I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
It is unacceptable that there is no regulation governing the activities of the personnel who enforce court orders, including orders for eviction. That lack of regulation is hard to fathom and comprehend. This legislation came about in response to the shocking scenes we have seen at evictions in recent years. I instance, in particular, the evictions at North Frederick Street in Dublin city more than two years ago and the eviction that took place in Strokestown, County Roscommon. There are other examples which may not have come to media attention to the same extent. It is a fact that the persons involved in enforcing those court-ordered evictions were not subject to oversight and there was no opportunity for the people who were the subject of the evictions to complain. The personnel involved did not conduct themselves in an acceptable way. Indeed, their conduct was very heavy-handed and quite scandalous.
Following the North Frederick Street evictions, I contacted the Private Security Authority to make a complaint regarding my dissatisfaction with the way they were conducted. I was informed that those involved in the enforcement of court orders, including eviction orders, did not come under the remit of the authority. I was absolutely amazed at this. I conveyed my concern to the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, who confirmed that this was the case. It is astonishing that we have allowed a situation to develop, whether by oversight or however it came to be, that people who provide security in bars, restaurants and shops are subject to far more oversight and regulation than those responsible for carrying out evictions. The person working the door of Mothercare is subject to more regulation than a person who has the authority to force somebody out of his or her home.
Deputy Martin Kenny and I drew up this legislation to fix that very significant loophole, which is not without consequence. We propose to amend section 2 of the Private Security Services Act 2004 by adding a new category of security personnel within the remit of the Act and the scope of the Private Security Authority, namely, persons involved in the execution and-or enforcement of court orders for repossession. This would bring them within the remit of the legislation and the authority generally and would also, for example, make the provisions of sections 29 and 30 of the same Act applicable to them. The Bill makes explicit that all personnel operating within the private security industry must identify themselves and that they will fall within the remit of the legislation. The authority is responsible, for instance, for the control and supervision of persons providing security, including the granting, suspending and revoking of licences, maintaining a register of licensees, issuing identity cards, specifying qualifications, setting minimum standards of practice and administering a system of investigation and adjudication of complaints. The latter point, in particular, was one of our main reasons for drawing up these proposals. As a public representative, I had a way of expressing my dissatisfaction with what happened on North Frederick Street. In the case of tenants, who are directly affected by such events, there is nowhere for them to take a complaint. The current lack of regulation means that the people carrying out this role, and the banks and financial institutions employing them to do so, have carte blanche in terms of how they conduct themselves. Those banks and financial institutions can choose to employ whomever they like, with no need to have them vetted, and send them off to force a family out of their home. That is completely unacceptable.
Subsequent to the North Frederick Street evictions, in late 2018, I said to the then Minister for Justice and Equality that if he did not address the matter, we would bring forward legislation. He said he would do so but no Bill was forthcoming. We published this legislation in early 2019, at which point the then Minister undertook, yet again, to introduce a Bill. Once again, he did not do so. When I looked at the legislative programme of the new Government, I saw no reference to any legislation of this kind. I am informed that the Government will support our proposals and had intended to bring forward its own Bill. The tabling of this debate has perhaps pushed the matter up the agenda. There has been talk of action for two years but no progress, at least publicly, from the Department. That is not good enough and we absolutely need action at this point. I welcome the Government's indication that it will support our Bill. Far too often, the approach has been to vote down good legislative proposals or send them off into the never-never. My understanding is that this will not happen on this occasion and I hope the same will apply in respect of other useful pieces of legislation. I am glad that the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, recognise the value of this Bill.
It is important to point out that evictions hit a very raw nerve for people in this country. What happened during the Famine and the Land War, and everything connected to those events, is seared into our collective memory. It offends us emotionally to think of people being forced out of their home unjustly, because they cannot afford their rent or mortgage payments or for whatever reason. Despite that, we have a situation where not only are the people who enforce court orders - the descendants of the bailiffs of old - not regulated, we also have inadequate protections for tenants. That issue must be resolved urgently. At this time, the eviction ban the Government has put in place during the current Covid restrictions is due to lapse in a couple of weeks if we move out of level 5. If it does, an eviction could happen before Christmas or just after Christmas and the same lack of regulations will apply. The banks can send in whomever they like to do whatever they like, other than what the criminal law prevents them from doing. As I said, there is an urgency to resolving this issue and it is unacceptable that it has continued for so long.
We also need to do much more to protect tenants and prevent evictions. We must ensure that nobody is evicted into homelessness and nobody is evicted on a basis that is unfair and unjust, as happened in our past. The reality is that such evictions could very well happen because there are people, particularly in the current Covid crisis, who are out of work and under pressure as their bills and debts mount up. Many people have received a notice to quit, including people in my constituency who have notices from early in the year. The successive stays of execution have allowed them to hang on until now but they are potentially facing eviction in the future.
More broadly, the Covid-related ban on evictions needs to be extended to January and then reviewed. I say reviewed because it should not necessarily be removed, but the situation should be evaluated at that time. The Focus Ireland amendment to prevent people being evicted into homelessness should be implemented and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage should move to ensure that tenants can get contracts of indefinite duration. There has been some talk of reforms in that area which the Department feels would go far enough but my sense of the matter is that they would not. It is talking about a technical change which will not allow tenants that contract of indefinite duration and the security this would offer. I urge the Minister of State to engage with the Department to ensure this measure is introduced.
The specific Bill before us is a small, practical and sensible Bill which needs to be progressed. I urge the Minister of State not to allow this to sit on Committee Stage. We have this evening's debate and there may then be a launch or statement by the Minister at a later stage before the Bill goes off into the never-never and nothing happens with it. This failure or gap could potentially facilitate heavy-handedness, confrontation, aggravation and violence if it is not legislated for. We cannot continue to allow banks and financial institutions to employ whoever they like while allowing An Garda Síochána very little scope to do anything about it. In this situation, the tenants affected can do nothing about it and have nobody to whom to complain. Níl sé sin maith go leor. Caithfear é a réiteach.
Cuirim fáilte roimh tacaíocht an Aire Stáit don Bhille atá os ár gcomhair tráthnóna. Tá sé tábhachtach agus luachmhar. Ba chóir dúinn é a chur chun cinn chomh luath agus is féidir, go síneoidh an tUachtarán é agus go gcuirfear i bhfeidhm é, ach ní leor é sin ann féin. Cé go gcuirfear fáilte roimhe, caithfimid cinnte a dhéanamh go gcuirfear deireadh le daoine a chur amach as a gcuid tithe agus go dtabharfar níos mó cearta, cúnaimh agus cosanta dóibh, mar atá luaite agam, trí reachtaíocht agus trí bhac a chur ar dhaoine a chur as a gcuid tithe go dtí an bhliain nua. I thank the Minister of State. I look forward to listening to him and to other Deputies.