Private Security Industry Conference

Regulating the Security Industry:

the Experiences so far, the Lessons for the Future”

Address by Mr Alan Shatter TD, 

Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence

Monday 21 May 2012


Chairman Ladies and Gentlemen.

I want to thank the Board of the Private Security Authority for inviting me to open your conference today. I am pleased to be here to recognise and endorse the important role of the private security industry and the contribution it makes to the protection of our community. While this Conference looks to the future, it is important that we recognise some of what the Private Security Authority has achieved:

– Standards and training based licensing systems have been put in place
– Over 27,000 individuals and 800 contractors have been licensed
– The issue of criminality within the industry has been tackled
– There have been 44 successful prosecutions with fines and costs over 250,000 euro levied.
– 65 contractor licences have been suspended or revoked
– over 2.8 million euro has been identified as due to the Revenue Commissioners, savings of 1 million euro have been identified in the area of social protection and around 0.25 million euro identified as arrears due to employees

The theme of your Conference, “Regulating the Security Industry: the Experiences so far, the Lessons for the Future” is a practical and focused one. With licensing being in place for the past six years it is opportune to take time out to take stock of the impact of regulation on the industry and the lessons to be learnt for the future.

I believe that it is generally accepted that the industry has improved because of regulation and is now an industry people want to join. In fact, I understand the numbers licensed represents an all time high since licensing and regulation first commenced. This industry has come a long way in six years particularly given the economic challenges over those years.

Today’s event brings together a range of participants and speakers and will provide a fertile environment for debate as speakers reflect on both domestic and international perspectives on this industry which is all around us and which is now a fact of everyday life. I see this as a great opportunity for you, the members of the industry, and indeed all stakeholders associated with the sector to work together to discuss the challenges you are experiencing, and contribute to the shaping of the future of your industry.

It goes without saying that Private Security has a key contribution to make in safeguarding our citizens. The role is varied and impacts on citizens in all aspects of Irish life from work to social activity. When Ireland goes to sleep at night I know that many of you here are responsible for patrolling sites or for monitoring alarms so as to alert the Gardaí in the event of an incident. Many others of you are involved in safeguarding the doors of pubs and clubs and ensuring that there is appropriate behaviour from all pa trons. Security providers and their staff are now licensed and staff wear Private Security Authority badges in recognition of the process they have come through.

The security industry in Ireland is one which has come far and yet which is still evolving. It is an industry where society demands more than ‘light touch’ regulation and in which public confidence must be maintained. It is a multi-faceted industry spanning the whole spectrum from the traditional night watchman right up to the latest developments in physical security measures to leading edge electronic technology solutions. And there is a place for each of them in an industry responding to a diverse range of client needs.

Those of you here today who have gone that extra mile for a client know that while regulation is crucial in ensuring minimum standards, there are many of you operating above that minimum requirement. While regulation does not prevent such high levels of service delivery it is important to ensure that best practice is rewarded while maintaining a baseline for all within the industry whatever sector they are working in.

The Private Security Authority was established following the passing of the Private Security Services Act in 2004. It is, as you all know, an independent Agency under the remit of my Department.

Despite the current climate of financial constraint, I was pleased to be able to maintain, and indeed increase, the Authority’s budget for 2012 – one of the few Agencies in the justice sector to be in such a position.

I want to pay tribute to the Chairman of the PSA Board, Mr. Ronan King, and indeed all of the Board members, for their ongoing commitment to ensuring that the Authority delivers effective and cost efficient regulation to the benefit of the industry and general public alike. My thanks too to Ms. Geraldine Larkin, CEO of the Authority, and her staff which operate from its location in Tipperary Town. With a small staff and budget the Authority has achieved a considerable amount.

One of the reasons the Authority was established was to ensure that criminal elements did not have access to the industry. The transformation which Regulation has brought about to date has been remarkable with many positive benefits for the industry, the wider business community and the public alike. The vetting of applicants is of course an integral part of the licensing system provided for in the 2004 legislation.

I know that the Authority and the Vetting Unit enjoy an excellent working relationship and have worked hard together to improve the processing time for vetting applications, which I believe now takes, on average, a period of just three weeks.

Indeed, when I became Minister I was very concerned at the delays taking place in vetting in a host of areas. And we have succeeded in reducing what was about a ten week wait to three.

While there will always be cases that require a longer time period, this in itself is a great achievement given the very high number of applications being dealt with on a daily basis. I look forward to the imminent publication of the forthcoming National Vetting Bureau Bill which will, on enactment, put the Garda Vetting Unit on a statutory basis.

You will be aware that there is always a tension between people’s rights to work and any transgression in the past. I believe the PSA is generally getting this difficult balance right, but I am keeping the legislation under review so as to ensure the PSA is supported in its efforts.

