Priority Questions.

Paramilitary Activities.

Jim O'Keeffe


1 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his assessment of the level of criminal activity engaged in by paramilitaries in the State; the types of such criminal activity; if he has satisfied himself that the Garda Síochána has sufficient resources to deal with such activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21639/05]

The fifth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission on the continuing activities of paramilitary groups, submitted pursuant to Articles 4 and 7 of the international agreement establishing the IMC, was published last month. This report, as with previous reports, sets out,inter alia, an assessment of the current activities of paramilitary groups and details incidents of violence and exiling. Although most of the activities reported refer specifically to Northern Ireland, some do not and the general assessment of each group’s status is broadly as valid to the south as to the north of the Border.

In the case of the Real IRA, the IMC states that it is the most active of the dissident republican groups and remains engaged in acts of terrorism and organised crime. The IMC goes on to state that RIRA has recruited and trained members in the use of firearms and has continued to improve its capacity in the use of explosives. The IMC believes this is the work of an organisation which is ruthless and committed to terrorism. I am pleased to note that the Special Criminal Court last week sentenced five members of RIRA to imprisonment on conviction for membership of an unlawful organisation. One of these members was described as the officer commanding of RIRA in Munster, with three of the others described as constituting an active service unit.

In respect of the Continuity IRA, the IMC states that it has continued to be sporadically active. CIRA has undertaken some re-organisation, particularly in its command structure, which the IMC believes may indicate an intention to increase its level of activity. CIRA continues to take on new members and to train, including in the use of rifles and explosives, and it is making efforts to improve its engineering capacity, particularly with regard to explosives, and its access to weapons. Two members of CIRA were arrested in this jurisdiction in January 2005 for possession of an under-car explosive device. The IMC goes on to state that CIRA has no interest in a ceasefire and believes that it plans to continue to engage in terrorism and other crimes, possibly more than in the recent past.

In the case of the INLA, the IMC states that its members remain very actively involved in organised crime, including drugs, although its level of activity is not as high as in previous reporting periods. The IMC adds that the threat of the organisation's more active engagement remains.

The IMC states that the Provisional IRA continues to maintain its medium term effectiveness. It continues to recruit and train new members, including in the use of firearms and explosives, and continues to gather intelligence. The IMC goes on to state that PIRA remains engaged in organised crime, including, for example, the smuggling of fuel and tobacco. Moreover, recent events have shown PIRA's sophisticated use of money laundering as a means of securing in the long term the proceeds of serious crime, such as the Northern Bank raid. The IMC concludes by noting that PIRA remains a highly active organisation which is at present determined to maintain its effectiveness in terms of organised crime and the potential for terrorism.

The Garda authorities assure me that the Garda Síochána has sufficient resources to deal with the terrorist and criminal activities of paramilitary groups. As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Síochána has never been better resourced. For example, the Government has increased the Garda budget by more than 90%, from €599 million in 1997 to €1.39 billion in 2005——

We can do without the commercial.

——and more than 1,000 new gardaí per year will be recruited over the next three years to bring the strength of the force to 14,000, as promised in the programme for Government.

I ask the Minister to reply to the question, which sought his assessment of the level of criminal activity. I am aware of the IMC report. Is the level of activity of paramilitaries increasing, being maintained or decreasing? That is what I am after.

I would also like some indication of whether he has any idea of the numbers involved in such activity. Will he inform the House on whether the recent upsurge in crime and armed robberies has any connection with freelance or redundant republicans, in terms of personnel or the provision of arms for such robberies?

I am genuinely on an information seeking mission. I want to know whether we are seeing a decline or an increase in the level of activity or if there has been no change. That is the point of my question.

There are reasons to believe the Provos are engaged in a process of consultation on how the entire movement, that is, the IRA and Sinn Féin, will address the new situation created by the political circumstances obtaining in Northern Ireland, the fact that they were discovered to be the masterminds and perpetrators of the Northern Bank robbery and the money laundering in the South and the involvement of their members in the murder of Robert McCartney. I believe those consultations are at an advanced stage and it is now a matter for the leadership of the Provisional movement to decide when they will announce an end to paramilitary activity, criminality, violence, the threat of violence and their reign of terror in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland.

In terms of the other groups, Deputy O'Keeffe will be aware that they continue to attempt to get their act together. The Garda continues to have considerable success in breaking up their efforts and detecting their activities. With regard to freelance activities, there is some sporadic evidence that former paramilitaries are now turning to ordinary criminality as a lifestyle maintenance activity outside their paramilitary connections. Recently, a number of incidents have taken place in which these kinds of people, apparently acting for personal gain, have become involved.

In terms of the numbers involved, can the Minister give the House any indication of the size of these organisations, in particular, the Provisional IRA? The Minister seems to hope the Provisional IRA and its leadership at political and paramilitary level may arrive at a conclusion which will end all paramilitary and criminal activity. Could the Minister give an indication as to what sort of timeframe he hopes for or expects in that regard?

It is difficult to be precise on numbers because, if we knew the exact figures, many of our problems would be solved. It is fair to say that there are between 1,000 and 1,500 active volunteers in the IRA. None of the dissident groups would have many more than 150 people attached to them.

In terms of timeframes for this, obviously, the sooner these decisions are made the better. However, they have to be made in a credible way and be accompanied by acts. The Taoiseach made it clear to the Provisional movement that words alone will not suffice. They have to be accompanied by acts and inaction of a palpable kind which will convince, not only the members of those movements, but the community at large and, in particular, the community which has most to fear from them that it is well and truly over.

Crime Levels.

Joe Costello


2 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of murders in which firearms were used thus far in 2005; the way in which this compares with the same period for 2004; the progress made to date with regard to Operation Anvil announced by him on 17 May 2005; his views on the number of weapons seized to date; the number of arrests made; the number of charges preferred which have arisen thus far from the operation; the length of time the operation is intended to continue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21641/05]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that from 1 January 2004 to 13 June 2004, six murders were recorded as being committed using a firearm. In the period from 1 January to 22 June 2005, nine murders were recorded as being committed using a firearm.

While I have repeatedly urged caution in the interpretation of statistics, particularly statistics covering comparatively short periods of time, it is worth noting that, of the nine murders involving firearms this year, one occurred in March, five in April, three in May and none in June to date. With one exception, the murders were committed in the Dublin area. I am satisfied that Operation Anvil is making a significant contribution to securing a reduction in this type of offence. I commend the Commissioner and the members of An Garda Síochána for the efficient and effective use of the resources made available to them.

Operation Anvil was initiated by the Garda Commissioner on 16 May. I provided details in respect of it to the House on 17 May. Its main focus is targeting active criminals and their associates involved in serious crime by preventing and disrupting criminal activity. It involves overt patrolling and static checkpoints by uniform mobile and foot patrols, supported by armed plain clothes patrols. In addition, intelligence led covert operations are undertaken, as are searches and continued gathering and collation of high quality criminal intelligence.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that, since its inception, there have been 377 arrests and 76 firearms recovered. It is not possible to provide details pertaining to the number of charges preferred as a number of investigations, in respect of which investigation files will be submitted to the law officers for direction in due course, are ongoing.

As the Deputy is aware, the Criminal Justice Bill 2004, which is on Second Stage in the House, provides for a comprehensive package of anti-crime measures that will enhance the capacity of the Garda to investigate and prosecute offences. In that context, I will bring forward, on Committee Stage, a series of measures to increase sentences for the more serious range of firearm offences, including a mandatory minimum sentence in some cases. I will also introduce a new offence of illegally making a sawn-off shotgun.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that murders involving the use of firearms tend, for obvious reasons, to have lower conviction rates than other murders. This is not unique to Ireland; it is a pattern across the world. However, the number of violent deaths, both murder and manslaughter, recorded in 2004 was 45, the lowest number in ten years, despite the fact our population increased by 400,000 during that ten-year period.

Does the Minister agree that there have already been as many if not more deaths as a result of gangland killings in the first half of this year as occurred in nine of the past ten years? Does he consider that even with Operation Crossover, which was established in November 2004 and which lasted a few months, the situation for the first six months of this year is worse than that which obtained in any other year? It seems that once the blip of intensified Garda activity ended, the situation not only reverted to its previous state but appeared to get worse. Does the Minister agree that the €6.5 million being spent on Operation Anvil will end up having the same effect as the €4 million on Operation Crossover? Paying overtime is not the way to deal with gangland activity. What is required is a concerted plan, involving year-round effort, in order to achieve results.

Does the Minister agree that gangland killings are effectively the worst type of crime and attract the lowest detection rate? A hitman is almost assured that the last thing that will happen is that he will be detected, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned. Until such time as the Minister puts forward specific proposals to deal with the problem, the situation can only become worse.

I do not agree with that. Ireland is one of the safest countries in the world. If one examines the figures I gave, the number of people who died last year as a result of homicides — involving either manslaughter and murder — was 45. That is one of the lowest figures in ten years, despite the fact that the population increased dramatically in that time. We must be clear on that.

That is general homicide. My question relates to murder and firearms.

I share the Deputy's point of view on firearms to some extent but the figures to which he referred are not quite right. In 1998, for example, four murders involving firearms took place. That increased to 12 in 1999, stayed at 12 in 2000, decreased to nine in 2001, increased to ten in 2002, increased to 20 in 2003 and decreased to nine last year. This year the figure has already reached nine. It is not true to say that the situation has never been as bad as it is at present. There were four detections in respect of the ten murders committed in 2002, ten of the 20 murders in 2003 resulted in detections and in respect of the nine murders in 2004 there were six detections. It is not as black a picture in terms of detection as the Deputy suggests.

How many convictions were there? There was one conviction in each of those years.

I agree with the Deputy that the phenomenon of paid——

What does detection mean?

The time for this question has concluded.

——gunmen is extremely worrying. That is what Operation Anvil is all about. The Deputy asked if we should have bursts of activity such as that surrounding Operation Anvil or if we should we adopt a constant approach. I discussed this matter with the Garda Commissioner. His view is that special operations have merit. It is similar to playing a football match. One must say to the team at some stage that the next five minutes is crucial and that points must be scored. One cannot simply state that overtime has nothing to do with it. It does have something to do with it.

I have one brief supplementary question.

We have gone two and a half minutes over time on this question.

What happened to the amnesty the Minister proposed?

When we get the Criminal Justice Bill and the firearms provisions through, I will deal with the amnesty issue. The sooner we get the Criminal Justice Bill through the better.

The Minister might set out the full list of proposals.

I would like to do that.

I requested it a few months ago. It is important.

I will write to the Deputies setting out everything that is planned in respect of that Bill.

That is a good idea so we will not have the debacle that we do with the current Bill.

The Minister and the Deputy cannot have a friendly chat.

It is not exactly friendly.

Garda Deployment.

Tony Gregory


3 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, further to Parliamentary Question No. 314 of 20 May 2005, if, in view of the fact that the majority of gardaí performing duties in the environs of Croke Park on major match days are there to facilitate access to the match and major concerts in Croke Park, the RDS and other venues in which very large profits are generated by the event organisers, he will review the present arrangements whereby the event organisers pay nothing towards the costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21643/05]

As the Deputy is aware, over the years numerous organisations have requested and have been given the assistance of gardaí on a non-public duty basis. This non-public duty is performed by members of An Garda Síochána under arrangements made by the Garda authorities with organisers of events such as football matches, race meetings and rock concerts who seek their services to perform duties to which they would not normally be assigned. Traditionally, members of the force have been made available for the performance of such duties and the State has charged for their services. The work is done by members who would otherwise be off duty.

At present, the organisers of events who request the services of gardaí on a non-public duty basis are made aware of the conditions attached to this arrangement by the relevant district officers and pay for the cost of non-public duties performed by gardaí inside the event location, such as, for example, at sporting events, major GAA or soccer matches and rock concerts. Gardaí who operate inside the venue are paid, while those on duty outside are supplied without payment.

The cost of policing duties performed by gardaí outside such as traffic control, beat patrols etc., are not paid for by the organisers of events and fall to be paid from public funds. The Garda authorities point out that it is difficult to distinguish where public duty ends and private policing starts on these occasions. Section 26 of the Garda Síochána Bill, which is before the House at present, provides a new statutory basis for the Garda Commissioner to charge for police services for commercial events such as sports fixtures, concerts etc. Regulations may also be made under the Bill governing this new power and, in particular, the costs which are to be taken into account by the Commissioner. That matter will be dealt with by regulation but it is my intention that those who run for profit events in particular, should pay a very considerable portion of the policing costs occasioned by their events inside and outside the venue. A graduated approach will have to be taken to this issue because it would be wrong to start charging the organisers of not for profit events, such as the community games, for policing. We also have to consider places like Lansdowne Road and Croke Park, GAA matches and the like. I want a system that is fair to the taxpayer. The people who charge big money for the tickets for these events should factor into the price a reasonable portion of the cost to the community of running the event. They cannot simply take the profit and leave the community to pay the bills.

I welcome the Minister's reply in so far as I understand that he intends to change what has been the position until now. My question relates to events that generate very large profits. I am referring to police activities outside the events that, until now, the event organiser gets freegratis. In other words, the taxpayer subsidises them.

I mention Croke Park because I know it best; it is in my area. On non-match days one would be lucky to see a garda anywhere in the environs of Croke Park yet on match days the gardaí rightly operate a cordon on streets around the stadium. They patrol the area in vans, on motorcycles and with dogs, mounted units, tow trucks and all the other paraphernalia. It all descends on the place to facilitate Croke Park but it equally facilitates public safety. Incidentally, Croke Park made €2 million profit on tickets last year.

A question please, Deputy, because we are rapidly running out of time.

Is the Minister aware that the Garda admit that despite the intense activity they organise when major events arise — we have three nights of U2 concerts coming up this weekend — it still cannot control people drinking on footpaths outside pubs, urinating in public and illegally parking cars and obstructing residents, which makes life very difficult for residents living in the area? They cannot extend the cordon to areas within a reasonable distance, such as Iona Road, which is across the Drumcondra Road from Croke Park. Not only does the event organiser not pay——

A brief question please, Deputy, because we are running out of time.

——for the police activities outside the event, areas around the cordoned area cannot be properly policed. If the event organisers were paying their fair share, instead of the taxpayers subsidising huge profits, perhaps the Garda could put in the resources and ensure public safety in respect of everyone but particularly the people who live in those areas.

I agree with Deputy Gregory that if event organisers, particularly those who organise high profit events, were obliged to pay their fair share of the extra security and policing costs the event creates, there would be more resources and it would be easier for local district officers to assign gardaí to deal with the problems to which the Deputy refers. For instance, we all see people on occasion drinking outside pubs throughout the city. Although it is technically illegal in nearly every case, it is something one might think the gardaí in many cases correctly decide is not worth taking names and address for, but they should warn the publicans that they are breaching the law by allowing drink to be served on the street outside the premises. Urinating in public places is one of the offences for which I hope to bring in a fixed penalty notice system because gardaí should not have to go to the District Court three months later to try to identify the lamp-post against which the urination in question took place.

It will cost more to spend a penny.

I hope it will not affect the dogs in the street.

I fully appreciate that people who live in the environs of large stadiums want the area and the patrons of the event to be properly policed. In Lansdowne Road, for instance, in my constituency, one aspect on which the residents have a very strong view, especially in the context of its redevelopment, is that there would be a comprehensive traffic management plan which would come into effect under special by-laws that would decide who is allowed park and all those issues rather than find themselves in a community under siege, which the Deputy would echo in terms of the environs of Croke Park, on these occasions. It is very difficult for people who live near a stadium to have to put up with behaviour of that kind on a regular basis. I agree with the Deputy that the more money that is made available by the event organisers to the Garda to police those events, both inside and outside but particularly outside, the happier the community will be.

Will the Minister go to the U2 concert?

Nobody has given me any tickets.

Libel Laws.

Jim O'Keeffe


4 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he intends to move to implement reforms of libel laws designed to bring them into line with those of other states in the context of a statutory press council and improved privacy laws as provided for in An Agreed Programme for Government. [21640/05]

I am in the process of finalising the details of the proposals for the defamation Bill and following Government approval, which I have obtained, I intend in due course to publish the heads of the draft Bill so that they are in the public domain. As in the case of other Bills, in the course of formal drafting I will take account of the comments I receive on publication of the draft heads.

I confirm, as indicated in response to questions in the House on a number of occasions, that the Bill will contain provisions in regard to a press council, a press ombudsman and a press code of standards.

The Legal Advisory Group on Defamation Report in 2003 suggested a particular model involving a State appointed press council. That model did not attract me. The approach I favour is statutory recognition by way of a resolution to be moved in both Houses of the Oireachtas, of an independent organisation which would request to be recognised as the press council of Ireland for the purposes of the legislation. Recognition would bring certain privileges such as immunity from action in respect of its decisions, judgments and directions. I also envisage that such a press council would have, as its central focus, a code of standards supported by and subscribed to by print media organisations with operations in the State. Such a code of standards would provide an additional protection for citizens' privacy from media intrusion and harassment. It is also envisaged that the press ombudsman would be established by the press council to deal with complaints from those affected by breaches of the code of standards. One of the major issues in regard to a press council is the question of who will select the independent members and whether they will be genuinely independent because it cannot be a poodle of the media, no more than it can be a poodle of the Government.

The focus of efforts before and during my time as Minister has been on reform in the area of defamation but in the meantime there have been notable developments of jurisprudence in the area of privacy in the European Court of Human Rights, in English courts and in our own courts. There is a view that the developing jurisprudence in this area, as well as the capacity of our courts to develop the principles of law on a case by case basis, could have been sufficient to protect the privacy of persons. However, the Government's considered view is that the area is worthy of study with a view to seeking an appropriate legislative basis for the protection of privacy which would be consistent with freedom of expression. I am in consultation with the Attorney General with a view to progressing that matter. The details of any proposals for legislation on the privacy area will be announced in due course following the Attorney General and myself working on the issue and bringing the matter to Government.

I get a distinct sense that there is not a united approach on the part of the Government on this issue. In fact, I suspect that reform of the libel laws will fall within the cracks in the coalition and the Minister's reply does not allay that suspicion.

I want to focus on a number of issues. First, do I take it from the Minister's reply that he does not consider legislation to be necessary in the privacy area because of developments in jurisprudence both here and in Europe? Second, on reform of the libel laws, is there a direct connection with some decisions in the privacy area or will we have action soon? I say that because I always understood the Minister was very interested in this area. He produced a Private Members' Bill about eight or nine years ago. We have consultations, advisory groups, major conferences and God knows what else, yet nothing seems to be happening. Will the Minister indicate a timeframe? When will we have a Bill on reform of the libel laws? I want reform in that area and, while I do not want the statutory press council promised in An Agreed Programme for Government, I want a voluntary press council.

It all depends on what one means by the term "statutory". A purely voluntary body would be wholly ineffectual because its judgments, decisions and so on would be subject to being sued. In other words, it would not have any teeth. By the same token, a statutory press council of the other kind, in which the State, through the Government, decided what a press council would be and who would serve on it, is also unattractive. There is a middle way, namely, recognition of an independent voluntary body which comes up to certain criteria of independence and effectiveness, and the creation of statutory consequences for such a body once its comes into existence. That is the model on which I have been working and which will be in the proposals to be published by Government.

With regard to privacy, rather than see it as a major split between the Government parties or between me and members of the Government, it is more constructive to see this as one on which——

It is constructive disunity.

No, it is possible to have two points of view. One of them is that privacy is a very complicated issue. For example, at one level, one could claim the intrusion into Leas Cross nursing home was a breach of patient privacy whereas at another level, it could be claimed it was in the public interest that the information should be published.

How, in a statute, to work out the exact line of demarcation between what is acceptable and what is not is a matter that will undoubtedly cause difficulty. However, by the same token, the programme for Government intends, in the context of a statutory protection of privacy, that defamation reform will proceed. The Attorney General and I will be able to put together a privacy law that will not be overly prescriptive but will make it clear that breach of privacy which is not lawful or constitutional by other considerations should be actionable.

This is necessary because many current cases lead people to wonder exactly where the law of privacy does and does not run. There has been English jurisprudence concerning supermodels being photographed in gyms and so on and a case involving Princess Caroline of Monaco and the German press, which hounded her and published photographs of her day-to-day existence.

They lost that one.

These are the kinds of cases where drawing an exact line between what is and is not permissible is difficult. The Government's point of view is that we should not shy away from the issue just because it is difficult if we can come up with a law which is a help and protects privacy. The Attorney General and I will work on that in the next few months.

The Deputy asked for an indicative timeframe for this. I hope that by early autumn — in September or October — I will be in a position to publish the heads of the defamation Bill, which will then be at a fairly advanced stage of drafting, and, with the Attorney General, to bring to Government proposals for a privacy law.

I only used the term "statutory press council" because it was included in the programme for Government and the report of the legal advisory group set up by the Minister. I am not in favour of a statutory press council but of an independent press council. However, on that point, is there hesitation on the part of the media to provide the funding necessary for this independent council? Does the Minister honestly expect he will introduce legislation with regard to privacy or that he will depart from his original and apparently current view that no such legislation is necessary?

I will give the Deputy a Delphic reply to his last question: watch this space. With regard to funding, I have never known the media interests in Ireland to have an unwillingness to fund an independent press council. They could not reasonably expect the State to fund a press council which was genuinely independent and not accountable to the taxpayer. That is not a runner.

On the other hand, one could not expect them to fund a statutory press council.

The media in our society are sufficiently well-to-do to pay the cost to the community of policing their own activities through a press council. It would not be fair to tell pensioners, hospital patients and others that the resources they seek should be taken away and given to a press council, when the media are in a good position to fund it.

Security Industry.

Joe Costello


5 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in regard to the establishment and operation of the private security services authority; the number of staff appointed; the functions it is discharging; the progress made with regard to a proposed code of practice for the private security sector; when the code will be finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21642/05]

The Private Security Services Act 2004 was signed into law on 4 May 2004. The Act allows for, among other things, the establishment of a Private Security Authority to control and supervise persons providing security services and maintain and improve standards in the provision by it of those services. The functions of the authority include the granting and renewal of licences, the issuing of identity cards to licensees, the suspension or revocation of licences, the specification of standards in the provision of security services, specification of qualification and training requirements and monitoring of the services and service providers in the industry generally.

The authority, which is located in Tipperary town and has a current staff complement of eight, has put in place a very ambitious work programme. The primary objective of the Private Security Authority in developing its initial strategy has been to focus on those areas of greatest concern from a public order perspective and within those areas to prioritise the licensing which will give the most immediate results in terms of reducing criminality and getting a distinct grouping licensed in the shortest possible timeframe.

The authority will commence licensing private security contractors in October 2005. Licensing of companies in the various sectors of the private security industry will be implemented on a phased basis and the Private Security Authority plans to have licensed all private security employees and companies by the end of 2007.

I presume the code of practice referred to by the Deputy relates to the voluntary code of practice to create a safe, secure and efficient cash handling environment in Ireland. The voluntary code has been developed by a forum of stakeholders, including the Garda Síochána, the Central Bank and the Financial Services Authority of Ireland, the five federated banks and some of the major cash-in-transit security companies. The work of the forum was facilitated by the Irish Bankers Federation, and officials from my Department and the Private Security Authority have been attending the forum as observers.

The code of practice, which will be signed by the relevant stakeholders tomorrow, will provide the framework for an end-to-end solution to reduce the risk of cash-in-transit robberies. For security reasons, the document is a confidential one and, therefore, it would not be prudent for me to give details in the House. However, it should be pointed out that this is the first time all the major players in the cash handling environment have agreed collectively to new measures that will raise standards and better manage the risk posed by those criminals who target cash movements.

The Private Security Authority has contracted the National Standards Authority of Ireland to develop standards to underpin the licensing of all cash-in-transit companies. It is anticipated the voluntary code of practice will contribute towards the formulation of these standards.

