Dáil debates

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Operational Co-operation on EU Internal Security: Motion.

 

4:00 pm

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Speeches shall be confined to the Minister and to the main spokespersons for Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share time, and shall not exceed ten minutes in each case.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion, under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to take part in the adoption of the following proposed measure:

a proposal for a Council Decision on setting up the standing committee on operational cooperation on internal security,

a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 14 December 2009.

The opening up of the EU internal market in the 1990s and other developments that have increased the permeability of internal borders posed a number of problems for the Union and its member states, not least of which was the fact that organised criminal structures set about exploiting these developments. Subsequent events led to the realisation that terrorists could exploit the greater openness of the EU for their ends. The imperative, in these circumstances, to protect the citizens of the EU by creating an area of freedom, security and justice, with a high level of security for those citizens, required that law enforcement and judicial authorities should improve their co-operation.

Since then there have been numerous initiatives to increase the level of effectiveness of co-operation, including the creation of Eurojust, with its function of improving co-operation in ensuring effective prosecutions, and the European arrest warrant. Side by side with these have been important developments in information sharing, especially between law enforcement authorities, as a means of increasing the effectiveness of actions against organised crime and terrorism.

The member states of the EU face common challenges across the range of areas related to internal security and there is a need to adopt common strategies and co-ordinated EU action to allow us to meet those challenges more effectively. One such measure, which arises from the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty on 1 December 2009, is the setting up of a standing committee on operational co-operation on internal security. This committee is established by Article 71 of the Lisbon treaty. The purpose of the standing committee, which will be known by the French-language acronym COSI, is to ensure that operational co-operation on internal security is promoted and strengthened within the European Union. The committee will also facilitate the co-ordination of actions taken by the relevant authorities of the member states in this area. Deputies should be aware that the reference to "internal security" encompasses a range of issues related to public security and safety, covering actions against crime of all sorts, border management, customs co-operation and civil crisis management such as for natural or man-made disasters.

Co-operation in the field of justice and home affairs has become an increasingly important feature of the EU landscape. The creation of an area of freedom, security and justice is a treaty objective of the Union and this has been the over-arching focus of activity in the JHA field, involving activities covering free movement, asylum and immigration policies, and management of Union's external borders. Close co-operation has also been developed between the national police, judicial and customs authorities in the ongoing fight against crime.

A wide range of initiatives have been undertaken and are ongoing at EU level across the spectrum of policy areas relevant to internal security. Across this range of areas, there is ongoing interaction at operational level between the relevant authorities and services in member states, which allows for increased and more effective cross-border action and also for the development and sharing of best practice.

Many legal instruments in the field of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters have been adopted at EU level, including measures to combat terrorism, trafficking in persons, child pornography, drug trafficking and money laundering. In addition, Europol and Eurojust have been established in order to support and improve co-operation between the member states in combating serious crimes such as corruption, drug trafficking and terrorism. The member states are also developing common approaches to the challenges of better managing migration flows into the Union. Minimum standards and procedures are being set out for asylum seekers. A European pact on immigration and asylum was adopted in 2008, setting out the principles behind a number of EU laws with the aim of organising legal immigration so that it takes account of the priorities and needs of each EU member state, and also to encourage the integration of immigrants.

More effective control of the EU's external borders is also a priority objective in order to tackle illegal immigration. The FRONTEX agency was set up in 2005 to enhance practical co-operation between the member states in developing better external border security. The creation of partnerships with the countries of origin and transit of illegal immigration is another important goal. The aim will be to seek to improve the poor living conditions which may act as a push factor in the countries from which people want to move away.

The customs services of the EU play an essential role in the fight against international drug-trafficking and related crimes. The EU drugs strategy, in dealing with illicit drug-trafficking and supply-side enforcement measures, focuses on reducing money laundering, the diversion of precursor chemicals for the manufacture of illegal drugs, and effective co-operation between customs, police and prosecuting authorities in the fight against drug-trafficking.

International co-operation between the various enforcement agencies charged with combating drug-trafficking and related crime is absolutely essential given the cross-border nature of these activities. Ireland's customs service plays a full part in protecting the European space in co-operation with its counterparts in other member states. The co-ordination of civil protection actions among member states in response to possible man-made or natural disasters is another important aspect of co-operation at EU level. A notable area of recent activity in this field has been the agreement of an action plan to enhance chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security in the EU. The many actions included in the action plan are aimed at supporting the ongoing efforts of the member states in this field and providing an improved framework for co-ordinated action and co-operation between all those involved.

