Irelands entry into an EU-wide system for the sharing of data on criminals and missing persons has been hailed as a game changer in the fight against cross-border crime.
The European Unions Schengen Information System (SIS 2), shares real-time data on crime suspects and fugitives with border agents to tackle Europe-wide crime.
Access to the computer network used by police forces in 30 countries means gardaí who check passports at entry points into Ireland will receive real-time information on people who are accused or convicted of crimes in EU and associated countries including Norway and Switzerland.
Gardaí in Ireland will be able to issue EU-wide alerts of missing people, crime suspects or stolen property such as identity documents or cars so they can be sought across Europe The system has been used in the past to locate terrorists affiliated to the Islamic State in Europe and to locate missing children.
The Schengen Information System is the largest law enforcement database in Europe and Irelands connection to it will strengthen law enforcement co-operation and enhance security in Europe, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said.
I am confident that this will be a game-changer for gardaí in their fight against cross-border crime, she said.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the benefits of being able to access real time police data and intelligence from across Europecannot be understated.
Accessing such information means that An Garda Síochána can swiftly deal with issues of serious crime with potential links to other European countries, he said.
However, the benefits will be mitigated by the exit of the UK from the system. The UKs membership of SIS 2 ceased on January 1st meaning it can no longer provide information through the system or receive alerts from it. This will also apply to the PSNI, although other information sharing systems exist between it and the Garda.
A new Garda bureau, the Supplementary Information Request at the National Entries (Sirene) Bureau has been established to operate the system. It will operate 24 hours a day to input Irish alerts and alert other police forces if an alert is triggered here.
If an Irish immigration officer scans the passport of a missing or wanted person from elsewhere in the EU, it will signal an alert on the officers workstation. Similarly if a garda searches for the name of person on Pulse, the system will automatically check if that person is wanted anywhere in the EU.
There were over 40,000 alerts on SIS II for persons wanted for arrest at the end of 2019. Automated and integrated SIS II searches will assist in locating any of these people who may be in this country, the Garda said in a statement.
As well as people, SIS 2 will be able to track lost or stolen items such as banknotes, cars, vans, firearms and identity documents.
There are currently 30 countries connected to SIS- the 26 EU member states and Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland.