Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 April 2024

EU Regulations (Police Co-operation on Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking in Human Beings): Motion


9:30 am

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the House for facilitating this motion today. I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad on Ireland's opt-in to a new EU proposal for a regulation on enhancing police co-operation in relation to the prevention, detection and investigation of migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings, and on enhancing Europol's support to preventing and combating such crimes and amending Regulation (EU) 2016/794, which is the Europol regulation.

Ireland has an option, provided for in Article 3 of Protocol 21 annexed to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, 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 is presented to the Council to notify the Presidency of the Council of its wish to take part and that is exactly what we are doing here today.

The European Commission published the proposal for a regulation in November of last year, with the intention of enhancing police co-operation in the fight against migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings. The Commission is also seeking to amend certain provisions of the Europol regulation. As we know, Europol is the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation. Its mission is to support EU member states in preventing and combating all forms of serious international and organised crime, cybercrime and terrorism. With regards to migrant smuggling, it is clear that smuggling to and within the EU is reaching new heights. In 2023 alone, it is estimated that there were approximately 380,000 irregular entries at EU borders - the highest levels since 2016. This represents a continuing multi-year surge in migration. It is estimated that 90% of irregular migrants entering the EU have made use of smugglers. Globally, it is estimated that smuggling networks generate between €4 billion and €6 billion every year in revenue from this illicit activity. Although people willingly pay smugglers to help them cross borders, they generally do so at great personal risk. Migrant smugglers often use violence or the threat of violence against irregular migrants to ensure their compliance or to force them to pay smuggling fees. Migrants are often endangered by the methods used by smugglers to move them across borders with this heinous crime taking a staggering humanitarian toll. Too many lose their lives or are at risk of serious harm or exploitation, such as the risk of being trafficked.

There is no doubt that migrant smuggling has far-reaching consequences for the migrants themselves. This vulnerability is exploited by criminal networks that disrespect human life, all in the pursuit of profit. This is also an issue for the security of our jurisdiction and the EU. This common and complex challenge requires common and multifaceted solutions. The European Commission has therefore put forward this proposal for an EU regulation as part of a package of measures to modernise the legal framework to fight migrant smuggling. The regulation is accompanied by a proposal for a directive on preventing and countering the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and stay, by which Ireland is automatically bound, and by a global alliance to counter migrant smuggling.

The new directive will allow EU member states to effectively prosecute and sanction organised criminal networks responsible for migrant smuggling; harmonise legislation and penalties; and expand jurisdiction to cases in which non-EU nationals lose their lives. The global alliance to counter migrant smuggling will focus on prevention and alternatives to irregular migration, including addressing the root causes of irregular migration and facilitating legal pathways, as a key deterrent to smuggling. Together, this package of measures will ensure the necessary legal and operational tools are in place to mitigate this worsening crime.

If I can, I will briefly provide more detail about the specific elements of this package. This regulation will step up the prevention, detection and investigation of migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings by strengthening interagency co-operation and co-ordination at EU level. This is about making sure gardaí are talking to agencies across the EU and other police services, improving information-sharing in that regard and reinforcing the support available from member states and Europol.The regulation will establish in law the European centre against migrant smuggling at Europol as an EU centre of expertise for combating migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings. It provides for the composition of this centre, which will bring together Europol staff, representatives of each member state, liaison officers from Eurojust and Frontex as well as representatives involved in EU operational priorities in this area. The tasks of this centre will include providing strategic analyses and threat assessments, supporting the implementation of strategic and operational priorities, monitoring trends in migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings, identifying cases that may require advanced operational support, co-ordinating, organising and implementing investigative and operational actions to support member States, and supporting co-ordination, co-operation and the exchange of information.

Under the proposed regulation, each member state will be obliged to designate a national specialised service, which will be the Garda National Immigration Bureau here. These services will collect and share all relevant information about criminal investigations into migrant smuggling using Europol’s secure information exchange network application, SIENA, database. As such, this regulation will reinforce Europol as the EU information hub on migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings. It will enable Europol and member states to enhance our situational awareness, which is needed if we are to tackle this phenomenon effectively.

The regulation provides that a member state may request, in accordance with national law, Europol deployment for operational support on its territory to make use of the analytical, operational, technical, forensic and financial support provided by Europol to prevent and combat crimes falling within Europol’s objectives. Such Europol deployments for operational support will draw from a reserve pool of member state experts, to be established under this regulation. It is very important that we opt in now so that we are at the table when these details are being worked through. The Office of the Attorney General has identified that there are no legal impediments or constitutional obstacles to Ireland opting in. Obviously, my officials will actively participate in the negotiations.

In a nutshell, this is about making sure that we have closer co-operation between An Garda Síochána and other police services, particularly Europol, and that we are able to exchange information and have access to the right types of tools and capabilities to deal with these organised crime groups which are inflicting misery and, in some cases, causing people to lose their lives at sea or in containers. When those being smuggled or trafficked get here, they are forced into prostitution or enforced labour. This is about making sure those who are responsible are held accountable and those who are victims of smuggling and trafficking are supported. I urge colleagues to support this motion so that we can opt in and be part of this measure at the earliest stages to ensure it is as effective as possible.


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