Europol Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

Tuesday, 30 September 1997

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 480 No. 6

First Page Previous Page Page of 414 Next Page Last Page

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

This is an enabling Bill, enabling Ireland to ratify the 1995 Europol Convention and related Protocols. The convention provides a framework for law enforcement co-operation in the field of international organised crime. It provides for the establishment of Europol on a statutory basis to facilitate the exchange of information and intelligence between the law enforcement authorities of the member states of the European Union and to carry out in-depth analyses on the crimes within its remit. Europol's central objective will be to assist member states in preventing and combating serious organised international crime affecting two or more member states.

As a small island nation on the periphery of Europe, we might like to regard ourselves as, in some way, immune or removed from the full effects of international crime. The reality is different. There is reason to believe that our geography lends itself to Ireland being used by highly organised criminals as a gateway to and from the rest of Europe, leaving us exposed to all forms of international crime. This is particularly the case in the area of drug trafficking where Ireland's extensive coastline has been used for the importation of large quantities of illegal drugs for use not only here but also in other European countries causing untold misery and, sometimes, death of our young people. Also, we are beginning to see Ireland becoming a focus for illegal immigrant smugglers. It is all too clear to us that a small country cannot tackle these problems effectively on its own. We need to share information and intelligence with other countries on the operations of these criminals, their modus operandi, their networks and the routes they use.

Organised crime, particularly crimes such as drug trafficking which generate large financial profits, is especially hard to combat. These criminals have vast resources at their disposal often exceeding those of states. They are very versatile and exploit weaknesses or loopholes wherever they exist. They have the resources to employ skilled people and to use a sinister carrot and stick approach by way of bribery and threats, to overcome any obstacles in their way. It would be naive to think that such ruthless criminals could be defeated by anything other than an energetic, pro-active and multi-faceted approach, embracing effective international co-operation and a zero tolerance policy here. My policy includes both of these elements.

The ratification of the Europol Convention, on which I will elaborate further, will be a milestone [938] in the development of co-oporation between the 15 EU member states in the fight against international organised crime. It will not only enhance the flow of information and intelligence but will give significant added-value to these through in-depth analysis with the aid of a sophisticated computed system.

As any police or customs officer will tell us, access to intelligence and information is essential in the tackling of organised crime, be it on a domestic or an international scale. It is crucial when crime goes beyond national boundaries. Criminals exploit weaknesses in our legal systems. They use sophisticated aliases. They develop complex trafficking routes, often zig-zagging through several countries, to avoid detection. National boundaries are no obstacle to them. It is one of the tools they use to defeat the law enforcement authorities. We must fight back. The pooled information which Europol will have and the added-value it will give to it through in-depth analysis of criminal organisations, their modus operandi, ever changing trafficking routes and personnel will be of major assistance to all member states.

The convention also includes provisions which will enable Europol to give and receive information from international organisations, for example, Interpol, and countries outside the European Union, subject to certain safeguards. This will assist in tackling crime on a world scale. This is particularly relevant in tackling drug trafficking and money laundering. With the exception of synthetic drugs and home grown cannabis, all drugs of abuse are produced outside the European Union. In the case of money laundering, vast sums of money can be transferred in a matter of seconds by electronic wire transfer not only from one country to another but through several countries anywhere in the world and through an intricate series of financial companies. Ratification of the Europol Convention will be a significant step in tackling these crimes.

In the recent past what the policy of zero tolerance means in the fight against crime has been the subject of heated debate. There have been misinterpretations and misrepresentations by certain members of the Opposition. The concept of zero tolerance is, above all else, directed at positive action against serious criminals, especially those involved in the drugs trade and organised crime. My clear objective is to provide the Garda with the means, equipment and manpower to investigate all crime. My objective is to ensure that all crime is investigated, where possible, detected and, where the interests of justice and society so require, prosecuted. The victims of housebreakers, burglars and car thieves do not regard these crimes as trivial or minor and neither does the Government. It is entirely disingenuous of Opposition politicians to claim, as they have done in recent times, that the policy has somehow been put on the back burner and confined to the issue of drugs. I repeat that no form of wrongdoing is [939] acceptable and none will be tolerated. If that were the case, this House would not have passed laws which state quite the opposite.

I intend to take seriously the duty of the State to protect the citizen's right to live in peace free from the fear of criminal intrusion. Time and again I have said that in the hierarchy of obligations the obligation of a sovereign Government to protect its people and their property is a superior one.

It is true, however, that by far the worst form of intrusion at this moment in our history is by thugs involved in drugs and other organised crime. None of us in this House, irrespective of our political differences, would seek to minimise the damage being done by these people. They blight and often destroy young lives and, thereby, sentence entire communities in city and country to an intolerable existence. Recent research has shown again that drugs are responsible for up to two thirds of all crime.

