Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 6 Jul 2021

Vol. 277 No. 11

Private Security Services (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage

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

I am pleased to have the opportunity to bring the Private Security Services (Amendment) Bill 2021 before the Seanad. The principal objective of this Bill to insert a new category of enforcement guard in the list of private security services licensed by the Private Security Authority, PSA, under the 2004 Act. The definition and insertion of this additional category will address a gap in the legislation whereby those enforcing court orders are not currently subject to regulation or licensing by the PSA. This will ensure these services are properly regulated. The gap in the legislation was identified a number of years ago and was highlighted in September 2018 with the removal of persons trespassing and illegally occupying a private property on North Frederick Street. Those occupying the property were removed by a private security firm on foot of a High Court order. The personnel who attended at the property on behalf of the private security firm - and those who have done so in similar cases - are not currently subject to regulation or licensing by the PSA. The latter has necessitated this important legislative change. A small number of additional amendments have been included following consultation with the PSA.

Before turning to the main provisions of the Bill, I acknowledge Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire's Private Members' Bill, the Regulation of Private Security Firms Bill 2019, which contained similar objectives to the Private Security Services (Amendment) Bill 2021.

Section 1 of the Bill is a standard provision that includes a definition of the term "Principal Act". Section 2 is the key section. It inserts an additional category and definition of "enforcement guard" in the list of security services covered by the Private Security Services Act 2004. This section also inserts definitions of "county registrar", "court messenger" and "sheriff". The definition of an "enforcement guard" means a person other than a sheriff, county registrar or court messenger who, for remuneration, as part of his or her duties is authorised to perform any of the following functions: removing one or more persons from any premises or any other place, in order to take possession of the premises or place; controlling, supervising or restricting entry by one or more persons to any premises or any other place in order to take possession of that premises or place or seizing goods or other property in lieu of an outstanding debt, which said authorisation is conferred by or under an enactment, pursuant to a court order, in accordance with an agreement or consent, pursuant to a contract, or otherwise in accordance with law.

These are removing one or more persons from any premises or any other place in order to take possession of the premises or place; controlling, supervising or restricting entry by one or more persons to any premises or any other place in order to take possession of that premises or place; or seizing goods or other property in lieu of an outstanding debt, where authorisation is conferred by or under an enactment pursuant to a court order in accordance with an agreement or consent pursuant to a contract or otherwise in accordance with law.

The insertion of this category and definition will ensure an enforcement guard must hold a licence and it would be an offence to operate an enforcement guard without a private security authority licence. Such individuals would also be subject to the training standards and licensing regime operated by the authority. It would also be an offence to falsely represent oneself as an enforcement guard by advertisement or by displaying any objects purporting to indicate that the holder is a licensed enforcement guard. For both offences, a person may be liable for a class A fine or imprisonment for up to 12 months, or both, on summary conviction. A conviction on indictment can lead to imprisonment up to five years or the imposition of a fine.

Section 3 inserts a further exemption from licensing by the Private Security Authority for those engaged in the enforced collection of Revenue liabilities by a sheriff or county registrar. Where, in exceptional circumstances, there may be a need to engage security personnel, existing protocols have been updated in the Revenue Commissioners to include a requirement that such personnel are licensed by the PSA. Section 4 extends the provisions of section 26 of the Private Security Services Act 2004, allowing the PSA to refuse to renew a licence, or suspend or revoke a licence of a body corporate for the actions of its members. This will include the actions of directors, shareholders, managers, secretaries or other similar officers of the body corporate or any person purporting to act in that capacity.

Section 5 provides for the amendment of section 33(3) of the Private Security Services Act 2004 to make the register of licensed persons available for inspection free of charge by members of the public both at its principal office and online. Section 6 provides for the amendment of section 48(1) of the Private Security Services Act 2004 to include an offence of impersonating an inspector. Section 7 repeals a number of provisions under section 4(4) of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act 1926. Section 8 is a standard provision referring to the Short Title, commencement and collective citation.

I again stress the importance of this short amending Bill, which will ensure the strengthening of this area of the Private Security Authority's regulation ambit. I commend the Bill to the House.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit arís go dtí an Teach. This is short legislation but as he mentioned, it is very important. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I am delighted to support it, as it brings much-needed regulation to the area of private security operations and their work. It is important that those who are tasked with overseeing security procedures are properly licensed and there should be proper oversight of their activities.

We are all familiar with the sight that the Minister of State alluded to earlier of evictions taking place in our country and it is a sight none of us wants to see. I propose that all avenues in such matters be fully exhausted before the thought of eviction is considered. It is important that all possibility of mediation is exhausted before getting to that point because nobody wants to see anybody removed forcibly from a premises. I am thankful it is a sight we do not see too often in this country. It is not something we want to see happening again.

