Wednesday 4th October

 

Oireachtas Resolutions relating to approval of  the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to take part in the adoption and application of the following proposed measure:

 

“Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2016/794 for the purpose of establishing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)”

 

 

 

MOTIONS

 

 

Dail Motion

“That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to take part in the adoption and application of the following proposed measure:

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2016/794 for the purpose of establishing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS),

a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 18 August 2017.”.

 

Seanad Motion

“That Seanad Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to take part in the adoption and application of the following proposed measure:

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) 2016/794 for the purpose of establishing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS),

a copy of which was laid before Seanad Éireann on 18 August 2017.”.

 

 

Opening address by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD

 

I wish to thank the Committee for giving me the opportunity of appearing before it today to address these Motions.

 

The purpose of the Motions is to seek Oireachtas approval for Ireland to opt into an EU Regulation amending Regulation (EU) 2016/794, generally referred to as theEuropol Regulation”, for the purposes of establishing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System “(ETIAS)” for the Schengen area.

 

The Regulation provides for the allocation of new functions to Europol in connection with ETIAS.

 

The legal basis of the measure is Article 88(2) (a) TFEU, which empowers the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, by means of regulations to determine Europol’s structure, operation, field of action and tasks.

 

At the outset, I feel it is useful to be absolutely clear that the Regulation in question is binding on all participating EU member States with the exception of Ireland and the UK. In the case of Ireland and the UK, the Regulation falls under Protocol No 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

 

The amending Regulation therefore requires the approval of the Oireachtas under Article 29.4.7 of the Constitution for Ireland to opt into the measure. 

 

The Committee may wish to note that Ireland previously opted into the Europol Regulation that this new Regulation amends. The Europol Regulation came into effect on 1 May 2017. Had Ireland not opted into that Regulation, it would have been required to leave Europol.

 

The Europol Regulation defines Europol’s role, enhances the supply of information by Member States to it, reinforces the data protection regime applicable to Europol and improves its governance structures.

 

Before going into some detail about ETIAS, I want to emphasise that the system has no implications for Ireland. Irish citizens will not be required to use it.  It will not affect Irish citizens travelling to the Schengen area or other EU citizens coming to Ireland. ETIAS only impinges on this State because Ireland opted into the substantive Europol Regulation. Ireland must therefore be consulted on any changes to that Regulation.

 

Following recent terrorist attacks and the migration crisis which has impacted on many regions of the world, including our own, strengthening the EU's external borders has been one of the measures targeted to ensure internal security and to preserve freedom of movement in the Schengen area.

 

Currently, nationals of around 60 countries worldwide do not need a visa to enter the EU. However, there is currently a lack of information related to such third-country nationals arriving at the Schengen external borders.

 

Numerous states in the Schengen area have witnessed significant movements of people arising from the migration crisis.  At the same time, there have been horrific terrorist atrocities in several major European cities.  To be absolutely clear: I am not conflating these two issues.  Indeed, it is notable that those responsible for terrorist attacks generally do not come from third countries.  However, I am drawing attention to the two issues to highlight the public safety concerns among citizens in the countries of mainland Europe whose borders are open.  They want to feel better protected by their governments and by the EU and this Regulation is part of a response to this.

 

At the moment, unlike the advance transfer of detailed information required for the visa application procedure of visa-obliged travellers, no such advance information is required about visa-exempt nationals arriving at the Schengen external borders. This means that border guards need to make a decision on allowing or refusing access to the Schengen area without prior knowledge regarding any security, migration or public-health risks associated with persons not requiring a visa. 

 

When the ETIAS commences, this category of traveller will have to apply for travel authorisation through the system prior to undertaking their journey. All information gathered by the system will be done in full respect of fundamental rights and under data protection legislation. The proposal follows similar models already existing in Canada, Australia and the USA, among others.

 

As the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol’s mission is to support the Member States in preventing and combating all forms of serious international crime and terrorism. Its role is to help achieve a safer Europe for the benefit of all EU citizens by supporting law enforcement authorities through the exchange and analysis of criminal intelligence. Members of An Garda Siochana are seconded to Europol and are represented on its management board. Europol also assists An Garda Siochana in operational matters when required.

 

Europol also plays a key part in Europe’s response to the current terrorism threat and has been central to a number of counter terrorism initiatives in recent times.

 

 

Alongside the threat of terrorism which can often have a transnational dimension, Members will be fully aware that those who engage in serious and organised crime in this jurisdiction frequently operate on an international basis.  Our engagement in Europol is therefore of immense value in keeping our people safe and tackling serious crime.  And while this particular Regulation refers to the Schengen zone, the reason it has come before the Houses is because of our engagement in Europol.

 

 

This Regulation amends Articles 4 and 21 of the Europol Regulation. Article 4 which sets out the functions of Europol is now amended to provide that Europol will charged with the development and hosting of an ETIAS watch list, the provision of information related to terrorist offences or other serious criminal offences to this watch list and the provision of opinions following consultation requests by the ETIAS National Units.

 

Article 21 of the Europol Regulation, which currently allows limited access by Eurojust and the European Anti- Fraud Office to Europol data on a “hit, no hit” basis is amended to further permit access by the European Border and Coastguard Agency on the same basis. In all circumstances these agencies will only be permitted access to Europol data that is relevant to their sphere of operations. In addition, access will be restricted to seeking information in relation to persons who are suspected of having committed, taken part in or been convicted of criminal offences for which Europol has competence, or persons regarding whom there are factual indications or reasonable grounds to believe that they will commit criminal offences. Any subsequent sharing of substantive information must be done in accordance with the conditions set by the provider of the information.

 

The aim of ETIAS is to enhance security in the Schengen region with a view to ensuring the safety of individuals travelling through the area, many of whom are citizens of this State. I think the members of the Committee will agree that any enhancement of security in the Schengen area is likely to have a positive impact on the security of the EU generally.

 

A decision by Ireland to opt into the measure would be seen as a demonstration of Ireland’s continued commitment to the effective functioning of Europol and the wider security of the EU. The Regulation was drafted specifically to facilitate the opting in of Ireland and the UK.  A decision not to opt in will not prevent the expansion of Europol’s role where ETIAS is concerned, but may result in a diminished role for Ireland within Europol. This would not be desirable and indeed, could be harmful to our capacities to keep our people safe and combat organised crime.

 

I believe it is essential that Ireland contributes to Europe’s fight against organised crime and terrorism. Playing a full and active part in Europol is a key part of this process. 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, therefore, hope the Committee will support the Motion to exercise Ireland’s opt-in to this proposal.