Written answers

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

8:00 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 152: To ask the Minister for Defence the extent to which air and sea surveillance can be enhanced to deter drug or human trafficking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23759/10]

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister, Department of Defence; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Responsibility for the prevention of drug trafficking rests primarily with the Customs Service of the Revenue Commissioners. Responsibility for the prevention of crime, including people trafficking, rests primarily with An Garda Síochána. However, the White Paper on Defence provides for a security role for the Naval Service and the Air Corps to assist and support the civil authorities in this important work.

The Naval Service provides the maritime element of the Defence Forces and has a general responsibility to meet contingent and actual maritime defence requirements. The Naval Service operates eight general purpose patrol ships. All eight ships are involved in coastal and offshore patrolling and surveillance for the State in that part of the seas where State jurisdiction applies. The Naval Service intends to further enhance its surveillance capabilities by utilising both Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) and Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) which identify merchant shipping in and approaching Irish waters.

The primary day-to-day tasking of the Naval Service is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the European Union. However, as the need arises, Naval Service vessels are deployed to other duties such as aid to the civil power, search and rescue or recovery, and drug interdiction operations.

The current Exclusive Fishery Limits extend to 200 miles offshore and cover an area of 132,000 nautical square miles. The Naval Service currently patrols the entire 200 mile limit and periodically patrols beyond these limits to protect specific fisheries. These patrols are carried out on a regular and frequent basis and are directed to all areas of Irish waters as necessary. The number of Patrol Vessels on patrol in Irish waters at any one time varies between three and eight. The Naval Service is committed to having at least three vessels on patrol within the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone at any one time. All vessels are multi-tasked in the sense that they also undertake general surveillance, security and other duties while on patrol.

Naval Service patrols are complemented by assistance provided by the Air Corps. The Air Corps Maritime Squadron carries out aerial surveillance of our Exclusive Economic Zone using the two CASA maritime patrol aircraft.

Government measures to improve law enforcement in relation to drugs, including the establishment in 1993 of a Joint Task Force involving An Garda Síochána, the Customs Service and the Naval Service, have helped to maximise the effective use of Naval Service resources in combating drug trafficking. The Air Corps provide air support and, on occasion, carry the Customs National Drugs Team in an observational capacity for the purpose of monitoring vessels suspected of drug trafficking and other illegal activities. There is close co-operation between the civil authorities and the Naval Service and the Air Corps in discharging this important mission.

An Inter-Departmental Maritime Surveillance Co-ordination Group (MarSur CG), chaired by the Department of Transport, has been established under the auspices of the Maritime Co-ordination Group of Assistant Secretaries. The Co-ordination Group will work towards the creation of a common information-sharing environment to enhance safety and security within the Irish maritime domain. The Department of Defence and the Naval Service are represented on this Group along with other Government Departments and Agencies responsible for safety and security in the maritime environment.

Internationally, the establishment in 2007 of the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N) has led to a greater focus on intelligence exchange amongst countries to tackle large drug shipments by sea. MAOC-N was set up by seven European countries and is designed as an international co-ordination force with access to national tasking agencies and requires participation and resources from all active members. An Garda Síochána and the Customs Service have full-time officers based at the Centre in Lisbon. Irish Naval Service personnel travel to the Centre when requested by the Joint Task Force.

I am satisfied that with these initiatives in place, the Naval Service and the Air Corps can continue to effectively support the civil authorities in the areas of drug interdiction and people trafficking.


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