Seanad debates

Monday, 26 April 2021

EU Regulations (Europol): Motion


10:30 am

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit ar ais go dtí an Seanad. It is entirely appropriate that the Houses of the Oireachtas have a say in the Government's response to the regulation and that a motion be passed in both Chambers. On behalf of the Fine Gael Party, I say that we support the Government's motion and the regulation.

When looking at the matter, and in the context of what the previous Senator said, I was considering the downsides and reasons we should be opposed to the regulation. The concerns that come to mind are things such as data protection, abuse of data by agencies within the EU, including Europol, and perhaps the loss or ceding of powers from An Garda Síochána to a Union-wide police force. The first thing to do in that regard is to ask An Garda if it is in favour of this. I know from my work that An Garda values the information and intelligence it gets from Europol and other international agencies. The connection between An Garda and Europol is considerable and valuable to policing in Ireland. I understand that the European extradition warrant and the new Schengen information system of which we are now a part both benefit the ability of An Garda to do its job here.

Much of the crime or alleged crime, as the case may be, about which we are talking is not shoplifting or other small-time stuff that we associate with domestic crime, but is cross-border, international crime. It includes crime that falls into categories such as gangland, terrorism, drug and people trafficking. There are many areas involved. The reality is that a stand-alone island off the west coast of Europe simply has not the capacity to deal with these issues on its own. It is entirely appropriate that we should be involved in Europol to the greatest extent possible because our policing might benefits massively from that association because of the intelligence and information we get from it. That allows gardaí on the ground to do the job they do to the best of their ability. There is, of course, also a benefit to the wider European community in our sharing information, particularly as we are an island nation and, therefore, vulnerable from the point of view of drug and people trafficking. I think that is entirely appropriate.

As other Members have mentioned, there are concerns. We have a different legal system to most other countries in Europe. We have a system where the principle of the presumption of innocence is foremost in our minds. That is tremendously important and does not exist in the same way under the Napoleonic code or civil law systems that exist across a lot of continental Europe. That does not mean that those protections do not still exist because they do. The situation is similar in the area of data and their sharing. The general data protection regulation, GDPR, still exists and holds sway over a European regulation. There are, of course, aspects of it which need to be modified for the purposes of sharing information with other European agencies and that is appropriate.

A question that arises from what Senator Craughwell said regarding whether we should, for example, be concerned about the possible designation of me, him or anyone else as a particular category of individual? Does that then expose one to a load of other issues that may arise? It does, potentially, but protections are accounted for and built into Regulation 2016/794. As I said, the GDPR still exists. The people who should be afraid of the implementation of this regulation are the criminals, terrorists, money launderers, people traffickers and drug traffickers. Everything in this regulation is about strengthening the ability of An Garda and the Irish police and security aspects to react to and act effectively on the most serious crimes that affect our communities here and the people who might be brought here against their will. That is what it does and will do. It makes absolute sense that we support this motion and the Government's decision to row in with Europol and subscribe to the maximum possible extent to the frameworks and aspects of Europol that will allow it to deliver on security for the people living in this country and on this island.I support the motion and thank the Minister of State for introducing it. It is tremendously important that the Seanad and Dáil have an opportunity to weigh in on this matter, have their say and pass the motion. I encourage Members to vote in favour of it.


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