The zero tolerance approach I advocated in Opposition and which I now advocate in Government is about action on the ground and, by way of legislation, curbing drug dealers and other criminals. Citizens demand that and they are entitled to it. I want zero tolerance to meet that demand in full.

The Government is committed to the following items as part of the successful implementation of its programme. One thousand more prison places will be provided in two years. This means we will increase the current number of prison places by 50 per cent and that will be a significant achievement providing in excess of 3,000 prison places. That will have a considerable bearing on the scandal of temporary release as currently operated.

We intend to increase Garda numbers to 12,000 over a period of five years. We intend giving agency status to the prison service and the courts to help them function more efficiently. We intend to encourage serious Garda operational initiatives to strengthen their hand in fighting serious crime. We will be presenting an imaginative and innovative legislative programme on which I will now expand to some extent.

I am determined to fine comb the criminal law to remove every obstacle which exists to the fast, efficient and fair administration of justice and to close off any loopholes being exploited by criminals. As legislators, we must ensure that the fight against crime is enhanced by our work. The Government has already approved the final drafting of the Criminal Justice Bill, 1997 on the basis of detailed proposals which I have submitted.

During the summer months a considerable amount of time was spent by me and my officials in drafting this extremely important legislation as one of the pillars of the zero tolerance policy. This major piece of criminal law will be introduced as early as possible in the current session. It will contain measures in relation to speedier trials, minimum ten year sentences for serious drug trafficking offences, initiation by the courts [940] of inquiries into the assets of persons convicted of drug trafficking and other serious offences and allowing technical evidence to be given by gardaí by certificate in court, thus freeing up their time to attend to other duties. These proposals will clearly give effect to a number of commitments contained in the Government's programme in the context of the policy of zero tolerance, particularly against drug pushers and other serious criminals.

Other criminal law reform Bills which I propose to publish either in this session or early in the next session include a revised Juvenile Justice Bill, a Bill to deal with child pornography, a Bill to amend the law in relation to criminal insanity, a Bill to enable Ireland to co-operate with the International War Crimes Tribunals and the United Nations Convention against Torture Bill.

Work is also well under way on legislative proposals to deal with the substantive law on fraud. A discussion paper to review the law on sexual offences is being drawn up. Extradition treaties with Canada and South Africa are being negotiated. In addition, a review is ongoing of criminal law issues relevant to the fight against crime.

To return to the Bill, the approach is to give the Convention and its two subsequent Protocols the force of law in the State and to provide for certain ancillary matters. The Bill itself, therefore, is comparatively short. For ease of reference the Convention and Protocols are appended to the Bill in both English and Irish, the texts being equally authentic in both languages.

Before turning to the detail of the individual sections, I propose to give the background to the drawing up of the Europol Convention and then to concentrate on the provisions of the Convention and its subsequent Protocols. The creation of the Single Market and the breakdown in borders within the European Union have facilitated an unprecedented increase in cross-border crime. Just as honest, law-abiding citizens can now move easily from one country to another within the Union, so also can Europe's criminals. The Justice and Home Affairs Ministers of member states were acutely aware of the need for compensatory measures to prevent the exploitation of this free movement by criminals and to protect their citizens against organised crime. This led to a decision to establish Europol by the European Council at its meeting in Maastricht in December 1991.

From November 1993 onwards, work on the draft Convention was continued within the structures provided for in Title Vl of the Treaty on European Union. In December 1993 the European Council meeting in Brussels decided that Europol would have its seat in The Hague. It was to be some considerable time yet, however, before agreement could be reached amongst the EU member states on Europol's precise role and powers.

Meanwhile, and in anticipation of the time it would take for the Convention to be concluded and ratified, the Europol Drugs Unit or EDU was [941] set up by ministerial agreement of the then 12 member states. The purpose of the EDU was to allow information to be exchanged concerning, initially, illicit drug trafficking and associated money-laundering activities involving two or more member states. Its mandate was extended in March 1995 by the European Council to include illicit trafficking in nuclear and radioactive substances, crimes involving illegal immigration networks and trafficking in stolen vehicles. These crimes are of major concern to EU member states. They are also frequently committed by the same organised criminal groups. Often the same trafficking routes and distribution networks are used by unscrupulous criminals who will smuggle drugs, people, stolen vehicles and radioactive substances into and around the EU for financial gain. The aim of the criminals is to get their hands on the vast sums of money which accrue from these criminal activities. The EDU's mandate was further extended in December 1996 to include trafficking in human beings, following the horrific paedophile incidents in Belgium which were uncovered last year.

The EDU, which is now in its fourth year of operation in The Hague, has led to considerable successes, particularly in combating drug trafficking and money laundering. The EDU was only ever meant to operate as an interim measure, however, with the result that it operates on a more limited basis than will Europol under the convention. Its most obvious drawbacks are that it has no legislative status and it cannot store personal information. Once in force, the convention will effectively replace the EDU. The advantages of supplanting the EDU with Europol will include not just giving it a firm, statutory basis for its activities or the ability to store personal information, but also the provision of a sophisticated computer system, access to and analysis of pooled data, and liaison with countries outside the EU and with international organisations.

Once the convention is in force, Europol's initial remit will cover illicit drug trafficking, trafficking in nuclear and radioactive substances, illegal immigrant smuggling, motor vehicle crime, trafficking in human beings and associated money laundering activities — the forms of international crime already covered by the EDU. In addition, it will develop specialist knowledge of the investigative procedures of the relevant authorities in the member states, provide advice on investigations, provide strategic intelligence and prepare general situation reports. Within two years at the latest of entry into force, Europol's remit will be extended to terrorism. Furthermore, there is provision in the convention for Europol to take on a wide range of other forms of serious organised crime at the discretion of the Council of Ministers.

As to how Europol will achieve its objectives, I emphasise that Europol is established to operate as a non-operational team with the primary tasks of facilitating the exchange of information and intelligence between law enforcement authorities and carrying out detailed analyses in [942] relation to the crimes within its remit. I am mentioning this because, as some Deputies know, it is likely that the role of Europol in the field of law enforcement co-operation may in the future be enhanced arising from provisions in the Amsterdam Treaty agreed by the Intergovernmental Conference last June and due to be signed by member states this Thursday. Any developments concerning the extension of Europol's competence would, however, require in the first instance consensus or unanimity among EU member states and they would have to be dealt with by separate legislation in this House. They do not, therefore, affect the passage of this Bill since it is concerned with giving the force of law to the 1995 convention.

The convention in Article 8 provides for member states to forward information to Europol concerning persons who are suspected of having committed or taken part in criminal offences in respect of which Europol is competent or have been convicted of such offences, or in relation to persons who there are serious grounds for believing will commit such criminal offences in the future. In addition, Europol is to be informed of the means used in committing crimes, suspected membership of criminal organisations and criminal convictions of such persons.

The information will be collated by Europol in a central computerised database consisting of three elements. The first element will be an information system with a restricted and precisely defined content which allows rapid reference to the information available to the member states and Europol or, as it is sometimes referred to, an outer ring of information. The second component will concern more sensitive information, a so-called inner ring of information comprising work files for the purposes of analysis containing comprehensive information. Lastly, there will be an index system containing certain particulars from the analysis files. Specialists will analyse the information with a view to making connections and arrive at an overview, the results of which will then be forwarded to the member states concerned.

Member states will send liaison officers to Europol who will assist in the exchange of information and analysis work. Each member state must also set up a national unit to act as the centralised contact point for all relations with Europol. The liaison officer will represent the interests of his or her particular national unit. This is a formalisation of the arrangements which at present exist for the EDU. This system operates not only to communicate information, but the liaison officers are also a valuable tool in overcoming problems which may arise between member states, for example, because of having insufficient knowledge of each other's legal system.

In addition to liaison officers representative of each member state, Europol will employ analysts who will be under the Europol director's authority. The director will be appointed by the Council [943] of Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs and will be accountable to it. There will also be a management board comprising representatives of all the member states of the Union.

Europol will only be as good as its information. It is imperative, therefore, that adequate safeguards are in place to guarantee the confidentiality and security of information exchanged and shared. In this regard the convention lays down extensive safeguards. It acknowledges that particular attention must be paid to the privacy rights of individuals and the protection of their personal information. It requires that, as a minimum, each member state must ensure a standard of data protection at least as high as that required by the 1981 Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data. That convention is implemented here by the Data Protection Act, 1988. In addition, each member state must appoint a national supervisory body to monitor independently under national law the communication of personal data to and from Europol. There will also be a joint supervisory body to monitor the activities of Europol as a whole to ensure that the rights of individuals are not violated by storage and processing of personal data.

Rules governing liability are laid down in the event of damage being caused by unauthorised or incorrect use of data. Finally, confidentiality is also protected by rules governing the dissemination of sensitive information and the obligation of discretion imposed upon employees of Europol and liaison officers.

I now turn to the two Protocols to the convention, starting with the Protocol on the interpretation of the convention by the European Court of Justice. One difficulty which delayed the finalisation of the convention was the failure of member states to agree on whether the European Court of Justice should have a role in relation to the Europol Convention. The Protocol solved this outstanding problem by giving member states the option to declare to accept or not the interpretation of the convention by the European Court of Justice by way of preliminary rulings. For those member states which opted to accept the court's jurisdiction, they could make a further declaration setting out the conditions under which the jurisdiction of the court would operate in their country, either at the request of all national courts or at the request only of courts against whose decisions there is no judicial remedy. In our case, we opted for the latter course so as to ensure, as far as possible, that there will be as little disruption as possible to the progress of a criminal trial once commenced.

The Protocol on the privileges and immunities of Europol, its organs, its deputy directors and employees is needed for the practical application of the Europol Convention once it enters into force. The purpose of the Protocol is to grant Europol and all those acting on its behalf the same type of privileges and immunities as are [944] usually granted to international organisations. In addition to the two Protocols to which this Bill will give the force of law, there are a number of other legal texts necessary for Europol's operation. These deal with implementing measures concerning the rights and obligations of liaison officers, staff regulations, rules for analysis of data, confidentiality rules, rules of procedure of the joint supervisory body, Europol's budget, Europol's headquarters, agreement between it and the Netherlands, and bilateral agreements between the Netherlands and member states concerning privileges and immunities of liaison officers and their families.

Of those still to be finalised are: the confidentiality rules; the rules of procedure of the joint supervisory body; the headquarters agreement; and agreements concerning privileges and immunities of liaison officers. All of the measures must be formally adopted by the Justice and Home Affairs Council before Europol can take up its activities. Luxembourg aims to have negotiations on the outstanding texts completed during its Presidency. Having said that, while the legal texts are a prerequisite to Europol's entry into force, they are not necessary to the ratification process, and each member state can proceed with ratification of the convention and its two Protocols without the various implementation measures being finalised.

That brings me to the question of when the convention will enter into force; when Europol will take up its activities. Its entry into force is dependent on ratification by all 15 member states. At present, the United Kingdom is the only member state to have formally ratified, but several further ratifications are expected during the coming months. My intention is that on the enactment of this Bill, Ireland's ratification procedure will be in place before the end of the year. This would keep us in line with the European Council's stated aim of ratification by all member states before the end of 1997.

The explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill earlier this month contains a detailed commentary on the individual sections and their related provisions in the convention. The approach adopted in the Bill is to give the convention and the two Protocols the force of law in the State. Section 2 contains this core provision.

Section 3 is concerned with the national unit which will act as a centralised unit within the Garda Síochána for channelling information and intelligence to and from Europol. The section proposes that the unit be headed up by a garda of at least Chief Superintendent rank, and that it operate under the authority of the Garda Commissioner. However, the assignment of staff to the unit will not be confined to members of the Garda Síochána. Members of other services with specialist expertise — officers of customs and excise, for example — could clearly have a very important role to play in respect of certain types of crime. For that reason, the Bill enables the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, [945] following consultation with the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Finance, to appoint non-Garda personnel to be members of the unit.

Section 4 provides for sending liaison officers from the national unit to Europol. Liaison officers need not necessarily be members of the Garda Síochána and could potentially be members of customs and excise.

Section 5 is a technical provision amending certain sections of the Garda Síochána Act, 1989, to enable their application to members of the Force who are serving with Europol.

Sections 6 and 7 are concerned with data protection. The main purpose of section 6 is to apply the Data Protection Act, 1988, to relevant provisions in the convention subject to modification where necessary. As already stated, the 1988 Act gave effect to the principles contained in the 1981 Council of Europe Convention on Data Protection, which is the standard of protection laid down by the convention. Section 7 designates the Data Protection Commissioner for the purposes of the Convention so that he will be empowered to monitor implementation of the data protection provisions.

Section 8 gives Europol corporate status to enable it to enter into contracts and other commercial relationships and to sue and be sued in the courts. There is provision in section 9 for the application of the Official Secrets Act, 1963 to those provisions of the convention which impose obligations of confidentiality not to make disclosures of information.

Turning to the Protocol on the interpretation of the convention by the European Court of Justice, section 10 provides that judicial notice shall be taken in this country of any ruling or decision or expression of opinion by that court.

There is provision in sections 11 and 12 for making ministerial orders, to be laid before both Houses, which appear to be necessary and expedient for carrying out the convention. All matters of substance pertaining to the convention and its Protocols are covered by the Bill. The purpose of the provisions in sections 11 and 12 is merely to enable incidental requirements from time to time.

Section 13 contains the standard expenses provision. The financial arrangements for Europol provide for annual estimates to be drawn up and approved by the Justice and Home Affairs Council. The budget will be financed from member states' contributions, which are determined by reference to a formula of the percentage of GNP attributed to each. While additional cost will arise in respect of Europol's new computer system, in the absence of experience of operating the convention, it is impossible to say what level of contribution we will be obliged to make. Some indications, however, may be gained from our current contributions to the EDU's budget. The EDU budget for 1997, when savings made last year are taken into account, is ECU 7 million, 0.7 per cent [946] of which we pay for from the Garda Síochána Vote.