The proposed Council decision sets out the tasks to be assigned to the new committee. Its primary purpose, in accordance with the treaty, is to facilitate, promote and strengthen co-ordination of operational actions of member states' competent authorities in the field of internal security, principally police, customs and border protection. It will also cover, where appropriate, judicial co-operation in criminal matters relevant to this. The committee will not, however, be involved in conducting operations; these will remain within the remit of the member states. This is consistent with the mandate set down in Article 71 of the Lisbon treaty to promote and strengthen operational co-operation.

Furthermore, COSI will not have a legislative role. In accordance with the Lisbon treaty arrangements, legislation will be considered by the various Council working parties and will go from them to the committee of permanent representatives to the EU and on to the Council for final adoption. It will be for each member state to decide on the appropriate representatives to attend meetings. This will depend to some extent on the subject matter coming before the committee for discussion. The committee will also have the function of evaluating the efficiency of operational co-operation, identifying possible shortcomings or failures and adopting recommendations to address them. This is a key aspect in ensuring that actions can be properly targeted and resources can be deployed to the best effect.

In addition, COSI will help to ensure consistency of action by Eurojust, Europol and Frontex, representatives of which will be invited to attend meetings of COSI as observers. The committee will submit reports at regular intervals to the Council on its activities. The Council will keep national parliaments and the European Parliament informed of the proceedings of the committee.

Copies of the proposal were laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 14 December 2009. This Council decision is a measure pursuant to Title V of Part III of the Treaty of Lisbon and is, therefore, a measure to which Ireland may opt-in under Protocol No. 21. Protocol No. 21 to the Treaty of Lisbon provides that Ireland may opt to take part in the adoption and application of measures which are proposed in regard to the area of freedom, security and justice. In order for Ireland to exercise that opt-in, the prior approval of the Oireachtas, in accordance with Article 29.4.7° of the Constitution, is required. With the approval of the Oireachtas, this will be the first measure under the Treaty of Lisbon to which Ireland will opt-in in accordance with Protocol No. 21.

Members will appreciate that the EU has an important role to play in bringing together the actions of member states aimed at promoting and ensuring the internal security of the European space. By the same token, Ireland has an important contribution to make to those efforts in co-operation with our fellow EU member states. Ireland's participation in COSI will enable us to play a full role in developing the necessary co-ordinated action among the member states to contribute to a more secure future for all of the European Union's citizens.

I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

On behalf of the Fine Gael party, I welcome the introduction of this motion and note that Fine Gael will support it. It is both interesting and heartening to be working on the implementation of certain aspects of the Lisbon treaty, having waited for so long for it to become part of our domestic law. In common with other Members, I campaigned vigorously for a "Yes" vote in both Lisbon referendums and was strongly of the view that signing up to Lisbon would be of great assistance to Ireland in many ways, including, as the Minister noted, dealing with the security challenges of the 21st century.

While Ireland has chosen an opt-out, by virtue of Protocol No. 21, from the European Union justice and home affairs measures, it rightly has expressed its wish to opt-in to the maximum extent possible. In this regard, the establishment of COSI, which was provided for under Article 71 of the Lisbon treaty, is a basic measure and Ireland should play a full role in the committee's deliberations and should designate a nominee or nominees with appropriate experience and expertise to participate in the committee's work.

COSI has a great deal to offer Ireland in assisting it to identify and meet the standards of international best practice regarding operational matters in the field of internal security. While it may be regrettable that the committee does not enjoy any mandatory or mandating powers, member states should recognise the value of accepting the committee's periodic recommendations and implementing them as part of their domestic law in an efficient manner as they arise.

I assume the committee's regular reports to the Council will focus member states' minds in respect of implementing recommendations, particularly as the Council will, in turn, keep the European Parliament and the national parliaments informed on the proceedings of the committee. It is absolutely essential to have clear channels concerning the various arrangements or protocols to prevent many of these reports from ending up on rather circuitous routes with different committees from national parliaments to the European Parliament and back again.

The primary role of COSI is to "facilitate, promote and strengthen co-ordination of operational actions of the authorities of ... Member States competent in the field of internal security". I am particularly pleased that, as the Minister noted, the committee will do more than examine criminal matters such as combating terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, people trafficking and immigration matters, although they will be its primary focus, as it will also have a role in civil protection in emergency situations. Ireland has had its fair share of civil emergency situations in recent months and ongoing water shortages indicate it still is in the grip of what could be described as an emergency situation. I understand that COSI is to have an important role to play in evaluating existing measures in member states, as they are set up or equipped, to deal with emergency situations and make appropriate recommendations. An example might be a recommendation that would suggest or direct as to which agency should play the lead role, should an emergency situation arise.

Ireland certainly could have done with such an input during the recent flooding and snowfalls, when something of a crisis developed, however short-lived. My constituency was badly affected by winter flooding and snow. I refer in particular to the west Offaly region, which was devastated when the River Shannon breached its banks yet again. Thousands of acres of farmland were destroyed and remain under water to this day. In recent times, some parts of Offaly have been under water for most of the year due to summer flooding in the months from June to September, inclusive, followed by winter flooding, which as recent experience demonstrates, begins at the end of October and continues right up to March. The victims of this flooding feel completely isolated and abandoned to their fate.

During the recent flooding in west Offaly, buildings became uninhabitable and businesses were destroyed. In places such as Banagher, Shannon Harbour and Shannonbridge, the ground floors of residential houses and businesses were under water for days on end and no agency stepped forward to take control of the situation. A total of 12 Departments and agencies have a direct interest in the Shannon and I have little doubt but that were COSI to examine the issue, it would discern a clear need for all such agencies to come together to agree a plan for the maintenance of the River Shannon. While the Office of Public Works should be the lead agency, this does not appear to be the case. Although the agencies may have different interests, the primary focus and interest that will inform a future strategy must be the protection of individuals, homes and farmland, as well as the capacity to react quickly and coherently. I am sure that our European partners and counterparts in COSI will be interested to note that a seminal report on maintaining the River Shannon, the Rydell report, has been gathering dust since 1956. Taking more than 50 years to take the appropriate initiative to deal with a serious situation surely holds the record among member states. This report remains unimplemented since the mid-1950s, since before either the Acting Chairman or I were born.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

It is kind of the Deputy to say so.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

At that time in 1956, my late father was junior Minister with special responsibility in the Department of Agriculture and now, 55 years later, we still have failed to implement any of that important report's recommendations. If assistance or advice from COSI can be sought, this should be done as a matter of priority.

Unfortunately, as an island, Ireland will not benefit as much as will other countries in respect of COSI's recommendations as they may pertain to the pooling of the resources of member states which border one another. However, I am sure there is great scope for increasing co-operation with the authorities in Northern Ireland, in respect of which security measures certainly are high on Members' agenda at present. I am sure this also is the case for our colleagues in COSI and for the agenda of its meetings. Experts have been warning in recent months that there has been a realignment of terrorists in Northern Ireland with a new group emerging from hardliners among the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA. Between 2007 and 2009 there were more than 750 bomb alerts in the North - an average of one each day. Although nobody has been killed by the RIRA and the CIRA since the vicious murders of two soldiers and policeman last March, terrorist actions are averaging one a day and, less than two weeks ago, a PSNI officer was critically injured when a bomb was placed under his car. I am sure all Members will join me in offering our sympathies to Constable Peadar Heffron, wishing him a speedy recovery and sending his family good wishes. The most recent report of the independent monitoring commission suggested that the threat level is "very serious" and at its highest in six years.

The Irish representative on COSI will have a valuable input to give in respect of how other countries might deal with terrorist incidents but, equally, as terrorism is a constantly evolving evil, we can learn from member states, for example, Spain and ETA. Another area where COSI can potentially play an important role relates to cross-border crime and illegal drugs. There have been four gangland gun murders already this year, which can all be traced back to the lucrative business of illegal drug trafficking. Will the Minister indicate the timeframe for the establishment of COSI, how often it will meet and when we can hope to hear feedback on how its work is progressing? This is a worthwhile initiative. I thank the Minister for proceeding with the matter and it will have the support of the Fine Gael Party.

5:00 pm

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

This measure derives from our responsibilities following the recent finalisation of the Lisbon treaty. Speaking on behalf of a party that campaigned in favour of the treaty during the recent referendum, I support the Minister's proposal in the motion to enable this standing committee to proceed in Europe, as required. Nobody in the context of the world we live in today doubts the necessity for co-operation on internal security as broadly defined and encompassed by the motion. Deputy Flanagan referred to our local difficulties relating to the continued activities of terrorist elements on this island and the appalling wounds inflicted on Constable Peadar Heffron. I join with the Deputy in extending our sincere hope that he makes a full recovery. It was an appalling crime, which again highlights the necessity for co-operation between civilised states in attempting to deal with this phenomenon.

However, the committee will not only deal with terrorism; it will also deal with, for example, drug trafficking. The wave of crime that has swept over the country in recent years, which manifests itself in murders on every weekend of our existence nowadays has its origins in the drug trafficking business. The necessity for co-operation between the agencies on the supply side to contain the extent and scale of drug trafficking is as obvious as the nose on one's face. That does not obviate the necessity for us to deal with harm reduction and reducing demand for drugs and it is a matter of concern that some local drugs task forces are being squeezed for funding because they have done immensely good work in reducing demand for drugs. However, this motion deals with the criminal law and supply issues and the necessity for co-operation between the security and policing forces of different member states. I agree that it is necessary. The same applies in respect of the trafficking of persons, money laundering and so on and, therefore, in principle, I am happy to support the motion. I do not envy the Minister's exciting life dealing with these issues on the European mainland. It is turgid stuff but it is vital in terms of the safety and security of our people in this jurisdiction and in other member states.

The Spanish Presidency has indicated in its schedule that it will give priority to the development of internal security and the promotion of the COSI initiative. That gives rise to the question of the Government's proposals to prepare us for the imposition of additional duties deriving from the Lisbon treaty. Part of the merit of the treaty and part of the argument we made at the time was the increasing role for domestic parliaments and the European Parliament. When one examines measures such as this in the justice and home affairs area, the question immediately arises about the capacity of our Parliament, as currently resourced, to deal properly and adequately with them. When I saw the belated note on this initially, I wondered whether I should rethink my support for the Lisbon treaty because I found it impenetrable and difficult to appreciate. There are many similar measures and the Minister adverted to the increase in importance of the justice and home affairs area and the number of complex instruments that require better scrutiny. It is presumed there will be better scrutiny as a result of the Lisbon treaty than we give it in this Parliament. I appreciate there is a resources problem and whether this means we should reorient our current resources to enable measures such as this to be properly scrutinised is a matter on which I would like the Minister to respond.

The motion is part of a pattern followed by him in this area. We are dealing with a matter in the middle of January that ought to have been put to bed in December. The first I heard of it was last Monday. Perhaps that is my fault but I did not know about it at all. I subsequently unearthed a note sent by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the Government Chief Whip on 4 December asking him to put the motion on the agenda as a matter of urgency. It stated Ireland had held up the previous meeting of the relevant committee in Brussels. We could not proceed with the decision being promoted by Sweden because Ireland is still outstanding in terms of this Parliament taking the particular steps required in order for us to participate in COSI as envisaged. That was on 4 December and the requirement was for us to do it prior to Christmas. However, we did not do so and we are doing it now after the event with minimal scrutiny. It raises a question in a small Parliament such as this with a limited number of Members who focus on legislative matters as distinct from those who think their priority is to give more attention to daily constituency work. We need to examine our capacity to scrutinise measures such as this.

I presume from what the Minister stated that the committee will not have power to enter into agreements and that it is a sharing of information committee rather than a decision-making committee. It will make reports to the Council. Where will this Parliament come into the network of finding out what the standing committee will do? Where will it knit into our system, whether through the Parliament proper or the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights? How do we keep abreast of what is going on? May I presume that this has been run past the Data Protection Commissioner and that he is satisfied that it is compliant and meets the requirements that he would wish. I am happy to support the measure. I recognise the necessity for enhanced co-operation in the area of security as broadly defined and I am happy to give our assent to the motion.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Ba mhaith liom leithscéal a ghabháil toisc nach raibh mé anseo nuair a thosaigh an tAire ag labhairt. Mar gheall ar sin, b'fhéidir go bhfuil roinnt de na ceisteanna atá le cur agam freagraithe aige cheana, ach measaim nach bhfuil.

Any measure that promotes better co-operation and greater mutual recognition between members states of the European Union can be positive if the underlying tenet of it is the promotion not of either human or state security but both. The European Union project and the free movement of people and goods between member states have presented a host of challenges with regard to the security and integrity of external and internal borders. The only way we can effectively deal with the subject of security while maintaining such an open relationship with other nations in the EU is through the development of the concept of human security alongside multilateral co-operation and effective information sharing.

Regrettably, much of what passes as security in the EU is an enhancement of the fortress Europe concept rather than seeing that no matter how high barriers are built unless the underlying causes of poverty, exclusion, inequality and the denial of national and human rights are addressed, conflict will persist and insecurity will exist. The concentration on the type of security that we have to date increases insecurity in the long run and possibly in the short term.

With the passing of the Lisbon treaty at the second attempt, this State signed up to the establishment of this committee. Under the terms of the treaty the committee was intended to ensure operational co-operation by facilitating co-ordination of the action of member states' competent authorities. Issues relating to the working, philosophy and accountability of the committee have not been fully addressed and this motion should not be passed without a fuller debate on its remit and the drift towards more EU competency in the area of justice and home affairs. I understand that we are behind on this but that is not an excuse to rush through such a major change in European oversight, co-operation and sharing of information.

I wish to take this opportunity to express some of the concerns we have as a party and that others have shared with me about the adoption of the motion and the formation of the standing committee. What is the remit and function of the proposed standing committee? The Lisbon treaty stated that the committee would co-ordinate member states' relevant authorities but it does not state whether this means it will be a purely technical operational brief or whether it will also have some type of legislative function. Therefore, this has the potential to lead to a conflict of interest, especially if the committee is accountable to itself or to the Council with regard to legislation governing its practical operational functions.

With this in mind, it is important that we oppose any move to bestow on this committee a legislative function now or in the future. Its remit should be defined and limited to having a technical function to co-ordinate the efforts of the relevant authorities in the areas of prevention and combatting international crime and terrorism, and the co-ordination of intelligence exchange. I do not know whether the Minister can guarantee at this stage that this is its full remit and nothing more. All legislative functions should remain with national parliaments and, where it has competence, the EU Council should also deal with issues.

Concerns have been expressed that the process of establishing the remit and operational outlook of the committee took place behind closed doors and there is a lack of direction on this in the Lisbon treaty because the pertinent articles do not specify it. Many believe that the vagueness of the wording in the treaty would allow the committee in time to develop into the equivalent of an EU home office or, in theory, ministry without proper democratic control or even a debate on its future decisions. Some even go so far as to express concern that this is a gradual move towards a full-scale home office with authority over member states' police and security services and all that entails. This is the big brother conspiracy theory. It is not my theory and I do not agree with those who believe it but there can be some justification for conspiracy theorists because often they are not too far from the truth.

One must consider the history of the agencies and governments involved in this field and the capabilities of the information systems we are discussing. They are Europol, Interpol and the Schengen security database, SIRENE. There is the potential that it could be abused or misused. All decisions relating to the establishment of the standing committee must therefore be agreed by national parliaments to ensure greater legitimacy and that it does not move towards that securocrat stream and the big brother theory. The possible lack of openness and transparency in key decision-making by EU institutions was one of the main concerns expressed by the people of this country on both occasions that ratification of the Lisbon treaty was being debated. We must be vigilant and oppose anything that would undermine the required move towards transparency and accountability in the workings of the European Union.

We are also concerned that the overall policy of the European Union towards internal security is unsatisfactory. My party believes that at present an EU strategy on security is ill-defined. There is too much focus on military and policing measures as the main means of promoting security within the EU. This type of thinking ignores the reality that deprivation, poverty, inequality and injustice are the driving force behind many of the problems that the EU will be required to address. Many of these underlying problems have led to internal and external threats to the EU. Offences such as people trafficking, illegal immigration, theft and fraud often stem from poverty and the lack of opportunity, and a lack of resources in underdeveloped areas, as well as from a view that the EU is a land of plenty.

We would like to see a comparable amount of the vast resources the EU intends to spend on military equipment, border security and other controls diverted to Third World development projects, improving the standard of living for those in countries that were previously raped and pillaged by their former colonial masters. Many of these former colonial powers are now EU member states, and I believe that the EU will suffer the consequences of the evils of its imperialist member states.

The comprehensive strategy to combat the root causes of crime and anti-EU terrorism must be an important part of any strategy to promote security within the EU. One of our concerns is with the over-reliance on military and policing solutions, which could further alienate the very people who have been marginalised and make the EU a greater target for those extremists who wish to perpetrate acts of violence against it. The rise of international terrorism in the past decade has been seen largely to be fuelled by inequality and injustice in world politics. Unresolved issues such as the illegal war in Iraq, the plight of the Palestinians, the occupation of Afghanistan and the failure of developed nations to deal with the problems of poverty in the Third World have become emotive. They are justifications for some groups and individuals to engage in those activities. Focusing on military and policing solutions to cope with the potential terrorist threat, without also putting appropriate funds and efforts into dealing with the underlying problems, could further alienate those people. This could have the effect of making European countries a greater target.

If the same amount of effort, time and resources were spent on combating the causes of crime, we would be in a much better and safer place. I call for a debate in this House and across the EU on the concept of human security as it has evolved and as it has been promoted by the likes of Kofi Annan and many others in the UN. In conjunction with human security, state security can develop and we would be in a much safer place than we are at the moment.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank the Deputies for the broad cross-party support for this motion. Deputy Ó Snodaigh spoke about external border security. Having been Minister for Foreign Affairs and now Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I am acutely aware of the desire of our member state colleagues, particularly driven by Ireland, of the need to address some of the difficulties with inward illegal immigration into the broader EU. I am also aware of the desire to try to stop some of the root causes involved for people from Africa and elsewhere to migrate into Europe. An amazing effort has been made over the years by EU member states to address some of the difficulties.

The Deputy quoted Kofi Annan and he was correct in what he said. However, people like Kofi Annan are not naive enough to think that we were not only able to deal with the ills of some of the difficult situations in Africa and elsewhere without police and military co-operation. People like Kofi Annan made suggestions about the requirement whereby the EU should contribute to battle groups in order to encourage co-operation between member states. At any given time, troops from several member states could go into areas of conflict in order to bring some security and balance back to those communities. That has worked well.

The Stockholm programme was adopted by the European Council last December and it sets out an agenda for building progress in the justice and home affairs area over the next five years. One of the aspects of the Stockholm programme was to develop internal security strategy within the EU. The definition of internal security is not restricted to law enforcement, but also relates to how we can co-operate to address some of the natural and man-made disasters. Ireland is very conscious of this at EU level. The internal security refers to those disasters within the confines of the EU.

The mains tasks of COSI are to ensure operational co-operation and co-ordination, to evaluate the general direction and efficiency of the co-operation and to identify possible shortcomings and failures, and to recommend measures to address them. It has no operational or legislative role. Deputy Flanagan referred to the need to streamline working procedures within the justice and home affairs area. There is a commitment to re-organise the working groups under the Lisbon treaty, and this motion is part of that.

Deputy Rabbitte welcomed the motion. He suggested that there is a need for greater co-ordination at EU level, and this is an effort to do that. The Deputy asked why the motion was brought forward now, rather than before the Christmas recess. I understand this is due to the work of the committee and to the busy schedule of the House before Christmas. Given that the first meeting of COSI is not until 12 February, it was felt it could be left over until after Christmas.

The motion specifically provides that the European Council will keep national parliaments informed of the proceedings at committee level. It will be up to the Oireachtas committee here to inquire from time to time as to what is on the committee's agenda. This is a fulfilment of one of the commitments of the Lisbon treaty. It was often said during debates that the treaty was difficult to understand, but Article 71 is quite easy to understand. It is clear that it is a standing committee to ensure that the operation and co-operation of internal security is promoted within the EU. This motion is a fulfilment of that. It must get parliamentary scrutiny before it can finally be adopted and before the committee can meet. I thank the Members for their co-operation and understanding in passing this motion.

Question put and agreed to.