Europol Bill 2012

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann, 4th October 2012

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The Bill ensures that Europol becomes part of the EU Institutional framework and is a timely and sensible measure.

Europol assists EU member states in fighting serious international crime, including terrorism, international drug trafficking, money laundering, organised fraud, counterfeiting, human trafficking and cybercrime.

The fact that Europol does not have the powers of a national police force is one of its strengths; it relies on facilitating the exchange of information between Member States and co-ordinating cross-jurisdictional operations. Rather than posing a threat for European citizens, it simply facilitates members to compile the best possible information in the fight against crime. In fact, while Europol cannot arrest people or cannot conduct home searches, it has still proved a particularly effective weapon and has been responsible for the arrest of thousands of dangerous criminals and the recovery of millions of euro in criminal proceeds.

The trafficking of children for sexual exploitation is something that Europol has been particularly effective in combatting, but a huge task remains in this respect to ensure that children within the borders of Europe remain safe from traffickers.

Globalisation has become an aspect of everyday life and it is so embedded in our lives that it is hard to comprehend that Europol or the European Police was first referenced just 20 years ago and came into force just 14 years ago.

The abolition of internal borders between Member States in the late 1990s necessitated the creation of Interpol as it made it easier for criminals to move from one state to another. As time moved on, so too did science and the present Bill gives greater clarity on the use of data, particularly regarding DNA profiles, a very welcome development.

Many people, when considering the activities of Interpol, will see it as an agency that can help safeguard Irish people from unscrupulous criminals elsewhere in Europe, but in fact Europol has been busy in recent years focusing on the activities of a number of Irish gangs involved in drugs, robbery and other forms of illegal activity, across Europe.

In the past year Europol and Gardaí have been working to counteract the actions of an organised crime gang from Ireland involved in the theft of rhino horns. The gang has been responsible for thefts from antique dealers, galleries, museums and zoos and their activities led to the Natural History Museum withdrawing rhino horns from display in March 2012.

Two years ago, a bunker near Borris-in-Ossory was found to contain an elaborate counterfeiting set-up, printing euro, pounds and dollars, while ‘Operation Shovel’ focused on a violent gang of Irish-based criminals involved in the trafficking of drugs and weapons.

Meanwhile, the activities of Interpol have also resulted in the identification of cigarette smuggling operations, the identification of Vietnamese groups cultivating cannabis on a large scale and disrupting the activities of a Lithuanian organised crime gang involved in theft and robberies.

In the past ten years, the number of staff employed by Europol has more than doubled, now standing at 777, with just 18 of those staff members being Irish.

I particularly welcome the provision in the current Bill that removes the need for an organised criminal structure to be involved before Europol can act and instead it now suffices that the crime is listed in an Annex, which includes such crime as drug trafficking, terrorism, money laundering, murder and kidnapping.

The availability of high-speed internet throughout Europe has certainly made the internet more attractive for consumers, but unfortunately it has also made it more attractive for criminals and the ability of Europol to deal with internet-related fraud and crime in general will have to be enhanced in coming years as the criminals become ever more sophisticated in the methods they are employing.

The sharing of information between various jurisdictions is vital in the fight against international crime, but I welcome the fact that the Data Protection Commissioner is designated in Ireland as the supervisory body under the Bill and I have every confidence that the Commissioner will ensure that Irish citizens are safeguarded from any exploitation of the information collected or collated by Interpol.
This Bill seeks to improve the effectiveness and co-operation of law enforcement authorities in Member States across Europe to prevent serious crime. It builds on the Europol Act of 1997, taking cognisance of advancements in various areas in the intervening years and updating the Bill as necessary to ensure that the work of Interpol is properly represented on the Irish statute books.