This is the first occasion on which a Bill concerning a convention under Title Vl of the Treaty on European Union has been introduced in the Oireachtas. The convention is a very desirable measure which will provide a weapon to Ireland and its EU partners for combating international organised crime. It will provide for greatly enhanced co-operation among the 15 member states at a level commensurate with the threat posed by the increasingly sophisticated techniques of today's organised criminals.

The Bill will be acceptable to all sides of the House. I shall give careful consideration to the points which Deputies may make and to any suggestions for amendment that may be made in the course of the debate. I commend the Bill to the House.

I congratulate to Deputies Jim Higgins and Shortall on their appointment as spokespersons on Justice, Equality and Law Reform by their respective parties. They follow in auspicious footsteps. I look forward to robust and constructive debate in this House and outside in respect of tackling crime.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins  (Mayo): I thank the Minister for his fine contribution and his kind comments on my appointment. I congratulate him on his appointment to the prestigious position of Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I assure him that Members on this side of the House will, as always, be constructive in their comments.

Fine Gael welcomes the Government's introduction of this Bill which will incorporate the European Union Convention on the establishment of a European Police Office and its two Protocols into Irish law. The convention was drawn up in 1995 and the two Protocols in 1996 and 1997. I take this opportunity to congratulate the previous Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, on her sterling work on behalf of the State in contributing to the successful conclusion of these instruments.

Deputy Owen's tenure in the ministry for Justice will go down in history as the most energetic and productive period in the development of Irish criminal justice. She introduced radical and far-reaching measures to tackle crime, particularly organised crime, within the State. However, she was also keenly aware of the trans-national nature of much of the crime doing greatest damage to our society, namely, drug-related crime and the money laundering which often accompanies it.

The existing Europol drugs unit, which was intended as an interim measure, has, as the Minister stated, had a significant impact on improving the fight against such crimes as drug trafficking, illegal car trafficking, money laundering and, more recently, trafficking in human beings. It has shown that a properly constituted unit which is adequately resourced can be extremely effective in combating crime. The former Minister for Justice, [947] Deputy Owen, brought this Bill to Cabinet on 11 February 1997 and Government approval was given for drafting, with the specific purpose that the success of the EDU should be built on with ever greater capabilities under the Europol police office.

One of the achievements of the Government comprising Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left was the amount of legislation it introduced in connection with justice, particularly criminal justice, and law reform. The Europol Bill is one of the measures inherited by the current Government and I am glad it is now being brought before the Oireachtas. Co-operation in exchanging, collating and analysing information on crime is crucial. It is crucial, not alone in combating what might be described as established or orthodox crime but also in the early detection of new criminal activity which criminal ingenuity unfortunately conjures up occasionally. I am pleased that at the signing of the convention, Ireland made a declaration that it accepted the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in accordance with Article 2 (a) of the Protocol.

This Bill is also welcome in that it not only consolidates the work of the EDU and expands on the types of crime covered by Europol but also because it widens the co-operation network to embrace not only police activities but also to include liaison with international organisations. There is the added dimension that liaison and co-operation will also take place between Europol and third countries.

I do not doubt this Bill will be warmly welcomed by the Garda Síochána as a further instrument in enhancing its capacity to deal with crime. I know the Garda will relish the opportunity of building on the tremendous work it has already done in putting paid to the activities of many of the managers of organised crime by participating in our new national unit which will be an integral part of Europol.

The previous Government was extremely proud of the new powers it conferred on the Garda Síochána, particularly the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill. Coupled with the determination and success of the Criminal Assets Bureau, the organisers of criminal operations have been dealt a succession of devastating body blows. Criminals are now on the run as never before. Many of them have fled this jurisdiction to exile, their empires crumbling under the sustained assault of the new legislation and new powers. This Bill, which provides for the rapid and regular exchange of up to the minute information and the pooling of intelligence, will further assist in clamping down on organised crime. Terrorism has to met in a full frontal manner, thwarted and combated. We look forward to monitoring, on an ongoing basis, the success of this project on which we are now embarking.

However, there is greater scope and a basic requirement for further productive liaison and co-operation in the area of crime. Collectively as [948] Europeans we need to scrutinise the fundamentals. We need to study the origins of crime. For example, what turns a ten year old into a gangster? We need to work out a series of effective early interventions so criminal activity can be nipped in the bud or create the kind of social conditions in which crime becomes less likely.

I commend the Department of Justice for publishing in May of this year its excellent study and discussion paper, Tackling Crime. This is the first such exercise by the Department of Justice. It is an excellent document setting out in detail a myriad of facts about crime including homicide, violence against women, drugs, armed crime, the need to improve information, criminal law, the Garda Síochána, prosecution of offences and legal aid, courts, prisons, community sanctions and the victims of crime. There is also a section on international co-operation, including an analysis of the work of the European Drugs Unit as well as a preview of Europol.

Of particular interest is the excellent section emphasising the need to broaden the debate on crime by the introduction of a crime council, modelled very much on the same lines as the extremely successful Danish Crime Council. The document delves in considerable depth into an examination of goals and strategies. It is a stimulating, thorough and thoughtful document laden with a range of constructive possibilities and ideas. It was widely acclaimed when it was published, yet what was the response of the then Opposition spokesperson, now Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform?

The document was dismissed by Deputy O'Donoghue as “to a large extent a restatement of the obvious and an election selection box which must be treated with grave cynicism”. “Grave cynicism”— what a great, grave and solemn soundbite. This from the gentleman, who had just published a Fianna Fáil policy document, Leading the Fight Against Crime, a pamphlet full of the same overblown, overstated, pompous rhetoric that characterised the Minister's period as Opposition Justice spokesperson.

That analysis of the document is not mine alone. The Irish Times dismissed Deputy O'Donoghue's attempt as an “unimpressive little document, devoid of fact, analysis, costings or reflection”. That was when zero tolerance made a sudden and dramatic appearance, promising a crime free Utopia. However, I am pleased that Minister O'Donoghue in his zero tolerance somersault in Galway last week also seemed to be in the process of developing another partial “U” turn on the merits of the Department of Justice's Tackling Crime document by grudgingly acknowledging that it is “a worthy initiative”.

I still do not know what the Minister's policy on zero tolerance is. He seems to have watered it down to essentially dealing with drugs. Tolerance indicates that something is tolerated. There has always been a policy of zero tolerance in relation to drugs. The acts of successive Governments in tightening the clamp on drugs finally resulted in [949] drug pushers and barons going on the run. Is it the Minister's intention to equate all crimes, minor and major, on the same scale of priority and gravity? If it is, the Minister will fill prisons, clog courts and make it more difficult for the Garda to operate. The trust between the Garda and the community, which is so fundamental to successful cross-community partnership between the Garda and the citizenry, will be ruptured. This partnership is necessary if we are to solve minor and major crimes by using the intelligence the public provide.

The 1992 Inter-Departmental Group on Crime and Disorder went a long way towards seeking to improve understanding of the background to crime. It set out in clear detail a list of social and environmental factors which I believe cause or influence criminal activity. In the context of understanding crime, this study should be looked at in further detail.

One of the areas selected for particular mention is poorly planned housing. What hope is there when thousands of people are condemned for life to huge monstrosities of flats, with large families grouped on top of each other, with few, if any, amenities such as shops, access to professional services, community halls or playgrounds? Despite the fact that the social chaos of such housing has long been recognised, the disaster continues to be repeated and replicated by the erection of thousands of little boxes as the urban sprawl eats its way into the countryside and huge badly planned housing estates with no amenities or social planning are built on an ongoing basis.

In these huge local authority schemes, few, if any, of the residents feel they have any stake in society, particularly when there is blanket second and third generation unemployment from one end of the estate to the other. What hope is there for the thousands of young people who fall off the education conveyor belt at 15 years of age or earlier? Often not a single teenager from terrace after terrace sits the leaving certificate, let alone enjoys the opportunity of attending a third level college.

Why should anyone wonder that such social and economic deprivation provides easy and fertile pickings for the drug barons and their pushers? The reality is that these people have been the victims of social and economic neglect, discarded by society and by Government and left to carve out their own existence in hopeless ghettos. Their lot has always been extremely difficult because of social and economic deprivation. There is no hope of doing anything until the drugs problem is successfully tackled. The strongest possible measures must be implemented to deal with the supply in the market, but measures to reduce the demand must be tackled with equal vigour and imagination. Fifteen or 20 years ago drugs were mainly a Dublin problem. Slowly but surely they penetrated other cities, they are now a reality in all provincial towns and the age threshold has been pushed down relentlessly.

A sustained drugs awareness programme must [950] be implemented using all the organisations and resources at our disposal. It must become an ingrained part of the education process at primary school level. Children need to be shown graphically the awful consequences of drugs, the despair, the destruction and death. They need to be enlightened and frightened about the reality of drugs. They must be reached at school level before being exposed to the dangers. The school system is a powerful agency, so let us make use of it. Substance abuse education is far more important than any other subject on the syllabus.

We must adopt a multifaceted approach to the drugs problem. The Tackling Crime document refers to interagency co-operation and community involvement. Unless youngsters have something to do after school, unless there are attractive alternatives, activities to fill in the vacuum and recreational facilities to house such activities, in the modern climate young people are easy prey for drug exploitation. Community involvement in getting a collective consensus for action is crucial if the problem is to be rooted out.

In a newspaper article last Sunday the retiring Garda Assistant Commissioner, Tom King, spoke about the success of Operation Dóchas after one year in operation. He spoke about how communities now believe the Garda response has been real and sustained and has brought a meaningful change in the quality of people's lives and in the relationship with the Garda Síochána. He is pleased at the new awakening in these communities to the point where they are now seeking to manage their own affairs and where they have the courage and conviction to demand a quality service from State agencies, including the Garda Síochána.

These communities need leadership from within and without. They need community leaders, paid by the State, to devise and implement imaginable and workable community programmes. When in Opposition the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, proclaimed “money is not an issue and, in fact, must never be an issue”. It costs approximately £40,000 per year to keep a prisoner in jail. For the cost of keeping a single prisoner in jail for one year one could train and pay three community leaders, people with vision, leadership qualities, motivation and a capacity to bring communities along with them.

The involvement of parents is central to this problem. Many communities have shown they have the goodwill and genuinely want positive lives and lifestyles, but they need leadership, encouragement and resources. The cost is put very clearly in context when one considers the £220 million of capital expenditure promised by Fianna Fáil for additional prison spaces and the £74 million in annual current expenditure to run our prisons. Expenditure of that nature would make an enormous contribution to the economic and social transformation of north Cork city, Gallenstown, Ballyfermot, Dublin inner city, Coolock, Darndale, Ballymun or Southill in Limerick.

If we are serious about learning from the social [951] catastrophe of building unserviced concrete local authority jungles, many of which have become the universities of crime, we must call a halt now. There must be purposeful and integrated planning with proper guidelines that set a direct ratio between the number of houses built and minimum specified social and recreational services.

The Europol Bill is but one example of community co-operation at international level. It is one welcome piece in the crime jigsaw. The Justice and Home Affairs Council should seriously consider maximising co-operation across a range of areas including the study of the origins, causes and sources of crime. Crime has many common dimensions, denominators, themes and so on. During our Presidency we identified the fight against drugs as a priority. We should lead the way by launching this initiative.

The bulk of the Bill is devoted to the six schedules which include the Irish and English language versions of the European Convention and its Protocols. I am pleased that Irish, as a Treaty language of the EU, is being given its rightful place. I hope the Government takes steps to ensure bilingual versions of all Irish statutes are brought up to date and published, as required under Article 25.4.4 of the Constitution.

Section 3 is probably the most significant measure in terms of domestic law. It proposes to establish a national unit, as required by article 4 of the convention. This unit, which will comprise mainly members of the Garda and customs officials, will be the only liaison body between Europol and the law enforcement agencies of the State. As such, it bears a heavy responsibility in terms of gathering, maintaining and supplying highly sensitive information. This is clearly necessary for the effective operation of Europol and every member state has a vested interest in its success.

Section 3 is written in very broad discretionary language and merely authorises the Garda Commissioner to appoint to the unit as many members of the Garda as he thinks fit from time to time. Likewise, the Minister for Justice, following consultation with the Commissioner and the Minister for Finance, may from time to time appoint customs and excise officers to the unit. The Minister spoke of potential members when he referred to customs and excise officers. The Bill should stipulate that there should always be a combination of gardaí, customs officers and perhaps other professionals in the unit. Will the Minister review this provision, to which I may return on Committee Stage? The customs and excise service has a great deal of expertise in this area and should definitely be part of this new and valuable service.

Data protection is of the utmost importance in a co-operative enterprise of this kind. This is clearly recognised in article 25 of the convention. No effort must be spared to strike a proper balance between effectively combating crime and protecting the liberties of the individual. Data must be accurate and closely protected, particularly [952] as article 8 of the convention allows for data on persons who are suspected of having committed an offence to be entered in the information bank which comes within Europol's remit, as well as on those who have committed such offences. Furthermore, the same article allows for information to be entered in respect of persons who there are serious grounds under national law for believing will commit criminal offences for which Europol is competent under article 2. It is clear, therefore, that persons may be included in this information system on the grounds of suspicion alone, as opposed to the more firm ground of having been convicted.

