that the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 apply for the purposes of the Europol Act 1997, the Europol Convention and the five protocols to the convention in respect of the retention, use or disclosure of certain information relating to individuals that is processed automatically at Europol. 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 the convention itself.
Section 4 provides for the addition of the three protocols in both the English and Irish languages as Schedules to the Europol Act 1997, while section 5 contains the short title of the Bill. The protocols in question will, on the passing of this Bill into law, become Schedules to the Europol Act 1997 and will allow Ireland, subject to Government approval, to ratify them.
The Europol Convention provides a framework for law enforcement co-operation in the field of international organised crime. It provided for the establishment of Europol in October 1998, following ratification of the convention by all member states, including Ireland.
A number of other bodies operating in the area of law enforcement and security, such as Eurojust, CEPOL and 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. On that occasion, ministers were invited to discuss how Europol could be developed further so 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 to make it more effective. I commend this Bill to the House.
Currently we hear about increasing crime rates in this country. There have been significant increases in crime over the last number of years. Enormous increases of the order of almost 40% have occurred in headline crime since 2000. International crime is also escalating. It makes sense that we strengthen our international co-operation measures and the need to do that has never been as urgent. Not so long ago, in a single day €6 million worth of heroin was seized in Dublin, which is testament to the fact that the international drug lords and other dangerous criminals are at this stage using Ireland as a extension of their multinational criminal empires. Never before has Ireland been so vulnerable to undesirable criminal elements. These criminal overlords seek to use the freedom of movement throughout the Union, which I support for lawful activity, for the movement of goods and people to their advantage in distributing illegal substances, trafficking human beings and selling firearms, which are too often used by the gangs here with impunity.
It is important to realise how serious the problem has become. I mentioned lately in response to a newspaper article about the latest weekend murder that such murders, varying in number from week to week, were becoming a regular part of our weekend news diet. I checked the figures and note that during the past four years, which is roughly the period since the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been in office, 188 people were murdered or killed violently here, and the numbers are increasing rather than decreasing. The figure this year is exceptionally alarming. Many of these people owe their debts to international criminals who supply unscrupulous Irish murderers with dangerous and illegal weapons.
In that context, I supported the idea of an arms amnesty and I am disappointed so few of those dangerous and illegal weapons were handed up. Perhaps an issue for further discussion or separate debate at a future date should be how an effective amnesty could be introduced that would reach the criminal elements and result in the handing up of the tens of thousands of illegal weapons that appear to be in the country. That does not arise in the context of this debate. However, I share the same objective as the Minister in this respect and I am sad it was not realised.
Returning to the Bill, Europol is the European law enforcement organisation that handles criminal intelligence. Its mission is to assist the law enforcement authorities and member states in their fight against serious forms of organised crime. Unfortunately, there are no boundaries for organised criminal groups, as with the availability of modern technology and enormous resources these groups are illegally active worldwide. Organised crime represents a threat to the structure and values of our democratic systems and that affects all European citizens. It affects the security and freedom of all not only our citizens but citizens elsewhere in the Union.
Europol is a small organisation. It operates on what is effectively a tiny budget of €65 million. It has a staff of slightly more than 500. Given that the European Union has a population of approximately 300,000 million, Europol appears to be a small organisation with a tiny budget and an enormous mandate. I would have liked Ireland to have taken a frontline role in the past in trying to extend Europol's mandate and give it a more effective and broad-ranging role. From that point of view, I am encouraged by the confirmation from the Minister that the current Austrian Presidency has launched a political debate on the framework and objectives of the future development of Europol. I would encourage that debate and encourage the Minister, while he has a mandate, to contribute actively to the development of that idea and to offer ideas and support in any way possible towards the strengthening of Europol, in particular exploring how it can be made effective.
I did not note from Europol's personnel figures any great indication of an Irish involvement. The Minister when replying might outline, from an administrative point of view, the Irish personnel involved, the level they operate at, whether they are Europol liaison or security officers or in what capacity they are involved. He might also indicate Ireland's contribution to Europol's budget of €65 million.
In regard to this Bill, any legislation that helps to tackle the problem of organised international crime has my support. My main concern is not to in any way hamper or hinder the activities of Europol but to explore whether it is sufficiently developed as an organisation to provide a sufficient input into the fight against international crime.
This legislation specifically strengthens the international dimension of our policing system, which is to be welcomed. In particular, it gives the force of law to three protocols concerned with international policing co-operation and co-ordination. It is important to use this occasion to seriously reflect on the fact that Europol has been in place for 15 years since the ratification of the Maastricht treaty. It has made a contribution in helping the European police forces to combat terrorism, tackle unlawful drug trafficking and confront serious forms of international organised crime. There has probably been insufficient debate as to how effective it has been.
My concern is not to criticise Europol or the contribution we make or do not make to it but to establish whether it can be developed and made more effective in the future. The Maastricht treaty was signed in 1992 and at this stage Europol is co-ordinating the role of police forces ranging from the force in Seville in Spain to, in more recent times, the force in Lithuania. Europol's mandate has been developed particularly in recent years. Has the organisation developed sufficiently to be able to shoulder that mandate? At the time of the signing of Treaty of Rome more than 50 years ago it was difficult to imagine that we would be dealing with a Union that would stretch up to the borders of Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine, which were not independent states at that time. In planning ahead we must contemplate a Union, if Turkey accedes to it, that would stretch from Mizen Head in my constituency to the Siberian steppes and around to North Africa.
It would be an enormous area with a massive number of people. I fully support the developments which have taken place in the European Union. I am more and more enthusiastic about developments such as the European constitution. Those developments bring enormous challenges for administration control.
It is important to realise it would bring our borders close to areas where instability is the order of the day. Places of such instability are a breeding ground for international criminals, some encouraged by state bodies in those countries. It is incumbent on every member state to ratify the protocols included in the Bill and enshrine them in national legislation as quickly as possible. I would have preferred this to have been done previously but let us do it quickly now.
Fine Gael always supports the timely and effective integration into Irish law of international treaties, protocols and agreements to which we are a signatory in line with our international commitments. The protocols have existed for a number of years and enshrining them in national law is not before time. Having done so, let us not close the file, but see how much more can be done. We should actively and significantly contribute on the international stage to any development of Europol.
Tá áthas orm seans a fháil chun páirt a ghlacadh sa díospóireacht seo ar an mBille um Europol (Leasú) 2006. Tá an Lucht Oibre ag tabhairt tacaíocht don Bhille. Beimid ag cabhrú chun an Bille a chur tríd na Dála go tapaidh.
The first thought which strikes one when considering the Bill is the length of time it took to bring it before the Dáil. The three protocols to the Europol Convention to be given effect in Irish law date from 2000, 2002 and 2003 respectively. As both the Minister and Deputy O'Keeffe pointed out, crime is becoming increasingly international, sophisticated and difficult for national and international law enforcement agencies to address.
Needless to say, giving the appropriate means to law enforcement agencies to deal with the activities of modern criminal gangs as speedily as possible is imperative. It is incredible and completely unacceptable that it took so long to bring before the Dáil the protocol of November 2000 extending the competency of Europol to deal with money laundering regardless of the type of offences from which the proceeds originate. Taking six years to bring protocols to the Dáil should not be repeated.
The question arises whether primary legislation should be required in all instances. Producing primary legislation puts an additional burden on a system which we all wish would produce Bills far more quickly. If it is possible to avoid the procedures of taking primary legislation through the Dáil and Seanad, we should do so. Perhaps we should consider enabling legislation so matters such as those in this Bill could be dealt with through less cumbersome procedures.
I understand this Bill has no implications for national sovereignty. Where future protocols could have such implications or implications for civil liberties, it is imperative that debates take place in both Houses before final decisions are reached. In any case, we must increase the speed of parliamentary procedures dealing with protocols to the Europol convention. The protocols before the House are non-contentious. The Labour Party will assist and co-operate in their early passage.
Section 4 of the Bill provides for the three additional protocols in Irish and English to be added as Schedules to the Europol Act 1997. I compliment the Minister on the fact the Irish translation of the protocols is included in the Bill. I recently suggested to his colleague, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, that Departments prepare the Irish version in tandem with the English version so delays in publishing Acts are reduced to a minimum. The matter arose from a priority question regarding the obligation under the Official Languages Act 2003 enacted on 13 July that Acts of the Oireachtas be published simultaneously in Irish and English. As the Minister is aware, the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 completed its passage through the Oireachtas on 5 July 2006. However, the Criminal Justice Act 2006 was not published until 9 October 2006. I am sure the Minister will agree this was an unacceptable delay and such delays must be eliminated.
I already complimented the Minister on having the translation of the three protocols contained in the Bill. What procedures are in place to finalise the translation into Irish of the remainder of the Bill? Who will translate it? Was the translation of the protocols carried out within the Department or was outside assistance required? The explanatory memorandum states the financial implications are minimal. Does the Minister have a figure for the cost of the translation of the three protocols into Irish?
Regarding crime and terrorism, we read reports that money emanating from terrorist and gang criminal activity ends up in Dubai. Are the money laundering proposals before us late in the day? If the money goes beyond the EU, by definition it goes beyond the reach of Interpol. Are efforts being made by Interpol to deal more effectively with the fact that money can leave the jurisdiction?
We are all aware of scams where one receives an e-mail from people allegedly living in African countries. I understand they all emanate from Amsterdam. I found it extraordinary that UK police estimate the perpetrators of the scam gain approximately £200 million per annum. On the face of it, one may think it laughable but it is extremely serious.
The Minister informed us legislation on human trafficking will be published in the new year and this is very welcome. Will protocols be developed so this matter can be more effectively addressed? At present, it seems little regulation or sanction is available.
