Topical Issue Debate: Statement by Minister Costello02 July 2013
Matter Selected for Topical Issue Debate
2 July 2013
Opening statement by MOS Costello (Check against delivery)
The need for the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to seek clarification from the US authorities regarding their use of surveillance in European Union Institutions and Member States.
The allegations referred to by the Deputy, if true, are naturally of concern to all EU Member States, including Ireland. The EU’s External Action Service has sought clarification of the situation in both Washington and Brussels.
The Government also expressed its concerns to the US Embassy in Dublin at a senior official level and looks forward to clarification being provided in response to the EU’s request. Ireland is not one of the Member States identified in the media reports to date.
I understand that High Representative Ashton has also spoken directly about this matter to Secretary of State Kerry in a meeting in Brunei.
At a press conference in Tanzania yesterday, President Obama emphasised the importance of the US relationship with Europe and gave a firm undertaking to examine these allegations and to provide “all the information that our allies want”. I welcome this clear statement and undertaking.
The House will appreciate that it is not the practice to comment in detail on surveillance and security issues and that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence has primary responsibility this area. There is a comprehensive legal regime in place to deal with these matters in this jurisdiction. Under the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011, access may only be granted following a request to the particular mobile phone company or internet provider in connection with the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of a serious offence, the safeguarding of the security of the State or the saving of human life. Access to call content is governed by the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages (Regulation) Act 1993 and may only take place under Ministerial warrant. The operation of this is subject to judicial oversight.
There are also procedures in place under Mutual Assistance legislation to cover requests to and from other countries for this type of information.
The relationship between the United States and Europe continues to be of vital strategic, political and economic importance. We share a common strong commitment to fundamental human rights, democracy and the rule of law and work closely together to promote these values in a global context. It is within this broad context that matters such as the recent media reports of alleged US surveillance of EU premises must be assessed. It is equally true that close partners must be direct and transparent in their dealings with each other.
Together, the EU and US account for almost half of global GDP and 30% of global trade. Important progress was made during Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union towards the achievement of greater levels of free trade between the EU and US through the launch of negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. If successfully concluded, these negotiations could result in the creation of up 15million additional jobs.
Ireland also continues to enjoy an extremely close bilateral political and economic relationship with the US underpinned by the extensive connections between our two peoples. Today, some 500 US companies employ over 100,000 people in this country with a similar number of people employed by Irish companies in the US. President Obama’s address to students in Belfast on 17 June was a timely and very welcome reminder of the vital role the US played and continues to play in building peace and reconciliation on this island.