Although I have a very heavy legislative programme covering many different and complex issues, when I took up office last year, I prioritised the private security industry and amended its establishing legislation. The changes introduced last year will close some legislative gaps which emerge over time while also improving the operational efficiency of the Authority.

Last week I signed regulations bringing into effect the next round of licensing for the electronic security sector from 1 October 2012. This completes contractor licensing of the sector and will ensure that all aspects of electronic security are delivered to high standards and subject to oversight by the Authority where standards are not met.

These Regulations mark a milestone for the Authority, given that they enable the completion of its licensing of contractors in the electronic security sector. Of course other sectors of the industry also require to be licensed in accordance with the Authority’s licensing remit.

There is no point in pretending that the huge pressure on the Government Legislative Programme at present does not cause issues for the drafting of the sort of secondary legislation that is required. But, for my part, I will support the Authority as best I can to help develop the legislative framework required to underpin regulation of the industry over the coming months and years.

As you are all no doubt aware, there is now a public register of those providing licensed security whether as an employer or an employee. You are all open to the possibility of inspection at any time from the Authority and that is a huge step forward.

While in the vast majority of cases, the Authority’s inspectors now find employers and employees compliant with licensing requirements, I know that the Authority has detected non-compliance with licensing requirements in a significant minority of cases and have taken action against such licence holders. Inspections are critical both to maintaining standards and ensuring that providers are not allowed to cut corners and compete unfairly against those of you who continuously maintain standards.

As Minister, I want to ensure the continued support for such action by the Authority and in turn support the many compliant licence holders who provide a quality service to their clients in accordance with the standards with the wider benefits to the public good.

The challenges of regulation lie, of course, in devising standards which are reasonable and proportional. Maintaining quality standards does incur costs; but ultimately high standards are in the interests of the public.

I am aware of the economic pressures put on providers here today by those who avail of their services to reduce costs. This puts a constant strain on you to deliver even more with less – while still maintaining standards required by regulation. While costs are a critical issue for your clients, purchasers of security services should, of course, be conscious of the dangers that reducing costs below a certain level may lead to inferior services that don’t meet requirements.

I am well aware of ongoing business concerns in all sectors of all industries that regulation will stifle business, that it will make it more costly to deliver and more expensive to buy. Regulation of the private security industry is not about putting people out of business who are doing a good job. It is about delivering a secure service in light of the prevailing risks. While it is up to the Authority to deliver cost efficient service, it equally behoves the industry to work in partnership with the Authority which should help drive down its operating costs.

This in turn benefits everyone as the regulator can do more with less and minimise the licensing costs for all. The presence of so many from the industry here today bodes well for the maintenance of a high level of cooperation.

The mission of the Authority, to raise standards of professionalism and skills, is one in which everyone here has a shared interest.

A challenge for the security industry and the Gardai is to try and be one step ahead of the criminal. Take for instance the Cash in Transit sector where I am aware of the significant capital investment over the last number of years in response to a spate of attacks and tiger kidnappings.

I know that investment continues as the challenge in this area continue. I particularly welcome the completion of new technological solution for ATM machines and I commend your work with the Gardaí and the Banks in bringing this to a conclusion.

In addition to setting new requirements, existing requirements set by the Authority must also be subject to ongoing reviews in each critical area with a view to examining relevance and proportionality in light of both criminal activity and the Authority’s own findings on the ground.

Such reviews must take into account also industry consolidation as a result of both economies of scale and of technology offering new ways of operating. Regulation needs to recognise this. I welcome the indications that the Authority has started this work and no doubt the conference today will give you a chance to explore that in further detail.

There is, of course, an ongoing examination of what the State itself does and what it should rely on the private sector to do. The outcome of that debate will have implications for all sectors and it is important that the private security industry is in a position to benefit from any opportunity which arise. The maintenance of high standards generally in the industry will obviously increase its chance to benefit from any opportunities.

The Private Security Industry is a growth area across the EU: despite the current economic crisis which Europe is experiencing it is probably true to say that this growth will continue for some time. The growth is driven by factors as diverse as an ageing population, the increased pressure for risk mitigation by businesses and their insurers and public budget constraints. In view of such developments, it will be particularly interesting to hear today of experiences of regulation from a UK and indeed wider European perspective. No doubt there will be much to learn from our counterparts in terms of the best path the private security industry here in Ireland should follow, and indeed where regulation itself should go next.

This conference is an opportunity to take time out to gauge where next for licensing. It provides a space for reflection on what needs to be done next. It affords you an opportunity to influence the next stages of regulation and how that is undertaken. I have no doubt that there will be many challenging views expressed here today, that there will be no easy answers or simple solutions. However as the critical stakeholders of the security industry it is your opportunity to influence the future shape and direction of its regulation.

I wish you every success with the day and look forward to meeting the Chairman again tomorrow and hearing of your deliberations.

I am pleased to op en the conference and wish you well in your debate.