Dáil Éireann - Volume 511 - 23 November, 1999

Written Answers. - Drug Trafficking.

[581] 52. Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the initiatives, if any, he is taking with his European counterparts, particularly in Holland and Spain, to facilitate action against leading Irish drug dealers based in those countries. [20376/99]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): The Garda National Drugs Unit as one of its chief functions, is tasked with responsibility for the conduct of intelligence driven operations against major drug traffickers who impact on the Irish drug scene.

In this regard, I am informed by the Garda authorities that the unit has established close working links with other European law enforcement agencies.

In 1996, the EU Council adopted the Oisin Programme, an Irish led initiative, to develop and enhance co-operation between police, customs and other law enforcement authorities of EU member states. This programme has, inter alia, the specific objectives of establishing networks of law enforcement authorities to further practical co-operation which would include such areas as joint targeting and exchange of intelligence; and organising joint operational projects of limited duration in areas where such projects enhance co-operation between law enforcement authorities of more than one member state.

The GNDU is currently engaged in its third project under the Oisin programme. The Garda Síochána maintains drug liaison officers in both The Hague and Madrid who work very closely with the GNDU.

Among the duties assigned to those officers is responsibility for liaising with host country agencies concerned with drug law enforcement and other foreign liaison officers; developing and expanding intelligence relative to drug trafficking between Ireland and host countries; and establishing mutually beneficial strategies for detecting and prosecuting drug traffickers; the rapid exchange of intelligence; and ensuring that investigations are carried out diligently and effectively.

In addition, a member of the Garda Síochána of inspector rank is attached to the Europol Office in The Hague. The inspector's function is to act as a conduit for rapid exchange of intelligence between Ireland and the other EU member states.

The GNDU also regularly avails of the services of Interpol, where these services are appropriate to any particular investigation.

Ireland is a signatory to the UN Convention of 1988 which governs mutual assistance in criminal matters between the signatory states. The 1994 Criminal Justice Act provides the legal basis for mutual assistance in criminal matters. Mechanisms for processing requests for mutual assistance, as between the various states, are in place. The Garda have informed me that the GNDU makes frequent use of these mechanisms in the course of its drug trafficking investigations.

[582] A senior Garda officer sits on the working party on drug trafficking which is part of the third pillar European review group. Its purpose is to examine the implications of the Amsterdam Treaty and how it impacts in relation to drug trafficking.

I am also informed by the Garda authorities that the Criminal Assets Bureau maintains regular contact with European counterparts and intelligence into the movement of assets are ongoing between the gardaí and other international investigation agencies. Exchanges of information on a police to police basis are of great benefit in conducting inquiries and are carried on with all relevant organisations.

The Criminal Assets Bureau last week hosted an international conference under the Falcone Programme on the “identifying, tracing and seizing” the proceeds of criminal activity. The conference focused on a comparison of existing structural and legal frameworks in the member states of the European Union. The conference had participants from all EU member states, from four applicant states, from the European Commission and the Council of Europe.