Tuesday, 19 October 2021
Access of Competent Authorities to Centralised Bank Account Registries: Motion
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 and application of the following proposed measure: Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive (EU) 2019/1153 of the European Parliament and of the Council, as regards access of competent authorities to centralised bank account registries through the single access point, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 18th August, 2021.
I thank the Deputies for agreeing to debate this motion at relatively short notice and welcome the opportunity to address the Dáil on Ireland's opt-in to a new proposal on facilitating the use of financial and other information for the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of certain criminal offences.
Ireland has an option, provided for in Article 3.1 of Protocol 21 annexed to the Treaty of Lisbon, to opt in to individual proposals in the area of freedom, security and justice. The protocol provides that Ireland has three months, from the date a proposal or initiative is presented to the Council, to notify the Presidency of the Council in writing of its wish to take part in the negotiation, adoption and application of any such measure. The three-month period for this proposal is due to end on 1 November. The exercise of this opt-in is subject to the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas. Ireland can also accept a proposal at any time after it has been adopted, but in such a case, it will not have been in a position to vote on the final content of the proposal. It must also be noted that Ireland made a declaration appended to the Treaty of Lisbon of its intention to opt in to measures in the area of freedom, security and justice to the maximum extent it deems possible.
This proposal, as published, seeks to extend access to the bank account registers, BAR, single access point, which will be introduced by the sixth anti-money laundering directive, 6AMLD, to the bodies already designated with responsibility for the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences under Directive (EU) 2019/1153, which Ireland has already opted into. My officials have consulted with the Office of the Attorney General and have been advised that there is no legal impediment to Ireland opting into this proposal.
This draft EU directive will extend access to the bank account registers single access point by amending an earlier EU directive, Directive (EU) 2019/1153. This proposal was published in July together with a new suite of EU proposals reforming anti-money laundering efforts at an EU level. Those new EU proposals presented an ambitious set of measures which aim to modernise the EU's anti-money laundering and regime to counter the financing of terrorism. The package comprises four key legislative proposals, which include a regulation on directly applicable rules on anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism, a regulation proposing the establishment of a new EU anti-money laundering authority, a crypto-assets-related amending regulation, and the sixth anti-money laundering directive. While the proposed directive that we are discussing today is not a core element of the new package, the European Commission has presented this amending directive as corresponding to the other measures on the table. This amending directive seeks to extend access to the bank account registers single access point which will be introduced by the sixth anti-money laundering directive to the bodies already designated with responsibility for the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences under Directive (EU) 2019/1153.
Ireland has already opted into Directive (EU) 2019/1153 and work is in progress to transpose that directive into Irish law. The directive already requires member states to designate authorities competent for the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of criminal offences in order for them to access and search the centralised, automated mechanisms, which are referred to in Directive (EU) 2019/1153 as centralised bank account registers. The BAR-related elements in Directive (EU) 2019/1153 include a provision of wider access to the bank accounts mechanism to be extended to the Criminal Assets Bureau and a cohort of An Garda Síochána at senior level and prescribe that BAR access logs must be kept. The new anti-money laundering directive will provide access to the BAR single access point only to financial intelligence units, FIUs. The national bodies which receive suspicious transaction reports are obliged to enter these and forward them as appropriate to criminal investigative authorities. In the interests of combating serious crime and, in particular, carrying out effective financial investigations, authorities competent for the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences also need to have access to the BAR single access point to be able to identify, analyse and interpret the financial information relevant for criminal proceedings. This is why the proposed amended directive is necessary.
Looking at the current state of play in Ireland with regard to the bank account register, the fourth EU anti-money laundering directive requires member states to put in place a centralised automated mechanism to allow for the timely identification of any individual or legal person holding or controlling a payment account or bank account identified by an IBAN, or a safe deposit box held by a credit institution within a member state's jurisdiction. The Central Bank of Ireland was appointed as registrar of the BAR. The Department of Finance continues to engage with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on drafting secondary legislation to give effect to the BAR. This legislation will provide access to the FIU in An Garda Síochána to allow it to conduct searches in and retrieve information from the BAR. It is anticipated that the BAR mechanism will go live in the third quarter of 2022.
The type of information which will be available through the BAR single access point includes names, IBANs, dates of account opening and closing, and the duration of the lease period in the case of a safe deposit box. The same limitations and safeguards created in the earlier Directive (EU) 2019/1153 will remain in place. The benefit of the change contained in the proposed amending directive that we are discussing today is that by interconnecting a national centralised bank accounts register at EU level, authorities with access to the BAR single access point would be able to establish quickly whether an individual holds bank accounts in other member states without having to ask their counterparts in all member states to investigate and report back.
The basis for the EU anti-money laundering framework, Article 114 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU, relates to the Internal Market. The aim is to prevent the use of the EU's financial system for the purpose of money laundering and terrorist financing. This amending directive complements and builds on the preventative policies to counter money laundering and terrorist financing and reinforces the legal framework for law enforcement co-operation. That is why this proposed directive has a different legal basis and falls under Title V of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Therefore Protocol 21 of TFEU applies and Oireachtas approval under Article 29.4.7° of the Constitution is required for Ireland to opt into the measure.
As I mentioned, the Office of the Attorney General has been consulted on the proposed directive. That office did not identify any adverse legal or constitutional implication for Ireland of opting into this amending directive. Under Protocol 21, Ireland has three months to opt into this proposed directive under Article 3. The deadline for opting into the proposal under Article 3 of Protocol 21 is 1 November 2021, which is why this decision is urgent. Opting in under Article 3 allows Ireland to fully take part in the adoption and application of the proposed measure and to influence the content of the directive that is to be agreed. If the House supports opting in, it is my intention to notify the institutions of our participation next Wednesday.
I reiterate to Deputies that when Ireland signed up to the Lisbon treaty, the Government of the day made a declaration which is attached to the treaty that we would participate to the maximum extent possible in measures relating to police co-operation. I see no reason to deviate from that position. Failing to opt in at this stage would weaken Ireland's ability to influence the evolution of this proposal and the rest of the EU anti-money laundering package which is currently being negotiated. In addition to the operational, practical and policy-level concerns which makes this opt-in important, there is a further consideration of Ireland's reputation. Not opting in under Article 3 of Protocol 21 would present risks to Ireland's reputation and the perception of Ireland's commitment to the anti-money laundering framework at EU level.
Money laundering and terrorist financing pose a serious threat to the integrity of the European Union's economy and financial system, and to the security of its citizens. Given Ireland's status as a hub for companies in the financial services, technological and pharmaceutical sectors, it is important that we commit to alleviating the risks of economic crime by having appropriate preventative measures, including robust legislation in this area covering a suite of interconnected economic crimes such as corruption, fraud and money laundering.
For the reasons I have outlined, I request the House's approval to opt into this proposed directive. I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies and I urge them to support the motion.
We will support this motion. It is European legislation which is being transposed into Irish law. The setting up by the Commission of this registry across the whole EU will be positive and will hopefully do a lot to ensure that financial services which are hiding cash, including the ill-gotten gains of criminal gangs, etc., can be found and traced. While I welcome the powers that it gives to the Criminal Assets Bureau of the Garda, it would be remiss of me not to point out that we are doing something about this at the last minute. There are just ten days to go. Why are we in this position? We always ask these questions with regard to that. It always seems to be the last minute but we are where we are.
The protocol will certainly assist competent authorities across the EU to trace the proceeds of crime, which is welcome. The main issue that the protocol will solve is the time delay that many authorities across the EU experience when they are asking for banking information from their counterparts in other countries. I know that issue has been a difficulty for the Criminal Assets Bureau, An Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners and other agencies of the State when trying to find where money has been or where bank accounts have been opened in other countries. The time delay is crucial when it comes to tracking and freezing financial assets belonging to gangland figures or to other criminals. It is also important to point out that hopefully this legislation and the ability to track and trace in this matter will be a deterrent to young people who are often duped into or attracted to this type of thing.
There have been recent reports in the media of younger people unwittingly taking part in money laundering with their Revolut accounts. This primarily happens because the accounts are based outside of the State. What often negatively affects the prosecution or tracing of these funds is the delay. It is sometimes the case that, when a person decides to launder money across jurisdictions in the EU, the delay works to the benefit of the criminals concerned. It is important to point out these are not victimless crimes. They have an impact on communities because much of the money hidden in these criminal bank accounts has been garnered by criminal gangs who have been a scourge in our communities in many urban areas with drugs and all the difficulties around that. The Minister of State mentioned Ireland has many large multinational corporations and big companies in the financial services sector, technology and so on. We recognise that tax evasion is also a crime and needs to be examined in this context.
Sinn Féin is in support of removing the barrier to tracing this kind of crime and imposing significant sanctions on those convicted. It will require allocation of resources and funding from the Minister of State. CAB will undoubtedly get busier and need to be properly resourced as it does more of this work. That means human and financial resources and increased capital funding. It is no surprise to anyone in this Chamber to know money laundering and these types of crimes have picked up significantly, particularly during the pandemic. This makes the work of CAB all the more demanding and it will require more resources to carry it out appropriately.
I am concerned there is no discussion on how Britain may or may not feed into this protocol post-Brexit. That is a serious issue because it is our closest neighbour. We have a land border, unfortunately, with that jurisdiction and that issue needs to be dealt with. With all these EU protocols, directives and co-operation in all kinds of fields, we find Britain is stepping outside of those and we need to understand how that works. Many people legitimately work on the northern side of the Border and live on the southern side. They may have banking details on both sides of the Border or have accounts in both jurisdictions, and across the water in Britain as well. There needs to be an idea as to how we can interact and ensure the same co-operation exists between that jurisdiction and this, even though they now fall outside the European Union. I hope the Minister of State will provide clarity on this and to see a similar framework in place for the other jurisdiction across the water.
In general, I welcome movement in the direction of greater co-operation and authorities in all states working together to combat criminal activity of this kind and deal with assets of criminal gangs and others, including people who evade tax in every state across the world. That has an impact on communities who cannot get resources or be looked after properly by legitimate governments who want to do so. We should be grateful we can co-operate and work to make that happen. I commend the work of the European Commission in developing this single register of bank accounts across the European Union. Hopefully it will be up and running as quickly as possible and the assets of criminal gangs and others will be traceable and something that we can put to bed. I want to commend the legislation and ensure it is, as the Minister of State said, relayed to the European Union as soon as next Wednesday that we are opting in.
There was an interesting article inThe Irish Times by Conor Lally. It stated:
Gardaí have identified over 50 young people in and around one Co. Kerry town who were recruited as money mules for an international crime syndicate.
The Irish Times understands a young man from Munster is believed to be working for the crime gang as a recruiter and his reach into the local population, especially among students, has proven significant.
The recruiter, himself an Irish teenager, appears to have been very successful at convincing his peers to allow their bank accounts be used to receive money from the frauds carried out by the gang.
Garda sources said they were very concerned such a large number of young people in a relatively sparsely populated part of the Republic were so willing to allow their accounts to be used.
I raise this article in the context of this debate because one of the elements of this is the creation of a bank account register, as I understand it, and that register will provide information through a single access point, including names, IBAN, dates of account opening and closing, duration of the lease period in the case of safety deposit boxes and so on. The Kerry case is relevant to this. I do not want to sound like Pollyanna but the fear I have concerns young people, in particular. We have all made mistakes when we were young. We were foolish and did stupid things. People who make mistakes will be subject to the rigours of the law. Of that there can be no question or doubt. However, I am fearful that mistakes people make when they are young could follow them throughout life. How will this new database impact on those young people, for instance? Will their accounts and names be permanently listed on the database?
There is always an imbalance between the crime lords and the mules. The mules are always the first to be subject to the rigours of the law and the crime lords walk off into the sunset or Marbella or wherever they happen to be. I am concerned that there will be a disproportionately negative impact on people who found themselves in the position where their accounts have been used. If a crime has been committed, they are subject to the rigours of the law but, once that is done, if it is done in this case, I hope this does not follow them for the rest of their lives.
It is an issue that arose in the last 24 hours. I am hopeful there will be some clarity around how that case in Kerry would be impacted. It concerns teenagers who may or may not have done something stupidly or in ignorance. Some will know quite well what they were up to and know the difference between right and wrong but there are always people who will be led on and naive. I am fearful they could be forever blacklisted in any financial transactions they have. If they go on to lead good, decent and proper lives and hold accounts, I hope this does not follow them and they are not blacklisted by financial institutions or statutory agencies. I hope the Minister of State's response will provide some clarity on the simple questions I have asked.
I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this legislation. Following on from the points raised by my colleague, I am in favour of keeping the integrity of the system to the fore at all times. That encourages investment and helps to create jobs and a society at ease with itself. However, I have dealt with a number of cases recently wherein it has emerged that politicians and Members of Parliament are identified as potential money launderers. I do not know where that came from but it is already there. It is in the banking system here and has been raised on numerous occasions. A number of colleagues I have spoken with realised for the first time that they are deemed to be in the high risk category, "people of special interest" is the phrase, insofar as money laundering is concerned. I find that objectionable in the extreme, and I am sure that applies to everybody in this House. It would be extremely unpatriotic if a Member of Parliament were to become involved in money laundering and criminal activity.
None of us would try to justify that.
The point raised by my colleague a couple of minutes ago verifies and underlines the concerns I have, in particular at a time when the banking system here has become depersonalised to a great extent. We do not have the same structure in a bank that was there ten, 15 or 20 years ago. I do not know, but there may be good reasons for the changeover. However, I know that there was personal attention available to customers from all banks. The customer is the most important person. We all believe that the needs of customers in all such situations must be met if we want to have a satisfactory co-operation between them and banks and lending institutions of all sorts.
Like everybody else, I have dealt with a number of cases in recent years whereby drug mules were used to carry drugs. They were invariably people who were identified as having financial difficulties at the time and would do virtually anything to get out of their difficulties. It was made known to them that if they were to drive a vehicle for a couple of miles along a road somewhere that their financial difficulty would be resolved. Sums of up to €20,000 or €30,000, and in one case €40,000, were offered for a person to drive a truck. Invariably again, the mules were caught and put behind bars, rightly so. The fools went that road without consulting anybody. They were vulnerable and under financial pressure. Perhaps they were under family pressure. A whole lot of situations arose. I know that they should not have done it and that they deserved to be punished for their crimes, but to a large extent they were innocent. They did not go that route of their own volition. They did not set out to do that, but they paid for it.
I agree that the integrity of the financial services sector musts be protected, especially as the country is an open economy that trades with many countries all over the world. Citizens of Ireland have invested all over the world and continue to do so. Similarly, we depend on foreign direct investment, FDI, quite a lot in this country, understandably so. It is also understandable that we are able to give a clear indication to possible investors that we have a financial sector on which we can base our future with clarity, conviction and confidence. Any movement otherwise creates a problem.
The political fraternity seem to be in the front line where this is concerned, and under suspicion. I do not know of anybody in this House who would have done anything to incur such suspicion. I deeply resent and reject the notion that somebody sitting in a call centre perhaps 500 miles or 1,000 miles from here could decide that an individual is a person of special interest when it comes to money laundering. There is a need to come up with something more substantive than that, as it could undermine the integrity of our system. It could also undermine the basis on which we operate and the people with whom we converse and whom we trust. If we do not have the trust of the institutions that are around us and that we deal with on a regular basis, then we are lacking in something.
Last evening, I was making representations to a utility company on behalf of a group of citizens on the one hand and a contractor on the other hand. I was informed that if I was representing the constituents only, I could do so, but if I was representing the contractor, who was also a constituent, I would have to get permission from the contractor in order to make the representation and get a response to it. I replied to the effect that, like everybody else in this House, on the day of the election I was given permission and authority by the electorate to represent everybody, regardless of who they were or who they were for or against. I reserve that right and I reject absolutely any attempt by any utility authority to deny that. In recent times, there have been a good few that have tried to interpose themselves between the public representative and the system in order to ensure that they did not have to answer the question at all. That is effectively what it comes down to. I strongly object to that and I am sure that everybody in this House objects to it. Unless we raise these questions regularly, they will continue and that vice-like grip will continue also.
Freedom operates in more ways than one. We all like to believe that we live in a society that has freedoms. That is a central part of membership of the European Union. If those freedoms are being eroded or curtailed in order to deal with lawlessness, forgery or whatever the case may be in terms of breaching the law, then the people who are breaching the law are the first ones who should be faced down and dealt with, not the innocent citizens who are going about their business in their ordinary way. Even some local authorities ask if we have permission from the constituents to represent them. What about the situation that is being raised that is against the interests of the constituent? Is it to be assumed that we will have to go to the person about whom we are to make a complaint and ask if it is all right to make representations against his or her interests? That is how daft the situation can become at a particular time.
I agree with the general thrust of the proposal, but I raise serious questions about where we are heading when it comes to the kind of implications that are created for ourselves. We seem to be in the front line, in so far as being condemned whether we like it or not, to being complicit in international activity of a dubious nature. I wish to register those few points in the hope that they inform the course of the debate. This is not in any way a personal attack on the Minister of State. I know that these things have to be done, but we must also question what we are doing notwithstanding how much we approve of them.
This is the latest in a series of motions we have had to consider regarding international co-operation to fight organised crime. Given the fact that criminal gangs are, like most enterprises, becoming larger, more sophisticated and increasingly transnational, the response to them must also advance in the same respect. Accordingly, I am happy to speak in favour of the motion.
There remain, however, some aspects of how we deal with money laundering in this jurisdiction that leave something to be desired. Enabling legislation for other EU directives and regulations in the area of anti-money laundering was slow, such that the State ran the risk of sanction for non-compliance. The defence for corporate entities inserted into that legislation when it eventually came before the House may be necessitated by case law, but it will be very interesting to see how that may play out.
Unfortunately, there are few chances of banks and other entities being brought before the courts on these charges. As other speakers outlined, it will be people at the bottom of the chain who will face the rigours of the court. Given the poor resources offered to some of the institutions, of necessity, it will be the low-hanging fruit that will be picked off. Let us make no mistake, the Government cannot beat its chest about tackling organised crime until this area is addressed properly. White-collar crime enables drug debts throughout the State to be collected and laundered and we cannot tackle one without the other.
While anti-money laundering legislation is welcome for the reasons I have outlined, there is an unintended side effect. Regulation means the likes of the credit unions and post offices must dedicate more resources to this work, hindering the operation of such vital, local institutions. The fall in the past 18 months in social welfare payments meant their viability was affected and it has not been balanced by any extra commercial activities. The recent decision to help out the Bank of Ireland is not going to cut the mustard. The Grant Thornton report must be implemented. All Deputies probably received an email from the postmasters about a fortnight ago.
I support them. The Government should intervene and give the extra investment to the post offices. As the report suggested, there will be an additional social benefit to the community of between €334 million and €700 million. It is for that reason that we must not take our eye off the ball. The Government should act fast in regard to supporting post offices around the country.
This motion forms part of the European Commission's new suite of proposals to reform anti-money laundering efforts at EU level. It will extend across to our national centralised bank account register, allowing it to be accessed through a single access point developed and operated by the European Commission. All designated authorities across the EU which are responsible for the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences will be able to access this registry. Access to the registry will allow investigators to trace, freeze and confiscate criminal assets quickly before the proceeds can disappear. Currently, registering this kind of information can take up to 30 days through bilateral agreements, losing the element of speed which is so vital.
That is the positive side of things. Unfortunately, despite these national registers being required under the fourth money laundering directive, which was published in 2015 by the EU and adopted by Ireland in 2018, we do not have one. Ireland is still in the process of complying with the fourth directive and has only recently implemented the fifth, while the rest of the EU has already moved on to the sixth. In July of this year, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice stated that the Central Bank is currently working on a centralised bank account register. We are leagues behind when it comes to anti-money laundering and financial regulation. We are adopting these directives years after everyone else in the bloc, and constantly playing catch-up. I do not think there has been legislation recently in the justice area. We are not saying the same thing and we are playing catch-up with regard to compliance. Why are we so unresponsive? Why are we not out there, being compliant? We keep talking about being good Europeans but, when it comes to compliance, we very often have to be threatened.
The European Union has made anti-money laundering and terrorist financing a long-standing priority but efforts to tackle the area have met with limited success, which is largely down to inconsistent regulatory environments between member states, and we are certainly a culprit in that regard. The European Commission summarises the consequences as follows: criminals and terrorists have a sustained means to jeopardise public security and the incidence of money laundering damages the reputation of jurisdictions, resulting in the withdrawal of financial services, which in turn has a negative impact on investment and damages the EU Internal Market.
The amount of money generated through criminal activities is, of course, hard to measure, given fraud is by its nature hidden until it is discovered. Europol has estimated that 1% of the EU's annual GDP is associated with suspicious financial activities. In 2020, this would represent a whopping €139 billion, and we can imagine the many things that money could be directed towards. Annual financial flows due to money laundering are estimated at trillions of euro worldwide. This highlights the ineffectiveness of the EU efforts so far and the need to close regulatory loopholes across the bloc. A lack of co-ordination allows money launderers and terrorist financiers to launder money and move assets through the financial system with relative ease.
It is important also to say that, on the other side, limited enough information should be provided, for example, the name and IBAN. While it is important that everybody's details would be given, these should be limited details. We also need to be apprised of what level of safety and security is involved, or whether a risk assessment is done in regard to the provision of even that information because, although that information on its own is not going to be problematic, when it is matched with other information, it could be. There is a need to make sure we are properly considering that aspect.
To pick up on a point made by Deputy Durkan in regard to banks, on the list of institutions that are trusted, banks would not be one of mine, and I suspect that is a view that is shared here. Increasingly, they do not want the public. They do not want them coming through the door; they just want their money and they want everything to be automated. In my and Deputy Durkan’s constituency and in others across the country, we are seeing significant changes. One of the risk areas identified around the time of the crash was that the bank manager did not know the bank customers, so there is a very significant imbalance happening at the moment.
The motion is one of several proposals to reform anti-money laundering legislation at EU level. The motion, when ratified, will support the Garda and the Criminal Assets Bureau in tracing the proceeds of crime, which will hopefully assist in the conviction of criminals in Ireland. This is something that needs to be addressed at a European level and also at a national level.
For those who live outside of disadvantaged areas, I want to point out that in areas that are disproportionately impacted by crime, there is a chance people may become desensitised to organised crime. Hit television shows, which we all see at the moment, only add to the glamour of these organised criminals, with their extravagant lifestyles and even more extravagant nicknames. Those who live or who have lived in areas targeted by organised crime have a different view. We have seen parts of our communities ripped apart by drug use and drug crime. On the one hand, we have seen our neighbours, friends and schoolmates stricken by drug use. On the other hand, we have seen young people’s lives wiped out on the orders of a crime boss. There are different ways of dying but it is grieving families and communities who are left to pick up the pieces.
Some people say there is an element of choice in how people live their lives, and I would agree up to a point. However, let me tell the House this. Part of our cities and counties did not have choice when drugs flooded into our communities, wiping out whole generations of our young people. Was our young people’s ability to make that choice about drug use or criminality impacted by living in areas with high levels of poverty? I would suggest the answer is “Yes”.
This motion will also support CAB and its ability to seize the proceeds of crime but we must also redistribute the money seized by CAB back into the communities which were damaged most by crime. Earlier this year, I tabled the Proceeds of Crime (Investment in Disadvantaged Communities) (Amendment) Bill, which has passed Second Stage in this House. This is legislation that will see money seized by CAB from criminals put into the areas that are most affected and impacted by crime. Plain and simple, the money that the mother had to borrow from the credit union to pay her child's debts for fear of reprisals will go back into a community that will work to stop young people from falling into a life of crime and drug use. Communities are not asking for handouts. They are simply asking that the money is returned to where it originally came from. Over €5 million was seized by CAB last year and it is really welcome. I know how community groups in my area and right across the State would spend this to build community resilience to crime and drug use.
Many people have contacted me in regard to my Bill. They think it is a simple Bill and a great idea, and they cannot understand why it is being delayed. Perhaps the Government does not value community development or, more likely, it sees community development as a threat to the status quo. I urge the Government not to sit on its hands and to allow the proceeds of crime Bill to progress and become law.
I understand the motion before us was delayed in getting to the House. We need to get serious about organised crime. This motion will significantly infringe on the ability of mid-level and high-level criminals to access their money and the ill-gotten gains they have put away. Leadership requires action and urgency, and our communities require action and urgency.
I am happy to have an opportunity to speak on this issue.
Pursuant to Article 32a of the fifth anti-money laundering directive, member states are to put in place national centralised and automated mechanisms, such as central registers, and central electronic data retrieval systems that allow for the timely identification of any natural or legal person holding or controlling payments, accounts or safe deposit boxes.
All sorts of financial crimes are taking place at this time, with people getting telephone calls day and night involving all types of scams. What makes this more difficult is that people have no one they know in the banks to talk to about these scams. I see at first hand how banks are walking away from the good customer service they used to provide. The Government reacted without a whimper to the recent Bank of Ireland closures, standing idly by as branches in Bantry, Dunmanway and elsewhere closed their doors to customers last week. It is angering people that we bailed out the banks over the past 20 years but when those banks were asked to show some bit of loyalty, they turned their backs on people. AIB is no different. Its branches in Schull and many more places in west Cork and throughout the country were closed a number of years ago. These closures make it almost impossible for elderly people to meet or talk to anyone, which is working right into the hands of criminals, who know the customer-staff relationship is now broken.
It is important to note that customers have a great relationship with the staff in credit unions in west Cork and throughout the State. People are known by their names, not by a number, and interactions with services do not involve pressing a button on the wall. Customers are carefully looked after by the credit union officials. However, the State is doing little to let credit unions compete on the same basis as the banks. There is no reason that they should not be enabled to do so. Do the banks have such a monopoly on the State that we cannot move forward with such measures? We are playing into criminals' hands by not taking any of the various measures that could be used to face up to the situation. The rebuilding of relationships between banks and customers must be a first step in this regard. Sadly, that is not happening and it is leading to severe frustration and annoyance for the public. It is scandalous that the Government stood idly by and let the closure of the Bank of Ireland branches in Bantry and Skibbereen happen.
I am glad to speak on this important matter. When it comes to an issue such as this, people need to have confidence in our banking system. When it comes to money laundering and all the new types of crimes that are being carried out through the use of bank cards, Internet banking and all of that, the one thing it make us all realise is how important it was to be able to walk through the door of a bank, know the manager and staff and be able to talk to them. People could trust bank staff to deal with their business. Unfortunately, banking has become impersonal. Castleisland, Killorglin and many other places have lost Bank of Ireland branches in recent times. It is a disgrace that the great town of Killorglin, which I am proud to have represented for many years, both on Kerry County Council and in Dáil Éireann, has lost its Bank of Ireland branch. Likewise, to see Castleisland, a great business and trading town, lose its branch was an awful blow to the bank's loyal customers.
The people who work in our banks are exemplary. They are great people. Yesterday, however, and God knows I was not looking for something to be doing, I stood outside a bank for 45 minutes waiting to get as far as the door to join the queue inside to talk to somebody about the few items of business I needed to do. However, forget about me. What about a person who is older or anyone with an infirmity or a medical problem, having to stand in the rain for that length of time? That is not the way to treat customers. This particular bank was an AIB branch. What are the banks doing? They would not still be in existence only for the people bailing them out and backing them up. It was agreed between a large number of people in this House at the time to bail them out. This is the thanks they give people. Customers are left queuing outside in the cold and rain in order to come inside and avail of their services. As I said, the people who work in our banking institutions are brilliant. God knows they have more to put up than anyone else because there are fewer of them as their roles are done away with and computers are put in their place. That has led to the loss of much-needed jobs. Is it any wonder that the situation is ripe for crime and for people with bad ideas to get their way?
We are discussing a directive that relates directly to the free movement of capital across borders in the EU and the necessity of ensuring robust and comprehensive legislation and systems to protect individuals and member states from the negative effects of money laundering. Member states have a duty to set up centralised bank account registries, which must be interconnected, thereby allowing for a single European access point. The designated authorities will be able to access information from those registries, such as whether an individual has bank accounts in different member states or is moving money across borders. In the simplest of terms, they will enable authorities to follow the money.
Little did I think when I was reading through the directive last week that I would, a few days later, be reading a headline reporting that 50 young people from a Kerry town were recruited as money mules for an international crime syndicate. These young people are allowing their bank accounts to be used by criminals to launder and transfer money that comes from criminal activity and causes pain and devastation to individuals and communities. We are, rightly, discussing legislation here today to prevent cross-border money laundering. Right in front of our noses, however, second and third level students are involved in exactly such activity by allowing their bank accounts to be used to launder, conceal and move the proceeds of crime across county and national borders.
I have no doubt that we could substitute Waterford, Wexford, Sligo, Donegal or a number of other places for Kerry. Recruiters are most likely working right across the country right now, perhaps in the Minister of State's town or my town. I do not know for certain but I suspect that many of these young people do not realise what is happening and just see this activity as a handy way to make a few bob or even do a favour for a mate. Not only are they actively engaged in criminal activity, some of them will become trapped because the people who want to exert pressure on them, now or later, have leverage on them. These are our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. We have a duty to act now. Second and third level schools and colleges must immediately and consistently hammer home the message that under no circumstances should students allow their bank account to be used by others for any purpose. More than that, the Ministers for Education, Justice, and Children, Equality, Disability Integration and Youth, and their Departments, all have a role, as do the banks, to get that message out to people.
We may need to look at some kind of strictly time-limited amnesty to give cover to young people who have been caught up in this web of exploitation. It was done for people who owed tax. We should at least investigate whether it can be done now for the young people involved. The purpose of this directive is to stop cross-border money laundering, but we should act now to stop this particular rot and close down the avenue that is drawing many young Irish people into criminality at this time.
Let us not wait. Many young people and their families are under pressure and many of them have and had no notion of the consequences of their actions. I have no expertise on amnesties but our responsibilities in this House are not just to the operation of a cross-border financial system. That is right and proper but our responsibilities are also to our young people and to protect them from the claws of criminals and organised crime. If we do not act now, laws will be broken and more importantly, lives will be destroyed. I ask the Minister of State to consider what I have suggested.
I have a reasonable excuse for missing my slot earlier. I was with National Broadband Ireland and I pointed out all the areas where there is room for speeding up and accelerating the national broadband plan. I hope I will be taken up on all those points, so remember this.
This is one of the many aspects we have dealt with in recent times in updating our legal framework on banking and finance as we try to deal with the modern world we are operating in. This is a world where international criminals were far ahead of the legislative process and all that was required. We are supportive of filling in all these gaps. It is not that long since a number of us would have spoken here on the anomalies that exist in cybercrime, on the legislation required for dealing with that and on those international financial situations, particularly where criminals would use online currencies, including bitcoin. We have to deal with the reality of the wanton criminality within our communities.
Without hearing Deputy Ward's speech, I have no doubt that he would have spoken about Sinn Féin's legislation on the moneys and assets that have been taken by CAB over many years being used by those communities that have been impacted by criminality. When I talk about criminality, I am usually talking about organised drug criminality and it is vital that this is dealt with. I welcome some of what was announced in the budget for community and voluntary groups but the figure of €2 million worries me somewhat because it is insufficient. I would be afraid that this would become another element of regular funding and that it does not represent the top-up funding we were looking for. If we are talking about addiction services, family support services or any of those necessities, such as the family addiction support network in Dundalk, we need to see multi-annual funding that is guaranteed.
There is an onus on us when it comes to the financial sphere. We received further information today that all is not well in the insurance industry. The Government has to follow through on the duty of care legislation and deal with the huge hole in public liability insurance. We know that community centres, businesses and organisations will go to the wall because of this.
I thank the Deputies who have contributed to this discussion and I welcome the broad support for the proposal. As my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, made clear, this proposes directive amends a directive we have already opted into, namely, EU Directive 2019/1153. The changes included in this directive are minor and practical and will enable us to participate more fully in and reap more benefit from the EU's anti-money laundering framework. The proposed directive was published by the European Commission together with significant anti-money laundering legislative proposals that are under active consideration. This proposal fell to be considered in the context of the wider changes envisaged.
As the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, explained earlier, there are clear reputational reasons for opting into this proposed directive. This opt-in will reflect on Ireland's status as a committed EU member state, our visible commitment to EU anti-money laundering framework and our reputation as an attractive and safe place to invest and in which to do business. Ireland's opt-in will be an important element for the smooth functioning of our national anti-money laundering framework as it requires that the information from the national centralised bank account registries be available through a bank account register's single access point at EU level, which is to be developed and operated by the European Commission. EU legislation and the financial action task force recommendations are frequently being updated to reflect new developments and to ensure they are still relevant. This process of continuous improvement is a feature of the regime and Ireland, together with all EU member states, continues to enhance our anti-money laundering framework.
Money laundering and terrorist financing are global issues. Criminals routinely move the proceeds of crime from one country to another and exploit inconsistencies and weak links. Accordingly, a coherent and global approach is needed and the EU has long had legislation in this area. Ireland and the EU share a strong commitment in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. There should be zero tolerance for illicit money as criminals will exploit all possible avenues to pursue their illicit activities to the detriment of society. We remain determined to ensure that criminals do not benefit from the proceeds of these crimes.
Targeting money laundering is central to fighting organised crime. Those who commit crime, such as drug trafficking, human trafficking and fraud, depend on hiding and converting the proceeds of those crimes. By pursuing those proceeds we can bring those responsible to justice and meaningfully reduce the incentive to commit the crimes in the first place. This proposal is in line with the action plan for a comprehensive EU policy on preventing money laundering and terrorist financing adopted by the Commission in May 2020. The action plan emphasises that the Union-wide interconnection of centralised bank account registries is necessary to speed up financial intelligence units, FIUs, and law enforcement authorities' access to bank account information and to facilitate cross-border co-operation. The EU's security union strategy also stresses that interconnection could significantly speed up FIUs and competent authorities' access to the financial information. For all these reasons and those outlined by the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, earlier, I again ask Deputies to support this motion and to support Ireland's continued engagement with the EU's anti-money laundering framework.