Dáil debates

Thursday, 23 June 2005

Priority Questions.

Security Industry.

3:00 pm

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Question 5: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in regard to the establishment and operation of the private security services authority; the number of staff appointed; the functions it is discharging; the progress made with regard to a proposed code of practice for the private security sector; when the code will be finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21642/05]

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The Private Security Services Act 2004 was signed into law on 4 May 2004. The Act allows for, among other things, the establishment of a Private Security Authority to control and supervise persons providing security services and maintain and improve standards in the provision by it of those services. The functions of the authority include the granting and renewal of licences, the issuing of identity cards to licensees, the suspension or revocation of licences, the specification of standards in the provision of security services, specification of qualification and training requirements and monitoring of the services and service providers in the industry generally.

The authority, which is located in Tipperary town and has a current staff complement of eight, has put in place a very ambitious work programme. The primary objective of the Private Security Authority in developing its initial strategy has been to focus on those areas of greatest concern from a public order perspective and within those areas to prioritise the licensing which will give the most immediate results in terms of reducing criminality and getting a distinct grouping licensed in the shortest possible timeframe.

The authority will commence licensing private security contractors in October 2005. Licensing of companies in the various sectors of the private security industry will be implemented on a phased basis and the Private Security Authority plans to have licensed all private security employees and companies by the end of 2007.

I presume the code of practice referred to by the Deputy relates to the voluntary code of practice to create a safe, secure and efficient cash handling environment in Ireland. The voluntary code has been developed by a forum of stakeholders, including the Garda Síochána, the Central Bank and the Financial Services Authority of Ireland, the five federated banks and some of the major cash-in-transit security companies. The work of the forum was facilitated by the Irish Bankers Federation, and officials from my Department and the Private Security Authority have been attending the forum as observers.

The code of practice, which will be signed by the relevant stakeholders tomorrow, will provide the framework for an end-to-end solution to reduce the risk of cash-in-transit robberies. For security reasons, the document is a confidential one and, therefore, it would not be prudent for me to give details in the House. However, it should be pointed out that this is the first time all the major players in the cash handling environment have agreed collectively to new measures that will raise standards and better manage the risk posed by those criminals who target cash movements.

The Private Security Authority has contracted the National Standards Authority of Ireland to develop standards to underpin the licensing of all cash-in-transit companies. It is anticipated the voluntary code of practice will contribute towards the formulation of these standards.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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While the Private Security Services Bill was introduced in 2001, it only progressed through the Oireachtas in 2004. The Government dragged its heels with regard to the Bill. Ireland is the last of all the countries in Europe to introduce regulation, licensing, standards, training, vetting and monitoring of the private security service, but the authority is still not operational. Its members have only recently been appointed and the Minister has just stated that the first licences will not emanate from the authority until October next, and that will only happen on such a phased basis that it will be 2007 before service providers are licensed. Is this not a disgrace? One of the largest industries in the country, in excess of the combined strength of the Garda Síochána and the Army — the public security forces that have stringent regulations and standards — is totally unregulated, with no vetting procedures, no licensing procedures and no standards provided at all. Does the Minister agree this is an area where the black market has operated for a considerable period of time? It is an area infiltrated by questionable people, including redundant paramilitaries, from building site to bouncer. The State has shown no urgency in this matter. Is it not ironic that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who has spoken out so strongly on paramilitary and criminal activity, has done nothing to prevent people with dubious credentials from establishing their career in this area and that the State is to blame?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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In a sense the body of the question contains the reply and I already gave a reply to Deputy Costello.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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The Minister of State should agree with me.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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It is one thing for the Houses of the Oireachtas to enact legislation and another to implement it in a practical scheme. The authority does exist and is located in Tipperary town. It has a staff complement of eight at present. I assure the Deputy that upon the enactment of the legislation this matter was given a high priority in the Department. The necessary arrangements were put in place to establish the authority as a decentralised authority in Tipperary town. A great deal of work and effort was put in by the offices of the Department to see that it happened.

As outlined in the reply, the authority has decided to commence licensing the private security contractors in October of this year. The Private Security Authority will commence with sectors for which standards have been developed. On this basis the authority proposes to commence licensing contractors providing door supervisors and security guard services from October. That will be the first sector tackled by the authority.

I acknowledge the concerns of the Deputy on the infiltration of this industry by questionable persons. I am not in a position to confirm this to the House but I will draw the attention of the Minister to the concerns of the Deputy. It is a valid concern and it is a matter that requires priority.

The establishment of any authority in the public sector takes a period of time. That is what has happened here. The necessary buildings have been secured, the initial staff has been allocated and licensing will start this year. The extension of the licensing will be done on a phased basis and all private security employees and companies will be licensed by the end of 2007. That is the work plan set up by the authority and its decision is that the matter of greatest concern in terms of public order is to prioritise licensing. We empowered it to make this decision by enacting this legislation.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Is the Minister of State satisfied it will be at least another two years before the entire sector is licensed? Training mechanisms also have to be set up. He has not referred to how that will operate and if people will reach the standards set by international best practice. The State has dragged its heels to the extent that we still do not know when the sector will be licensed properly. Would the Minister of State agree the area where there are most problems, theft of cash in transit, will only operate on a voluntary code?

The purpose of establishing the private security sector authority and legislation was to ensure there would be a mandatory code of practice. Now the Minister has given this sector, including banks, building societies and financial sectors, the opportunity to develop a voluntary code. They were supposed to do this years ago and there is nothing emanating from the authority or the legislation concerning a mandatory code.

We do not want to see banks being robbed on a daily basis or cash in transit robbed on a regular basis. With new tiger type hijackings families are put in danger. All the Minister of State can tell us is that a voluntary code will be up and running. The legislation was not introduced for a voluntary code and there should be a better response to what the authority will do.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I do not accept the suggestion of foot dragging. The authority's recruitment of staff is ongoing.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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There are eight members of staff.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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A major increase in staffing numbers is anticipated in advance of the commencement of licensing in October.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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The legislation will have been passed for 12 months at that stage.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The Department is finalising the staffing arrangements for the authority. Concerning training for the security industry the authority is developing national training standards for employees in this industry.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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It has not done it yet.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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A key factor is to determine the modes of recognition of prior learning for persons with many years' experience in the industry who do not have formal qualifications.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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That is not very reassuring.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Preliminary discussions regarding the ongoing training needs of the industry have been held with FÁS. A broad sectoral skills analysis in each sector will be required to facilitate the development of an educational framework——

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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It sounds like it is totally up in the air.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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——encompassing the entry-level security guard through to degree level qualification, thus providing a structured career path and a means of advancement within the industry. The PSA hopes to draw on the expertise of the security institute of Ireland and other academic centres in building this framework. The Deputy will appreciate that there is a very substantial amount of work to be done. Concerning the voluntary code the Minister is not saying there should not be a code. That is a matter for the authority. The Minister is saying that at least now we have a voluntary code and that major progress has been made in this area.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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We had a voluntary code ages ago.