Monday, 26 April 2021
EU Regulations (Europol): Motion
I thank the Senators for their contributions and their broad support for this proposal. This legislative initiative is part of a package of measures presented by the Commission in December 2020 to reinforce the Union's response to the threat posed by terrorism. Since the 2016 regulation came into force the operational support provided by Europol's counterterrorism centre has increased fivefold. Although the full impact of the Covid-19 crisis on security is not yet apparent, it is expected to shape the landscape of serious and organised crime in the EU in the mid- to long-term future.
With regard to this proposal, I should add that it is a negotiation process and it is not clear whether all of the issues raised in the draft regulation will be part of the final agreed instrument. There may be elements that would be of real value to Ireland and some elements with which we may have some issues. That is why it will be important for us to fully engage as an equal partner during the negotiation process. The benefits of Ireland's participation in Europol are and will remain critical to our national security and to tackling the most serious forms of organised crime in this country.
I would like to make a few points on the proposal. In respect of the initiative for co-operation between Europol and private parties, this could potentially have huge implications for An Garda Síochána given that the European headquarters of many Internet service providers and social media companies are located here in Ireland. It is important that An Garda Síochána can influence any outcome in that regard. Currently, all communications between Ireland and Europol go through the Europol National Unit,, which is located in Garda headquarters.
The proposed regulation aims to strengthen Europol's co-operation with third countries for preventing and countering serious and organised crime and terrorism. Serious crime does not stop at the European borders and co-operation with third countries will be of particular importance to Ireland given that our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom, is now a third country. The 2016 regulation gave the power to the Commission to conclude agreements with third countries. Unfortunately, none has been agreed since and getting a more workable solution to this is in all of our interests.
The draft regulation aims to strengthen Europol's co-operation with the European Public Prosecutor's Office, EPPO. The EPPO was established as a new EU body by regulation in 2017. It is responsible for conducting criminal investigations and prosecutions for crimes against the EU's financial interests and will begin its operations in 2021.Ireland has not participated in the European Public Prosecutor's Office regulation and is not bound by it. I have been assured that the proposed regulation will not affect Ireland's position in that regard.
Senators will also be aware that Ireland only recently joined the Schengen information system, SIS, which enables Europe's law enforcement authorities to check and share data on banned, missing and wanted individuals, as well as lost or stolen property. This is the largest law enforcement database in Europe. Connecting to it has already enhanced our national security and strengthened our co-operation at a European level. This draft regulation is linked to legislative proposals amending the regulation on the establishment, operation and use of the Schengen information system in the field of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters to enable Europol to enter data into the SIS.
If member states agree to this proposal Europol will be better able to enter data into the SIS on the suspected involvement of a third-country national in an offence in respect of which Europol has competence. Ireland is automatically bound by the SIS legislative proposal.
The Minister, Deputy McEntee, and I support the Garda Síochána in having access to the international systems, tools and networks available that assist it in achieving its ultimate goal which is to solve crime and make our communities safe. International co-operation in tackling crime is essential in the modern world given the nature of serious organised crime and terrorism. Full and active membership of organisations like Europol is essential and I ask Senators to support this motion and Ireland’s continued engagement with Europol. I thank the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach.