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European Union Regulation: Motion (Continued)

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1006 No. 3
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy James Browne: Information on James Browne Zoom on James Browne] They also may not have the resources or the infrastructure to process such data. The amendments would provide legal clarity around the processing of data, the implementation of data protection safeguards and the boundaries for data storage.

The proposed regulation seeks to strengthen the role of Europol in regard to research and innovation, addressing any gaps that may exist for law enforcement authorities. It would also allow Europol to engage in research activities that include the development, training, testing and validation of algorithms for the development of new tools. This is a highly technical area that will allow Europol to help member states to make the most of the opportunities that new technologies can offer.

The proposed regulation aims to strengthen Europol's co-operation with third countries on preventing and countering serious and organised crime and terrorism. Serious crime does not stop at the European borders and co-operation with third countries will be of particular importance to Ireland given that our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom, now has third country status. A new provision will outline Europol's co-operation with the European Public Prosecutor's Office, EPPO, through the exchange of information, provision of analytical support and specialist knowledge in criminal investigations. Europol would also be obligated to report criminality falling within the mandate of the EPPO.

The draft regulation seeks to further clarify that Europol may request, in specific cases where it considers that a criminal investigation should be initiated, the competent authorities of a member state to initiate, conduct or co-ordinate the investigation of a crime. Currently, Europol can request a member state to initiate an investigation. The member state should then respond within one month to such a request, and if it decides not to agree, provide reasons to Europol. Europol can only request an investigation that affects two or more member states. The proposal is to amend this to allow Europol to request an investigation into a crime that is not a cross-border crime, where Europol has formed the view that the crime in question is detrimental to the European Union.

The draft regulation aims to further strengthen the data protection framework and oversight applicable to Europol. It proposes to outline the designation, position and tasks of the data protection officer, DPO, of Europol. This is to highlight the importance of the DPO as an independent function where he or she can ensure the compliance of Europol with the data protection provisions and safeguards within the regulation. It should be remembered that the 2016 Europol regulation was negotiated before the completion of the negotiations on the GDPR. Finally, it seeks to strengthen parliamentary oversight and accountability of Europol. Europol is ultimately responsible to the home affairs Ministers of the European Union. It currently reports on a regular basis to the internal security working group of the Council. Providing Europol with additional tools and capabilities requires a reinforcement of its oversight and accountability arrangements. There are new proposals for joint scrutiny by the Council and by the European Parliament and new reporting obligations for Europol.

The continuously evolving security threats call for effective EU-level support to national law enforcement authorities such as An Garda Síochána. These threats spread across borders. They facilitate a variety of crimes and manifest themselves in organised crime groups engaged in a range of criminal activities. Action at national level will not suffice to address these transnational security challenges. Europol is well-positioned to provide the support that member states need to address such challenges. A decision by Ireland to opt in to this measure would be seen as a demonstration of our continued commitment to the effective functioning of Europol and to the wider security of the European Union. Our participation in Europol is vital to our national interest and we look forward to continuing to playing an active role with the agency.

I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies and I urge them to support the motion.

Deputy Martin Kenny: Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny I thank the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister, Deputy McEntee, on the birth of her baby boy this morning. I wish them all the best for the future. Having children is one of the greatest adventures of life. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, embarks on a new adventure today.

Sinn Féin supports the motion. The role of Europol in cross-border policing has developed over many years. It is vital to ensure we keep people safe everywhere. The world is now a much smaller place, as is Europe. When we exit the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic, we will, hopefully, be able to travel freely again. That is a vital part of what we need to be able to do in Europe. Freedom of movement, freedom of capital and so on, which are at the core of the Europe Union, open up opportunity for criminal gangs and serious crime on a cross-border basis. This has to be addressed. I recognise that much of the crime which Europol is engaged in and investigating is the serious crime of drug trafficking, as well as people trafficking and other crimes of that nature which need to be dealt with appropriately. An Garda Síochána has a role to play here and it is playing that role.

I recently dealt with a case where a person had two children taken out of this country to another country. It is difficult to deal with law enforcement agencies in one's own country, but dealing with them in several countries at the same time is very stressful for families or individuals. Greater co-operation and integration between security forces, particularly police forces across member states, is vital in that regard. Europol is a key part of that.

The main point of this particular motion is to ensure there is co-operation with private parties as set out in the Minister of State's speech, which includes communications and online companies. I am interested to know if that includes private security firms, which can often be unregulated. We have had issues with them in this country, but in many other countries, they are very unregulated. We need to focus on how that is operating in other countries as well. We are dealing with this particular motion in an Irish context but it also has a reach into every other country in Europe, where it has to deal with variants of regulation in the different sectors within those countries and also different legal regimes and applications of the law within those countries. The legal systems in Ireland and in Britain are different to those in most countries in Europe. That is an issue of which we need to be conscious and aware.

Many people have had reason to deal with problems at an international level. It can sometimes be very difficult for people to deal with the forces of law and order in other countries at arm's length. There is, perhaps, a role here for An Garda Síochána to link up with people in this country who are trying to deal with such issues and to assist them in their dealings with law enforcement agencies in other states.

Europol has expanded and developed its technology and its way of doing things. As we know, it is based in The Hague and it has over 1,000 employees, which number will probably grow into the future. We are in a time when, apart from a global virus pandemic, we have a global crime pandemic. I mentioned the issue of people trafficking. Europe needs to address the issue of criminal gangs bringing people into many countries in Europe, including Ireland, where many of them are abused in the sex trade, which is not a trade but the abuse of human beings. This can only be dealt with at an international level. There needs to be a real focus on address of that crime. The issues of data and analysis of large-scale data are also addressed in the motion. It is clear to all that we need to have in place the resources to deal with international crime and the large, and often hidden, means by which they can operate.

I commend the Government on bringing forward the motion. The deadline in terms of opt-in is fast approaching. I suggest that in future we should try to deal with these matters more promptly than close to deadlines. I am sure the Minister of State would agree. As I said, Sinn Féin supports the motion and we hope it progresses through the Houses with great speed.


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