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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Vol. 1006 No. 7

Private Security Services (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

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 needs 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.

I welcome the opportunity to examine the Private Security Services (Amendment) Bill 2021. Like Deputy Howlin, I remember the implications in 2004 when the Private Security Services Act was brought in to regulate that industry, because it was seen as unregulated. There were implications then, obviously, for various service operators which were welcome. This amending legislation is also welcome. In time, further amendments may be required.

It is important to note how, in a relatively short period, amending legislation such as this has come before the House. I thank the Minister of State for bringing forward this important legislation which amends and repeals certain provisions of the Private Security Services Act 2004 and the Enforcement of Court Orders Act 1926.

The Bill will bring those who assist in the enforcement of court orders for evictions and repossessions under the regulation of the Private Security Authority. Currently, private security firms engaged in the enforcement of court orders, including the repossession of properties, do not fall under a category for licensing through the Private Security Authority. This omission has clear implications for the oversight and regulation of private security firms that may be involved in repossessions. There have been a number of high-profile and contentious evictions in recent years in which private security firms have taken part. These include the events at both Strokestown and North Frederick Street in 2018. Both events led to violent incidents, unfortunately. There were clashes with gardaí in North Frederick Street, while a number of people were attacked following the eviction which took place in Strokestown. In light of the demonstrable danger which may arise in the execution of court orders for those within a property, and indeed for operatives of private security firms, it is clear there must be accountability and regulation in this area. It is essential that those providing security services should operate to the highest standards.

The Bill's main provision is the insertion of an additional category and a definition of "enforcement guard" in the list of security services covered by the Private Security Services Act 2004. This will require enforcement guards to obtain a licence to operate, as well as ensuring they are subject to the training standards and licensing regime operated by the authority. With the introduction of these amendments, the Private Security Authority can continue to provide its important role in the private security industry, as well as the contribution it makes to the protection of our community.

The Bill also makes several additional amendments including allowing the authority to refuse to renew a licence or suspend or revoke a licence of a body corporate because of the actions of its members. That is an important provision because it was missing all along. It makes the register of licensed persons available for inspection free of charge to members of the public. It introduces a new offence of impersonating an inspector of the authority.

Many of us will recall the removal of persons occupying a private property on North Frederick Street in September 2018 on foot of a High Court order, which found they were unlawfully occupying the property. The persons were removed by a private security firm. Currently, personnel involved in the enforcement of court orders are not subject to regulation on the basis that this activity does not fall within the definition of what constitutes a security service under the Private Security Services Act 2004. In light of the widespread public outrage at the events at the property on North Frederick Street, along with the inherent risks associated with unregulated persons carrying out such functions, the then Minister for Justice and Equality made a commitment to the Dáil in September 2018 that the law would be amended.

The matter was considered by an interdepartmental working group which recommended bringing such personnel within the licensing remit of the PSA. Enhanced regulation of the sector was also called for by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, in 2018. Ultimately, private security staff occupy a position of trust, engaging in regular interactions with members of the public. Those providing security services must, therefore, operate to the highest standards. This Bill will help to ensure that objective is realised and I call on all Deputies to support the measure.

I welcome this Bill to introduce a new category for those involved in evictions. However, I will address a concern I have about one aspect of the often overlooked private security sector, namely, persons who install security systems, access control, fire alarms, etc. They are also regulated and licensed by the PSA. At the beginning of the pandemic when lockdown and all the restrictions were still very fresh, these professional, regulated installers continued to operate to ensure closed premises were secure, safe and protected. This offered valuable reassurance to the businesses and their users but also to insurance companies and operators.

There are over 50 of these compliant, licensed providers in my constituency, the vast majority of which are small operators. Like many other small businesses, their income dried up over the pandemic period. Most of them work out of vans and conduct their administration from their kitchen table. The Minister of State spoke of the key contribution of the sector, trust, confidence and appreciation. How exactly were those virtues reflected by the Government in April 2020, when the board of the PSA submitted proposals to have the licence fees for these contractors adjusted to take account of the additional expenses incurred due to Covid-19 restrictions, and also the new health and safety requirements that were put in place? That review was ignored. The authority was asked to submit a second one, which it did. Its second proposal was rejected out of hand and there was not a chance of it being implemented. This was following consideration by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which deemed any deferral of income to the Exchequer a disproportionate response. The PSA then suggested an instalment arrangement.

This goes back to how little understanding some Governments have of the PSA and the work it does. This was never going to be a loss of income. It would have been a deferral. I ask the Government to think about the knock-on impact this will have. There will be an increase in the number of people operating in the black market which the PSA is tasked with investigating. Of greater concern is that when the number of licensed operators falls, there is also a fall in the number of businesses willing and able to take on apprentices and the young people who want to work in this sector and engage with the SOLAS apprenticeship programme. This will happen if there continues to be an exodus from this industry.

I have already mentioned the increased workload on the PSA. This was an extremely short-sighted position to adopt. The Minister of State can wax lyrical about the industry but those are the facts and that is exactly what happened. As we come out of this pandemic and seek to support small businesses, the Government should stop and see what supports have been put in place for this sector, which has provided a guarantee and reassurance to businesses that were closed that their premises were safe, protected and would be fit to be reopened.

I support the legislation. Evictions and court orders are not covered by the Private Security Services Act 2004 as it stands and therefore do not fall within the remit of the Private Security Authority. There was probably an expectation that these would be covered but it is only when something occurs that one sees gaps in legislation. The legislation was originally introduced in 2004, at the height of the Celtic tiger era. We tend to try to future-proof legislation but very often we are captured by a particular sentiment at a given time. Who would have predicted there would be a crash of the magnitude that we had, or the subsequent housing crisis.

Evictions and court orders can be carried out by anyone once the court orders issue and no licence is needed. Force is permitted if deemed to be required and there is a complete absence of oversight and accountability. That is a clear gap, which leaves the Garda very exposed and brings it into disrepute. That has been commented on in the context of certain events in recent years. An obvious example is the eviction of the McGann family near Strokestown, County Roscommon, in 2018. The eviction was ordered by the High Court as there was an unpaid debt to KBC Bank. KBC hired GS Agencies limited to enforce the eviction. GS Agencies is run by a debt collector and an ex-British soldier who served in the Royal Irish Regiment and Ulster Defence Regiment. He contacted former colleagues in one part of the eviction, requesting that they travel to County Roscommon and name their price. In the aftermath of the eviction, the scene turned violent with several people left injured, vehicles burned and a dog killed. A former colleague of the owner of GS Agencies said: "He seems to gets the jobs no other security firm wants so he’s subcontracted and he then subcontracts further to get people to do the dirty work."

Those direct experiences inform some of the measures in the legislation. The security firm involved in the Strokestown case was found guilty of six breaches of the Private Security Services Act due to its occupation of the house after the eviction. As I say, it is the examples that give us an insight. It was reported in the media at the time that a Garda superintendent ordered the entrances of the house to be closed off during the eviction. We have no way of knowing if that was the case as I do not know if the report was substantiated. However, there was a Garda presence outside the boundaries of the property observing the eviction taking place. Given that it was a unregulated entity that carried this out eviction and acted in the way it did, it brought the Garda into disrepute.

The case of the North Frederick Street eviction occurred in the same year. Housing activists were removed from a vacant building they were occupying in defiance of a court order. The occupation was part of the Take Back the City movement. There was a substantial Garda presence but physical force was used against a number of the attendees and five activists were arrested. It drew criticism from the Opposition, Amnesty International and the ICCL, and very understandably so. Then, in Phibsborough in 2020, nine tenants were evicted from a property on Berkeley Road. The tenants had not received a legal eviction notice but had received a message on Facebook. I come across cases such as this all the time. This area is regulated but does not fall within the Minister of State's remit. It is set out in law what the regime should be. I am sure the Minister of State hears about people who have been given notice to quit by way of a text message, Facebook message or email.

Such a notice often does not pay any attention to the timeframe that people have or an expectation of protections under the law with respect to notice of an eviction. It is not part of this legislation but it is interesting that it throws up the requirement for a much more solid piece of public information around the question. It causes unnecessary anxiety in the case of challenge and if notice has not been properly served, the eviction cannot take place. That is very much part of the eviction process under discussion and the main reason it was deemed invalid, with the tenants returned to the property. A significant amount of damage was done, as indicated by photographs we saw online. Doors were pulled down and the toilet was smashed. That was to ensure people would not come back in and the house would not be habitable.

Evictions will take place and court orders should be complied with. This must be done in a humane way and those kinds of examples cause understandable outrage, bringing parties like the Garda into disrepute as well. We should be concerned by the number of evictions that could potentially happen. Last month, Threshold flagged a backlog of 1,000 cases of people who received paused eviction notices last year alone. Most would have been paused in the context of Covid-19. There were 467 cases of people living in Dublin and there are only 654 properties available to rent in Dublin for less than €1,500. Most of the eviction notices I see, or where people draw my attention to them while seeking advice, arise where people simply cannot pay the rent. It is not about antisocial behaviour, although I have come across cases involving such behaviour.

If we look around the country, the number of vacant premises under the housing assistance payment limits gives an indication of the reasons some of these eviction notices are served. There may be a more humane approach to evictions and there is a substantial concern underneath relating to the affordability of housing both for rental and to buy. We cannot discuss this legislation without highlighting that question. It may be why it might be prudent to extend the ban on evictions, perhaps for another 12 months. There is a substantial problem, with no obvious remedy for people who are really struggling currently.

Higher standards are required from private security firms and gardaí when it comes to enforcement of court-ordered evictions. We must ensure the security services hired to enforce legal orders work humanely and professionally, being held accountable for their actions. Bringing these private security firms under the remit of this legislation means anybody involved with enforcing court orders would be subject to high standards, oversight, licensing and a complaints procedure. They would be required to carry identification as well, and this would all be a very substantial improvement on what we have currently.

This Bill would not solve all the problems because some of them are not really part of the legislation at all but a wider concern. That wider matter is that a substantial number of people are the subject of eviction notices who would not be in a properly functioning housing market.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to discuss this legislation, particularly in view of the prominence of many high-profile cases concerning evictions in recent times. The legislation will allow the Government to bring the regulation and licensing of security personnel assisting those enforcing court orders for evictions and repossessions within the remit of the Private Security Authority. Currently, private security firms engaged in the enforcement of court orders, including the repossession of properties, do not fall under a category for licensing through the Private Security Authority. This omission has clear implications for the oversight and regulation of private security firms that may be involved in repossessions.

There have been a number of high-profile and contentious evictions in recent years, as I mentioned, in which private security firms have taken part. There is demonstrable danger that may arise following such incidents and the execution of court orders has caused many problems for people working in private security and those involved in these incidents in the first place. It is essential that people providing private security should be able to operate under the highest standards, as set out in legislation, and we have a duty to protect this area as well. There is an enormous grey area that has caused much confusion and anger, with many high-profile incidents over the past number of years. Unfortunately, they have dragged members of An Garda Síochána into disrepute as well, and this must be avoided.

Many of us recall the removal of personnel that were trespassing and illegally occupying a property on North Frederick Street in September 2018 on foot of a High Court order. The persons were removed by a private security firm and 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 this activity does not fall within the definition of what constitutes a security service under the Act.

The Private Security Authority is responsible for the regulation of the private security industry. The authority is an important and independent agency under the aegis of the Department of Justice. It is charged with introducing, controlling and managing a comprehensive standards-based licensing system for the private security industry. Private security staff occupy a position of trust, engaging in regular interactions with members of the public and it is therefore essential that this area is properly regulated in order to protect public safety and confidence.

The main purpose of the Private Security Services (Amendment) Bill 2021 is to include an additional category and a definition of "enforcement guard" in the list of security services covered by the Private Security Services Act 2004. I hope that this amendment will provide clients of private security service providers with assurance that the industry is working to the highest standards possible and that what occurred on North Frederick Street will not recur.

Throughout the recession and following the consequences of the financial crash in Ireland, the subject of this Bill became common in recent years. It has been extremely stressful for so many different families to have to go through such a process and it is horrible that something like this can happen on people's doorstep. With regard to those who are involved with repossessions, we must be very clear that we, as a State, have failed to provide the clarification required in legislation. It is important for us to do that now.

The members of An Garda Síochána have been doing extraordinary work in this country for the past number of years, particularly over the past 12 months. Evictions are always incredibly challenging and, unfortunately, in some circumstances where gardaí are required, it can be incredibly stressful for them too. I hope the work we are doing as an Oireachtas in helping the Minister of State can help to address the questions in the area so comprehensive answers can be found. I hope we will not remain in a position where grey areas leave major resources in the State having to be tied up in courts, especially when we could solve this with legislation.

This is an area where reform is long overdue. The country has had a long history of landlordism and evictions, and to put it mildly, there have been and still are many unsavoury characters involved.

Just yesterday I received a call from a constituent who had been given four months' notice of eviction in January in the middle of level 5 restrictions. Her landlord was at the door with "three burly chaps" as she described them, looking to remove her from her home. Needless to say he got short shrift. Imagine sitting in your house and seeing them coming up your driveway. What do you tell the children?

The Government has no concept of the consequences of its actions. I often say it is easy to know that nobody belonging them has to experience anything like this. Nobody belonging to them has to apply to be on a housing list either, certainly not in Kildare where it takes three months to be processed and with almost 7,000 people on this list with a ten to 12-year waiting period. God help us if you are single. It is a landlord's paradise and it is no wonder they rock up with private security in tow.

The solution to this is a common-sense one. Build public housing on public land and put a stop to private security companies turning up at the doors of our most vulnerable. If someone is to be evicted, there are proper channels in place to do so and this is not one of them. There needs to be stronger protection for the family home in the Constitution. The Government is always harping on about property rights for landlords but what about everybody else? Reform is needed and if we need to change what happened to that lady I mentioned, we cannot allow this behaviour and the fear that these companies bring with them.

I have used my first 30 seconds to walk up here because the clock is moving a lot quicker than I thought it was. I thank the Whip's office for alerting me that my slot was coming up. As I have just jogged up the quays, I have done all my exercise for the day to get back here in time.

This is important legislation. We have all seen a number of horrible and unsavoury evictions take place in recent years where private security personnel have arrived at people's doors. The whole area has been largely unregulated until now and this Bill proposes to bring a whole umbrella of regulation under the Private Security Authority and to increase certain powers under that legislation in order that licences to operate private security firms can be revoked. That is important because I have seen it happen only once or twice in my constituency and I will not get into the cases because it will make them identifiable. However, there have been a number of headline cases around the country.

Another thing that needs to be looked at in how these firms operate is how they present themselves at someone's door. We have seen them masked or wearing balaclavas and that is the height of intimidation. There are certain organisations in the country that wear balaclavas as a form of illegal and subversive uniform. When one is carrying out actions on behalf of the judicial system of our land in executing a court order, one should present oneself on a person's driveway or at a person's front door in a face-to-face and transparent manner. That is really important.

The legislation is being backed by the Government. The sooner we can bring in regulation the better because people need to know that the people they are transacting with are kosher and above board. A number of our national tabloid newspapers have undertaken certain exposé stories on some of these private security firms and the backgrounds of some of these individuals. There needs to be a lot of time devoted to ensuring they are fully Garda-vetted and that appropriate and upstanding people are taking on these roles. We do not want thugs or gurriers donning uniforms and masks and arriving at someone's door. This is fulfilling a court order execution and we need to have competent and professional people who are regulated. That is, above all, what this Bill seeks to do.

We are talking about ensuring that those acting on behalf of the banks, vulture funds and other financial institutions are tightly controlled and cannot do as they please when taking property back from those who find themselves in financial trouble. While this is welcome, I have to point out that we are dealing with ensuring there is control of these private security firm workers and not the financial industry that benefits, no matter what happens.

It is worth noting that the very people who find themselves in financial trouble may well have had to contend with the loose controls enjoyed by the financial industry before they ever parted with their money or sought a loan. Those may be the people who were forced to bid well above the asking price for the property because of the ability given to vulture funds to inflate house prices, increase rents and give people little choice but to put themselves under undue financial pressure. They may be the people who, before they acquired their homes, had to deal with damp and overpriced housing that was not fit for them or their children. Those are the people who have finally found somewhere they thought was secure but they are also the people who, like many in my constituency, received the awful news that they must leave their homes and sign up to our infamous housing waiting lists.

While the measures in this Bill are needed, what is really required is action that prevents vulture funds or the privileged from hiking house prices and causing soaring rents. We need a housing policy that takes the sense of hopelessness away from those on our long local authority housing lists. Without this we will continue to have young families being terrified that they will have nowhere else to go or having to settle for substandard accommodation for them and their children. While I support this Bill, we must ask why the Government will not at the same time deal with the challenges faced by families up and down the country when it comes to finding a home. It is worth noting that we are discussing this Bill at a pivotal time. When this pandemic eases, there is no doubt but that the extent of the debt and mortgage arrears people have been forced into will be exposed. These people will need protection. That is why we are discussing the regulation of those working with the enforcement agencies.

