Speech by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Mr. Alan Shatter at the Justice, Defence and Equality Committee - Motion for Dáil approval for the Ireland-US Agreement on preventing and combating serious crime

Check Against Delivery 

That Dáil Éireann, pursuant to Article 29.5 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, approves the terms of the Agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the United States of America On Enhancing Cooperation in Preventing and Combating Serious Crime laid before the Dáil on 10th January 2012.

Thank you Mr Chairman. As Committee members will be aware, our citizens currently benefit from Ireland’s eligibility to participate in the US’ Visa Waiver Programme (VWP)

Following the events of 9/11, the USA 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 Cooperation in Preventing and Combating Serious Crime such as this one is among the requirements set down by the USA and Agreements of this kind have been, or are in the course of, being finalised between the US and 19 other EU Member States.

Deputies may wish to note that the Agreement draws inspiration from, and mirrors very much, the EU Council Decision of 2008 (the Prum Treaty) on stepping up cross-border cooperation particularly in combating terrorism and cross-border crime, the aim of which is to improve police cooperation through the exchange of fingerprint and DNA data.

Briefly, the Agreement provides that fingerprint and DNA reference data from each country’s national databases should be shared in specific defined circumstances i.e. 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 requesting state. The process does not involve the exchange of data at this stage. It merely establishes if identical data exists 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 available further personal data and other data relating to the reference data is governed by the national law, including the legal assistance rules. Therefore any transmission of additional data will be governed by Irish law in the case of data held by An Garda Síochána.

In addition, the provisions of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between Ireland and the USA 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 for matters in which the US anticipates that no prosecution, or referral for prosecution, will take 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.

Turning to the Agreement itself; Article 1 sets out the type of data which is in question namely DNA and fingerprint reference data. Article 2 defines the scope of the Agreement and specifies that it will only be used for the prevention detection and investigation of serious crime. Articles 3 to 6 deal with the querying of fingerprint data including a provision that following a match any further personal data shall be provided in compliance with national law and the terms of the mutual Assistance Treaty with the US. Article 7 addresses the points of contact in both countries.

Articles 8, 9 and 10
deal with provisions in relation to the querying of DNA data and are similar in nature to those applying to fingerprint data. Article 11 deals with the transmission of data in particular circumstances where there is a belief that an individual will or has committed a serious offence, in particulars terrorist related or organised criminal offences.

The Agreement contains specific provisions (at Articles 12 to 17) related to privacy, data processing, data security and data protection. In addition to requiring the parties to provide high standards of data protection and security, the Agreement also provides for the amendment of incorrect data and the deletion of data once it is no longer required. Individuals will be entitled to information and redress in accordance with national law.

Operation of the Agreement
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 Prum Treaty. This work is currently being carried out and it will also facilitate the operation of the Ireland – US Agreement.

In conclusion, international cooperation between States is an essential component in combating the ever increasing global nature of criminal activity.

Since the events of 9/11 the world has become aware that no country is safe from the threat of international terrorism and indeed, despite the extensive progress made in the context of our own peace process, we must remain mindful of the threat posed by dissident activities here.

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

I therefore commend this motion.