Arrests of suspects wanted for prosecution abroad have more than tripled since Ireland joined a police information sharing system four months ago.
Ireland’s joining of the EU-wide Schengen Information System (SIS II) has led to the arrest of dozens of alleged offenders who have been living undetected in the country for years, some of whom are wanted for serious sexual offences.
Gardaí suspect some of these suspects relocated to Ireland because, until this year, it was one of the few countries in the EU which was not a member of SIS II. “These people are now being found out,” a security source said.
The surge in extradition cases is placing significant pressure on the High Court, pressure which is expected to increase when SIS II is expanded in the near future.
This was highlighted by president of the High Court, Ms Justice Mary Irvine, who this week said the court was in "a desperate scenario" because of a lack of judges. She said 17 new judges are required. The Government has agreed to nominate five.
Ms Justice Irvine said the High Court’s extradition list is “set to double” due to Ireland’s membership of SIS II.
According to figures obtained by The Irish Times, 86 arrests have been made for the purpose of extradition since March 1st. The figure for the same period last year was 27.
The SIS II allows for the sharing of real-time data on crime suspects and fugitives as well as missing persons. If a garda searches for a person’s name on the Pulse system, it automatically checks it against the EU-wide database to determine if a warrant exists in another country.
“The system enables law enforcement agencies to share and check data on wanted persons, missing persons, persons who may not have the right to enter or stay in the EU, and objects or vehicles that may have been stolen, misappropriated, or lost,” a Garda spokesman said.
“I am confident that this will be a game changer for gardaí, in their fight against cross-border crime,” Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said in March.
The system has not yet been installed in airports, which would allow the same checks to be carried out at passport control.
SIS II is expected to be installed in airports in the near future, which will further increase the number of arrests, said Brian Storan, a barrister who specialises in extradition law.
Recently, an eastern European man, who is wanted for an alleged attempted rape in his home country, was arrested after an alert showed up on SIS II that there was a European arrest warrant in effect. Gardaí believe he absconded from his native country directly to Ireland, where he lived openly for several years until his arrest.
“There has been a marked increase in European arrest warrant cases coming through the system since March,” Mr Storan said.
He said SIS II has streamlined a previously "laborious process", where countries had to send an arrest warrant to the Irish High Court in the hope a suspect was living here.
Previously people with arrest warrants in other countries had been able to live openly in Ireland under a real name and with a genuine PPS number, he said. The new system makes it much more likely such people will be caught.