Following the incidents in Strokestown, County Roscommon and on North Frederick Street, Dublin, Sinn Féin's Deputy Ó Laoghaire pointed to the shortcomings in the regulation of security companies and tried to get the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to address it. Unfortunately, the former Minister was slow in dealing with this and therefore Deputies Ó Laoghaire and Martin Kenny introduced the Regulation of Private Security Firms Bill 2019, which sought to regulate private security companies engaging in the enforcement of court orders, including in the repossession of properties. The Government supported this Bill in November of 2019 on the basis that the Government's Bill would progress without delay. Here we are 18 months later finally discussing it.

We must remember that every time people lose their homes, whether those homes are purchased or rented, their futures are uncertain. They may have families to look after or health concerns to deal with. They do not need the indignity of heavy-handed techniques being used against them. They need some certainty that their needs will not be forgotten by the State and that they will not end up homeless or living in unsuitable accommodation. We must ensure that our people are protected in getting suitable accommodation, not just in being removed from it.

I very much welcome the publication by the Government of the Private Security Services (Amendment) Bill 2021. It is long overdue. I recognise and acknowledge the work and contribution of Deputy Ó Laoghaire in the initial drafting of the Bill some time ago. I am heartened by the fact there is cross-party support for it. There is good reason for that support. I am happy to say that I will support the passage of the Bill through the Dáil for all of the reasons I will outline. It is something the public wants and needs. The public needs to have confidence in the private security industry. The events a number of years ago in North Frederick Street in Dublin and Strokestown in Roscommon show that it is very important to have a regulated security industry in this country. Those forced and violent evictions should never be allowed recur in this country.

The next reason I am supporting the Bill is because it is something the private security industry itself wants. To be fair to the industry, it operates to quite a high standard in this country. The very last thing it wants is for unlicensed, unidentified, untrained and masked individuals being bussed into this jurisdiction to perform very violent evictions and undermine the reputation of the industry.

Another reason I am supporting the Bill is because it sets up, defines and establishes a new grade and category of security professional, namely, the enforcement guard, and this is a good thing. Once we define the role of a new category or a new grade, we will get to control the role. We can be sure, or at least confident, that anybody getting into this line of work will be properly Garda vetted, will be the subject of background checks and will be properly licensed and trained. The training aspect is very important. It is not just about having the right skill set, it is also about having the right mindset. To be fair, being forcibly evicted from a home or property is devastating for anyone. The day of an eviction is one that people will remember for the rest of their lives. Let us not make it any more difficult than it already is. It is important that if a court order is being enforced, it is done in a very sensitive and professional manner. To be fair, the legislation facilitates this happening.

I am also supporting the Bill because it provides a mechanism for members of the public to make formal complaints to the regulator in the event of misdemeanours or misbehaviour by this new grade of security professional. It also creates the new offence of impersonating an enforcement guard, whereby people who are not licensed, properly trained or regulated pretend to be someone they are not. The appropriate penalties are there from a fines perspective and even from a custodial sentence perspective in extremis.

Forced evictions, or the enforcement of court orders, should absolutely be regarded as a measure of last resort. We should absolutely explore and exhaust every other avenue possible to prevent forced evictions from occurring. It is beyond the scope of the Bill but I am still concerned, as are many Deputies, about the cost of mortgage rates in this country. They are twice the EU average, which is completely unacceptable. There is just not enough competition in the banking sector here. With KBC and Ulster Bank leaving the market, a huge vacuum is being left behind. We need to empower the credit union movement and An Post to fill this vacuum and provide fair mortgages at fair rates.

We should also encourage continental banks to operate here at fair rates. There should be no reason an Irish person cannot get a mortgage from a bank in Germany in respect of an Irish property. The latter happens in other EU countries. There is no reason it should not happen here. We are told there are four freedoms in the European Union. These are freedom of movement, freedom of capital, freedom of goods and freedom of services. It is fortuitous that the EU Commissioner for Financial Services, financial stability and Capital Markets Union is an Irishwoman, Mairead McGuinness. For the next few years, this is an opportunity we should certainly seize and try to get more competition into the market, reduce the mortgage rates in this country to allow people to stay in their homes and reduce the chances of forced evictions in the first instance.

I welcome the Bill, the purpose of which is to properly regulate private security services. This is an area that has gone unregulated for far too long. Banks and financial services firms have pretty much been able to hire who they want to do their dirty work of evicting the people who bailed them out during the financial crisis. Many in this House remember the shameful, violent eviction of three siblings from a property in Strokestown, County Roscommon, by a private security firm hired by KBC. In the lead up to Christmas 2018, KBC ordered the eviction of three siblings from their property. It hired a private security firm from Antrim, headed by an ex-UDR soldier, who, in the words of a colleague, thought he was Rambo. The actions of the security firm resulted in multiple people being left injured, a dog killed, several cars burned out and the siblings left suicidal. The siblings were dragged from their house by the security team and assaulted. Two elderly sisters were left on the roadside. The site was turned into a war zone. The company was ordered to pay fines of €3,000 for its gross misconduct during the eviction. This is the cost of no regulation. Ordinary people are left vulnerable to the activities of the worst of actors.

In 2019, Dublin City Council issued a tender for a seven-days-a-week private security firm to deal with Traveller evictions. Quite rightly, many Traveller communities and representative organisations were concerned about private security firms, particularly in the wake of the events at Strokestown and the hostility of many Government representatives to Travellers in general.

In 2020, while gardaí looked on, a private security firm evicted tenants from a property in Dublin without a court order. One Garda is reported to have said it was not their responsibility if the person was homeless. Subsequently, the tenants were able to regain access to the property after the eviction. The eviction by the firm led to significant damage to the property, which was left in an uninhabitable condition.

A large number of these types of situations are happening throughout the country. There are many people in mortgage distress. many businesses in insolvency and many people who have spent their whole lives, their blood, sweat and tears and their investments on keeping a business, farm or home afloat. These people have been removed from their properties on many occasions by individuals who have no respect for humanity, no respect for the rule of law and no decency whatsoever. There is not a Deputy in the House who has not had decent individuals in their constituencies tell them these horrifying stories. The fact it has been let go unchecked for so long is incredible.

While I am speaking on this issue, I want to say that it is hard to separate it from what is happening in the housing crisis in general. The sector we are discussing is one that is feeding off the dysfunction relating to the housing sector. This week, we have seen many Government Deputies and Ministers feign shock at what is happening in the housing sector. It amazes me that they do this because they were the willing architects of the housing market we have at present. They put in the tax breaks for the international investors to hoover up homes from first-time buyers in the sector. These political parties and Deputies rolled out the red carpet for many of the international investors who are now fighting a David versus Goliath battle each day for homes throughout the country. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are the architects of a market that pits small families against big international firms that have a massive competitive advantage over them. Those firms are availing of interest rates of 0% on the international markets while homeowners and families here pay the highest interest rates for mortgages in the European Union.

These investors have tax rates that would not be given to people on low incomes in this country, even though they make millions of euro. It was done so by Fine Gael. I remember asking Michael Noonan, the former Minister for Finance, in a committee how could he allow this to happen and he said that the house prices in this country are not dear enough. At the time, the Labour Party supported that. Fianna Fáil supported it subsequently from the Opposition benches in its confidence and supply agreement and is standing by, feigning shock today.

Another key element in the dysfunction of the housing market has to be the dysfunction of the banking sector. One of the reasons developers in this country currently cannot get the finances necessary to take on some of these projects is because we have a banking crisis in Ireland of mammoth proportions that is affecting nearly every element of society. This crisis is also the design of Fine Gael. I remember Mr. Noonan, the previous Minister for Finance, launching in the Dáil this idea of a two-pillar bank market. Those two banks own most of the market. They are an oligopoly. They have enormous supplier power. They can determine every element of the market and they are doing that. The few competitors left are fleeing the market. Ulster Bank and KBC have given notice that they are on the way out and yet we have nothing more than shrugs from the Government with regards what needs to be done in relation to fixing the dysfunctional banking market - a banking market that leads to the highest interest rates in Europe, that leads to people not being able to get funding for the development of homes and leads to other sectors of society not being able to be funded as well.

A number of colleagues from other political parties and I are seeking the development by the Government of a banking forum. It would be made up of stakeholders in that sector such as the trade unions that work in the banking system, first and foremost, but also trade unions in general, small businesses, representatives of farmers and representatives of rural areas. We seek the getting together of a forum before the year is out to make sure that we can design a functioning banking market. Primary to that objective that we have is that there would be a public banking system created. I refer to a public banking system that pretty much every political party in this Chamber says it supports. Currently, the only party that is against it is Fine Gael. I am hopeful that this motion will be passed at committees across Leinster House and that we can build momentum towards a proper public banking system. I have been talking to colleagues from other political parties and this is not an effort to nationalise the banking system. This is an effort to have a diverse banking system that has good, strong private firms operating within the market but also has strong public banks, strong credit unions and post offices operating in this market so that there is competition. That is necessary.

When we talk about the issue before the House of private security firms and the need for their regulation, Aontú supports that 100%. However, it is a symptom of a greater malaise within Irish society. It is a malaise that is the construct of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, albeit one about which they feign amazement that it exists at all and one to which they provide nothing but shrugs as a solution to resolving it. I support this Bill but call on the Government to get to the bottom of the housing crisis. If they do not, they will create a tenant class in this country the likes of which has not been seen since the time of the landlords, a tenant class where those in their 20s, 30s and 40s are straddled with rents so high that they will never be able to afford a mortgage, and a system whereby there is a transfer of wealth continuously happening from families to massive international firms spreading that concentration of wealth into the hands of the few. It is incredible that we stand here, hopefully, at the ending of the Covid pandemic, yet we are saying to this generation that it is the first generation in hundreds of years that will be poorer and less well off than the generation that went before. That is the wrong message that Leinster House gives out. We need to reverse that message. We need to be serious about putting in place the mechanisms to create real competition in the banking market and real competition in the housebuilding market, to take the competitive advantages away from the international firms and to improve the competitive advantages of the young families who are trying to get onto the housing market.

This Bill cannot be taken in isolation. It is a Bill that is being supported by the House but it is a reflection on what is happening within the banking sector and in the housing crisis.

In 2008, when we had the crash and things got very bad after that, the banks quickly showed how greedy they were and how unrelenting they were in relation to repossessions, chasing people and, in many cases, breaking them down. Some died by suicide. We cannot overlook that. I would say to the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, that following the passing of this Bill, we need to reflect on the receivers. What action the receivers have taken against individuals on behalf of the bank needs to be examined in great detail. Locks have been changed. Rents have been taken and disposed of in a way that was not in line with any agreement. Some properties were taken and the owners were not even aware that receivers had moved in. I do not want to paint all receivers with the one brush but we have a serious problem with that sector in the context of regulation and accountability and there is nobody whose property they have taken who has been able to get that accountability and to ensure that his or her rights were protected and upheld. Because it has taken so long to bring this legislation before the House, it concerns me that we will have to wait a further length of time to regulate receivers and to bring them to account. I urge the Minister of State to look at the history of what has happened in the State since 2008.

If the Minister of State even listens to the language that is being used today, we seem to take evictions now as being the normal. They are not normal. Evictions were created out of poor debt management by those who are in arrears but they were unable, as lay litigants, to take on the might of the banks which steamrolled through the courts system and almost were supported by the courts system in terms of appointment of receivers and ignoring the rights of the individual. We cannot allow that to continue to happen. We have to restore the rights to those individuals and we have to ensure that there is a mechanism to keep them in their own homes.

Banks have not changed from 2008. In fact, now that they are getting up on their feet and trading again, they are treating customers and those in arrears extremely badly and they are then looking to the courts. The Bill that was passed here in this House regarding hearsay evidence is a further example of how we have armed the banks with the necessary tools to treat people badly. If we are to level the playing field, we have to ensure that each bank would keep its loans, would work with the person or family that is in arrears and would ensure that it is only at the end that they would find a solution of mortgage-to-rent or, indeed, involve the voluntary sector and those not-for-profit organisations that are providing a way out for those who are in such difficulties.

We also have to look to the courts. For the courts to appoint receivers and to behave the way they have, is absolutely appalling.

We have seen examples of the use of security firms that should never have been allowed in this country and not just the ones that have already been mentioned. They blackguarded people - individuals, families and business people - who had decent incomes and businesses and who were trying to do their best in hard times only to be chased by banks and receivers and then to be confronted at their own front door by individuals in uniforms and balaclavas. Where in the name of God would you see it? How did we let it happen? That is what the State has to ask itself. Why has the State not put forward the strongest possible legislation to protect its own citizens? We have seen too many examples of the State itself beating up its own citizens and depriving them of their rights which gives licence to some, but not all, private security companies to act improperly. The minute someone wants to achieve the repossession of a property or to damage a business, then people come in who hide their faces and do the dirty work on behalf of receivers and banks.

This all goes back to the housing crisis, our attitude towards family and community and proper acknowledgement of the rights of people in the context of difficulties they might be experiencing. In 2008, the banks in this country brought us all down and we may have taken our eye off the ball in terms of the devastation that caused. Let there be no doubt about it, the private security companies that engaged in evictions should have no licence whatsoever. Their licence should be taken from them and we should have a strong regulatory system in place, with teeth, to deal with this. We have too many regulators with no teeth, strength or muscle. The side of the citizen must be strengthened as much as possible to ensure the type of bad practice we are discussing does not happen again. I also encourage the Minister, following this debate, to look at receivers and how they behave.

I commend Deputy Ó Laoghaire who pointed out in 2018 that there was insufficient or no regulation of some private security firms. He brought that to the attention of the Minister for Justice and, along with Deputy Martin Kenny, he later introduced legislation on the matter. In fairness, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, did not oppose it. We can see that in this room and beyond, there is absolute agreement on the necessity for this legislation. The two events that stick in our minds are those that happened in North Frederick Street in Dublin and Strokestown in County Roscommon. The way that some private security personnel acted was absolutely scandalous. It was utterly ridiculous and would remind one of pictures and scenes from the period of the Famine and the Land League. Such scenes have absolutely no place in the Ireland of today and in that context we need this legislation to be done and dusted quickly.

I concur with Deputy McGuinness that we need an entire regulatory system governing evictions and the unfortunate circumstances in which some people find themselves. We all know of cases where the State or NGOs have delivered solutions, whether through approved housing bodies, AHBs, local authorities or mortgage-to-rent arrangements and we need to facilitate this wherever possible. Like many others in this Chamber, I find it very difficult to decontextualise this or remove it from the wider question of the housing crisis. If we are to see fewer evictions, we need not just regulation but a consistent, constant supply of right-priced houses and rental units. We need a system that will deliver. We all accept, across the board, that the housing policies and systems that have been in operation for many years have not delivered and are not fit to do so. We must deal with issues like tax breaks for real estate investment trusts, REITs, which are certainly not delivering for regular people. We must put a system in place that delivers. The public system must do what is required. We must invest money and build on public land. We must provide cost rental, affordable mortgages and council housing options. Beyond that, we must create vehicles to allow private money to be invested in decent land deals that will produce proper developments for the people of this country.

I am delighted to speak on this legislation, although it is probably eight or ten years too late. When the banking crisis hit, we saw the vulture funds arrive and we saw the mushrooming of the legal eagles and everybody else, no disrespect to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. We saw what went on in the courts. I have been present at so many evictions and my colleagues, Deputies Nolan and Michael Collins visited KBC Bank after the events at Strokestown. We also visited a private security company in Tipperary with one Jerry Beades.

It is the wild west when it comes to security and the intimidation that goes on and has gone on. There is no place in this country for a third force. I have said that dozens of times but we have a third force. We have An Garda Síochána, which I have proudly supported all of my life, and we have the Irish Army. That is it, apart from the auxiliary force, the Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, FCA, as it was known in my time, or the Local Defence Force, LDF. Then a third force arrived, a murky, dirty underworld of business. These firms were meant to be regulated. The regulator had offices in my own town of Tipperary and was doing its best but it was the wild west. There was violence and intimidation. Men wearing balaclavas and accompanied by dogs were crawling across fields in Wexford. I was on the phone to the woman of the house who was standing at the gate of her farm and being pulled away. I am sad to say that members of An Garda Síochána were present but they turned their backs and I met the Chief Superintendent afterwards to complain.

This legislation does not go far enough. Some of the security personnel mentioned earlier were former members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, UDR. They came down here with their knuckle dusters, their heavies and all kinds of padding, to intimidate people. We saw what happened in Balbriggan in Dublin and in other areas. Vehicles were parked outside the Garda Station in Balbriggan. There must be a separation of powers between the courts, An Garda Síochána and these agents. Many of them were thugs, vagabonds and heavies. That language might be strong but that is what they were. They had blackened faces and little respect for anybody. Even in cases where gardaí challenged them in some rural areas, they just pushed them out of the way. It is dangerous when people get power like that and get away with it. Nightclub bouncers or those providing security in pubs must be registered and wear bands on their arms. We looked for badges on those people but they did not have them. If we did not get out their way, we would have literally been blown into eternity. I was standing on the roadside in Ferns, County Wexford, in Galway and in many other parts of the country to support people who were thrown on the mercy of vultures.

On the vulture funds, the former Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, welcomed them into this country. I heard what Deputy Tóibín said about Deputy Noonan welcoming them here and now we see the results of that. We have an appalling mess because of all of the evictions, the hoarding and the over-stocking. This Bill does not go far enough. We need to regulate the security industry profoundly, the same as An Garda Síochána. When they call to someone's home, sometimes they do not have the eviction order documents at all and sometimes they do not have the court orders. Sometimes they have photocopies and sometimes there are misspellings. To be honest, many ordinary rank-and-file gardaí do not understand the legal jargon, no more than I do myself. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle would understand it but many gardaí do not. Many times, evictions are carried out without court sanction.

I appeal to judges - I know there is a separation of powers - when they are signing orders, to ensure that they are enforced in a dignified and respectful manner. There should not be any place for them. I have no truck with people who do not want to pay or who will not or cannot pay and all that, but I have for families and ordinary people.

Farmers are waking in the morning or the in the middle of the night getting phone calls from their neighbours. I know of one case where a neighbour informed a farmer that his farm had been listed by AIB on the web at midnight. We bailed out the banks. Farms are being sold to vulture funds overnight without the consent of the owners. This is happening on land that we fought for. It is the land that was fought for by my late father - he spent 14 months in prison - and that Liam Lynch, Michael Collins, Dan Breen, Seán Tracey, Pat Crowe and many others fought for. Are we back to this now? This Bill is really inadequate and our group will be submitting amendments in respect of it. It is shameful.

I thank Deputies Nolan and Michael Collins for coming with me on those issues. We intended to go to KBC for half an hour but we ended up being there for eight or nine hours. KBC is now leaving the country - and so are other banks - after doing the dirt. There is blood on people’s hands here and it is not good enough.

Tá áthas orm labhairt ar an mBille seo agus ar an leasú a bhaineann leis. We have seen many evictions in this country recently. Many of them related to people who genuinely tried to engage. We have all been visited by people at our constituency offices who are doing everything possible to engage with the banks but, unfortunately, the banks are unreasonable and do not seem to remember that the Irish people bailed them out during the crash. They seem to have forgot that. Some of these evictions got out of hand. We saw scenes that were very reminiscent of the era of the Black and Tans, but hopefully we will leave that type of behaviour behind.

The Bill and anything else that will close the loophole in existing legislation is welcome. We have seen groups of thugs - they were nothing less than thugs - adopting a heavy-handed approach, flouting the law showing no respect for anybody. It is welcome that this is now going to be clamped down upon. It took too much time to get to this point. I emphasise that my colleagues, Deputies Mattie McGrath and Michael Collins, and I raised this matter and sounded the alarm. Deputy Mattie McGrath brought forward a Bill relating to this issue many years ago in conjunction with Deputy McGuinness. The legislation before us is coming late in the day, but we welcome any measures to close the loophole that exists.

It is clear there are serious weaknesses within the provisions in the Private Security Services Act 2004. The Bill before us goes some way towards addressing the concerns we highlighted in 2019 and again in 2020, when a Bill similar to this was introduced.

I want to address the experiences of families and ordinary people who were the subject of intimidation and physical violence. The main provision of the Bill relates to the insertion of an additional category and a definition of "enforcement guard" in the list of security services covered by the Private Security Services Act 2004. This provision will require enforcement guards to obtain a licence to operate and ensure that they are subject to training standards and licensing regime operated by the Private Security Authority. That is certainly welcome, but it has come late in the day. We, as politicians should have been on top of this sooner. It should have been dealt with many years ago.

Essentially, this Bill is a move by the State to hand out the current work undertaken by county sheriffs to registered or private firms. It looks like Cromwell is back. We all remember what happened in Roscommon and the shocking scenes that were shown all over Ireland. Is that what this Bill is going to allow happen? Are we going back in time to when Irish people were evicted from their homes and forced to watch as the landlords burned down their homes and took their livelihoods away?

This Bill states that an enforcement guard will be authorised to remove persons from any premises and to take possession of those premises. Staff in various sheriffs' offices have said they are not supportive of the Bill because public jobs will be lost. It also means that a much less compassionate understanding of a debtor’s situation. Ultimately, under section 2, any private firm could operate as a debt collector. Furthermore, these private organisations would take no account of people's ability to pay. Under this new provision, therefore, the State could hire these private firms to collect tax income and overpayments such as those relating to social welfare.

In the aftermath of this pandemic and the accompanying recession, it is likely that banks and vulture funds will move swiftly to repossess homes. This will be brought about mainly due to Government restrictions to curb the pandemic, but the consequences will very likely be far-reaching. I certainly do not support any private company that can go to someone's home in the middle of the night, remove them and take possession of it. Most people do their best to pay off their mortgages. The people I fully support are those who make an effort and try their best to pay their debts. I accept that there is a small minority who do not - I do not support them - but I am speaking about the regular people who, due to Covid, have lost either their jobs or their ability to pay their debts. There must be more stringent efforts made to help regular people who, through no fault of their own, have lost the ability to pay.

Last July, one of the first steps taken by this Government was to make it easier for vulture funds to repossess family homes under the Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. Does that really sound like a Government on the side of people who are on the verge of having their homes taken from them? I do not support this Bill and will not support private firms having the power to do what Cromwell did in 1649. Let me remind everyone of what the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland boiled down to. Overall, it was the largest land grab in Ireland's history and in early European history. Before Cromwell, 70% Irish land was in Irish hands. With Cromwell in Ireland, this figure was reduced to 10%. Is history going to repeat itself?

My colleagues and I in the Rural Independent Group have submitted amendments to this Bill. These are reasonable and practical amendments aimed at protecting the public interest. Surely, our Government will not vote against these amendments. One of them is a strict prohibition on the wearing of balaclavas, and the use of intimidation and excessive force, which shall be deemed an offence under this legislation. Another amendment states, "the execution of a warrant shall only be authorised between 12 noon and 5pm on weekdays (excluding public holidays)". It also states: "An Garda Síochána shall be permitted to intervene by issuing a caution and/or arresting, where assault or battery (by anyone present) is exercised with any level of excessive force." As my colleagues, Deputies Mattie McGrath and Nolan, stated we put our money where our mouths are. We went to and sat in a meeting with KBC some time ago. KBC is now on the way out of our country after taking as much as it could from us and is throwing its hardworking employees and its customers to the wolves. We went to the meeting in question on foot of the carry-on at the time and the evictions, which the bank was promoting, as such. I am glad we did that. We sounded the death knell in respect of that type of behaviour.

We have seen the impact of housing crisis this week. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are mostly to blame for that crisis. They were quite happy to pat each other on the back in recent years but in the past week they have been stabbing each other in the back. It is scandalous to see the likes of it. It is like children squabbling in a schoolyard.

There are many issues. People find it difficult to get houses and obtain planning permission. There are Members of this House who support An Taisce. My constituency colleague, Deputy Cairns, came into the House earlier and indicated her support for it. An Taisce is getting €3 million in taxpayers' money to stop people in rural Ireland getting planning permission. Is that the kind of support it deserves? It does not deserve that support. The Government must answer questions as to why it is giving out that money and in respect of where it is going to. I call on the Government to do that. Tonight, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies have the opportunity to do that. I ask every counsellor and paid-up member of those parties to back our motion on the 2040 plan and allow young people to get planning permission in their home areas. If they do not give us their support, then they should never turn around and state that we have done nothing on this issue, because we certainly have. We expect them to fully support our motion tonight, because if they do not then they will be the cause of putting in place legislation which will make sure that young people will not get planning permission in their rural communities because of the 2040 plan. I will not support the Bill unless serious consideration is given to our amendments. I would appreciate if the Minister would give them that consideration.

I am very concerned about certain sections of this Bill. Evicting people and families from their homes is wrong and should be avoided in every way possible. As Deputy Michael Collins said, sometimes it is done early in the morning or late at night. That is very unfair and can have an unsettling effect on families for the rest of their lives if it happens to them when they are young children.

I am concerned about the suggestion that private security firms would be allowed carry out these operations and I will not be voting for that in any way or fashion. It is totally wrong. We know what happened in cases where these people came down with their faces covered, frightened the living daylights out of people and put them out of their homes. Any suggestion of allowing that to happen would be wrong. I have faith in the sheriff in our county because people can talk to the man and he will see reason. He understands how people get into difficulties and he does everything he can to facilitate them and ensure an eviction is avoided. We should have people like that dealing with these cases. On the other hand are the security firms that only want to get people out of their homes as quickly as possible. They demand their fee and have no feelings or consideration at all for a family or how they got into trouble.

I have called previously for a system whereby, when a family is in trouble and cannot pay back the money for their home, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, together with the local authority, would buy that house and rent it back to the family in the same way a local authority house would be rented. In time, the family might get on their feet again and go into the tenant purchase scheme. One of the gripes I have with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is that the tenant purchase scheme has been all but abolished. That was a great scheme, where tenants could buy out the house when they got on their feet. In some cases with rural cottages, a farmer's son might have given over a site to a local authority to build the house and after a number of years, in nearly all such cases the house would be bought out under the tenant purchase scheme. Any house that has been built since 2015 is not allowed to be purchased by any tenant. Those are the rules in our local authority anyway. It is totally and absolutely wrong. I am calling on the Government to address this issue and ensure that decision is reversed.

Regarding vulture funds, it is my solid contention that the banks and lending institutions with which the homeowners dealt should not have handed their loan books over to the vulture funds or should not have been allowed to do so. It was not with them that the individuals dealt. They dealt with the manager of a bank or a lending institution of local, Irish origin. Our banks are not helping people very much, even though the State is involved and has large shareholdings in each of them. It is totally and absolutely wrong to think that a bank can hand over its loan book to vulture funds that do not care, except to scalp people and put them out on the road. That is wrong and the Government should be addressing it.

As Deputy Mattie McGrath said, the new thing is farms being sold before farmers know they are for sale at all. That is totally wrong and everyone knows that. There will be more farms for sale because in 2013 the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, told people to double milk production because milk was the new white gold and the Chinese were going to like it and were going to drink a lot of it. Now we hear they do not care for it and farmers are being told they must downsize their herds. The Irish Farmer's Journal stated that people are being told they will have to cut their herds by 51%. The Government is denying that but that is what will have to happen if it is going to meet its targets, which it says it has to do. I was the only Deputy here who voted against the Paris Agreement and the targets for 2030 back in 2016. I am not sorry for that. This Government will insist that farmers have to cut their production but look at all the money they have spent in the meantime. How are they going to pay it back if they are not allowed to sell their milk? An Taisce is now blocking one of the Glanbia outlets to which they can sell. Farmers are being told they are getting no assistance and to let An Taisce do what it likes. That is what is happening. More farms will be for sale if the Green Party and An Taisce get their way, in spite of the fact that the Minister told them in 2013 to increase production. He is still a Minister now.

It is a pleasure to be able to speak in support of this Bill and I recognise how many Deputies have spoken in support of this amending legislation today. It is a necessary fix for what was a genuine wrong. The scenes we saw in Dublin and elsewhere were deeply wrong, difficult to watch and should not have happened. The enforcement of court orders generally, whether in relation to property, maintenance, access, family law or domestic violence, is a continual problem. I note that as a House we spend more time dealing with the enforcement of court orders relating to property than those relating to domestic violence, for example. Perhaps I can come back to that later.

We have to recognise that where a court order is given to recover property, it must be carried out with dignity. The court process is difficult enough in itself. I know from experience the efforts courts make to facilitate and help lay litigants but it is a difficult process for anybody going to the courts for anything. It is a stressful and difficult process and that is particularly true when it comes to the family home. If an eviction or enforcement of a court order takes place, it must be done with dignity. There must be dignity for the person involved, the property owner, the court and the State. The sheriff system has largely been able to achieve that. We as a State have allowed, regulated and legislated for, not a third force, but another system to work in parallel with that and we are clearing up and clarifying some of that today. That is important.

I have been listening to the debate very carefully. Many speakers have referred to the fact that we have to enforce these orders when people will not pay. However, I have not heard any follow-up on that. If we accept the premise that there are people who refuse to engage and refuse to pay, and that those orders must be paid, then we need to talk about how that is done. That is a pretty reasonable response. There are people up and down this country who are paying their mortgages every month and have been doing so for many years. They are privileged to do so, to own their homes, pay their mortgages and have their family homes. While they want to do that, what is the point of them continuing to do so if there is not a read-across for people who refuse to do it? I am not talking about those who are in difficulty and cannot pay. Again, I will come back to that issue. We have to accept that it is necessary to pay debts. If people cannot do it, the State already has structures in place to help. If they will not do it, then we have to talk about how that is enforced.

Deputy Michael Collins spoke about the amendments his group is proposing, such as to only allow evictions between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. I would be interested in hearing the rationale behind those hours on Committee Stage. Why not suggest business hours? If the concern is about children, why not allow evictions between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.?

The provisions around notices for eviction are also important.

I am interested in hearing the rationale for some of those provisions and their practical effect.

The Central Bank published a report today which shows that the State has the highest mortgage rates in Europe. Part of the reason for that is a lack of competition, which exists in part because of the difficulty with enforcing court orders in the past decade. That is partly because people cannot pay - we did not have the structures to help them previously but we do now - and partly because people will not pay. The new macroprudential rules make it difficult to get a mortgage because they require a deposit of 10% and a limit of three and a half times income. Comparatively high interest rates make it even more difficult for people to get a mortgage and more difficult to continue to pay a mortgage. The lack of competition is bad for every homeowner, bank account holder and large or small business and everyone who wants a functional banking system in this State. A lack of competition is a problem.

Deputies spoke about having a public banking system. There is something in that idea, which Deputies in my party have discussed and are interested in. There is also the issue of expanding the credit unions. There are many different ways of achieving competition, but we must recognise the impact on the banking system of not being able to recover assets, whether that concerns the non-payment of a car loan or a mortgage. We need to have a banking system that we can all access and use.

On my point regarding the enforcement of court orders generally, we do not have a similar structure for domestic violence orders. We have an ad hoc system, in which the Garda is dependent on having a court order and having access to it. It does not work in the same way. I flag this issue because of the amount of time we spend on this issue. We have the capacity to enforce civil debt and fines but not necessarily maintenance payments in family law cases. I flag this as a sort of contrast with how we treat orders from the courts generally. There is no difference in seriousness between the enforcement of a family maintenance order and the enforcement of a property order, except that one is a tangible asset which can be recovered via the system, which is fine.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae made a point about having systems for people who cannot pay. I am conscious of the mortgage-to-rent scheme which has been in place for some years. A couple of my constituents who are trying to transition to the scheme are having a difficult experience dealing with the fund that bought their loan from a bank, which was leaving the market. It has been difficult for them to access the fund and get a number or a call-back. If they do not answer a call from the fund immediately, they are told they did not answer and are not engaging, which is not true. The problem is that it is very difficult. The issue arose with the bank that originally owned the loan. Since it has left the market, it is impossible to go back through the records to identify where the real problems and charges were and to have a real measure of accountability.

The mortgage-to-rent process has been working reasonably well and offers security. However, it is a painful option for people to have to take where they have had difficulty over time and felt that difficulty has not been recognised. I am thinking of one lady in particular who had cancer treatment at an early point in her mortgage, within the last ten years, which had a material effect on her ability to pay. That is when the issue needed to be sorted out, not six or seven years later when it was too late. At least we have the mortgage-to-rent system now.

Reform in the area of private security has been long needed. It is much to be lamented that the catalyst for this change has been the appalling behaviour of some security workers when evicting people from a property on Dublin's North Frederick Street and also the scenes some years back in Roscommon. Members of the public were appalled by those scenes and by gardaí standing by and allowing those scenes to develop. I do not know if anyone in this House has ever been evicted from their dwelling. I have been, and it was absolutely horrendous. It was the most awful experience of my life. I was eight months' pregnant at the time. Bad as it was that my landlord turned up, I do not know what I would have done if I had been subject to the types of scenes I have seen live-streamed on social media. We must do something about this issue because it is terrifying enough to be evicted and lose the place where you are living, without having somebody come in and adopt the type of tactics we have seen being used.

