I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to introduce the Private Security Services (Amendment) Bill 2021 in this House, and I look forward to our discussion of its provisions here today. The principal objective of this Bill is to include a new category of "enforcement guard" in the list of private security services licensed by the Private Security Authority under the 2004 Act.
Many of us will recall the removal of persons from a private property on North Frederick Street in September 2018 on foot of a High Court order. The persons were removed by a private security firm. The personnel who attended at the property on behalf of the private security firm are not currently subject to regulation or licensing by the Private Security Authority under the Private Security Services Act 2004, as amended. This is because the activity does not fall within the definition of what constitutes a security service under the Act.
Such occurrences by unregulated persons who are not required to wear identification, ID, or be licensed is unacceptable. It inevitably leads to flash points and many real concerns. Court orders obviously have to be upheld but they need to be upheld, if necessary, by persons who are properly regulated, who are identifiable and who have been trained.
In light of the widespread dissatisfaction with events at the property on North Frederick Street and the inherent risk associated with unregulated persons carrying out such functions, the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, made a commitment to the Dáil in September 2018 that the law governing the area of persons involved in the execution of court orders that are not licensable by the Private Security Authority would be examined. The Minister established an interdepartmental working group chaired by the Department of Justice, comprising officials from the Courts Service, An Garda Síochána, the County Registrars Association, Revenue Commissioners, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Private Security Authority itself.
The remit of the working group was to examine the steps necessary to bring the regulation and licensing of security personnel assisting those enforcing court orders for eviction or repossession within the remit of the Private Security Authority. Bringing such personnel within the licensing remit of the Private Security Authority was the key recommendation of the interdepartmental working group report. On 22 October 2019, the Government approved the drafting of the Private Security Services (Amendment) Bill. The majority of the provisions in the Bill arise from the working group report but the opportunity was also taken to make two further amendments to the 2004 Act which were specifically requested by the Private Security Authority.
Before proceeding further, I would like to acknowledge Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire's Private Members' Bill, Regulation of Private Security Firms Bill 2019, which contained similar objectives to the Private Security Services (Amendment) Bill. On Second Stage, in November last, I shared Deputy Ó Laoghaire's concerns that the law in this area should be comprehensive and the Government did not oppose the Deputy's Private Members' Bill on Second Stage. I indicated that progressing this Government legislation was of high importance to the Government and I am pleased to be here today to present this Bill. There was encouraging support for this legislative change to progress when it was discussed then and I hope to see that support will be replicated today and in the next Stages of the Bill.
I am sure that everyone in this House will agree with me that the security industry in Ireland is one which has come far. It is an industry where society demands more than light-touch regulation and in which public confidence must be maintained. The Bill before us is proof of the Government's commitment to promote and ensure best practice in the industry.
I strongly believe that it is in the public interest that everyone involved in the private security industry operates to the highest possible standards. Bringing this new category of security service within the remit of the Private Security Authority will mean that enforcement guards will require a licence to operate in this area. It will ensure that they are subject to the training standards and licensing regime operated by the Private Security Authority.
I turn now to the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 is a standard provision which includes the definition of the term "Principal Act". Section 2 is the key section of the Bill and inserts an additional category and a definition of "enforcement guard" in the list of security services covered by the Private Security Services Act 2004. The section also inserts definitions of a "county registrar", "court messenger", and "sheriff". The definition of an "enforcement guard" means a person other than a sheriff, country registrar or court messenger who for remuneration, as part of his or her duties, is authorised to perform any of the following functions: removing one or more persons from any premises or any other place in order to take possession of the premises or place; controlling, supervising or restricting entry by one or more persons to any premises or any other place in order to take possession of the premises or place; or seizing goods or other property in lieu of an outstanding debt, which said authorisation is conferred by or under an enactment, pursuant to a court order, in accordance with an agreement or a consent, pursuant to a contract, or otherwise in accordance with the law.
The insertion of this category and definition will ensure that an enforcement guard must hold a licence. It will be an offence to operate as an enforcement guard without a Private Security Authority licence. Such individuals will also be subject to the training standards and licensing regime operated by the authority. It will also be an offence to represent oneself as an enforcement guard by advertisement or displaying any object purporting to indicate that the holder is a licensed enforcement guard. For both offences, a person may be liable for a class A fine or imprisonment for up to 12 months or both on summary conviction. A conviction on indictment can lead to imprisonment of up to five years or imposition of a fine.
Section 3 inserts a further exemption from licensing by the Private Security Authority for those engaged in the enforced collection of Revenue liabilities by a sheriff or county registrar. Where, in exceptional circumstances, there might be a need to engage security personnel, existing protocols have been updated in Revenue to include a requirement that such personnel are licensed by the Private Security Authority. Section 4 extends the provisions of section 26 of the Private Security Services Act 2004 allowing the Private Security Authority to refuse to renew a licence, or suspend or revoke a licence of a body corporate for the actions of its members.
This will include the actions of directors, shareholders, managers, secretaries or other similar officers of the body corporate or any person purporting to act in that capacity and will ensure that the PSA has the ability to appropriately regulate its licences.
Section 5 provides for the amendment of section 33(3) of the Private Security Services Act 2004 to make the register of licensed persons available for inspection free of charge by members of the public both at its principal office and online. Currently the register of licensed persons is only available for inspection at the principal office of the PSA during office hours. This amendment will make inspection of the register more convenient for members of the public.
Section 6 provides for the amendment of section 48(1) of the Private Security Services Act 2004 to include an offence of "impersonating an inspector" in the list of offences detailed in the subsection. The amendment will make it an offence for a person to falsely represent himself or herself as an inspector. A person found guilty of this offence will be liable to a fine not exceeding €3,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both. Section 7 repeals a number of provisions, including section 4(4) of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act 1926. Under this section, court offices are obliged to display court messengers' names and places of residence. This has posed a risk to the safety of county registrars and court messengers carrying out their duties and is, therefore, being repealed. As I said earlier, section 5 provides for the amendment of section 33(3) of the Private Security Services Act 2004 to make the register of licensed persons available for inspection free of charge by members of the public both at its principal office and online. As a result of this provision, section 33(6) of the principal Act, which provides that the register be printed and published annually, and section 33(7) of the principal Act, which requires that once the register is published, a copy is to be furnished to every Garda station, are no longer required. Section 8 contains standard provisions relating to the Short Title, commencement and collective citation.
I wish to underline again the importance of this short Bill. Private security has a key contribution to make to safeguarding all of our citizens. Its role is varied and impacts on citizens in all aspects of Irish life from work to social activity. Private security personnel occupy a position of trust, engaging in regular interactions with members of the public and should operate to the highest of standards. I am pleased that with the introduction of these amendments, the PSA can continue to play an important role vis-à-vis the private security industry and the important contribution it makes to the protection of our community. Confidence in the industry has improved greatly due to the manner in which the PSA carries out its functions, providing clients of private security service providers with assurance that the industry is working to the highest standards possible. I wish to place on the record of the House my appreciation of the work of the authority and its staff. I also want to thank security personnel who have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, despite the challenges. I also wish to acknowledge those who have been unable to work throughout the pandemic. It is my hope that they will be back serving their communities in the near future. I commend the Bill to the House.