Check Against Delivery

A Cheann Comhairle,

I move the Motion.

The Motion before the House proposes that Ireland should exercise the option set out in Article 3 of Protocol 21 to the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union to participate in the adoption and application of an EU Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the use of certain air travel reservation data - Passenger Name Record data or PNR - in the fight against terrorism and serious crime.

I am strongly of the view that Ireland should opt in to this proposal. Any measure which can give the Gardaí and their EU counterparts an advantage in the fight against terrorism and other serious criminal activities is to be welcomed and deserves our support.

We have to recognise that the ever-increasing openness of our borders cannot be allowed to work to the benefit of terrorists and criminal groups. We must make use of the opportunities that information sharing presents for our police to maximise the security of EU citizens.

This measure is one of a number being taken at EU level arising from commitments set out in the Stockholm Programme, agreed in 2009. The Government is determined that Ireland will have a full, active and constructive engagement in bringing forward the European justice agenda.

This proposal replaces an earlier PNR proposal which was not finalised before the entry into force of the new Lisbon Treaty arrangements. The current proposal is made under the new arrangements, which involve the European Parliament as co-legislator. There is general support among the Member States for this proposal and Ireland has indicated support in principle for the measure.

Details and impacts of the proposal

This Directive proposes that Passenger Name Record data concerning flights in and out of the EU will be available to national authorities for combating terrorism and serious crime. PNR data is information relating to passengers’ reservations which are collected and held by air carriers. The Directive will require the airlines to provide a portion of this information to the relevant Member State’s authorities.

PNR data is already provided by airlines on flights between the EU and the United States, Canada and Australia, including flights from Ireland. It hardly seems credible that EU Member States should provide this kind of information to third countries but neglect to avail of the advantages it will afford us in tackling terrorism and serious crime. The UK, Swedish and Spanish authorities have been routinely collecting PNR data for some years now and it has proved to be a very valuable tool in a range of investigations targeting drug smugglers, human trafficking rings and terrorists.

The proposal includes a clear, purpose limitation. Accordingly, the data collected and processed may only be used for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime. The offences involved are those already established in European and national law under the Framework Decisions on combating terrorism and on the European Arrest Warrant. To that extent it will complement those instruments.

Under this proposal airlines operating flights into and out of the EU, which are departing from or arriving in Ireland, will be required to send the specified PNR data from their reservations system to the Irish authority tasked with their analysis. Airlines operating international flights departing from or arriving in other EU Member States will be obliged to transfer PNR data to the relevant authorities of those Member States.

The current draft proposal is limited to flights between the EU and third countries. However, there is significant support to include flights between EU Member States in the scope of the Directive. This is a matter which will be considered as the discussions on the Directive proceed.

I discussed the proposal with my EU colleagues last week at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg. I made clear Ireland’s general support for the measure as an important potential tool for countering the activities of organised criminals and terrorists, and for improving security in the EU. I also indicated Ireland’s support for the inclusion of intra-EU flights in the scope of the measure, an approach which, I should say, was supported by the majority of other Member States around the table. Of course, the exact form in which internal EU flights may be included will have to be worked out in the course of the negotiations over the coming months.

Obligations on airlines

As I indicated, airlines will be obliged to transfer the specified PNR data held in their reservation systems to the authorities of the relevant EU Member State. Under the current proposal there are 19 fields of information which may be transferred, including name, address and contact information of passengers, travel itineraries and payment methods.

I should stress that for the most part these data are already collected by the airlines and the proposal does not oblige them to collect any additional data.

Of course, the extent of any costs falling to airlines in providing the data will vary depending on the size and scope of their operations.

However, I believe these costs to be justified by the value to both national and European security which is to be achieved by participating in such a measure.

Obligations on Member States

Each Member State will be obliged to establish a national Passenger Information Unit (PIU) to receive and process the data provided by airlines. The European Commission has indicated that EU funding is to be made available for some of the set-up costs for Member States.

Once established, Member States will have the right to request the PNR data, and if necessary, the results of the processing of such data, from other Member States. This, it seems to me, is an obvious aspect of the form of EU cooperation between Member States. Sharing of findings is essential to ensure that EU boundaries are not a barrier to effective action against terrorists or criminal groups. Such requests and sharing of information will however, be subject to strict data protection measures which, as the House will be aware, is always a matter requiring particular attention with regard to information-sharing measures such as this.

Data retention periods and data protection

This measure, as I have already said, is an important tool in the fight against terrorism and serious crime. However, I am also conscious that we must always be careful to ensure that the rights of citizens are not subjected to unnecessary or disproportionate intrusion. It is important, therefore, to strike the appropriate balance, especially with regard to the protection of personal data.

The PNR data will be used in a number of ways to enhance security and prevent or detect crime. It may be used reactively following the commission of a crime to assist with investigations. However, it may also be used proactively for the purposes of trend analysis and creating assessment criteria to identify potential threats. The data may also be analysed in real time to prevent the commission of terrorist or criminal offences. Accordingly, the period for which the data can be retained under the Directive is strictly circumscribed.

So, in contrast to the previous 2007 proposal in this area, this proposal set out much shorter data retention periods. The Directive provides that data will be stored for an initial 30 day active period. Thereafter, it will be anonymised and retained in an inactive database for a further five year period. During this five year period, the data will only be accessible by a limited number of personnel in the national unit and for a specific purpose.

Opt in Procedure

Under Article 3 of Protocol 21 to the TFEU, Ireland has three months from the date a proposal is presented to the Council to decide whether to opt in to the adoption and application the proposal. The prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas under Article 29.4.7 of the Constitution is required to enable the Government to exercise that option. The deadline for the opt in is 10 May 2011.

Given the potential value to law enforcement services of PNR data, particularly with regard to investigations into drug smuggling, human trafficking or international terrorism, given the important sensitive issues of the protection of personal data and given that the proposal will have some implications for the aviation industry, I am convinced that it is essential that Ireland should opt-in to the negotiations in order to participate fully in those negotiations and to be in a position to seek to influence the outcome.

I have no doubt the majority of Deputies will share this view and I commend the Motion to the House.