However, the matter I wish to address today is education and training for licensed security professionals. As matters stands, a number of training courses provide licences to private security workers, such as static security guards, licensed premises door supervisors and monitoring centre employees. Many workers who want to practise as security personnel may have to acquire one of these licences, and some may need to get all of them. There is a significant cost for a worker to acquire all three licences. I wrote to the Minister for Justice about this matter previously, seeking engagement with the Private Security Authority regarding education and training for licensed security personnel and the possibility of creating a single training and education course for a security licence, which would incorporate static guarding, door security and CCTV monitoring, as well as conflict resolution and self-defence. Such a course would be more cost-effective for workers seeking to work in the area and would also ensure workers can work across many different areas. That is important because there is a great deal of mobility in the sector. It would also ensure a broad-based skill set for all workers involved in this employment.

I am aware that changes are due from January 2020, with two new Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, courses due to replace the current awards. These are being developed now. I also know that a new physical intervention course is being discussed. Perhaps consideration could be given to having at least one encompassing course which would cover a multitude of skill sets and allow recipients to practise as security professionals in almost any setting, and be fully trained to do so. These are just some of the suggestions which have been made to my office by workers in this area in recent weeks. I feel they deserve to be given some consideration.

In the few seconds remaining to me, and while I have the ear of the Minister of State, I raise the issue of anti-social behaviour. It is not an issue unique to my constituency, but my constituency has featured heavily on social media in recent weeks in this regard. We are being told by the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, and the Government that we have our summer outdoors. We need a plan to police the outdoors. Many more of us will be outdoors as the weather hopefully improves, and we need a plan for an increased presence of An Garda Síochána to cope with the numbers of people who will be outside.

I am sorry to hear about the nasty incident the Deputy experienced some time ago.

I welcome this Bill and the opportunity to speak on it. As we know, as it has been well discussed, the Bill is intended to close a loophole in Irish law which was brought into acute focus by events on North Frederick Street. I do not think we can mention often enough that scene when we had private security men in balaclavas and without identification in unmarked cars, while gardaí stood by. That is the background.

The background is also the precarious position of tenancies, and we have discussed this issue previously as well. Threshold's tenant sentiment survey 2020 revealed that 41% of participants had been in their rental property for less than a year, which shows a high turnover of tenants. Some 43% said they were forced to leave their previous rental accommodation, 91% said they found it difficult or extremely difficult to find rental accommodation, 19% were paying more than 50% of their take home pay on rent and 57% were paying more than 30%. I could go on and on, but it is important to set the background when we think of the scene I described when a building was occupied. The people in question were not tenants as such, but they were occupying the building and that scene resulted.

I welcome legislation that will close that loophole and provide a new category of "enforcement officer" and a definition of that role. I welcome the extension of powers to the PSA in respect of revoking, annulling or not awarding a licence, especially regarding a body corporate, and that information will be online for the public to see at no cost. One could not but welcome all those additions. There is a security authority with a board and we have legislation, which we are now amending. I was thinking about this topic, and I wondered why it took those horrific scenes on North Frederick Street before people realised there was a loophole in the legislation. Is there no proactive way of doing that? We have often asked for a proper review of legislation and its operation each year to enable us to be proactive and identify such loopholes. Was this issue discussed at the board, which has representatives of security employees and employers and An Garda Síochána?

Did it never come up for discussion? Is that something the Minister of State might look at to see if the legislation can be proactively reviewed with a view to changing it?

I read the Minister of State's speech, which was very detailed. I thank the Oireachtas Library and Research Service for its detailed briefing. It has been much discussed and I do not need to go into it. I must say that I looked at some of the annual reports, as did the staff in my office, whose work I appreciate. There seems to be a low compliance rate. I do not know if the Minister of State has looked at the annual reports. I am not sure if I am reading it right. The PSA investigated unlicensed activity and inspected existing licenceholders. According to the 2019 annual report, 150 contractor compliance inspections were completed, showing that contractor compliance rates had dropped from 25% to 19% in the period 2017 to 2019, and category 1 non-conformances, the most serious category, had risen from 47% to 64%. I would have thought that the level of non-compliance and the increase in non-conformances in serious matters is of great concern.

This brings me to the fact that the Oireachtas joint committee, in its wisdom, decided not to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny. I would have thought it was essential in this area, given what we are looking at. I do not know if I would like to describe it as a necessary evil, but I have difficulty with private security and the use of private security in evictions. I think we all have. I have concerns that it took the horrific scenes I have mentioned to show the loophole in the legislation. As for the legislation not being examined by the committee, I would have thought that it was essential to seek to tease out how we arrived at the situation whereby we are reliant on private security firms and their use in evictions and so on. I would have thought the committee would be the perfect place to tease all of that out.

There is also the matter of resources. I know that there was an interdepartmental committee and I believe the authority itself has pointed out that it did not have enough staff or resources in the past and now it is getting additional responsibilities. I do not think the Minister of State addressed that point anywhere in his speech. It is good to identify a loophole and to close it but if we are only doing it on paper, then we are going nowhere. The issue of resources and staff need to be addressed by the Minister of State in his closing speech in relation to this matter. Are there any vacancies on the board? Is the Minister of State familiar with the detail of the number of staff members who are required to enable them to carry out their duties properly? That is all I have to say on the matter.

Essentially, this Bill is a move by the State to hand out the current work undertaken by the county sheriffs and registrars to regulated firms.

If we go back in time to 2008, we can see that the mortgage and bank arrears people suffered were actually caused by the banks. At that time, when people were going into arrears, they contacted the banks, who told them to keep up with their payments. Following legal advice, after getting into significant debt, the banks had to tell the people to stop paying altogether. They would not take a piece. They told them to stop paying altogether. Then the banks spoke to them.

We have seen people losing their houses under unforgivable circumstances not of their own doing. We are going to see people falling into financial debt because of Covid-19. We are going to see farms being sold without the farmers' knowledge. I know of one case in particular, where a farmer was losing his farm and people in the area came together and said that they would buy the farm, and supported the farmer's son to buy back the farm. They waited for the farm to go up for sale. The farm went on sale at a minute after midnight and was sold and taken off the system by 12.05 a.m. That is what needs to be regulated.

I welcome the stipulation in the Bill that any private firm must be regulated. I have listened to other Deputies in the House telling us of unbelievable circumstances in which people wearing masks have come into people's houses, kicked in doors and threw people out onto the ground in front of their children. That can never happen again. Sheriffs have often come and used the local knowledge of Deputies to help people in difficult circumstances to get help. At least they have local knowledge and will ask for local knowledge and help. Will the private firms do that?

I welcome the part of the Bill which states that these firms are going to be regulated. It was mentioned earlier that private security workers in a nightclub must wear a security number. I completely welcome such measures. I give praise where it is due.

However, during the Covid pandemic the banking sector let us down again. The only ones that stepped up to the plate were the credit unions. At the time, the banks said that they would defer loans for people during the pandemic but they would not extend the term of the loans. They said that they would defer payments for three, five or six months but they would not extend the term of the loans. That means that when things pick up again, that people have bigger payments to make for the same term of the loan. That is not helping. What did the credit unions do because they are local? They deferred the payments for the three months, then extended the term of the loans. Looking at what credit unions have that others in the banking sector do not have, they have people at the counter who know customers by name and not by account number. The banking system operates through credit cards and has moved online. I spoke to a butcher the other day who told me that he had just got a loan. He sat down behind the counter during a quiet minute, applied for a loan on his phone, was accepted and had the loan in place within five minutes. However, he said that if he ever got into trouble, he would not be able to fix it as quickly on a phone, because there is no one to speak to.

I do not blame the people in the local branches of the banks because the power in the banking sector has been taken away from those in the local branches with the local knowledge, and it has been moved to a central bank to show that it is being dictated by somebody wearing a big pinstripe suit, who is not even based in the county where the local branches are located. They are making decisions in respect of people who have loans with the bank. There has to be a box-ticking exercise.

I mentioned the credit unions because I am a great advocate of them. They have helped many people. Looking at their history, they have local knowledge and will help people, which is brilliant. However, the power in the banking system has been taken away from the managers within the banks to deal with local issues. That is what is wrong. It is not banking in each individual sector. The issue is that everything has been removed from the local branches.

As I said earlier, many people are going to be in debt after the pandemic and they will need our help. However, the avenues have to be there from the point of the registrar and the sheriff. They must also play their part, because they have local knowledge. We do not want to see people wearing balaclavas coming in, not even from within Ireland. That happened over 100 years ago and people fought to make sure that it would not happen again. We must ensure that these firms are well regulated and they do their job properly. There are people who are in debt through no fault of their own and there are others who are in debt all their lives and that is how they live. There are people who never want to pay back a loan but want to borrow all round them, who are running from debt all the time. Those people must be dealt with. However, there are genuine cases of people who are in debt through no fault of their own and need help. Those who do not want to involve themselves or get into negotiations, or have a past record of not paying their debts, need to be dealt with. The good people of Ireland far outweigh that small minority. The closure of the loophole will help to resolve that issue.