Outside elements have become involved in marketing drugs in Ireland. Much of this activity seems to emanate from outside the borders of the European Union. How effectively do we pursue it beyond EU borders?
While the Labour Party welcomes the protocols, something effective must be done urgently to ensure we avoid the delays to which I referred earlier. I hope these protocols, as ratified by the Government, will be fully effective in Europe in serving their intended purpose.
This is an important Bill because it makes sense to have greater international co-operation in fighting crime. The downside of having freedom of movement within the European Union is that it has facilitated a big increase in cross-border crime. In the context of the emergence of the Single Market and the removal of trade barriers, Justice Ministers across the Union have become aware that measures to prevent the exploitation of this freedom of movement by criminals would be needed to protect their citizens from organised crime.
Europol has contributed to fighting crime. One need only examine the organisation's website to see the significant successes it has achieved, whether in dealing with counterfeit bank notes in Bogotá or child trafficking. This form of international co-operation has a major role to play in the future of the European Union.
Nevertheless, we need strong safeguards regarding the extensive powers we have given and are giving to Europol. It is answerable to the Council of Justice Ministers and there is a financial audit of the organisation also. Europol is not completely above criticism, however, and concerns have been expressed over some internal issues in the organisation. I suppose problems will be encountered in any large organisation which has a significant annual budget and employs hundreds of people. In general, however, it is important to emphasise the constructive role that Europol has played. Obviously, there are real issues concerning data retention and information exchange which need to be taken into account in any discussion of the organisation's activities.
I note that the Bill, when enacted, will give effect in Irish law to three protocols to the Europol arrangements, which the Green Party generally welcomes. One of the most important areas in which Europol can be of assistance is that of human trafficking. The trafficking of human beings for labour or sexual exploitation is a serious and rapidly growing worldwide phenomenon.
The trade in human beings for financial gain is an extremely lucrative business, with traffickers earning several billion euro a year at the expense of innocent lives. Women's human rights, in particular, are violated when they are bought and sold, raped, falsely imprisoned and tortured. It is estimated that more than 120,000 women and girls are trafficked into west European countries every year.
Ireland has failed to transpose into law the 2002 EU Council framework decision on combating trafficking in human beings, which obliged all member states to legislate to criminalise the trafficking of human beings for exploitation. The deadline for member states to enact this framework legislation was August 2004, over two years ago. Ireland is the only European Union member state not to have done so. The Minister has pointed out that the existing legislation is available but it seems odd that Ireland is the only EU member state not to have transposed the 2002 EU Council framework decision on combating trafficking in human beings. Europol can do much to address this matter but the fight against human trafficking begins at home. There is an onus on the Minister to ensure that the framework decision is transposed into domestic law.
The UN committee on the elimination of discrimination against women expressed its concern about the trafficking of women and girls into Ireland, the lack of information on the extent of the problem and of specific legislation in the area, and the lack of a comprehensive strategy to combat it. The committee recommended the adoption and implementation of a strategy to combat trafficking in women and girls, which should include preventative measures, the prosecution and punishment of offenders, and the enactment of specific legislation in this area. Women who have come here and are being exploited are concerned that they will be deported if they encounter the Garda Síochána. While the Garda Síochána has dealt favourably with such cases to date, we need to enact some legislation to protect such people.
Earlier this year, Europol's first officer in charge of combating trafficking, Steve Harvey, warned that Ireland is likely to be at particular risk of being targeted by people traffickers. Mr. Harvey also pointed out that trafficking is the one crime that must be combated from a human rights perspective, rather than a singular law enforcement focus. He said: "I cannot emphasise enough that the only way to stop this bloody awful crime is for there to be a multi-agency approach." Human trafficking is a terrible crime. It requires cross-border co-operation through all EU member states and beyond. Europol has a valuable role to play in assisting the Garda Síochána to combat this largely invisible and highly lucrative crime which destroys lives.
This country has also seen a phenomenal rise in organised gang-related crime. Fuelled by the massive amounts of money to be made from the trafficking and sale of drugs, gangland crimes have resulted in a dramatic increase in gun-related murders. One-off Garda initiatives aimed at tackling this problem, such as Operation Anvil and Operation Crossover, are simply not well enough resourced to cope with the highly developed and sophisticated levels of organised criminal activity currently gripping certain parts of the country.
Europol also has an important role to play in facilitating the exchange of intelligence information on criminal networks among national police forces. This facilitation will strengthen the ability of the Garda Síochána to understand how these networks operate and how best to control them.
We need to have strong controls over how Europol works, including stronger answerability from the organisation. We should also be particularly sensitive to the retention of data by that body. Nonetheless, I welcome the protocols before the House today. We need to be up to speed with what is happening as regards international crime and Europol has a valuable role to play in this respect. I am somewhat uneasy about part of Europol's backup legislation, which gives immunity from prosecution to all serving and retired officers attached to the organisation. On behalf of the Green Party, however, I support the protocols that will be enshrined in law through the enactment of this Bill. I welcome the Minister's initiative in this regard.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and commend the Minister on introducing the matter by way of primary legislation. There are three elements to the legislation. First, it will extend the competence of Europol to money-laundering activities regardless of the types of offences from which money-laundering proceeds originate. Second, it will clarify certain powers concerning the participation in joint investigation teams by members of Europol, and the privileges and immunity applying to members of Europol. Third, it will streamline the internal workings of Europol, particularly with regard to liaison procedures and the analysis and processing of data.
I wish to make a few general observations about the operation of Europol. Everyone in the House will agree with the need for increased co-operation between European police forces, which must be fully supported. Other Members have mentioned the need to increase such co-operation not only between European police forces, but also internationally, including the USA and other countries. This is relevant in Ireland because many crimes here have an international dimension with roots in the drugs trade. This is because the drugs trade is highly profitable and people are willing to be nasty in pursuit of that money. The drugs come to Ireland from a variety of sources including Colombia, Mexico and Afghanistan, through Turkey into Spain, Holland other European countries. Unfortunately, guns are now part of this trade which has become more vicious recently.
This is not an academic debate and people at a local level will wonder how it relates to them. Gangland feuds in our cities have roots in the drugs trade and most of the disputes that lead to murders stem from disagreements over territorial rights for the sale of drugs in an area. Mountrath, in my constituency, is halfway between Limerick and Dublin. Serious criminal gangs operate in those cities and recently Mountrath has emerged as a convenient drop off point for criminals using either the train network or the national primary road network. The situation is being monitored by the local gardaí. Right down to small, rural towns the source of the product that leads to these crimes is international. People must be aware that the issue stretches beyond the big cities to every town and village in Ireland and they should have no qualms about supporting Europol in its efforts to deal with the drugs trade. There have been spectacular successes in the past and I hope they continue.
The issue of money laundering constitutes an important part of this Bill because criminals tend not to leave their money sitting in bank accounts. Banks watch such activities closely, there is significant money laundering legislation in Ireland and they cannot leave it under the floorboards for long so criminals are compelled to convert cash into property or other business assets. This legislation is important in tackling such issues because we have all seen the success of the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, in selling properties belonging to convicted criminals in Ireland. It demonstrates how successful such people have been in establishing businesses and acquiring properties. The legislation in Ireland and at a European level must allow the police to link such properties to their source and take the necessary action.
The issue of Europol and police forces sharing information relating to mobile phone conversations may cause some concern. It was widely publicised in the media that a perpetrator of the London bombings was traced across Europe by using the signal from his mobile phone and the police were waiting for him on his arrival by train in Rome. This is not confidential security information as I read this in the media. It is important that such measures be strengthened and improved because people may buy disposable mobile phones, they may not register as the owner of the phone and phones can change hands and be stolen. Facilities must exist giving the police access to mobile phone conversations. This is something most law-abiding citizens find unsavoury but, if we are to tackle serious crime, compromise on such issues is necessary. Legislation must reflect the emergence of new technologies that did not exist a generation previously. That Irish people involved in the drugs trade have been found dead in places like Spain and Holland only highlights the need for this legislation.
People are not engaging in money laundering for the good of the drugs trade or to get high on drugs, they do it for the money involved. I have been encouraged in the past year to see many statutory instruments put before the House by the Minister for Finance regarding seizing or freezing certain bank accounts on foot of requests from the United Nations. This was carried out by countries throughout the world in order to seize accounts suspected of being held by international terrorists. Thousands of accounts have been frozen by the Central Bank in Ireland and while this may have caused some difficulties, it is necessary.
Recent reports have suggested that seemingly innocuous charitable organisations are fronts for sinister people and terrorist groups using Ireland to hide money for the purchase of arms and to finance terrorism. This must come to an end.
I fully support this legislation and I believe most crime has an international impact. Most businesses operate on an international basis so it is inevitable, as the decades pass, that more legislation of this kind will be passed in this House and parliaments across Europe. Such legislation will bring about greater co-operation and consistency, not only in policing but in sentencing, court procedures and the criminal justice system throughout Europe. Ultimately we will be compelled to go further afield than the EU because many of the crimes mentioned have their origins outside Europe.
I look forward to further legislation whereby signatories to the Europol Agreement can expect greater international police co-operation around the world. I commend the legislation to the House and look forward to its speedy passage. I hope it leads to the conviction of criminals in Ireland and internationally.
As my colleague Deputy Jim O'Keeffe stated, the Fine Gael Party is always happy to support the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in introducing legislation that will improve crime detection rates in this country. International and trans-European crime is a serious and increasing problem in Ireland and we have not come to terms with organised crime emanating from gangs in eastern Europe. The latest proposed expansion of the EU to take in Romania and Bulgaria and the freedom of movement involved will add to this problem, to an extent, and there are serious reservations regarding the extent of organised crime in these countries.
We must be concerned by the level of home-grown organised crime and the level of activity in other European countries, particularly Holland and Spain. We support the Minister in introducing legislation to curb crime but legislation alone will not solve our crime problems. If this were the case Ireland would be a crime free society by this stage as the Minister has spent so much time and energy putting legislation through the Dáil. However, without the proper resources legislation cannot succeed and this has been the source of some of our problems recently.
Resources must be provided to the Garda in the short term and in the long term the underlying causes of crime must be addressed. This is unlikely to happen under the current Government as the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow. Resources in education, the most important tool in fighting social injustice, are not being provided in the way necessary to facilitate an atmosphere in communities that would lead to a reduction in crime rates.
The Minister has introduced a raft of legislation but we have yet to see the type of resources provided to the Garda that would make it as successful as it could be. The Minister's handling of various issues, specifically the introduction of the Garda reserve force, has eroded Garda confidence in the administration of law and caused problems in the police structure.
The Fine Gael Party has long argued that community policing is essential. Unless crime is tackled at source by providing social solutions to community problems and preventing crime through community policing, we will not make substantial gains in fighting crime.
International crime fighting is different and our efforts in this area will depend to a large extent on how well the national police force is resourced. The Garda Síochána will require a range of resources if it is to participate adequately in international policing. To communicate properly with Interpol and make best use of the enhanced co-operation proposed in the Bill, the force must be given additional resources, including new technologies and staff with language and technical skills.
If the concept of the European co-operation is to be successful and the activities of the Garda are to be integrated with Interpol, substantial resources and imagination will be necessary. Most European police forces have been fighting organised crime for many years and have acquired experience, structures and state-of-the-art equipment to deal with the type of criminal involved in it. This type of crime is relatively new here because the Garda has only dealt with the international dimension of crime for the past decade. If the section of the Garda dealing with international crime is as badly resourced as the general force, we still have a great deal of ground to make up.
While I appreciate that the Garda, in co-operation with other European forces, recently achieved some notable successes, particularly in the area of drug seizures, organised crime is extremely sophisticated. International criminals employ the latest technology and have access to people with language skills and vast experience in international business and banking transactions. By matching the resources and personnel available to organised crime, many European police forces have become more effective in tackling this type of crime.
Until recently, the Garda Síochána did not require the specialised resources needed to fight organised crime because of our island status. To ensure the force will be able to maintain good, high level contacts with its European counterparts, it must be provided with sufficient funding to procure state-of-the-art technology and employ personnel with language and technical skills or experience in banking and international business. Judging by the Government's track record, it will be many years before these resources are made available. The Minister must recognise that, given Ireland's geographical position and relative lack of experience in fighting organised crime when compared to countries such as Italy or Bulgaria, he must immediately make significant resources available to the Garda. I welcome the decision by the Garda Commissioner and Minister to establish a specialised unit to deal with organised crime and liaise and co-operate with Interpol. This new departure for the Garda Síochána will require substantial investment in training.
The European Union has never been so vulnerable to criminal elements who will use freedom of movement to maximise their ill-gotten gains in the trafficking of drugs, guns and human beings. Europe's close proximity to Russia and Africa also gives easier access to criminal elements from these regions. Given that the problem of international crime extends far beyond Europe, the Government must provide resources to adequately deal with the problem.
The purpose of the Bill is to give effect in Irish law to three protocols to the Europol Convention 1995, namely, the protocols of 30 November 2000, 28 November 2002 and 27 November 2003. The first of these extends the competence of Europol to money laundering regardless of the origins of the laundered proceeds. The second clarifies certain powers regarding participation in joint investigation teams by members of Europol and the privileges and immunity applying to members of Europol, while the third streamlines the internal working of Europol, particularly in liaison procedures and the analysis and processing of data.
Europol supports law enforcement activities of members states, primarily those directed at illicit drug trafficking; illegal immigration networks; terrorism; forgery of money, including counterfeiting of the euro and other means of payment; trafficking in human beings; child pornography; illicit vehicle trafficking; and money laundering. Its other main priorities include crimes against persons, financial crimes and cyber-crime where an organised criminal structure is involved in two or more member states.
I do not propose to address in detail the other provisions of the Bill as the Minister covered them adequately. The Europol (Amendment) Bill 2006 will amend the Europol Act 1997, which was introduced to enable Ireland to ratify the 1995 Europol convention and additional protocols of 24 July 1996 and 19 June 1997. The amendment provided for in the Bill will enable Ireland to ratify three additional protocols of 30 November 2000, 28 November 2002 and 27 November 2003. The protocols provide for, respectively, the extension of the competence of Europol to money laundering regardless of the origins of the proceeds, clarification on participation in joint investigation teams by members of Europol and the privileges and immunities applying to members of Europol, and streamlining the internal workings of Europol, particularly on data protection.
Since the failure of negotiations on the draft European constitution, the European Commission has been examining various approaches to harmonising laws in member states with a view to transferring to the Commission and Parliament powers currently vested in the Council of Ministers. There is no doubt that difference in member states' judicial systems hinder the effective implementation of law and the fight against crime. The Fine Gael Party supports the Minister's position that no further justice powers should be transferred to the Commission and Parliament until such time as a comprehensive constitution for Europe has been agreed.
Appearing before the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights yesterday, the Minister admitted that bilateral co-operation between Ireland and many of our neighbours and potential new neighbours is not as good as it should be. In many instances it is questionable if there is any contact at all between the Garda and some of these police forces.
Bearing this in mind, there must be a change in the mindset that exists within the Garda Síochána. It must realise the implications for the future of trans-European and international crime and must set up systems to allow contact with police forces in every country where the potential for the spreading of organised crime into or out of Ireland exists. If our gang leaders are becoming richer as a result of involvement in organised crime in Europe, they will continue to cause major problems in this country. I urge the Minister to recognise that the gardaí are moving into a new area and that it will be difficult for them to deal with other languages and legal systems. A huge number of new personnel with specialised knowledge in languages, law and business systems in other European countries will be needed if this system is to be effective.
Having said that, we will continue to support any measures the Minister introduces to honour our commitments at European level or any laws that will facilitate the enforcement of the law in this country.
Like most Deputies, I support this Bill. I cannot imagine a situation where people would not want co-operation in our common interest. The explanatory memoranda to the Bill, however, point out that it gives effect to protocols, some of which are six years old, and is largely a technical Bill. We also do not appear to be in any hurry to pass it. Given that we are likely to receive more support than we can offer, we should have displayed more enthusiasm for this Bill and its passage — it would not meet any resistance.
Recently, the media have reported on the exposure we might face. Our geography means we are isolated and exposed with limited systems compared to other countries to protect ourselves so we have much to gain from this development. Closer co-operation on security issues must, therefore, be welcomed but there must also be safeguards for our citizens. We must strike the right balance and the Data Protection Act has a role to play in this regard.
The Bill covers several different areas, including money laundering, regardless of the type of offence. We have seen the Criminal Assets Bureau operate across a broad spectrum. It started out with the drugs issue but has gone beyond that and its members have displayed great bravery in making it such a success. It demonstrated that good policing is not just about swapping information. It is about prevention and headline crimes not taking place, with systems in place for more than simple co-operation. While the primary focus at the start of CAB's existence was the drug barons, it had wider significance.
That success notwithstanding, it is a matter of concern that drugs are being imported in such large quantities. I try not to be extreme in what I say but I am alarmed at the amount of cocaine available in my constituency. That will be a cause of money laundering in future because it has not been seriously tackled. Although drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis were available, cocaine use is now much more widespread than ever before.
I am concerned about the recent drugs hauls, which were the largest in the history of the State. The attempt to smuggle €10 million worth of drugs into Ireland from Belgium at Weston Aerodrome is particularly worrying. That was foiled through co-operation but the airfield was seen as a soft target. I asked questions earlier this year because we realised it was a soft target. There were 18 customs checks in 12 months, ten of which were previously announced, at that airfield, which has a high level of traffic. This was evident to me and those living near the airfield, who can go to the very edge of the airfield and watch passengers disembarking and getting into taxis. It is marketed on the aerodrome's website that from touchdown to taxi or limousine takes fives minutes, which advertises the lack of security. We are sleepwalking on this issue.
Streamlining liaison and data analysis will require resources but it is still not possible to e-mail a Garda station — faxes must be sent instead. If we are talking about relationships between the Garda Síochána and European police forces, we must invest in the technology most people use today.
I can see no reason that Operation Airways has not been re-established. Small aircraft are now much more widely available than was the case ten years ago and we must move with the times. The lack of protection at small airfields needs serious attention. We must prevent the importation of drugs which, in turn, will have an effect on crime rates.
I support all measures that maximise co-operation on a European scale between law enforcement agencies. Its necessity has been brought home to us with the recent threats against Dublin Airport and, presumably, Shannon Airport. Such international co-operation is essential.
The Minister outlined the main types of organised crime that must be tackled through this legislation, such as money laundering, which is linked to drug dealing when we consider the tens of millions of euro being made in this country from that trade. Much of the money is being laundered outside the country. Some of our leading drug dealers are now based outside this country in Britain, Amsterdam and elsewhere.
I am glad the Minister is here and I can bring to his attention an issue I am sure he is very conscious of, the scale of the drugs problem, even over the past year. I remember raising this issue in the House in the early 1980s and I was repeatedly told in Dáil replies that the level of seizures was small, and the level of seizures determined the extent of the problem on the street. Therefore, the problem was under control because the amounts of heroin being taken were quite small. If that is translated into today's context — Deputy Catherine Murphy has drawn attention to it — we have had two seizures of heroin in the past two months, one worth €11 million and another prior to that in Ratoath with heroin worth €7 million. That is absolutely without precedent in the past 30 years in the State. Despite the significant drugs crisis which has enveloped many communities over that time, we have never seen amounts of heroin on such a scale. It almost constitutes a national emergency.
If, as we are repeatedly told, seizures represent between 12% and 14% of availability on the streets, such an amount representing 12% of availability at any one time on the streets means we are in big trouble. I know from my involvement in a community policing forum in the Store Street Garda district, where I attended a meeting a little over a week ago, that the gardaí in recent months are again seizing heroin right across the city. We all thought that was a thing of the past, that cocaine had eclipsed the drug to some degree and more cocaine was being seized, but heroin has made a recovery in a major way. I do not know if there are international reasons for this or if the situation in Afghanistan and so on is responsible for it, but what I know comes from the hard evidence of Garda seizures. There are massive amounts of the most deadly drug, heroin, available in this State.
I am unsure whether the Government has a strategy to respond to this problem or whether the Minister has considered what more must be done. I remember arguing in this House on many occasions prior to the murder of Veronica Guerin with a variety of Ministers for Justice, including former Deputy Nora Owen, that a need existed to bring different agencies together. These would include the investigation branch of the Department responsible for social welfare, the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda etc. Although everybody thought it was a great idea, nobody seemed able to bring it about.
The community organisation in my area, which I was involved in, actually went to those agencies and brought them together. Each one of those agencies felt it was a bad idea to set up a unified grouping to target drugs, assets etc. They felt they could, as individual agencies, do it and that they were doing it, but they clearly were not doing it. They resisted to the bitter end the idea of coming together until Veronica Guerin was murdered and the Government demanded new strategies. The Criminal Assets Bureau was one such strategy.
It is a great disappointment to me when I see people trafficking in heroin in some of the poorer areas of my constituency in the inner city all these years after the Criminal Assets Bureau was set up. These people are trafficking at a low to middle level. Girlfriends of these people are driving around in 2006 jeeps while claiming social welfare. I see individuals charged with possessing very large amounts of cocaine still wandering in and claiming social welfare, while they live in affluent apartments, for which they are probably claiming rent subsidies.
The whole idea of the Criminal Assets Bureau, as I understood it, and the argument for it was to prevent that happening, but it has had no impact whatever on such incidents in the areas where these drug dealers operate. I have raised the matter with the Minister in the past and I have raised it in the House on a number of occasions. There is a need to proactively review the operations of the Criminal Assets Bureau and to localise and regionalise it so that operatives from the Criminal Assets Bureau are in the areas where drugs are a major problem to prevent this type of scandal from happening. Everybody in the community can see these operations and are aware of the problem. Other young people may see such drug operations and if they think money is that easy to come by in dealing drugs, they might ask themselves why they should not get involved. It is attracting young people all the time for that reason. We can see the scale it is at now. The problem has spread throughout the suburbs and it is spreading throughout the country, yet there does not appear to be any strategic view of what is happening and how to tackle the problem.
We know how to tackle it, but responses have not been structured or put in place in the areas where they are needed. I again ask the Minister to consider this area and see what can be done. What is in place currently has not been effective, which is clear from the scale of the problem. We are aware of the large increase in the availability of drugs.
I referred to a number of recent seizures of significant amounts of drugs. In that context, it is a great credit to the Garda drug squads that they are able to make such seizures and get such an amount of drugs off the streets. I do not want to finish without mentioning that. However, those amounts reflect the problem. They tell us what we already know, that there is a massive problem out there. My difficulty is that, despite us knowing the problem is there and its ingredients, we are not tackling it in the way we indicated we would.
I pay tribute to Deputy Catherine Murphy, who has raised for the past year an equally blatant scandal in this area, where jets are flying into private aerodromes day in and day out without customs or Garda cover. The Deputy has seen it herself and she has graphically described people getting off these jets and straight into a taxi with their bags. I do not know if it was the Garda or the Belgian authorities, but between the two they stopped €10 million of heroin going on to an aeroplane in Belgium. That amount of drugs would have been carried down the steps from that privately-owned luxury jet and into a waiting cab or car in Weston Aerodrome. Yet we say we are serious about the drugs problem. I hope that issue is being dealt with.
Deputy Catherine Murphy raised an issue on which I put down a parliamentary question some time ago, the incredible position where the Garda authorities are not currently accessible through e-mail. People throughout my constituency contact me every day, and e-mail is the most frequently used contact I have in my office. Constituents living in the area contact me by e-mail and it is a nonsense that I cannot contact a Garda superintendent or chief superintendent by e-mail.
I hope the Minister will take on board some of the ideas referred to by both Deputy Catherine Murphy and I. We are referring to them in a positive way because we want them taken on board by the Minister and we want something done. We want to see the State agencies being effective against these people who are killing at will — as is evident every few weeks — because they believe they can get away with it and because of the huge sums of money they are earning from the drugs scene. It is one of the most destructive forces and activities in my constituency and in others throughout the State. I hope the issues we have raised will be carefully considered and perhaps acted upon.
I thank all the Deputies for their contributions to this debate. It was almost inevitable that the debate would be wide-ranging because the Bill is a narrow, technical piece of legislation.
I thank Deputies Jim O'Keeffe and Gerard Murphy for their supportive approach to the legislation. I also thank Deputy O'Shea for his comments. I accept his criticisms of two things: first, the delay in dealing with and in enacting these protocols into Irish law; and, second, that it would be preferable that, rather than enacting primary legislation on matters of this kind every so often, we should adopt some different approach to getting relatively technical matters enacted into Irish law. It is a matter of regret to me that it could not have been done, for example, by a statutory instrument or that there is not some procedure whereby on a fast track basis, something could be laid before a committee of the House and the protocols amended without going through the full panoply of two Houses considering the matter. However, because the contributions to this debate have been wide-ranging, it has not been time wasted.
I fully agree with Deputies Gerard Murphy, Catherine Murphy and Gregory and other Deputies that we are on a learning curve. I fully agree with Deputies Gregory and Catherine Murphy that the principles were already established in the CAB events of ten years' ago, the requirement for inter-agency operations was clearly established and the benefits of such an approach have been clearly demonstrated in the interval.
Deputy Catherine Murphy is absolutely right about aerodromes. Responsibility to regulate aerodromes falls between different Departments. They are licensed by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen's Department and the provision of customs and excise is the responsibility of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen's Department, while my Department is responsible for the policing aspect. The fact that three major Departments are involved in that particular activity does not mean that there is not a very strong case for clear co-ordination of activity. I do not dispute Deputy Murphy's assertion. If private aerodromes are not being adequately policed — I use the term to mean inspections, customs arrangements and the monitoring of who is using what aircraft and for what purpose — that must be addressed, but I do not wish to close them down because they are a very useful facility. They are part of the world we live in but they cannot be an open porthole for people to access Ireland without any adequate safeguards.
There is a very strong case for institutionalised co-operation between Customs and Excise, private and public airport authorities and the Garda Síochána. I will take up the points made by the Deputies on that matter. Within the week, I will commence a process within my Department to audit the actions being taken. As Deputy Gregory expressed, I hope it will not happen just now. I hope the powers that be, so to speak, have been doing these things without prompting from politicians. I presume the intelligence-gathering authorities in the Garda Síochána and in Customs and Excise have been examining these problems but I want reassurance on that point. As Deputy Catherine Murphy said, the public are entitled to reassurance. What appears to be lax procedure must be examined very carefully.
Deputy Gregory made some very sobering points about drugs in our society. I agree with his argument. It is right, as he did, to acknowledge the great successes with regard to drugs seizures. I also wish to pay tribute to the Garda Síochána. I must be careful to strike a balance between acknowledging their successes but also acknowledging the scale of the problem with which they must deal. They are dealing with forces which have frightening amounts of resources, brutality and determination. It is the case that we must do better with regard to all these matters. I fully accept Deputy Gregory's point that there is absolutely no room to assume that everything being done is sufficient or even remotely sufficient.
A number of Deputies referred to the question of resources. As the day unfolds, it will be clear that record resources are being given to the Garda Síochána. The finances and numbers available to the force are growing at a dramatic level. I do not wish to do what happened in other sectors, which is to throw money and people into a system which itself needs strategic direction. There is much talk about Garda reform in terms of systems and governance, but we also need within the Garda Síochána a very clear picture that the resources are being translated into maximum value and return for the taxpayer. All those things are being done.
Deputy Gregory has raised on a number of occasions the question of the escape from an open prison of a drug dealer who is prominent in his community. He had previously absconded from a closed prison. I note publicity about this subject in today's newspapers. I wish to reassure the Deputy that I have not forgotten the matter and I will be looking for an explanation. It requires a personal explanation from the people who made the decision as to precisely what they thought they were doing. It is not a matter I am willing to let go. If somebody with convictions for drug dealing absconds from a closed prison and is then transferred to an open prison, many questions must be asked as to the reason that person was selected for an open prison. I want explanations and I assure the Deputy I will get them. I am not leaving that one go.
I thank all the Deputies for participating in the debate on the Bill. I acknowledge Deputy Jim O'Keeffe's support for the proposal. I accept the legitimate criticism that this legislation should have been dealt with earlier. The Department is aware of this criticism, but it is better late than never. This legislation is necessary to enable Ireland to ratify and give full effect to the protocols. I do not want Ireland to be a stumbling block towards greater co-operation in these matters in the European Union. I thank Deputies for their contributions, particularly those on all sides of the House who spoke about the important issues that lie at the heart of this and why this intelligence must be gathered and exchanged. I assure them I am conscious of the strong arguments that have been put and the force of the contributions made. They are not falling on deaf ears.