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 Header Item Leaders' Questions (Continued)
 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions
 Header Item Economic Management Council Meetings

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 861 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] The convention applies only to criminal matters. It does not apply to intelligence gathering. Essentially, where a lawful interception order is in place in one EU in relation to the investigation of serious crime, it can be given effect in another country upon request in accordance with the domestic law implementing the convention. In Ireland, the arrangements in place will reflect the provision of the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993. That includes oversight by a designated High Court judge. The provision relating to in camera hearings arises because it would not be appropriate in open court to disclose who might be the subject of an interception order in the investigation of serious crime.

  I cannot comment on the allegation of wholesale interception of Irish telephone calls by Britain. That is a matter on which I will come back to the Deputy in the context of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Justice and Equality. I do not have the answer here.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace I am disappointed the Taoiseach does not know whether we have illegally authorised the monitoring of the sea cable. I am sure the Taoiseach is aware that in April of this year, the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of Digital Rights Ireland and declared the European directive on data retention invalid owing to its serious interference with private life and freedom of expression, thus violating the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Taoiseach said we are signing up to a commitment made under the Lisbon treaty but Part 3 is part of an Act introduced in 2008 and things have moved on since then. The fact that Digital Rights Ireland won that case this year changes the goalposts a good bit. It is now possible that we may be breaking different rules in Europe by signing up to this. What assessment of the 2008 law was done following the judgment in Digital Rights Ireland's European Court of Justice case to ensure that the law is in compliance with the European Charter of Fundamental Rights?

We have a serious problem with mass surveillance. Recently, the US was found guilty of spying on Petrobras, the Brazilian oil company, an economic summit, the IMF, the World Bank and the international credit card system, all to gain economic advantage in international competitiveness.

I refer to the type of industries around information which have set up in Ireland. The idea that GCHQ is tapping into cables and getting all the information it wants and sharing it with whoever it wants around the planet should worry the Government.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I saw the media reports that GCHQ in the UK was tapping into undersea communications cables. The media reports actually suggest that if such surveillance is being carried out, it is being carried out within the UK's own jurisdiction. Each country makes its own arrangements to have a capacity to intercept communications but I would expect that any such surveillance by any country would have to have a proper legal basis and that the interference is proportionate to the aim for which it is intended. As the Deputy pointed out, there would be understandable concern if the general principle of the privacy of communications was not being respected.

The need for the protection of people from terrorists and other criminal threats is acknowledged but the point must be made that it is necessary to ensure that the information is properly obtained and subject to appropriate safeguards, in particular in those cases. I would expect that the UK would follow these principles as well.

This matter is being investigated by the European Commission. As I said, these matters are governed by legislation in this jurisdiction and there is no question of any form of mass surveillance here. Furthermore, the relevant legislation is overseen by a designated judge of the High Court and the reports are laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. Ireland will reiterate its belief at international fora and elsewhere that the principles I just mentioned are adhered to.

The story was based primarily on the grounds that if there had been any tapping or interception of these undersea cables, it occurred outside our jurisdiction. While the article did not specifically address that issue, any tapping or interception of these communications would likely have occurred within the jurisdiction of the UK and would presumably be covered by EU law.

As the Deputy knows, these communications cables are owed by commercial companies. Irish companies, such as Eircom, have an interest in some of the cables. The report goes on to say that the Irish owned cables in question, including those which link Ireland with the US and Canada, are routed through the UK. The matter is being investigated by the Commission. There is no question of mass surveillance here and the collection of any such data would have to be in accordance with the legislation laid down, which, in our case, is overseen by a High Court judge. The reports are laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Ceisteanna - Questions

Economic Management Council Meetings

 1. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny if the Economic Management Council has met recently. [35603/14]

 2. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny when the last Economic Management Council meeting took place. [36518/14]

 3. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny the position regarding the Economic Management Council. [37631/14]

 4. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny when the last meeting of the Economic Management Council took place. [39817/14]

 5. Deputy Joe Higgins Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny when the last Economic Management Council took place. [41694/14]

 6. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny the position regarding the status of the Economic Management Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43794/14]

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.

  The Economic Management Council has been established with the status of a Cabinet committee and it has four members: the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The Economic Management Council last met on 26 November 2014.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach did not answers Questions Nos. 3 and 6, which I tabled and which basically asked him to make a statement on the position regarding the Economic Management Council and the position regarding the status of the Economic Management Council.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I said it has the status of a Cabinet committee.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The reason I put the questions in that form was that I was amused by the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, who on "The Week in Politics" programme articulated the view that there would be changes to the status of the Economic Management Council, that it would be the subject matter of a review and that he was not entirely happy with its position within Cabinet. Prior to becoming Tánaiste, Deputy Burton was very critical of the Economic Management Council and the degree to which it kept other Cabinet members offside and out of the loop in terms of decision-making and budgetary issues.

  A number of articles have been written about the constitutionality of the Economic Management Council in that many key decisions are now taken by that council. By the time they get to Cabinet, they are faits accomplis. It is a very dangerous situation where the majority of the Cabinet is essentially excluded from the detailed decision-making required on a range of issues.

  I would like to illustrate one example, the Irish Water debacle - the establishment of Irish Water, the decision to spend €500 million on water meters and close to €200 million on the establishment of the utility itself. The Economic Management Council signed off on that and the result has been one of the worst examples of a lack of fundamental accountability to the Cabinet, the Oireachtas and to the people of Ireland. It was a scandalous waste of money. We now have meters in the ground that will never be used. They are pointless in so far as we will have a flat charge for a number of years, which will probably continue.


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