While the Private Security Services Bill was introduced in 2001, it only progressed through the Oireachtas in 2004. The Government dragged its heels with regard to the Bill. Ireland is the last of all the countries in Europe to introduce regulation, licensing, standards, training, vetting and monitoring of the private security service, but the authority is still not operational. Its members have only recently been appointed and the Minister has just stated that the first licences will not emanate from the authority until October next, and that will only happen on such a phased basis that it will be 2007 before service providers are licensed. Is this not a disgrace? One of the largest industries in the country, in excess of the combined strength of the Garda Síochána and the Army — the public security forces that have stringent regulations and standards — is totally unregulated, with no vetting procedures, no licensing procedures and no standards provided at all. Does the Minister agree this is an area where the black market has operated for a considerable period of time? It is an area infiltrated by questionable people, including redundant paramilitaries, from building site to bouncer. The State has shown no urgency in this matter. Is it not ironic that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who has spoken out so strongly on paramilitary and criminal activity, has done nothing to prevent people with dubious credentials from establishing their career in this area and that the State is to blame?

In a sense the body of the question contains the reply and I already gave a reply to Deputy Costello.

The Minister of State should agree with me.

It is one thing for the Houses of the Oireachtas to enact legislation and another to implement it in a practical scheme. The authority does exist and is located in Tipperary town. It has a staff complement of eight at present. I assure the Deputy that upon the enactment of the legislation this matter was given a high priority in the Department. The necessary arrangements were put in place to establish the authority as a decentralised authority in Tipperary town. A great deal of work and effort was put in by the offices of the Department to see that it happened.

As outlined in the reply, the authority has decided to commence licensing the private security contractors in October of this year. The Private Security Authority will commence with sectors for which standards have been developed. On this basis the authority proposes to commence licensing contractors providing door supervisors and security guard services from October. That will be the first sector tackled by the authority.

I acknowledge the concerns of the Deputy on the infiltration of this industry by questionable persons. I am not in a position to confirm this to the House but I will draw the attention of the Minister to the concerns of the Deputy. It is a valid concern and it is a matter that requires priority.

The establishment of any authority in the public sector takes a period of time. That is what has happened here. The necessary buildings have been secured, the initial staff has been allocated and licensing will start this year. The extension of the licensing will be done on a phased basis and all private security employees and companies will be licensed by the end of 2007. That is the work plan set up by the authority and its decision is that the matter of greatest concern in terms of public order is to prioritise licensing. We empowered it to make this decision by enacting this legislation.

Is the Minister of State satisfied it will be at least another two years before the entire sector is licensed? Training mechanisms also have to be set up. He has not referred to how that will operate and if people will reach the standards set by international best practice. The State has dragged its heels to the extent that we still do not know when the sector will be licensed properly. Would the Minister of State agree the area where there are most problems, theft of cash in transit, will only operate on a voluntary code?

The purpose of establishing the private security sector authority and legislation was to ensure there would be a mandatory code of practice. Now the Minister has given this sector, including banks, building societies and financial sectors, the opportunity to develop a voluntary code. They were supposed to do this years ago and there is nothing emanating from the authority or the legislation concerning a mandatory code.

We do not want to see banks being robbed on a daily basis or cash in transit robbed on a regular basis. With new tiger type hijackings families are put in danger. All the Minister of State can tell us is that a voluntary code will be up and running. The legislation was not introduced for a voluntary code and there should be a better response to what the authority will do.

I do not accept the suggestion of foot dragging. The authority's recruitment of staff is ongoing.

There are eight members of staff.

A major increase in staffing numbers is anticipated in advance of the commencement of licensing in October.

The legislation will have been passed for 12 months at that stage.

The Department is finalising the staffing arrangements for the authority. Concerning training for the security industry the authority is developing national training standards for employees in this industry.

It has not done it yet.

A key factor is to determine the modes of recognition of prior learning for persons with many years' experience in the industry who do not have formal qualifications.

That is not very reassuring.

Preliminary discussions regarding the ongoing training needs of the industry have been held with FÁS. A broad sectoral skills analysis in each sector will be required to facilitate the development of an educational framework——

It sounds like it is totally up in the air.

——encompassing the entry-level security guard through to degree level qualification, thus providing a structured career path and a means of advancement within the industry. The PSA hopes to draw on the expertise of the security institute of Ireland and other academic centres in building this framework. The Deputy will appreciate that there is a very substantial amount of work to be done. Concerning the voluntary code the Minister is not saying there should not be a code. That is a matter for the authority. The Minister is saying that at least now we have a voluntary code and that major progress has been made in this area.

We had a voluntary code ages ago.