Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) (Amendment) (Cross Border Crime Agency) Bill 2019: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the amendment of the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010 in order to establish a cross-border statutory agency to investigate and report on criminal activity between Northern Ireland and this jurisdiction.
The purpose of the Bill is to establish, on a statutory basis, a cross-Border crime agency. The agency will draw from specified security, taxation and environmental authorities from the State and Northern Ireland. The remit of the agency will cover organised criminal activity and fuel smuggling in the Border region.
The Bill covers the establishment of an agency composed of a director general and eight officers drawn from specific authorities. The structure of this cross-Border agency would enable the appointment of the director general, and also details the eight designated officers of the agency. Four officers would be appointed by the Minister for Justice and Equality, to include an officer from the Environmental Protection Agency, an officer from the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, a chief superintendent nominated by the Garda Commissioner, and an officer from the Criminal Assets Bureau. A further four officers would be appointed on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice for Northern Ireland, or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if the Northern Ireland Executive is not in place.These would include an officer from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, an officer from Northern Ireland's revenue commissioners, a chief superintendent from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, and an officer from the National Crime Agency.
The proposed legislation also specifies the functions of the agency. It details its remit over organised criminal activity, illicit trade, human trafficking and fuel smuggling in the Border region. The section also empowers the agency to receive relevant information from the police forces in this State and in Northern Ireland. The section also details a requirement to publish an annual report, to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. There is also a specified requirement for the director general to appear before the relevant Oireachtas committee when requested.
The Border area needs a focused agency to stamp out crime. Recent deplorable incidents, which I have discussed in the House with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, on a number of occasions, including attacks on persons and property, and the recent and very sinister development of cross-Border involvement in devastating human trafficking, show that cross-Border criminality is escalating. The cross-Border organised crime threat assessment 2018, produced jointly by the PSNI and An Garda Síochána, shows the scale and changing nature of cross-Border crime. Brexit represents a new challenge to the 224 mile Border and the distinct security threats in the area. We need a fresh focus on tackling cross-Border criminality.
The Bill would strengthen, expand and formalise the existing cross-Border crime task force, which does not have a set staff or legislative powers. The new agency would be composed of officers from police forces in the North and South, Revenue, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency and their Northern equivalents. The agency would be headed by a director general with dedicated staff.
The recent British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly report on cross-Border crime noted there had been an increase in the number of criminal groups with cross-Border operations in the past five years, rising from approximately one in five groups in 2014 to one in three groups in 2018. The current task force needs to be strengthened with clear powers and dedicated staff. Currently, it is organised on an ad hocbasis with no full-time staff. Only two reports on the work of the agency have been issued due to the collapse of Stormont in January 2017. This is simply not good enough. The Bill will ensure we have the tools in place to tackle the changing nature of the criminal threat in the Border area.
I support the Bill. "Flash the Lights at Me", an old song from around the Border, was about giving warnings and was related to folk smuggling, so to speak. However, the type of criminality that exists and the agility and ability of criminals to circumvent the State are self-evident in more recent people trafficking. This Bill is all about establishing the dedicated, formal and statutory structure that is required. We are all aware that there is good co-operation between the various agencies, as Deputy Brendan Smith noted. Until such time as this co-operation is placed on a statutory footing and there is accountability, we will not get to grips with the criminality that exists on this island. I fully support the Bill.