Saturday 1 October 2016

Europe can't allow likes of SF to delay crucial anti-terror laws

Brian Hayes

Published 14/04/2016 | 02:30

A mother is comforted by her children in Brussels after the March 23 attacks. Top right: German police on guard in Frankfurt Airport (Photos: Christopher Furlong/Getty, AP/Michael Probst)
A mother is comforted by her children in Brussels after the March 23 attacks. Top right: German police on guard in Frankfurt Airport (Photos: Christopher Furlong/Getty, AP/Michael Probst)

It's just three weeks since the Brussels bombings. We know that 32 innocent commuters were murdered that day and more than 300 were injured. Following the attacks, 80 people are still in hospital today.

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These innocent people cannot be forgotten as Europe wonders what to do next.

No city is immune from these terror risks. Europe needs to come together and act together in facing down terrorism. We owe that at the very least to the victims.

Let's be very clear: Isil is an attack on our way of life. They hate the freedom and liberty we enjoy. They are now targeting European capitals, taking their fight to Europe because of defeats elsewhere.

The free movement of people within the EU does not include the free movement of terrorists and criminals. Terrorism and crime respect no borders. Enhanced international co-operation is essential if these twin evils are to be contained.

Penetrating the cells that they have in place in Europe is very challenging. I say that because most of these "fighters" are European citizens and are part of ordinary communities across the EU.

So trying to defeat Isil, or even contain them, will be a constant pressure on all EU member states.

And it cannot be a security solution by itself. There is a huge task in bringing forward actions to prevent radicalisation. That's best achieved at an EU level.

Politicians cannot pretend that there are complete security solutions to this present danger. How can any security authority stop a suicide bomber who wants to kill himself and dozens of innocent civilians?

Internal, country-by-country security solutions will not work. The case for speeding up the integration of intelligence services and the sharing of information across borders is obvious.

The right to life is the most fundamental human right of all. Protecting the safety and security of its citizens is the responsibility of all member states and all EU institutions alike.

This week the European Parliament meets in Strasbourg in plenary session for the first time since the Brusells bombings.

We need to finally adopt the Passenger Name Record (PNR) directive.

Simply put, PNR obliges airlines to share with police authorities across Europe information on passengers flying into or within the EU. The US authorities already require this information for those travelling from Europe.

Its use is solely to fight serious crime; its aim is to stop the circulation of terrorists within our borders.

So why, therefore, are Sinn Féin MEPs, amongst others, opposing a measure that can help in tracking terrorist suspects?

Why are they opposed to this? Is it to do with their recent annoyance with US authorities as they stopped and questioned some Sinn Féin members who have known criminal pasts?

Whatever the reason, it's time to take this issue seriously and to pass this crucial legislation at an EU level this week.

The text of this proposal has been negotiated between the EU Council and the EU Parliament for five long years, yet in the wake of the Paris attacks one Sinn Féin MEP called it a "knee-jerk" reaction.

There is nothing knee jerk about a measure which has been debated and discussed for five years.

EU countries like the UK already have a PNR system, while others have either passed laws or are testing PNR data systems.

For a number of years, PNR data has been shared by EU countries (including Ireland) with Australia, Canada and the US. We recently agreed to a PNR arrangement with the UK.

The PNR proposal contains safeguards to prevent abuse and also upholds an individual's data protection rights.

The law has been narrowed to cover terror offences and serious "transnational" crime like human trafficking, child pornography, trafficking in weapons, munitions and explosives.

Data can only be kept for a limited time and a data protection officer must be appointed to safeguard the holding and use of the information. Despite the negotiated safeguards, Sinn Féin's MEP Martina Anderson described the Irish government's support for the new system as being "cheerleaders for human rights violations".

Her press release came one month after Gerry Adams visited the French Embassy in Dublin to express his sympathies for the 137 people killed in the Paris bombing.

The French president has demanded action, rightly so, to get the legislation passed. Irish citizens need to ask all their MEPs - why the foot-dragging?

The current situation requires practical solutions from MEPs.

A PNR system is just one element in our response. We need to step up information exchange, modernise security and intelligence equipment.

We need to stop illegal firearms trafficking.

A systematic approach to external border controls and tackling the financing of terrorism - all of this needs to be put in place.

Since the European Parliament started negotiations on this issue in 2011 there have been 12 terror attacks in seven EU countries.

These have resulted in 222 deaths and 892 people seriously injured.

I recognise that Sinn Féin is now a serious political party in Ireland.

Either it wants to be taken seriously or it will continue to be part of the European and national fringe.

Being against everything for the sake of cynical opposition politics may be a comfortable place to be, but it's not serious politics.

The Passenger Name Record legislation should be supported by all those who want to protect all our citizens. It's not a solution in itself, but it's part of the EU's response to this constant threat.

It's time politicians backed PNR and started delivering, at a European level, practical solutions in the fight against terrorism.

Brian Hayes is a Fine Gael MEP for Dublin

Irish Independent

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