International Agreements: Motion

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 754 No. 3

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Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter  Zoom on Alan Shatter  I move:

As Deputies will be aware, our citizens currently benefit from Ireland’s eligibility to participate in the visa waiver programme, VWP, of the United States. Following the events of 11 September 2001, the United States has set standards which it requires participating states to meet if they wish to ensure continuing eligibility for the VWP. The conclusion of an agreement on enhancing co-operation in preventing and combating serious crime, such as this one, is among the requirements set down by the United States. Similar agreements have been, or are in the course of being, finalised between the United States and 19 other European Union member states.

[314]Deputies may wish to note that the agreement draws inspiration from, and mirrors very much, the EU Council Decision of 2008, the Prüm treaty, on stepping up cross-border co-operation, particularly in combating terrorism and cross-border crime, the aim of which is to improve police co-operation through the exchange of fingerprint and DNA data.

Briefly, the agreement provides that fingerprint and DNA reference data from each country’s national database should be shared in specific defined circumstances, namely, for the prevention, detection and investigation of serious crime. The agreement therefore permits a national contact point, designated by each party, to access and search the fingerprint reference data and DNA reference data of the other party. The purpose of the search is to establish if there is a match with data held by the requested state. The process does not involve the exchange of data at this stage. It merely establishes if identical data exist in the other state’s database, that is to say a “hit or “no hit” search facility.

Should the search procedure show a match between DNA profiles or fingerprint data, the supply of any relevant further data is governed by the national law, including the provisions of the mutual legal assistance treaty between Ireland and the United States. Therefore, any transmission of additional data by An Garda Síochána will be governed by Irish law. As I mentioned, the provisions of the mutual legal assistance treaty between Ireland and the United States will also apply. The treaty provides that mutual legal assistance shall be afforded for the purpose of investigation with a view to a criminal prosecution. Assistance will not be available, therefore, in cases where no prosecution or referral for prosecution takes place.

Provision for the mutual legal assistance treaty between Ireland and the USA is already made in our domestic legislation by virtue of the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008. The threshold for criminal activity under Irish law for the purposes of this agreement is criminal activity which attracts a prison sentence of 12 months or more.

The Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill will facilitate the establishment and operation of a DNA database for criminal investigation purposes, a commitment in the programme for Government. Work is progressing on the preparation of the legislation. The Bill will enable Ireland to meet its obligations arising from the agreement in relation to DNA data.

The Garda Síochána’s criminal automated fingerprint identification system, AFIS, is currently operational. However, it requires further development to allow it to accept remote searching of its records as required by the Prüm treaty. This work is currently being carried out and it will also facilitate the operation of the Ireland-US agreement.

International co-operation between states is an essential component in combating the ever-increasing global nature of criminal activity, in particular organised crime. Since the events of 11 September 2001, the world has become aware that no country is safe from the threat of international terrorism. Despite the extensive progress made in our own peace process, we must remain mindful of the threat posed here by dissident activities.

We must also recognise that there are other elements in society that have a contemptuous disregard for the rule of law and are prepared to take any measure to subvert it. I refer in particular to organised criminal gangs that have shown themselves capable of activities in furtherance of their interests not just within the confines of the State but also beyond its border. This agreement will provide the US and Ireland with a valuable resource in seeking to combat these threats. I commend this motion to the House.

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary  Zoom on Dara Calleary  We will support the motion. Our participation in the visa waiver programme is another testament to the strong links between Ireland the US. These links are [315]economic, cultural and social and extend to every aspect of life in and part of our country. The experience of travelling to the US now is much enhanced over the experience that obtained prior to our participation in the programme. However, it comes with responsibilities which the Minister has outlined. During Question Time, we discussed the complexities involved in dealing with international crime, including terrorism. The agreement forms part of that approach.

I do not doubt that our citizens have nothing to fear from our participation in this programme. On Committee Stage, we raised issues with the Minister in respect of spent convictions and so on. He intends to deal with them in new legislation later this year. We support the agreement and the continuing strength of the relationship between Ireland and the US.

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien  Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien  In principle, we are not opposed to the sharing of information or enhanced co-operation in combating serious crime. However, it is important that the rights of the individual be respected and upheld. For this reason, proper procedures and safety mechanisms need to be put in place. Greater clarity concerning the agreement is also required. For instance, we need to know what exactly is being shared, with whom, who is responsible for the data once they have been shared, who the contact points are, how the deletion of information takes place, who is responsible for its deletion and how the country that supplies the information can know that the other participant to the agreement has deleted the information. Possible amendments to the agreement have been mentioned. We need to know whether they will be presented to the committee and the House before they are agreed.

Article 7 relates to national contact points. In Ireland, the Garda will be the contact point. Who will be the contact point in the US? Will it be the CIA or Homeland Security? We do not know who it will be. Nor do we know what safeguards are being put in place to ensure the information we share is used for no other reason than that which is proposed in the agreement. We have no guarantee and no way of checking that the information we share will be deleted after the proposed timeframe.

The list of data to be shared is long and includes surnames, aliases, the spelling of names, current and former nationalities and dates and places of birth. We will be handing over a great deal of information to America, yet there is no indication as to who will be responsible for it and for what it will be used. On Committee Stage, I raised the question of Article 13 with the Minister. It refers to preventing serious threats to public security, but nothing in the agreement defines what constitutes a serious threat. This matter needs to be explained. The timeframes pose an issue. The right of the individual to correct the information supplied needs to be addressed.

For all of these reasons, we will not support the motion. It goes far beyond sharing information for the purpose of combating serious crime. We cannot support it.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly  Zoom on Clare Daly  Despite the Minister’s claim, this is a case of sharing fingerprint and DNA information collected in Ireland with the US authorities. Under the process, when a hit is made, it triggers a system of information exchange. The definition of serious crime as one where a sentence of 12 months or longer is given is ambiguous and would see many misdemeanours included.

As Deputy O’Brien stated, given the questions over DNA and individuals’ right to privacy, this situation must be strictly monitored. I have grave concerns about information belonging to Irish citizens being exchanged with the US, particularly when we consider how some of our citizens, such as Mr. Seán Garland, have been treated. Extradition proceedings were pursued against an elderly, ill person who denied all responsibility for the charges, yet he was persecuted. A campaign was run to ensure he received justice.

[316]The question of whether these standards are compliant with human rights is important. Why is the DNA being taken, what is the process used, for how long will the information be stored, can it be removed and who has access to it?

At the heart of this matter is the US regime. We are discussing combating terrorism, but there is such a thing as US terrorism and this issue needs to be considered. The standard of justice in the US is less than that enjoyed by our citizens. The American Civil Liberties Union has expressed grave concerns about the types of samples being maintained on databases, including the DNA of people who have not been convicted of anything yet are not allowed access to that information to prove their innocence. We only need to consider the example of Guantanamo Bay where more than 800 people have been detained during the past decade and of whom only six have been convicted. Is this the type of society with which we want to share our citizens’ DNA? The death penalty exists in many parts of the US. On the last day of last year, Congress passed an Act that, for the first time, enshrined in the US legal system the right to indefinite detention without charge, which is in direct violation of habeas corpus.

This agreement is an affront to the civil liberties and human rights of Irish citizens and nothing is given in return. The idea that introducing measures such as this will somehow make the world safer is a sick joke. Instead of descending into paranoia and introducing measures that undermine civil liberties and attack human rights, the US would be better off addressing the conditions that breed alienation and young people’s disenchantment, for example, poverty and US imperialism.

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 96; Níl, 24.

Information on Tom Barry  Zoom on Tom Barry  Barry, Tom. Information on Pat Breen  Zoom on Pat Breen  Breen, Pat.
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Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Clare Daly.

Question declared carried.

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