I am delighted to speak on this important Bill. The absence of legislation and vetting procedures has opened the doors to people with criminal records working in the security industry. Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe with no legislation to regulate it. It is important that control, regulation and training be brought to bear and it is positive that the regional technical colleges have adopted the subject as a module. As the RTE "Prime Time" documentary revealed some weeks ago, there have been numerous vicious assaults and the industry needs to be regulated and controlled.
Business crime has increased by 10%, costing businesses €775 million. Some 45% of businesses are victims of crime. Theft of stock, cash and property and credit card fraud are increasing and the average cost per incident is €2,181. The incidence of business people being targeted in their own homes in violent crime has increased by 27% and Internet crime has also increased, with an average cost per incident of €4,800. Crime in business has led to increased investment in security equipment and personnel.
Of the 648 companies which responded to a survey carried out by the small businesses association, theft of stock happened in 25% of businesses, criminal damage in 21%, burglary in 19%, theft of cash in 19%, theft of property in 19%, Internet fraud in 10%, credit card fraud in 9%, armed robbery in 2% and other crime in 5%. Crime is a big industry and is now highly organised and on the increase. This is highly professional and planned criminality. Against this background, the Bill provides for the establishment of a body to be known as the private security authority to control and supervise individuals and firms providing security services. The principal function of the authority will be to provide a licensing system for providers of security services in order to maintain and improve standards within the sector. This has been talked about for some time and is welcome. The Bill will give effect to the principal recommendations contained in the report of the consultative group on private security published in 1997. Even though it has taken five years, given the level of crime in the business sector, the Bill is particularly welcome.
Licensed premises are victims of much crime. Equality legislation in the sector also deals with the control of property and security on premises. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, is dealing with this legislation and, having spoken to the Vintners Federation of Ireland, I know its members are happy with his approach. The legislation is creating some difficulties for many people working at the forefront of the tourism industry in hotels, restaurants and pubs. Bringing private security into these premises may help businesses deal better with the provisions of the equality legislation. People feel they have an entitlement to refuse service even though it is a difficult decision to make. One cannot discriminate against any segment of the community, although the vintners have their view on this. There is an obligation on the trade to have security on their premises. It is important that when people do not adhere to the code of conduct on the premises, the licensee has recourse to a regulated security firm. It is not always possible to have the gardaí on hand and they often arrive after the fact. This Bill will go a long way in helping the Minister of State introduce equality legislation, particularly in dealing with the VFI.
Section 6 provides for the establishment of a private security authority which will be independent in the exercise of its function and the details of its operation. Section 7 deals with the composition of the authority and the term of office of its members. It is a standard provision for legislation dealing with the establishment of a public body of this nature. Members will be appointed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the authority will consist of not more than 11 people. These will include a practising barrister or solicitor, a representative of private security employers and a nominee of the Garda Commissioner and staff representatives. It is important to have members from the licensed trade too, such as the VFI, if we hope to get acceptance of the Bill. The regulation and promotion of this authority is important as is a code of conduct and standards requiring qualifications that could be awarded to suitable individuals.
It is welcome that the Garda is involved because it gives the weight of law to the body. Security personnel should wear uniforms that conform to a certain standard of dress code as well as identifying serial numbers – which relate to registration – on their jackets or lapels so people in night clubs, etc. can identify who they are dealing with and ask for their number. In that way, there can be no subsequent claims that the individuals in question were not on duty on the occasion in question. It is important that the Minister should get it right by introducing those measures in a professional manner, having looked at systems in operation in other jurisdictions. The policing of the system should allow for total traceability.
Adequate resources must be invested in dealing with the growth in violent crime. The issue of crime within business also needs attention, including more effective use of Garda resources and increased provision for detention places. I am also concerned about the operation of the courts system, in terms of bail arrangements, forfeiture and estreatment. There has been a 10% increase in the level of crime against small businesses since the last survey a year ago. That also involves associated costs for businesses, which have been estimated at €181 million, based on an average cost of €2,181, representing an increase of 34% on a 1997 survey figure. Those figures take no account of capital expenditure by small businesses on private security equipment, costing an average of €2,650 per company, plus an additional €842 for maintenance costs.
Private security cameras have provided valuable information to assist the Garda in the investigation of crime. The total cost of criminal activity and preventive measures borne by businesses amounts to €775 million per annum, including night clubs, pubs, hotels, supermarkets and industrial premises. The Minister should take account of that resource and ensure that the security business is properly supervised so that vested interests are dealt with. Relevant security equipment includes alarms, closed circuit television, hidden cameras, access control, time-lock safes and till surveillance. Such facilities are now an everyday part of doing business.
In relation to the courts services, the proportion of people absconding from bail is quite alarming. According to a recent report, the Garda Síochána identified 5,000 cases which arose between 1988 and 1998 as still outstanding. Unexecuted bench warrants are increasing at an annual rate of about one quarter of the number issued in 2000. In 2001, 10,121 bench warrants were issued and, in the same year, the number of such warrants executed was 5,787 in terms of the persons concerned being brought before the relevant courts by the Garda. However, the executed bench warrants are not necessarily for those issued in 2001, indicating that many bench warrants are carried over to the following years. In practice, a warrant execution rate of 100% is regarded as unattainable in the foreseeable future. Of the 10,121 bench warrants issued in 2001, some 1,810 are estimated not to have involved a cash bail amount. However, in 3,297 of the remaining 8,311 cases, there was failure to pursue estreatment. Clearly a substantial number of people are getting away with paying a small amount of their bail and there is no subsequent follow-up. In the Dublin Circuit and Central Court, no order for forfeiture or estreatment of bail money has been made in the five years from 1997 to 2001, although 1,321 bench warrants were issued during the same period for non-appearance in those courts. Those alarming figures would suggest that crime pays.