I am delighted to support the legislation. I commend Deputy Ó Laoghaire, who introduced a Private Members' Bill on the matter a number of years ago. It is good to see the Houses have come together with this legislation to address these concerns and provide much-needed regulation and oversight in the area.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus an Bille freisin. It is a shame this Bill is necessary but we recognise its necessity. I agree with the comments by the Minister of State and Senator Gallagher about the scenes on North Frederick Street and none of us wants to see that. It is important that we regulate the sector as we cannot have a position where people conduct themselves in such an unregulated fashion. Ideally, we would not have that happening at all.

I recognise this is short legislation but it is also going through the Houses very quickly. In that regard it is ironic that those who opposed the Order of Business this morning are not even present to speak to the Bill as it goes through all Stages in a short period.

I am present and so is the Senator beside me. The Senator should get it right.

I refer to those who opposed the Order of Business and spoke specifically to this matter this morning who are not here.

I will draw the Senator back to the legislation.

Yes. I agree it is undesirable that the Bill is to go through in an hour but it is short and has a specific goal.

I have some critical comments. The term in section 2 is "enforcement guard". It does not need to be changed and I have not submitted any amendments but the term "guard" can be used as a colloquial reference to members of An Garda Síochána, and it would be unfortunate if there could ever be confusion about the people conducting this job of enforcement guard as defined in section 2 and members of An Garda Síochána, who should never be directly involved with this type of action where it involves private property and civil disputes between persons.

I welcome the power being given to the authority under section 26 of the main Act via section 4 of this Bill to essentially refuse licences to persons. This is tremendously important. The purpose of having a regulatory body is to allow it take action against those who should not have such licences. The proposed subsection (1)(b)(i)(III) would make it possible for the authority to refuse a licence on the basis that the person "is no longer a fit and proper person to provide a security service". That provision should be first and foremost in this legislation. There are important elements about misrepresentation, etc., but the job of the Private Security Authority should be first and foremost to remove persons not suitable to carry out this work. A person licensed by the PSA, whether as a doorman or in the more complex position of enforcement guard, occupies a privileged position. Such people are entitled to be in positions ordinary citizens would and should not occupy. It is tremendously important that the PSA be empowered to ensure that people who should not be in that position are not in that position and can take action accordingly.

I welcome the provisions of section 5, which will modernise the function of the PSA to allow it make the register available online. In the past year we have seen the value of the Internet and it providing access for people, whether it is to work or information. I also welcome the inclusion of offences provided through section 6, which amends section 48(1) of the main Act. That relates to false representation and it is appropriate that such action of people misrepresenting themselves in this or any other regard relating to the Private Security Authority should be against the law. It must be punishable by law. I have a question about section 8(3), which deals with the power of the Minister to commence the Act by way of regulation. Given its urgency and how quickly it is going through the Houses, I thought it would be appropriate for this to take effect immediately.

These are technical criticisms more than anything else and I welcome the Bill. It is important to put this on a regulated, statutory footing and it makes sense to do so. As I have said, in an ideal world we would not have the need for these provisions but, unfortunately, the reality is we occasionally need such powers. In those circumstances I welcome the Bill.

I also very much welcome the Bill.

At its heart is an amendment to the principal Act to broaden the list of those who are regulated under that Act and to ensure that the category of enforcement guard will be included on that list. I very much welcome section 4, which is the amendment to section 26 of the principal Act. It is important that the PSA can take action with regard to officers of the private security companies operating in the sector. The integrity of the sector is enormously important.

Much has been said about the events that gave rise to the Bill. I want to talk a little bit about the people working in the private security sector, however. Obviously, we would have liked to have seen this Bill progressed a little sooner. We very much supported Deputy Ó Laoghaire's Bill when he brought it to the Dáil last year but we are glad that we have the Bill before us. This legislation in this area is as much about protecting the public as it is about those working in the sector. That is important to say.

Previous speakers referred to how none of us ever wants an eviction situation to have to play out. When it does, however, we need to know that there will never be a situation where untrained, uncontrolled, unregulated persons acting as mercenaries to defend the interests of private parties can ever happen again.

When we speak about the workers in the sector, it is important to recognise that their role is often downplayed or not fully appreciated. Senator Ward spoke about the privileged position or the privilege associated with their role in terms of guarding or protecting particular locations, group of peoples or whatever. When we look at the pay of these workers, however, the rate is €11.65 per hour. This will rise to €12.05 per hour in September. I should add that these workers had to wait three months more than they should have because there was an agreement between both the trade unions and the employers that their pay rise would happen in June. The Minister, in his wisdom, has decided to delay that until September. While 40 cent may not be an awful lot to some of us here, it is a lot to these workers. That pay increase in September is very important. This Bill is also important in terms of recognising that those involved are a regulated group of persons who are trained and who occupy a very important role in industry and society in general.

The events that gave rise to the need for this Bill are very clearly etched in my mind because I do not live very far from North Frederick Street in Dublin 1. I used to pass it on a daily basis on my way to work. I certainly vividly remember the Occupy movement. Indeed, I was outside many of the houses that were occupied. I remember the day when that eviction took place in September 2018 and the very frightening circumstances in which it occurred. There was a twin issue that day. There was the issue of those who obviously entered the building and moved to violently remove those occupying it but there was also the situation with regard to the manner in which An Garda Síochána policed the eviction.

While we have this Bill now to deal with the issue regarding the unregulated private security persons operating that day, there are still issues in terms of An Garda Síochána. It is important for me to say that I have communicated with An Garda Síochána locally on a number of occasions and I know it is making enormous efforts to try to get its planning and policing of enforcing court orders right. We had a situation on Berkeley Road in Dublin 7 last year, however, and in the Ilac Centre with Debenhams workers in recent months. It is, therefore, really important that how An Garda Síochána polices evictions is got right. The reality is that as our society and economy evolve in whatever shape or form over the coming months, more evictions will be coming down the track, unfortunately, with businesses closing and properties being taken over. We need to get the policing of that right.

Is comharsa ón mbaile é agus cara liom an Seanadóir Vincent P. Martin agus is trua go bhfuil sé ina chónaí i gContae Chill Dara anois.

At the heart of our considerations as legislators dealing with this issue, we must be mindful of the Constitution, or Bunreacht na hÉireann, a written document in which certain fundamental rights are set out in black and white. A number of those rights relate to the home. The dwelling is inviolable. Superior courts, again and again in their rulings and in their jurisprudence, have deemed the home to hold a pre-eminent position in our Constitution to be a place of repose from the cares of the world and pressures. Inviolability means never broken, infringed or dishonoured. While all this might seem bookish or academic, it has real and powerful meaning.

Today's world is a precarious one for the most vulnerable in society. For many, the supporting bonds of family or larger community are simply not there or are not strong enough to protect them. It is, therefore, imperative that the supreme law of the land stands strong as protector of last resort. A person may come from another part of the world and may have few, if any, possessions and no system of friends or family to support him or her. He or she may be alone. It is, however, the greatness of our system that the full power of the Constitution and laws will defend that person's home against all comers and, in so doing, give him or her some repose from the cares of the world and recognise, in some way, his or her human dignity.

I praise An Garda Síochána for the work it has done in the testing times of the pandemic. What is the motivation behind this legislation, however? Let us be honest about it. An Garda Síochána was part of the problem, although that was inadvertent. An Garda Síochána got involved in a civil issue and trespassed onto a private dwelling without the necessary court order. Members of An Garda Síochána require further and better training. I wrote to the Commissioner's office at the time and his office responded to assure me that:

An Garda Síochána appreciate those concerns and can advise you that a Policy Document specifically for evictions and eviction related events is near completion. The formulation of this policy has taken full cognisance of the observations provided by you and is, in addition, firmly rooted in the Human Rights Principles of proportionality, lawful authority and case by case risk assessment.

I would, therefore, request from the Minister, although I will liaise with his office in due course, an update to make sure there will never be a repeat of the scenes in North Frederick Street and, before that, in Strokestown.

When a landlord obtains a determination order from the RTB, for example, and in the minority of cases, if the tenants for whatever reason do not wish to vacate the property as per the order, no one - not even gardaí - should take the law into their own hands. One returns to court to get the appropriate court order. If there is still a problem with the notice to the tenant who is purportedly not in compliance, that tenant or tenants must explain themselves or purge the contempt. It is called the rule of law. No one wants it but one needs it in a society.

It is as a last resort. If it takes a long time to get there, so be it as it protects the greater good. I hope this is a small step in the right direction. I hope that in the sensitive cases, they would have to go back to the court for a further interpretation or a clarification of the order to seek further compliance. I hope that An Garda Síochána, as the law officers, will take centre stage in this regard. I am delighted that those who are pejoratively termed "bouncers" or who, using more decorative language, are called "admission consultants" are now to be brought into the realm of regulation. These people are often hooded and in disguise so one cannot even see who they are. This has to be a positive although it is a very small step. In due course, I will seek an update from the Department on whether the Garda Commissioner, as promised, has brought along An Garda Síochána, who are doing their best. It might be inadvertent on their part in a pressured job but they are the leaders of law and order out on the streets. They must lead by example and we must always support them and have respect for them. Members of the Garda must be fully resourced with the proper education and skills.

I commend the speech on the Bill by Senator Martin in particular. I welcome the Bill on behalf of Sinn Féin. I commend my colleagues, Deputies Ó Laoghaire and Martin Kenny, on first raising in the Dáil in 2019 the issues attached to the Bill. Both Deputies moved a similar Bill that alerted the Government to a loophole in legislation governing the legal administration of privately-owned security firms. In the course of the debate in the Dáil it was well received by Members who spoke of all parties. It was this loophole that some private security companies were taking advantage of to use force and aggression in the execution of repossession notices or, to be more accurate, when evicting people from their homes.

All Members joined with the public in expressing shock and anger when we saw the scenes on our televisions of the forced and violent evictions of tenants from their homes in Dublin's North Frederick Street, and in Strokestown in County Roscommon. This prompted Deputies Ó Laoghaire and Martin Kenny to scrutinise the law governing the work practices of private security firms. I agree with Deputy Ó Laoghaire when he said then that the scenes were reminiscent of what happened during the famine and the land war, and that everything connected to those events is seared into our collective memory. It offends us emotionally to think of people being forced out of their homes because they cannot afford the rent or mortgage payments, for whatever reason.

We need to remind ourselves of the context for the Bill before the Seanad today. The loophole that was identified meant that there was no regulation governing the activities of the personnel who enforced court orders, including evictions. It was hard to believe that there was a legal vacuum that left homeowners and tenants vulnerable to the sharp end of banks and lending houses who appeared unconcerned about the consequences of bringing in heavies to enforce a court order. These individuals are not subject to oversight and there was no opportunity for the people who were being evicted to complain. This meant that the banks and financial institutions employing the evictors could act as they chose, without consequences, because there was no vetting system within the legal governing body, the Private Security Authority. This was a completely unacceptable situation.

Generally, the Bill and the debate also need to take into consideration the precarious situation in which many thousands of people have been placed by the Covid pandemic. No-one should be facing or experiencing eviction or homelessness at any time, but especially arising from the consequences of this pandemic. Legislation is required to regularise the working practices of security firms, especially in circumstances where they are acting as bailiffs. The system must ensure accountability, registration, credentials, proper management structures, and proper training for security personnel to respect the dignity of those on the receiving end of the court order.

Evictions are not the only circumstances where security personnel are used. It can also be in the context of vehicles and business premises, for example. No-one is above the law. At all times An Garda Síochána must be the legal authority and protect those who face aggressive and threatening behaviour from security firms.

I thank Senators for their contributions and for facilitating the quick progression of this Bill through the Seanad today. This amending Bill will address a gap that was necessary to close, and will bring the new category of "enforcement guard" under the remit of the Private Security Authority's licensing regime. The Government has moved to ensure that private security firms and their employees who are engaged on foot of A High Court order are properly regulated. This will also ensure proper licensing and appropriate training to operate in this sector under the Private Security Authority.

We do not want to see the repeat of situations we saw in the recent past, which were recalled here today. Already challenging circumstances that led to the course of events requiring a High Court order have been put under further strain by this lack of regulation. I am pleased that we have been able to bring clarity to this element of a very difficult situation.

It is important that we address the concerns that have arisen at these flash points. Amending this legislation and broadening the remit of the Private Security Authority to include enforcement guards will address this lack of regulation. We are all at one that the court's orders must be upheld, but they need to be upheld, if necessary, by persons who are properly regulated, who are identifiable, and who have been appropriately trained.

I have outlined the main provisions of the Bill previously in this House, and I thank the Senators for their engagement on the Bill. I reiterate the importance of this Bill. The Bill before us today is proof of the Government's commitment to promote and ensure best practice in the industry. Private security staff occupy a position of trust. They engage in regular interactions with members of the public. With this in mind I strongly believe that those providing such security should operate at the very highest of standards. I am pleased that with the introduction of these amendments the Private Security Authority can continue to provide its important role in regulating the private security industry.

I am happy to give Senator Martin the update he seeks post enactment of this legislation. The legislation will commence as soon as possible. A number of regulations need to be approved on details that we had decided not to put into the legislation itself: namely to ensure they match with the Private Security Authority's requirements. These are already in train and the legislation will be commenced as soon as possible. I thank the Senators.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.