An amendment to the motion on the Project Ireland Plan 2040 tabled by the Rural Independent Group is being voted on tonight.

With the way things are going, that plan will lead to more debt for people in the future. The Government is capping the number of people that can live in towns and villages because of its failure to invest in infrastructure. It is saying to people in business that they cannot expand unless their business is in a large city or town. Only a certain number of houses will be allowed to be built in an area, provided the sewerage system has capacity. The Government is now saying that the sewerage capacity in towns and villages will be upgraded but will not allow for extra capacity. This means that people in small towns and villages will not be able to build their businesses.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae spoke about how, in 2013, the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, told farmers that milk was the new white gold and they should invest in large sheds to hold extra cattle. People invested in their farms and machinery. The farming community and people in rural areas have done a lot from an environmental point of view. They bought cars that produce fewer emissions because there is no infrastructure in rural areas and no bus services. They have invested in new machinery. In the 1950s, it used to take a farmer a full day to cut 10 acres of grass. In the 1980s and 1990s, when the silage was at its best, it would take a whole day, on a good day, to cut 20 to 25 acres. Today, with the investment in low-emissions engines and machinery, and with good conditions, farmers can cut 20 acres in an hour.

What does the Government do in response to those actions? It penalises the farming community. It tells farmers to expand and then it penalises them. They took action on emissions and were penalised for it. The Government gave grants to farmers for equipment to help the environment, but 80% of the work done on farms in this country is done by contractors. The Government will not allow the same grants that are given to farmers to be given to contractors, even though they do 80% of the work and are investing in low-emissions machinery. When Brexit came along, Revenue turned around and said to people wanting to buy in a truck from the UK that if it was a special type of truck, like a mixer truck or articulated truck, there would be a 2.75% to 3.75% charge to bring it into the country. In the case of eight-wheel trucks, however, the charge is between 10% and 16% because, according to Revenue, they are not dump trucks because they are not articulated. It is clear the people in Revenue do not know what goes on in a rock quarry. A dump truck does not have to be articulated. When people want to upgrade their trucks to be more efficient, by using AdBlue or investing in a new euro 6 engine to lower emissions, what does the Government do only increases taxes. This is making it harder for the people who are investing and trying to help the environment.

I welcome what is contained in this Bill. Will the Minister of State support us when the vote is called on the Rural Independent Group's motion on Project Ireland 2040? I ask that he vote with us to allow people to invest in their communities. We must avoid having a bigger crisis on our hands and more vulture funds coming in and trying to sell off farms. The plan will prevent people in rural communities, towns and villages from expanding their businesses and being able to live where they were born and reared. It will stop people who had to leave the country from returning home. I am a culchie and proud of it and I always be. I am not from the city. However, I will do my part, along with all my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group, to help the environment.

The biggest polluter in this country at the moment is the local authorities, which was proven in a report produced by the Office of Public Works, OPW. It is not the farmers who are polluting. It is the local authorities, as stated by the OPW. That is happening because of the lack of investment by the Government. In the case of my local authority in Limerick, for example, the Government has not provided funding to upgrade sewerage systems. What is the Government's answer? It is to impose caps and prevent people from building. When businesses cannot invest and grow, they will get into debt.

We want equality for rural areas. I will support the Bill for what it is and the improvements it brings. I am asking the Minister of State to come back into the Chamber later and support us in our efforts to ensure equality for everyone in Ireland, whether they live in rural areas, villages, towns or cities. The Land Development Agency, LDA, was set up to invest only in the cities. It has offered nothing to rural areas, villages and towns. The Minister of State is here to represent the country on behalf of the Government. I am here as a member of the Rural Independent Group to represent rural areas.

Our banking system destroyed us and now we are implementing certain measures in this Bill because gurriers were attacking people in their homes. Some of the people who were attacked got into trouble through no fault of their own. I agree that we have to regulate the industry. I am taking this opportunity to ask every Deputy to support our motion when the vote on it takes place later this evening. It is a vote for equality for everyone in Ireland and a vote for the right to live in one's home area and invest and grow one's business there. Helping people to do that will also help their communities and allow everyone to grow. It will help people to afford their own homes. The Government cannot supply the housing need that currently exists. It has done well with this Bill and I will support it. I ask the Minister of State and his Government colleagues to support the Rural Independent Group and, in so doing, support everyone in the country to live and grow.

I thank Deputies for their valuable contributions to the debate on this short but very important Bill. We all recall what happened on North Frederick Street and in other repossession cases. We understand the risks involved in having unregulated security personnel getting involved in repossessions. We do not want to see those kinds of incidents repeated. That is our motivation in bringing forward this legislation. These situations give rise to serious flashpoints, cause distress to people and may hurt their dignity.

The Bill includes a new category to be regulated, namely, that of enforcement guard. This will ensure that private security firms and their employees who are acting on court orders for repossession are regulated, licensed, trained and will carry identification. Strong regulation of these types of actors will ensure there is confidence and, importantly, fairness in the process. I believe in the rule of law. I believe court orders should be enforced and upheld. However, those involved in enforcement must be regulated properly. They must be identifiable and they must be trained. They must carry out their role in accordance with the law.

Several important points were raised by speakers. Deputy Howlin asked about access to the register that will be kept online. I can confirm that every citizen will be able to access the relevant information online.

The Deputy also asked about section 6 and why we are bringing in a specific offence around the impersonating of inspectors. That provision was requested by the PSA due to reports it has received that individuals claiming to be inspectors had sought access to premises or the details of security personnel. I do not have specific numbers but it has been raised as an issue of real concern. That is why the provisions in section 6 are included.

Deputy Howlin also spoke about section 7 and expressed his support for the provision that the names of residents would no longer have to be published. He asked me to elaborate on the reasoning for that. It is for the safety of personnel in a modern world where the use of social media means that names and places of residence can, unfortunately, be shared very quickly and widely. For that reason, the decision was taken to no longer publish names and residences.

On the question regarding temporary staff, I have an idea what Deputy Howlin is driving at on this particular point. I do not have the information to hand but I certainly will get an answer for him.

I want to return to some of the points raised by Deputy Martin Kenny in the debate last week. Section 2 relates to licensing and fees for individual employees and contractors. A licence to conduct or provide the activities of an enforcement guard shall be required by both contractors and employees. Contractors may apply to add this function to their existing licences. As the licence fee is based on turnover, the prescribed fee shall depend on the turnover at the time of the application for the add-on to the licence.

The two-year licence fee is chargeable on the annual combined turnover. Contractors adding this sector to an existing licence will obtain credit for any unused portion of their existing licence. In the case of employee applicants, the prescribed fee for a single sector enforcement guard licence shall be €90. Consideration of security issues are ongoing between the board of the Private Security Authority and An Garda Síochána as to whether the enforcement guard licence should be stand-alone or combined with other sectors, with a decision expected in the coming months. This will provide clarification for applicants requiring a licence in two or more sectors. The fees for both contractors and employees shall be included in the regulations introducing the licence into the sector. Details relating to the application process, licence categories and licence fees will appear on the Private Security Authority website in due course.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle raised a number of specific questions. I understand there are sufficient resources in place but an extra inspector will be required and will be appointed because of the additional responsibilities that will arise from the addition of this new category. There are currently no vacancies on the board but one position will be up for renewal in November.

On the question of non-compliance, there is a high standard for compliance. I understand that in a situation where, for example, 100 points of compliance are required, if even one of those is not met, it goes down as non-compliance. That has been explained to me. Non-compliance means that one is not 100% compliant. That is in no way a justification for non-compliance but it is simply to say that it does not mean that the person or body found to be non-compliant is not complying in any way with the requirements. It means such a person or body is not 100% in compliance. I take the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's point because compliance is critical. I want levels of compliance brought up to 100%. That can and should be expected in these cases.

I reiterate the importance of this Bill. I am a firm believer that those providing security should operate to the highest standards. The amendments put forward today are vital components in both reinforcing the good work that the Private Security Authority carries out and strengthening the trust the public has in the sector. This Bill is important. Where security personnel are acting in accordance with the law in carrying out court orders, they must also be regulated. It is critical. Some of the events we have seen in the past are totally unacceptable. This legislation will mean that in the future, private security personnel carrying out repossessions will be identifiable, the sector will be fully regulated and those involved will be trained.

Question put and agreed to.