Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights
Dé Céadaoin, 19 Bealtaine 2004.
Wednesday, 19 May 2004.
The Joint Committee met at 4 p.m.
Deputy J. Callanan,*
Senator T. Leyden,
Deputy J. Costello,
Senator J. Walsh,
Deputy M. Hoctor,
Senator D. Wilson.+
Deputy M. McDowell,
Deputy F. McGrath,
Deputy S. Ó Fearghaíl,
Deputy P. Power,
*In the absence of Deputy D. O'Donovan.
+In the absence of Senator J. Walsh for part of meeting
In attendance: Deputy J. O'Keeffe.
DEPUTY S. ARDAGH IN THE CHAIR.
Justice and Home Affairs Council: Ministerial Presentation.
Chairman: I welcome the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and his officials to this meeting, the purpose of which is to receive a briefing from him on the most recent meetings of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, held in February, March and April this year, and on the forthcoming Council meeting. The last occasion on which the Minister briefed the committee on Council meetings was 26 November 2003. The joint committee subsequently embarked on its examination of the Barron report and therefore this is our first opportunity to re-engage in detailed discussions. Members have the information supplied by the Department and also copies of the Minister's speaking notes.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy McDowell): I thank the Chairman for inviting me to brief the members of the committee on the Justice and Home Affairs Council meetings and on the forthcoming Council meeting.
Justice and home affairs continues to represent a key area of activity for both the European Union and the Irish Presidency. Our Presidency of the Council has come at a crucial time in the creation of an area of freedom, security and justice foreseen by the Amsterdam treaty. The treaty set a deadline of 1 May 2004 for the adoption of specified measures to establish that area.
The year 2004 also marks the end of the more ambitious five year programme agreed by the Tampere European Council. Therefore, the key determinants of the agenda which fell to the Irish Presidency to pursue include making progress on the treaty requirements and taking forward work on the extended Tampere programme. We also decided to focus on promoting operational co-operation, particularly on police and customs.
Our Presidency has also coincided with the tragic events in Madrid on 11 March, which demanded a response at the level of the Union. The Irish Presidency and the Justice and Home Affairs Council have taken the lead in providing that response. That has meant an extremely active period in the justice and home affairs sector. The June meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council will be the sixth such meeting during our Presidency. Working groups preparing the work of the Council have met more than 100 times and my Department has hosted 11 major meetings or conferences in Ireland to date.
The five Justice and Home Affairs Councils we have had to date included the informal Council held in Dublin in January and the extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council held following the terrorist attack in Madrid. The final Council is planned for 8 June and I will address the agenda for that meeting at the end of my remarks.
I do not propose to deal separately with each of the Councils to date. Instead, I believe it would be useful to provide an overview of the progress in key justice and home affairs areas, as well as a very brief overview of the main outstanding items. I will also refer to the way in which the Presidency is progressing work on combating terrorism in the aftermath of the European Council declaration on combating terrorism.
As I mentioned, one of the central objectives of our Presidency programme was to make progress on the measures which had an Amsterdam treaty deadline of 1 May 2004. Two such measures, namely the asylum procedures directive and the asylum qualifications directive, had been the subject of discussion under successive Presidencies and were still outstanding at the beginning of our Presidency. The Irish officials set to work on a very structured basis to tease out the points of disagreement and negotiate a unanimous position thereon. I pay tribute to my officials for the wonderful work they did in that area. As a result we now have political agreement on the asylum procedures directive, which was achieved in May.
The April Council saw the formal adoption of the asylum qualifications directive, once again following intensive negotiations at the February and March Councils. Agreement on the two directives is a significant milestone in the development of a common European Union asylum policy. They represent, together with the Council regulation replacing the Dublin Convention and the asylum reception directive, the final two cornerstones of that policy. Their adoption also means that the time limits set by the Amsterdam treaty for this purpose have been met.
There has also been significant progress in the area of immigration. First, the Council directive on the obligations of carriers to communicate passenger data was adopted. This directive is supposed to improve border controls and combat illegal immigration. Also adopted was the Council decision on the organisation of joint flights for removals from the territory of two or more member states of third-country nationals. Also adopted was the directive on the residency permit to be afforded to victims of trafficking in human beings or other third country nationals who have been the subject of an action to facilitate illegal immigration who co-operate with the competent authorities. Effectively this is to encourage people to come forward. Member states afford an amnesty to those concerned if they are of good character and expose trafficking in human beings.
Political agreement has also been achieved on a number of other measures. Within the area of legal migration, agreement has been reached on the directive on the conditions of admission of third country nationals for the purposes of studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service. The main objective of this directive is to establish a harmonised legal framework for conditions for entry and residence of third country nationals for those purposes, for periods more than three months.
The regulation on the establishment of a European border management agency was politically agreed at the March Council. This agency will focus on operational co-operation in the management of the external borders of the member states of the European Union. It will be fully up and running in 2005.
Council conclusions on the development of a visa information system, VIS, were adopted at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in February. The VIS is an important instrument in the fight against fraud by improving exchanges of information between member states on visa applications.
Solid progress has been made in the area of judicial co-operation in civil law matters. The regulation on a European enforcement order for uncontested claims was formally adopted at our Council meeting of April 2004.
The Council directive relating to compensation for crime victims was adopted at the last Council in April. This measure had an adoption date of 1 May 2004, set by the European Council declaration on combating terrorism. This directive will ensure that all member states will have relevant national provisions in place by 1 July 2005 to ensure compensation to victims of violent intentional crime. It also contains rules which will come into effect on 1 January 2006 on access to compensation in cross-border cases.
A very significant achievement in the area of judicial co-operation in criminal matters to date was the securing of agreement on the framework decision on confiscation orders. Completion of work on this measure has been one of the priorities of the Irish Presidency. The framework decision is to enable co-operation between members states on the recognition and execution of orders to confiscate the proceeds of crime. It does not make the CAB regime general throughout Europe. CAB is well in advance of that. The European Council on combating terrorism referred to this framework measure and requested that it should be finalised no later than June 2004. Some work remains to be completed on a certificate to accompany the framework decision but I hope the Justice and Home Affairs Council will be able to meet the this deadline.
Sustained progress has also been made in the development of measures that will contribute to improving police co-operation, the fight against organised crime and drugs. The Presidency undertook to take forward work on the relevant action plans and work programmes, including the fight against drugs. Last week we had a very successful drugs conference in Dublin, which was designed to develop the new successor EU drugs strategy. It brought together representatives from all the member states and other international bodies, and it identified elements that should be included in the new EU drugs strategy for 2005 to 2009. That work will now be taken forward to the June Council and subsequently the incoming Netherlands Presidency.
Work is also continuing on the implementation of the recommendations of the Dublin Declaration, which resulted from the conference on organised crime at the Royal Hospital, hosted by the Irish Presidency last November. The conference emphasised the need for co-operation between the public and private sectors to reduce harm from organised crime. Likewise, decisions were made and handbooks prepared in regard to combating terrorism and violence at the European football championships in Portugal and protecting the Olympic Games. Co-operation in the customs area of the third pillar and a strategy for the period 2004-2006 has also been agreed. The Presidency will also bring forward an agreed proposal giving legal personality to the European police college.
After the Madrid atrocity on 11 March, I convened an extraordinary meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 19 March at which the one item on the agenda was the fight against terrorism. In preparation for the Council and with a view to the spring European Council meeting, the Presidency prepared a declaration on combating terrorism which was discussed by JHA ministers and subsequently by foreign ministers at the External Relations and General Affairs Council and was approved by the heads of state on 25 March.
The four basic priorities of the declaration are the need for a renewed impetus to work on relevant aspects of the legislative programme and the implementation of previously agreed measures; reinforcing operational co-operation through a strengthening of Europol, Eurojust and the police chiefs task force; improved arrangements for the sharing of intelligence; accelerating the development of EU-wide information systems; the introduction of biometric identifiers on passports and in the area of border controls; and a revised action plan on terrorism. Mr. Gijs de Vries has been appointed as the co-ordinator of the anti-terrorism programme within the Council secretariat. We have kept up the momentum from the Council declaration in subsequent meetings and we have had Mr. de Vries at all our meetings since.
We are also in the process of preparing a revised action plan to combat terrorism which was mandated by the declaration. We hope to have that document finalised for the June Council meeting. The final council meeting of our Presidency will be held on 8 June. The following areas will be considered at that meeting. In regard to asylum, we intend to reach agreement on the European refugee fund, which was created on foot of a previous Council decision adopted in 2000. The new proposal seeks to build on the experience of the first phase of the fund and reinforce the provisions of other Council regulations and directives to provide a common asylum policy throughout the EU. On immigration, we hope to achieve agreement on the visa information system at the June Council which will give the JHA council the mandate to prepare technical development of the VIS and provide the legislative basis for the inclusion in the Community budget for the funding of the technical development of the VIS. The Council regulation on standards for security features and biometrics in EU citizens' passports is also expected to go to the JHA council in June for agreement, which is particularly important.
I also intend to have on the agenda two recommendations for admission and issuing of uniform short stay visas for researchers from third countries. In the area of judicial co-operation, we hope to sign off on a framework decision on the mutual recognition of confiscation orders, to which I referred earlier. The JHA council meeting on 8 June will also discuss the issue of the next director of Europol since the post falls vacant on 1 July 2004. There are currently three candidates seeking appointment to that position.
Another item to be discussed is a communication which is expected from the Commission reviewing the progress made in implementing the Tampere programme and suggesting proposals for a successor. As I have stated, the Irish Presidency has a strong focus on bringing the existing Tampere agenda to a conclusion. The Tampere programme, which was initiated in 1999, has come to the end of its term and in light of the achievements of the Irish Presidency thus far, the European Union has reached a significant stage in the development of the areas of freedom, security and justice. I hope I have provided members with an outline of what we are going to do and have done to date. I will not delay members any longer. I look forward to the Chairman offering members an opportunity to raise issues of concern.
Chairman: I thank the Minister for his outline. Is he one of the three candidates for director of Europol?
Deputy McDowell: No. I just could not get the backing.
Deputy Costello: We could nominate the Minister.
Deputy F. McGrath: I could guarantee the Minister seven years anyway.
Deputy P. Power: I welcome the Minister and his officials. Any objective observer examining the amount of work which has been done by the Department would be extremely impressed by the progress made in the six-month period. I state objectively rather than in a political way. Many agendas which had been out there for some time have now been brought to fruition. Everyone concerned from the top down must be complimented on the huge body of work which has been achieved.
I note the Minister's comments on the progress which has been made in respect of the confiscation of international criminal assets. I have read only the summary of the judgment of yesterday's Supreme Court decision but it seems to provide that the powers of the Cabinet do not extend to extra-jurisdictional assets. How does that tie in with the progress which has been made in the area which the Minister identified in his speech?
I note that Mr. de Vries is speaking at a conference in Dublin Castle about terrorism issues and in that context the declaration on 19 March was extremely welcome. However, what resources will be allocated to ensure that Mr. de Vries can execute the wide-ranging brief he has been given?
It may not be strictly part of the JHA agenda but does the Minister think the Advocate General's opinion in the Chen case will be on the agenda at any JHA meetings, given that it has Europe-wide ramifications?
Deputy J. O'Keeffe: I acknowledge that good work has been done in the past six months and I am glad to see Ireland was well-represented and a good job was done. In that context, I compliment all those concerned.
While we might joke about proposing the Minister for the position of director of Europol, will he tell us who is in line for the job? It also occurred to me that it might be a bit late in the day, if the current appointment ends on 30 June and that the procedure should have been further advanced by now. I make the point from a practical point of view rather than in criticism.
At what stage are the proposals in regard to passports and biometrics and what methods are proposed? Will they include fingerprints or eye identification and when will we see these passports? What is the likely timeframe for a common passport with a new biometric element? Will the Minister explain how the new VIS system will operate? For example, will visa applications on the Irish system appear automatically on the IT systems of every other member state?
Will the Minister also tell us about the new European police college? Where is it and what does it do? Is it a postgraduate institute or does it yet exist?
What is likely to be the main thrust of the approach on the new EU drug strategy?
Deputy F. McGrath: I welcome the Minister and his team and note that we are back to his pet subjects of asylum, immigration, terrorism and organised crime. I would prefer to deal with the results of these proposed actions and what has gone on over the last few months rather than dealing with the spin.
I do not think the Minister should become too carried away about the result of the Chen case because it proved that the "No" campaign was correct in the debate on the citizenship referendum. It strongly proved the case we have been making for the last number of weeks. However, I will not go into that today.
Page 1 of the report notes that our Presidency coincided with the tragic events in Madrid on 11 March. It refers to the terrorist attacks in Madrid and the Irish Presidency and mentions a response. I would like to hear more detail about the kind of response that has taken place to prevent such attacks. Will part of that response consist of taking on board the EU's policy on the Middle East? Some EU countries seem to tolerate terrorism from states, only speaking out when smaller groups are responsible. What is our position and that of the EU on this issue?
There is also a section dealing with immigration. I am concerned about this because the many directives and procedures give the impression that we are clamping down and creating a Fortress Europe. I would like to see a more liberal and open-minded view from the EU on immigration. I welcome the mention in the report of the directive on the residence permit issued to victims of trafficking in human beings, or to third country nationals who have been subject of action to facilitate illegal immigration, who co-operate with the competent authorities. It is good that these people will be assisted in some way. It is a positive development - the victims are not being blamed.
Europe is over-reacting to the problem of immigration. We need to accept that it is a reality of modern society and modern economies and make that part of the debate. I urge caution on this issue.
The report states that progress has been made in the development of measures that will contribute to improving police co-operation and the fight against organised crime and drugs. We all welcome these sentiments, but the reality is that in Europe and in our own cities organised crime is almost out of control. It is certainly the case in parts of my constituency, in a small area of which €20 million worth of drugs were confiscated by the Garda last year, and where whole communities are intimidated. They are not making complaints to the Garda; they are suffering a nightmare. They are constantly being intimidated and because of the increasing use of firearms throughout the city they are afraid to come forward. I would like to discover how this is to be dealt with on an EU level.
Although I accept that it is important to deal with drug pushers, we must also deal with the communities that are socially excluded and in which poverty and disadvantage are still rampant despite our economic wealth. In these areas drugs have a strong foothold. We must tackle educational and social disadvantage as part of any strategy.
The Minister mentions improving arrangements for sharing intelligence. I presume he is referring to police forces. Does the Minister trust the intelligence services in other EU countries? For example, British intelligence sources got it wrong about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Does he trust, for example, the French intelligence service, which was itself involved in terrorism against the Rainbow Warrior? There are double standards operating here. Governments often do not take this view seriously; they dismiss it as a left-of-centre, anti-establishment opinion. However, it is the reality for many people on the ground. Taxpayers in Europe are concerned that there are elements within security forces that do not necessarily obey the law. Our own experience has proved this is true.
Deputy Costello: I apologise for being late to the meeting and missing the early part of the Minister's presentation. From the Minister's address I can see that a tremendous amount of work has been done. I compliment him and his officials on the work they have done during the Presidency.
Looking at the headings in the report, the whole thing seems like a horror show. It encompasses terrorism, drugs, policing, organised crime and trafficking. These are heavy-duty issues. I am concerned that when we discuss these issues in Europe we often seem to be reflecting the agendas of some of the bigger, ex-colonial countries in terms of trafficking, fears about terrorism and so on. It is almost as though some of these issues are addressed in vacuo so to speak, without considering the policy matters that give rise to them on the global scene.
The issue of terrorism, for example, is related to US foreign policy, which created disquiet throughout the world. Europe has not been part of that - in fact, it has done its best to adopt an alternative position. Nevertheless, the fall-out from these policies dominates our own policies on combating terrorism, as though terrorism were a major issue in our country. It is not. There is no terrorism in Ireland.
Deputy P. Power: Only this morning, Mr. de Vries explicitly warned against acts of terrorism directed at this country. He is the man we have appointed to deal with this.
Deputy Costello: What may happen in the future is another day's work, although of course we need to make plans.
Deputy P. Power: That was said before 2001.
Deputy Costello: My concern is that our legislation and policies can be disproportionately influenced by other people's problems and concerns. Of course there is concern that we may fall victim to acts of terrorism, and we must deal with that. I am concerned, however, that the manner in which we deal with these matters in Europe and elsewhere has all the hallmarks of an agenda that is dominated by other countries. I would like to hear the Minister's response to this, especially in light of what happened in Madrid.
Co-operation in the area of drugs is worthwhile, but it is my experience - like Deputy Finian McGrath, I come from an inner-city constituency - that the situation is deteriorating on the domestic front. Areas that have been relatively clear of drugs are returning to the bad old days and the bad old ways. Drugs are once again proliferating.
It is particularly worrying that a consignment of €0.5 billion worth of drug-making materials was seized in this country. It seems that in the international drugs arena, Ireland is seen as a soft target. People think they can bring in the materials, manufacture drugs in Ireland and then use it as an international distribution centre for the network. If that development were to take place it would have major repercussions for us in dealing with drugs. Our whole approach on the issue of drugs needs to be overhauled, domestically as well as internationally. The Minister has done a great deal of work on domestic and international legislation on immigration and deportation. We do not seem, however, to have any supervisory mechanism and, while I do not have any horror stories about European Union countries to which we do not deport people, I do hear that most of those whom we deport to Nigeria end up in jail where they remain until their relatives bail them out, or they get out in some other fashion. Are we deporting people to countries where human rights are not observed and in respect of which we have no proper mechanism to ensure that they are? If we are going to embark on international or Europe-based agreements we need to know exactly what their outcome is.
Police co-operation on organised crime would be extremely desirable. The question has already been asked about seizure of criminal assets abroad and I would welcome the Minister's response on how he interprets that and how we might ensure that element of a successful Irish initiative might be built on.
Deputy Hoctor: I too welcome the Minister. I participated recently in the Inter-parliamentary Union conference, where the two items on the agenda before the large attendance were terrorism-related - the Palestine-Israel conflict and the terrorist attack in Madrid. There was a very close tie as to which would take precedence in the discussions over the week.
I compliment the Minister on his work during the EU Presidency and the progress made in this area. It will be interesting to see the report from the counter-terrorism co-ordinator in June. We cannot underestimate the outcry among parliamentarians about the two conflict areas identified unanimously as extremely important. The 12 plus group of which Ireland is a member was determined that the terrorist attack in Madrid should be addressed and saw that it reflected very clearly on the vulnerability of other EU countries to similar attacks. We look forward to seeing and hearing the outcome of the June report. It is relevant to comment on that after the recent Inter-parliamentary Union meeting.
Chairman: A conference on security and defence policy is due to take place in the Embiez Islands off France in September in regard to the co-ordination of an effective European co-ordinated response to terrorism and its interaction with the EU defence policy. Can the Minister confirm that the Department will have an input to that conference?
Deputy McDowell: I thank all the members for their kind words about the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform's team in connection with the Presidency and I add my own words of thanks to those of the committee. I said on the last occasion that I had not been spinning enough about the success of the Presidency and the Department. It is not generally appreciated at home in Ireland how solid a set of achievements it is. I know the difference between "euro-politeness" and enthusiasm and there has been great enthusiasm thus far for our Presidency which is very encouraging.
In response to Deputy Power's question about the recent Criminal Assets Bureau decision in the Supreme Court, the Department had anticipated that issue, although not the outcome of the case. Our draft legislation on the proceeds of crime, which will come before the Houses soon, includes a specific clause to make it very clear that the proceeds of crime under the old legislation are now to be regarded as extended to proceeds of crime, wherever arising. The point, which we won in the High Court and lost in the Supreme Court, will be put beyond doubt that the proceeds of crime legislation does have effect in connection with proceeds of crime wherever the crime takes place.
Deputy P. Power: My question was about how that ties in with the references the Minister made in his contribution.
Deputy McDowell: I was speaking about a framework decision on mutual recognition of confiscation orders. Ireland's CAB regime is in advance of the general regime in Europe. The jaws of half of our peers drop to the table when I tell them that we actually confiscate the proceeds of crime without having criminal convictions. Several countries are studying our model and the United Kingdom has copied it. The European model generally is that there is no confiscation without conviction and therefore we are dealing with mutual recognition of confiscation orders made consequent on convictions. They find it extraordinary that we have advanced on that to confiscate assets even where there are no convictions.
Deputy Power asked whether adequate resources were being made available to Mr. de Vries. He is receiving enthusiastic support. His role will be integrated with the secretariat of the Council so that he is not in some separate empire. He is under the wing of the Council and Javier Solana. Resources are not his problem; tangible results on the ground are his most pressing concern.
I note with some degree of wry amusement the claims made by Deputy Finian McGrath regarding the Chen case. I give him full marks for a hard neck on the issue, and so eloquently put. The Chen case has significant implications for this country. As I was reading it yesterday morning during a long Cabinet meeting I became more and more convinced that it has very serious and short-term implications for the country. We must take this subject to the proposition that it could be reversed. In at least 80% or possibly 90% of cases the court follows the Advocate General's opinion. The implications are quite far-reaching because in the case of the Chens they went, on lawyers' advice, to Belfast to have their child. The Advocate General said that this was not subjectively wrong because it was the legal arrangement that was available to them and they took full advantage of it, but he also points out in paragraphs 124 and 125, and in the footnotes, that Ireland did not have to have a law of the kind that it did in this area. He referred to Article 6 of the British-Irish Agreement and the famous annex and said that had we done what the British did none of this problem would have arisen, which is true. However, no one seems to have pointed out the Constitution to him and the particular problem that we now face.
We now have to ask ourselves whether it is sustainable that Ireland should be the only country in the European Union capable of deporting parents of an Irish-born child. The second question is whether it is sustainable that parents in Ireland of those children should have an incentive to migrate from the Republic to Northern Ireland, for example, and then claim Chen-type rights. Are those two situations sustainable? There are implications for the 11,000 parents of Irish-born children if that is the case because we must look long and hard at that situation too in the light of this decision.
Without trailing my coat in front of Deputy Finian McGrath and others, my view is vindicated that the Chen case created an urgency in this matter. If it is allowed to go on unaddressed, we could have a major crisis on our hands both nationally and internationally. It is fortuitous that we find ourselves within a few weeks of being able to resolve the matter, rather than blundering on into a possibly terrible quagmire.
Deputy P. Power: Will this be on the Justice and Home Affairs Council agenda? Does the Minister anticipate a reaction from various EU member states to the matter?
Deputy McDowell: Funnily enough, though one would have thought that EU member states would have had their antennae up on this for some time, the UK is the only one conscious of this matter. As it is closer to Ireland, it is much more aware of our immigration circumstances and their implications. Today, two sets of journalists from other EU member states woke up to this issue and arrived at my Department looking for briefings for Scandinavian states. As soon as the Chen case goes out on the wires across the world, there will be obvious implications. There is no point in codding ourselves otherwise. However, I have not yet had my door knocked down by EU member states demanding to know what I will do about the implications of the case.
Deputy Jim O'Keeffe asked about the succession to the Europol agency head. There are three candidates, one each from Germany, France and Italy and the appointment decision must be unanimous. As Deputy O'Keeffe pointed out, it is somewhat late in the day to be making a decision on such an important body, especially in the context of the fight against terrorism where it is meant to have an enhanced role. I have spent five months trying to arrive at an unanimous decision on the succession. I never give up hope but, internationally, it will be difficult to keep face if it falls vacant in July because people were arguing about the succession.
The US has put back its passport and visa requirements scheme for over a year because it has realised it is a more complex issue than originally thought. In the meantime, most visa holders, including Irish people, entering the US must provide a fingerprint for the US database. The biometrics identification system is likely to include fingerprint and facial characteristics as two identifiers. Iris patterns are theoretically available, but I understand these fall outside the biometrics category as they are more difficult, technologically, to do. At the end of 2004, the decision has to be made on this matter. It will fall to the Dutch term of the EU Presidency to complete it . On the visa applications and IT, it is more a matter of a network of access to each other's databanks. We cannot create a massive bureaucracy for this but it is important that the VIS should facilitate checks which contribute to the prevention of visa shopping.
Deputy J. O'Keeffe: Is there compatibility between the systems of each member state?
Deputy McDowell: The proposal seeks compatibility
Deputy Costello: Will it be comprehensive and include private information on people, irrespective of their contact with the law prior to its introduction?
Deputy McDowell: No, it will not be big brother going mad. It is to enable Ireland to know if, figuratively speaking, a person from Bangladesh wants to come here on a trade mission that he or she was refused entry into Sweden or Germany. It is of some relevance to the genuineness of a visa application whether a person has been refused entry to another member state.
The four fundamental areas in the drugs strategy are demand reduction, supply reduction, co-ordinating and ensuring best international co-operation and, that within the EU, co-ordination and ensuring adequate information is exchanged between member states. It is also intended to know what policies are being progressed in various member states. It would be of interest to Ireland whether the UK is taking a liberal or non-liberal view on cannabis possession as it might have a follow-on effects.
Deputy Finian McGrath referred to the larger member states' agendas on terrorism being met. This is somewhat an enforcement-oriented agenda. It is not the sunny uplands of Europe but matters that could be considered security driven. I must stress there is a significant security agenda in Europe and it would be foolish to suggest that these matters are not on people's minds. One cannot be relaxed about the threat from terrorism. The dissidents will always be with us. The Provisional IRA, though on ceasefire, still has a massive capacity. The spectre of loyalist terrorism spilling south of the Border is always there. Ireland is an open, relaxed and free society and we cannot relax against international terrorism. Some people in this State are under surveillance from an international perspective. Ireland is vulnerable to exploitation as a place from which to co-ordinate terrorism. Without being neurotic on the subject, that is the reality.
I agree that a totally repressive agenda towards terrorism, without understanding the underlying problems that give rise to it, is an imbalanced approach. I find myself uneasy with the phrase "war against terrorism" because one must struggle against it to create a terror free world. This requires working on a number of different levels and not simply repressing or deterring terrorism. Issues that terrorists can take advantage of must be addressed. A simple repressive and combative approach to terrorism is not the answer. The EU, in particular, understands this issue and it must become more active and vocal in ensuring that such a view is understood across the world.
Chairman: I understand that the Minister must leave shortly.
Deputy McDowell: Yes, so I will finish now.
Chairman: Just make sure you answer my question first.
Deputy McDowell: Yes, indeed. Regarding the Chairman's proposal to attend a conference on an island off the coast of France, no one has told me about it. I am very interested to hear that it is taking place, and I will look very favourably on a supportive approach from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
The drugs issue is very important. Regarding Deputy Costello's point about the drugs materials found to the value of €0.5 billion, I understand that it was en route to the Continent, and that Ireland was an innocent-looking conduit in order to get the materials to the Continent for manufacture there rather than in Ireland. The seizure of drugs is at an all-time high, but that reflects the presence of drugs at an all-time high. We must nevertheless compliment the Garda on apprehending major drug pushers and dealers. They are making significant progress.
I reiterate my point that the Judiciary must regard drug dealing as a very serious crime. Some people have accused me of finger-wagging at the Judiciary. That is not so. I am reminding the Judiciary of the simple proposition that one cannot continue to say that people who are small cogs in big machines deserve lenient sentences. One cannot get the big guys unless one hands out deterrent sentences to the small guys. That is how co-operation will come about. If one argues that the drugs couriers and others are to be dealt with leniently because they have not got the stud farms and the apartments in Spain, we will never make progress.
Regarding the European police college, the existing arrangements are based on a network of national institutions rather than a single institution. The European Council decided last year that a secretariat should be based in Briars Hill in London.
Many other issues were raised but I have not got time to deal with them.
Deputy Costello: What of the candidates for heading the college?
Deputy McDowell: There are three candidates, one German, one French and one Italian. The Irish EU Presidency has been remaining studiedly neutral in all of this. I do not propose to elaborate further because if I do I will lose my studied neutrality.
Deputy Costello: Will the person to be appointed be a serving police officer?
Deputy McDowell: The candidates in every case are people with high-ranking police experience.
Deputy J. O'Keeffe: The Minister could always make the supreme sacrifice.
Deputy McDowell: Thank you.
Chairman: When does the Minister expect legal personality to be given to the European police college?
Deputy McDowell: Later this year. The Dutch EU Presidency will probably deal with that. There is political agreement on the matter, but the legal instrument will be adopted under the Dutch EU Presidency.
Chairman: Mention was also made of the creation of a European programme for the protection of witnesses. We were dealing with this issue in the review of the criminal justice system.
Deputy McDowell: That was raised in the declaration regarding combating terrorism. It is at an early stage of consideration and I am not in a position to report any significant progress.
I was asked if I trust intelligence services. They are like the oldest profession. They are not always the most loveable of institutions, but without them we would all be bunched. They must be subject to some degree of scrutiny and scepticism on occasion, but if one did not have them, one would know all about it.
Chairman: I thank the Minister and his officials for attending and for briefing us so comprehensively on the JHA Council matters. I look forward to meeting the Minister regarding progress on the forthcoming Council matters in the near future.
The joint committee went into private session at 5.05 p.m and adjourned at 5.15 p.m. sine die.