Friday, October 11, 2013

Citizens should not be penalised for using private police forces, by NOT Mary Mitchell O'Connor

A playful response to Mary Mitchell O'Connor's defence of taxpayer subsidies for private schools.

As we head into the budget next week, all eyes are on the possible changes that may be made to allow for an adjustment of somewhere in the region of €2.5 billion.

As a former Garda in a State-funded Garda Station, and as the chairwoman of the internal Fine Gael committee on Justice, I am fully aware of the importance of quality justice, quality policing and the impact the civilian/Garda ratio has on our citizens’ behaviour. A further increase in the citizen Garda ratio in next week’s budget would have a serious impact on our streets.

Some argue against the State contributing towards the policing of citizens who (having of course paid their income tax) can afford to employ private security firms that charge exorbitant fees. However, the reality is much more complex.

In some constituencies, such as the one I represent (Dún Laoghaire), historical policing decisions mean that citizens do not have much in the way of choice when it comes to referring their law and order issues to Department of Justice courts and Garda Stations.

Due to the fact that many of the private security firms in and around Dún Laoghaire did not go into the voluntary system in the 1960s, we now have a large number of fee-paying security firms and very few State-funded ones, which means that for many citizens, referring their law and order concerns to a fee-paying security firm is a matter of necessity rather than choice. Because of this historical overhang, and through no fault of their own, many customers of fee-charging security firms have been forced to stump up for their personal policing in order to refer their issues to a local security provider.

All citizens make choices regarding their personal policing based on a number of factors; whether or not the security provider is a local one, whether it is a single-sex or a co-ed Garda Station or has a particular religious ethos. I strongly believe that citizens should have that choice and that they should not be unnecessarily financially penalised for it.

Citizens of a minority faith have particularly little choice because most security providers of their ethos are fee-charging services, most do not exercise sexual discrimination, have penitentiary facilities and provide a wide service for a diverse population of citizens. Moreover, these security firms are few in number and often small and situated in rural areas such as Cavan, Monaghan, Offaly, Louth and Donegal. Any suggestion that these personal bodyguard firms should be penalised for catering for their minority community, irrespective of wealth and conduct, is totally at odds with the principles and values for which Irish society should stand for [sic].

During the course of the debate about fee-paying security firms, a realistic view of our financial circumstances has been lacking. Some suggest that reducing or withdrawing the State subvention to private security will save the State money, the slack for which will be taken up by citizens. The reality is, however, that if the State ceased or reduced funding to private security guards, many citizens who refer their personal security to private firms, and who were once able to afford fee-paying vigilantism but are now struggling, would be forced to take their personal protection needs out of private security and instead send them into the public system. This will increase demand for public policing services, which are already seriously limited in some areas, heaping additional costs on the State in the process.

The spotlight being placed by the Department of Justice on fee-paying security will cost jobs, hurt citizens, and, in many cases, force private policing firms to join the State sector, where they will cost the taxpayer more than they do now.

Many citizens in constituencies that do not have a sufficient number of Gardaí, like Dun Laoghaire, are paying colossal mortgages for modest 3/4 bedroom semi-detached homes. Many of these people have lost their jobs due to the recession or have taken serious cuts in their salaries, making providing for a private, and locally based, police force a struggle.

Now is not the time to have an ideological debate that would result in exorbitant additional costs to the State while putting serious pressure on and doing damage to our public policing system in the process.

No comments: