Seanad debates

Monday, 26 April 2021

EU Regulations (Europol): Motion


10:30 am

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senators for agreeing to take this motion at relatively short notice. The motion relates to a proposal to strengthen and develop Europol to increase the services it provides to European Union member states within the boundaries of the mission and tasks of the agency as laid down in Article 88 of Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The deadline for opting in to the proposal under Article 3 of Protocol No. 21 is 3 May 2021.

Opting in under Article 3 will allow Ireland to take part fully in the adoption and application of the proposed measure and to influence the content of the regulation that is to be agreed. Negotiations are well under way under the Portuguese Presidency of the European Council.If the Houses support the opt-in, it is my intention to notify the institutions of our participation next Monday. I remind Senators 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 the measures in the field of police co-operation, and I see no reason to deviate from that position.

Before discussing the proposal in more detail, it might be appropriate to give the Senators some background information on Europol. It is the EU's law enforcement agency, assisting national enforcement authorities by exchanging information, intelligence, analysis and threat assessments. It is based in The Hague in the Netherlands and it has more than 1,000 staff members, including more than 100 crime analysts and 220 liaison officers working across the world.

An Garda Síochána appreciates the central role that Europol has in supporting member states' law enforcement agencies and values its membership of the organisation. An Garda Síochána is represented on the management board at assistant commissioner level, and gardaí are seconded to the organisation on an ongoing basis. The Commissioner is of the view that An Garda Síochána's working relationship with Europol is invaluable in tackling serious cross-border crime.

Europol provides essential communication links to ensure the strong relationships are established and maintained, not only with other members states but also with third-party countries such as the US and, more recently, the UK.

This is very much a supplementary regulation. In 2016, the Oireachtas agreed to Ireland participating in a much broader regulation relating to Europol. The 2016 regulation reconstituted Europol as a European agency for law enforcement co-operation. It also created new governance structures and new relationships between Europol and the EU institutions, as required by the Lisbon treaty. The 2016 regulation will remain as the main Europol regulation, with the new regulation adding on specific powers and filling in any gaps that currently exist, which I will outline in more detail shortly.

Ireland is broadly supporting the proposed amendments in this draft regulation that seek to strengthen the existing mandate of Europol over eight key areas, and I will outline each of these proposals. The regulation will enable Europol to co-operate effectively with private parties, addressing the lack of effective co-operation between private parties and law enforcement authorities to counter the use of cross-border services such as communication, banking or transport services by criminals. The regulation will also enable Europol to effectively support member states' investigations with the analysis of large and complex data sets, addressing the big data challenge for law enforcement authorities. The regulation will strengthen Europol's role in research and innovation and its co-operation with third counties, and will clarify the rules whereby Europol can request, in specific circumstances, a member state to initiate an investigation into a crime that affects the common interests of the EU. The regulation will also strengthen Europol 's co-operation with the European Public Prosecutor's Office, EPPO. It will further strengthen the data protection framework applicable to Europol and will further strengthen parliamentary oversight and accountability of Europol.

I am conscious that in the past ten years, we have witnessed the Arab Spring and a major humanitarian crisis in Syria, both of which were followed by the migration crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. We have had the rise and fall of ISIS and experienced a number of devastating terrorist incidents on mainland Europe. Policing international crime increasingly gets more complicated. A decision by Ireland to opt-in to this measure would be seen as a demonstration of Ireland's continued commitment to the effective functioning of Europol and to the wider security of the EU. Our participation in Europol is vital to our national interest and we look forward to An Garda Síochána continuing to play an active role within this agency.

I look forward to hearing the views of Senators and I urge them to support the motion.


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