While it is accepted that police agencies must have regard to the intelligence available to them and remain alert to those genuinely suspected of being involved in crime, the necessity for stringent safeguards in such cases must also be accepted. Therefore, I welcome the provisions of section 6 to apply the provisions of the Data Protection Act, 1988 to the processing etc. of information gathered under the terms of the convention and the designation in section 7 of the Data Protection Commission as “the national supervisory body for the purposes of this Act and the Convention”. Bodies such as the Data Protection Commission are constantly being asked to assume greater responsibilities as our legal system becomes ever more complex. I hope the Government will ensure that whatever additional staffing and resources are necessary will be made available to the Data Protection Commissioner to facilitate him in the execution of his duties under this convention.

The conclusion of the Europol Treaty and its Protocols, to which the outgoing Government made a major contribution, constitutes another important step forward in European integration, a fact recognised by this Government through its speedy introduction of this Bill. Without such full co-operation with our European partners we cannot hope to deal with one of our most pressing social problems, that of crime. It is important that we carefully consider the domestic provisions of this Bill and be satisfied as to their effectiveness. Subject to these reservations I support the general thrust of this Bill.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate, my first as spokesperson on justice for my party. I thank the Minister for his good wishes. In turn I congratulate him on his ministerial appointment and genuinely wish him well in his new and very considerable responsibilities.

I intend to be a forthright spokesperson on justice, prepared to advocate and support difficult and tough measures whenever necessary, but also determine that the proverbial “quick fix” which all too often dominated debate on crime will be exposed for what it is. Empty rhetoric, of which we heard much from members of the Minister's party before and during the last general election campaign, will need to be replaced by well [953] thought out and concerted action, to which we look forward. The Minister referred a number of times to zero tolerance and to his many proposals within the remit of his portfolio, to some of which I shall respond later.

The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to the European Convention on the establishment of a European police office or Europol, that convention being among the first resolutions agreed under the third pillar of the Maastricht Treaty under the heading of Justice and Home Affairs, providing for a systematic scheme of co-operation between national police forces throughout the European Union to tackle crime without frontiers.

The world has changed substantially over the past two decades. Twenty years ago national Governments reigned supreme, managed their economies, promulgated and passed their own laws. The fact that laws varied from country to country mattered little; national frontiers were crucial, having been protected by exchange controls and customs barriers. Organised crime, such as did exist, also tended to be local. Those days have passed. The revolution in communications and transport which has taken place over the past ten to 20 years has dramatically changed the world in which we live. In an era in which money can change hands simultaneously in a number of different countries national Governments have found themselves powerless to intervene. Consequently, the European Community evolved into the European Union as member states realised that political co-operation was and is essential to enable them remain in control of events.

The issue of security and crime in this State over the past 25 years or so has revolved around the issue of Northern Ireland. Thankfully, due to a combination of the peace process and the two ceasefires that position has changed dramatically. This convention was signed by the outgoing Government within whose term of office and that of its predecessor the threat posed to our society by drugs and organised crime replaced Northern Ireland as our key criminal concern.

This Bill is timely since over the past 12 months we have begun to turn the tide against drug pushers. Thankfully, the days when we read of the exploits of the General, the Penguin or other individuals with nick names, living lives of luxury and opulence around Dublin, are beginning to be something of the past.

It is crucial that we understand the reason for our beginning to be successful in this fight. Recently the Minister made great play of what he described as his Proceeds of Crime Act, which is unquestionably important and I am happy to concede his role in having it placed on the Statute Book. Nonetheless I do not consider it to be the main reason we have begun to win the battle against drug barons and organised crime. Without doubt the key to that success has been the establishment, long overdue, of the Criminal Assets Bureau, in the run-up to which I and other Members had been pressing the then Minister for [954] Justice to improve the degree of co-operation between the various arms of our security forces. The fact that we read regularly about the exploits of various senior criminals in this State, particularly in the pages of the Sunday Independent, graphically illustrated for us by the late Veronica Guerin, indicated the completely inadequate state of our inter-agency co-operation at that stage. The establishment of proper and appropriate inter-agency co-operation has been responsible for the improved position.

After the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau the fight against the drug barons was launched on all fronts and critically it was undertaken in a co-ordinated manner. They immediately began to feel the heat and were no longer in a position to enjoy the proceeds of their evil trade. For the first time the professionals who assisted in laundering drugs money — a crime which must be regarded as being as vile as handing children heroin — were also subjected to considerable pressure, resulting in many drug barons being forced to leave this country. Those drug barons who previously dominated the pages of our tabloid and other newspapers now live in exile in places like London and Amsterdam, where no doubt they continue to run their so-called business empires through the use of intermediaries but the days when they could act with equanimity have passed. For example, the individual who described himself as the chief suspect in the murder of Veronica Guerin is in London awaiting extradition here.

Debate adjourned.


Last Updated: 21/05/2011 03:34:22 First Page Previous Page Page of 414 Next Page Last Page