Monday, 26 April 2021
EU Regulations (Europol): Motion
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am speaking for the Labour Party. We are not opposing this motion. Like other speakers, we recognise the great importance of transnational mechanisms to tackle the scourge of transnational and cross-border crime. The Minister of State spoke about the sort of crime that is so much at issue here, that is carried out on a cross-border basis and has had such a serious impact on so many victims.
We are glad to see that, within the motion, there is further strengthening of the data protection framework applicable to Europol. All of us have major concerns about data protection, particularly in the very sensitive area of criminal justice and security. Addressing this is of importance. I very much welcome the fact that parliamentary oversight and accountability will also be strengthened. I am conscious that this proposal is very much an adjunct to the 2016 regulation but it is important that parliamentary scrutiny and data protection measures are to the fore in any further mechanisms under the original 2016 regulation.
I want to refer to a couple of criminal justice issues that relate to the prosecution of cross-border and transnational crime. I was very struck at the weekend by two stories or reports of relevance. The first was on an audiobook by Claire McGowan called The Vanishing Triangle. It relates to cases that everybody is, very sadly, all too familiar with, namely, the cases of eight women who went missing in a triangle going from Louth in the north and down past Offaly to Wexford in the mid-1990s, between 1993 and 1998. The names of the eight women who disappeared are sadly all too familiar to us, yet their cases have never been solved. Cases include those of Annie McCarrick and Jo Jo Dollard. These cases have given rise over the years to several books and reports, yet they have never been resolved. I was struck by the commentary of the author, Ms McGowan, who has taken a new look at the cases. She speaks about the Border element. What struck her in examining these cases some decades on was how poor the co-operation was between the North and South in the investigation of disappearances such as those in question. All too sadly, this has been a real issue. Ms McGowan stated that it did not appear there was enough joined-up thinking in the investigation of disappearances that may well have had a cross-Border element. Some of the disappearances occurred close to the Border. It brought home to me the great importance for victims and their families of ensuring seamless transnational co-operation between police forces in investigations of very serious crimes such as those in question.
In light of Brexit, I have a question. While this motion is about strengthening transnational mechanisms with Europol, what about the bilateral mechanisms we will need and that I am aware are built into and addressed through post-Brexit negotiation and so on? A genuine issue concerns ensuring that the sorts of strengthening mechanisms we see with Europol will be mirrored or reflected in mechanisms for the cross-border investigation and prosecution of transnational crime and, indeed, crimes that are being investigated between the two islands. That, to me, was an important issue.
The other issue I want to raise on criminal prosecution, although it is not so much a transnational or cross-border issue, is that of prosecution for child sex abuse. There was a very disturbing report by Ms Sarah-Jane Murphy in Saturday’s The Irish Timeson the case of a small child, one of the youngest complainants in a sex abuse case in the history of the State. Ms Murphy calls the child Zoe. Anyone who read the report will have been struck by the harrowing experience of a family when, despite a child having been a victim of some form of abuse, an allegation having been made and a prosecution having been initiated, a trial does not result in a conviction. I am referring to the fallout from that.I ask the Minister of State to raise with the Minister for Justice the need to look again at the way we investigate and prosecute crimes of child sex abuse.
I welcome an announcement made by the Minister earlier that she will be expunging criminal records for the sale of sex in line with the recommendations of the UCD sexual exploitation research programme and others and following our historic criminalisation of the purchase of sex in the 2017 Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act. Many recommendations have been made to seek to help those who wish to exit from the exploitation of prostitution and with that perspective in mind I believe the Minister is proposing to expunge just over 600 convictions arising from sections 7 and 8 offences under the 1993 Act relating to the sale of sex. I very much welcome the Minister's announcement on that. We support the measures in this proposal.