To remind Deputies of my initial comments last week, I welcome the Bill. It is a response to a situation that caused disquiet among many people, namely, the actions of certain individuals in North Frederick Street in 2018. By any stretch of the imagination, those individuals acted in an unacceptable fashion. As such, there was a requirement to deal with the issue that arose in this legislation. Most of us who were involved with the original private security services legislation dating back to 2004 believed that individuals involved in situations such as that which arose in 2018 would be covered but clearly they were not.
Sinn Féin and Deputy Ó Laoghaire proposed a very straightforward Bill to extend the list of covered individuals under the Private Security Services Act to include those private security firms involved in the enforcement of court orders. The Minister of State wanted to go further. Although it has taken some time, not only is that matter being addressed in the Bill before us but a number of other issues I wish to mention are also being dealt with. As I mentioned on the previous occasion, as a matter of principle, when an Opposition Deputy comes forward with a very workable Bill, it should be taken on board, even if it needed to be amended on Committee Stage.
In addition to the list of covered security services set out in 2004 Act, it was clear that those involved in enforcing court orders, that is, private contractors, also needed to be covered. That will now happen under the provisions of the Bill before us. For clarity, exemptions have been made in the Minister of State's Bill. He amends section 2 of the principal Act with a new section 2 that will add enforcement guard to the list of security services covered. In section 3, he proposes to clarify this by the insertion of the phrase"a further exemption from licensing by the Private Security Authority for those engaged in the enforced collection of Revenue liabilities by a Sheriff". Some of our colleagues do not believe that is the correct way to go. We will be debating their suggestions later on Committee Stage.
The appointed sheriffs enforce debt owed to Revenue. Sheriffs employ their own staff, and staff may also be appointed as bailiffs and-or court messengers. As the Minister of State indicated when introducing the Bill, sheriffs generally do not engage private security firms. In exceptional circumstances where a sheriff may need to engage security personnel, however, under the newly proposed section 3, such personnel would also be encompassed under the terms of the principal Act and would need to be registered. When replying, the Minister of State might clarify and confirm that temporary staff taken on for a particular function by a sheriff would also be encompassed by that and are not simply contracted staff or professional security staff.
Other proposed amendments go slightly further than the original proposal to include those involved in the enforcement of court orders as registerable individuals under the Private Security Authority, allowing the Authority to refuse to renew a licence or suspend or revoke the licence of a body corporate due to the actions of its individual members. That is a very worthwhile amendment. Where a large security company has individual members who are acting in a rogue fashion, it is important that the authority has the capacity to revoke or refuse to renew a licence for such a company.
Section 5 provides for making the register of licensed persons available for inspection. We assumed that was always the case and it has been with regard to a written register at the principal office of the Authority. Can the Minister confirm that section 5 will ensure that any citizen can simply log on to this new register and be able to identify an individual who is liable to be properly registered under the Private Security Authority, if there is any doubt, and that this facility will be open to every member of the public? I hope that is the intention behind this section. Again, the Minister of State might comment on that for clarity's sake.
The new offence of impersonating an inspector of the authority created in section 6 is interesting. Obviously, it came from the authority itself. Have there been some cases where individuals have been impersonating officers of the authority? Was it required to put in this new section 6, amending section 48(1) of the principal Act, by creating this new offence of impersonating an inspector and making it a criminal offence liable to a fine not exceeding €3,000 or imprisonment for 12 months? I would be interested to hear if there is a body of evidence that said this particular action was required. Again, I have no objection to it.
Under section 4(4) of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act 1926, court officers are obliged to display court messengers' names and places of residence. Obviously, in changed times, the Minister of State has reconsidered the matter and wants to remove this obligation by repealing that necessity.
Again, my default position is normally for as much transparency as possible. However, I can see that there may well be a case for repealing section 4(4) of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act 1926. I would like to hear the Minister of State reinforce this in his summation. While that Act goes back to 1926, there may be a feeling currently that court officers or messengers might feel in some way intimidated if their names were in the public domain. It may well be a justifiable move to remove the requirement for that publication.
In general, I have no difficulty with this legislation. There will be some sort of debate on the issue of the enforcement of court orders. If one believes in the rule of law, as I do, the decision makers, ultimately, of what is lawful and constitutional in the State are our legally appointed courts. Courts without enforcement authority, however, are toothless. If people feel there is no capacity for a court order to be enforced, then they are worthless in and of themselves. There has to be an enforcement mechanism, once fair procedures are afforded to every citizen under the Constitution and the rule of law.
Our courts are the envy of other courts internationally. We can debate the appointment system in due course. However, since the foundation of the State, we have been extraordinarily well served by our Judiciary, as well as the fairness and impartiality of the judicial system. Over the decades, many have been appointed to the Bench who had former political incarnations. I believe that even the parties to which these individuals formerly belonged often were surprised at the degree of absolute impartiality they maintained once they took the oath of office to serve as independent judges under the Constitution.
It is important that we allow the orders of the courts, duly made after due process and fair hearing, to be enforced. It is also important that we do not tie the hands of those enforcing them to such a degree that the courts themselves are toothless and the orders they make are meaningless. That would be a dangerous situation.
In any of this - this is what comes to the nub of the initial mover of the Bill - it has to be done in a way that is sympathetic and acceptable to the public view while not intimidating or heavy-handed. Where that line of reasonableness is passed, there has to be an oversight body which can adjudicate on those issues. That is why it is appropriate that anybody enforcing any order of any court is covered by this.
The list of individuals covered by this legislation is broad, ranging from door supervisor, installer of security equipment, private investigator, security consultant, security guard, provider of protected forms of transport, locksmith, supplier and installer of safes and now enforcers of court orders. It is a comprehensive list of individuals who have significant roles to play in maintaining people's safety and security. They must always act in a way that is appropriate and respects the dignity of every citizen while not intimidatory or heavy-handed. We will have to obviously watch with great care how the security authority itself, which is still a relatively new entity in the organisation of oversight bodies in the State, operates. If we need in the future to strengthen its hand, we should be ready as a Legislature to do just that.
Meanwhile, there is nothing in the provisions, as set out by the Minister of State in this legislation, to which I would object. I would welcome the specific answers to the questions I posed about the details. I am sure the Minister of State will give these in his response before the conclusion of Second Stage.