Minutes from FCP & Directive Updates – 28th January 2016

Please see below my report.

Regards,

Des

Firearms – national developments

The Firearms Consultative Panel has had two meetings, the last one being on 28th of January.

 

Centralised licensing for restricted firearms:

The Gardai are proposing a centralised licensing system for restricted firearms but there has been little movement on this so far as the Panel has not yet been presented with any proposals from the Gardai.  Apparently there are internal human resource issues within An Garda Siochana which the Commissioner needs to address.

 

Ballistic database:

As per the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, agreement has been reached to create a ballistic database for small firearms.  A feasibility study has now been undertaken which indicates that the database is worthwhile.

 

Re-loading:

The DOJ is prepared to authorise an expansion of the existing ammunition re-loading pilot scheme currently based at the Midlands Shooting Range.  Two more locations/ranges/premises will be authorised shortly and will be announced once the ranges/premises have been fully assessed and certified as being fit for the purpose.  This will be a welcome development to many hunters and target shooters alike who have advocated that this practice should be allowed more generally.

 

Storage:

Storage arrangements for firearms on farms had been considered to be of concern to the Gardai and the DOJ.  Following the first meeting of the FCP last October, it had been agreed that the Gardai and the IFA would get together and devise a programme to educate farmers of the importance of securing their firearms.  This message is being disseminated to farmers as part and parcel of proposals for tackling crime generally which is directed towards farms.

 

Firearms Assessment and Appeals Authority:

The DOJ gave a brief update on the proposal to establish a Firearms Assessment and Appeals Authority.  It was stated that this is a work in progress.  One submission has been received and it is hoped to be able to report more substantive progress at the next meeting.

 

Garda Commissioner’s Guidelines:

Following a submission from the Coalition for two amendments to the Garda Commissioner’s Guidelines, it had been decided to carry out a more comprehensive review of the Guidelines as much has now changed in the licensing system.  A working group of the Sports Coalition will now review the current Guidelines and draft a submission from the Coalition for consideration.  The Gardai for their part wished to assure all representative bodies that licensing officers were given instruction and legal advices about firearms decisions and the requirement for natural justice, case law etc.  This was given by a Senior Counsel following consultation with the Attorney General.

 

Regulation of Firearms Dealers:

A new draft Statutory Instrument for the regulation of firearms dealers is prepared.  This has been promised on and off since 2009 but has never been progressed.  We await to see if it appears this time.

 

Night shooting:

The Sports Coalition raised the issue of night shooting, particularly in areas populated by deer.  This had been raised at the previous meeting by the NPWS with particular reference to Wicklow.  It was agreed that this is a serious matter which needs to be addressed and as NPWS was not represented at the meeting it was proposed to include it on the agenda of the next meeting.

 

“Weapons” Directive Amendments:

The proposals to amend the “Weapons” Directive by the EU Commission were discussed.  The main contributors were myself and other Coalition members and the DOJ, principally because very few people appear to understand the Directive as it is, and even less about the implications of the amendments.  I had in the week before the meeting given the Department a copy of the FACE Europe proposals.  They thanked me for what they said was a very informative document and confirmed that they would have many (not all) of the concerns expressed in the FACE document and they are on “the same page” as FACE.  These include categorisation of firearms, medical checks, minimum age etc.  On the subject of deactivation of firearms, the Commission has already agreed a common EU standard for deactivation where each member state must provide a body to certify that deactivation has occurred to the Commission’s standard and such body must be recognised internationally.  This is causing problems for Ireland in that it has no such internationally recognised body and the closest recognised body is the Proof House in Birmingham.  This will undoubtedly have cost implications for Irish firearms owners who wish to hold deactivated firearms and will be the subject of further discussion.

Overall, while progress is slow at his stage, it is steady and the atmosphere is positive and conducive to progress.  However, there will be no sudden burst of activity prior to the formation of the next Government.

 

Firearms – European developments

The proposals by the Commission to amend the “Weapons” Directive move on daily with FACE Europe now in constant communication with the Commission officials.  However, there is by no means unanimity among member states with the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Germany, Finland, Estonia, Italy to name but some, who are either totally against the amendments or against many or some of the amendments.  Austria has gone so far as to declare that the Commission’s proposals do not have an appropriate legal basis and have signalled that if the Commission amends the Directive, Austria will appeal it legally.  I sent a brief with the FACE position and suggested amendments to the proposals to every RGC and Coalition member on 21st January urging that it is time to lobby all members of the Oireachtas again but this time to include MEP’s.  I would urge everyone to start again lobbying as before but this time bear in mind a General Election is about to take place.  Therefore members of the Oireachtas will not be found in Leinster House but out canvassing.  The best way of lobbying in these circumstances is by phone to their mobile numbers or by email to their constituency offices.  Remember, firm but polite at all times.

 

General Election:

Let me be clear at the outset of what I am about to say – I am not now and never have been a member of any political party, ever.

As the general election gets underway, there are some considerations for the Coalition organisations to bear in mind as a large lobby group.  We have both friends and foes in the Dail and that’s a reality which will always exist.  However, I believe we have far more friends, even if they feel compelled to support our causes by virtue of the numerical strength of the Associations.

During the course of 2015, there is no doubt but that we managed to convert a far greater number of Oireachtas members to our side than ever before.  This was due in no small measure to the regularity of our lobbying on the firearms issue and the measured consistency of our message which was delivered calmly and in reasoned tones, while avoiding “big” statements which were weak.  We gained many political friends and I doubt there is any member of either Houses of the Oireachtas who does not now know who NARGC and the Sports Coalition are and what we stand for.  That is evidenced by the ease with which we can access politicians generally.

While NARGC or the Coalition are not so presumptuous as to attempt to tell anyone how to vote, we do nonetheless flag particular political actions, good and bad, for our members and supporters to consider in relation to shooting, hunting and countrysports issues and we leave it to them to make up their own minds.

On the positive side, while there is no doubt that we had difficulties during the term of the outgoing government with Justice ministers and others, the term of office of the Government ended positively for our collective memberships.  But, we must acknowledge the positive action taken by Minister Frances Fitzgerald to bring a long standing grievance for firearms owners to an end.  While we did have to fight hard for the solution, it would be small minded not to acknowledge that she was the first Justice Minister since the late Brian Lenihan to listen to sports shooters and we thank her for the efforts she made to visit us and gain an understanding of our problems and arguments.  We should also acknowledge the positive contribution to this process which was made by the members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, chaired by David Stanton (Fine Gael) from Cork.  Mr Stanton was at all times fair and courteous to us and his Committee members, with one or two exceptions, were very supportive.  We succeeded in getting support right across the political divide, not always an easy thing to achieve.  Senators Pat O’Neill of Fine Gael and Paschal Mooney of Fianna Fail, both of whom had been elected to the Seanad on the NARGC’s nominations, were of immeasurable help.  They arranged meetings, carried messages to and from Ministers and politicians of particular influence, asked our questions in the Seanad, arranged debates and spoke in our support at every opportunity.  I would like to think that we can support them again for the Seanad this time round.  Both have already sought our nominations.  Niall Collins, the Fianna Fail TD from Limerick and the opposition spokesman on Justice was also very supportive and helpful and he turned up at several meetings organised by the Sports Coalition and by local clubs to demonstrate that support and engaged with the Minister on the floor of the Dail and put down questions for answer.  His constituency colleague, Dan Neville of Fine Gael was equally supportive.  His party colleague, John McGuinness who is Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee did likewise. There were also Independents such as Michael Healy-Rae TD who raised the cause of sports shooters in the Dail on several occasions.  There were a great many other Oireachtas members of all persuasions who gave us support.

I must also acknowledge Minister for Arts, Heather Humphreys TD who made herself available to me on quite a number of occasions.  She was very responsive to our calls to ban the sale of Woodcock, a measure which she implemented from the 1st of November last.  She also intervened on our behalf to make representations to the Minister for Justice and of course her continuing support, including financial, for the NARGC’s Boleybrack Grouse Project is very much appreciated.  We are often quick to criticise politicians, me included.  That in itself makes our obligation to acknowledge positive support all the more important.

With such positive actions by so many, it is a pity that I must also report the actions of some who opposed our interests.  The Independent TD Finian McGrath from North Dublin vehemently opposed us on the firearms issue.  Ruth Coppinger, Independent, also found she could not support us in the firearms campaign.

While Sinn Fein Justice spokesman, Padraig MacLochlainn was supportive, his party’s MEPS, Lynn Boylan and Matt Carthy, voted at EU level to ban spring hunting under derogation.  I seem to recall Sinn Fein previously adopting anti coursing and anti “bloodsports” positions and only reversed them in the face of opposition from the representative organisations?!!  Luke Ming Flanagan (Independent) voted to ban hunting for “recreational purposes and pleasure”, which was rather surprising given his long-standing position on defending rural Ireland.  I’m sure our members west of the Shannon will be more than a little surprised to learn of this.  There was also Nessa Childers (former Green Party and now Independent) who voted against both spring hunting (under derogation) and ‘recreational’ hunting.

On fishing, our colleagues in FISSTA fought a difficult but proactive campaign with our support against the mega fish farms in Galway Bay and elsewhere.  In common with our efforts on firearms, common sense won out in the end with a much scaled down proposal now on the table.

Hunting, shooting and fishing people can make up their own minds from these matters.

 

Des Crofton

National Director – NARGC
&
Spokesperson for the Sports Coalition.

Reminder: Public consultation on firearms Directive

Please note the email below from the FACE Secretariat.  As the official reaction from Member States is becoming increasingly more divided and key allies in the Parliament are now coming forward with amendments suggested by FACE which will be more reasonable for firearms owners, the time is now ripe for shooting people to start contacting their MEP’s and briefing them.  The attached position paper developed by the FACE Europe Expert Group on Firearms is the most succinct and comprehensive briefing document available.  Please pass it to your MEP/s and ask them to support the FACE amendments if and when the Directive comes before the European Parliament for vote.  The bottom line is that the existing Directive is a legal instrument to facilitate free movement of citizens between member states with their sporting firearms and is not, and never was, an instrument to fight terrorism, which is what is now being proposed by the Commission and in the process getting ordinary law abiding citizens caught up in the fight against terrorism.  Whereas much of what is being proposed will affect legal gun owners in many member states (not so much in Ireland because our system of firearms licensing is in effect already incorporating many of the proposed measures), it will not result in making any firearm less available to terrorists which are the target of the Commission’s proposals.  In simple terms, no terrorist will ever read the Directive and feel compelled to respect it. But the revisions proposed by the Commission will establish some dangerous precedents, even for Irish gun ownership (e.g. the minimum age) and it must be resisted.

So, please use the attached position paper and start contacting your MEP’s and TD’s and Senators.  It is important that TD’s and Senators, all of whom will be offering themselves for election very shortly, should be lobbied to persuade the Minister for Justice to adopt an Irish Government position more in line with the FACE position.  Again, I urge people to be friendly but firm and remember, absolutely no abuse or aggressive lobbying please.  I am already discussing the position with the DOJ.

FACE Position with AM on Firearms Directive

Thank you all in advance.

Des Crofton
National Director – NARGC
&
Spokesperson for the Sports Coalition

 

From: Johan SVALBY [mailto:johan.svalby@face.eu]
Sent: 20 January 2016 13:26To: Johan SVALBY <johan.svalby@face.eu>
Subject: Reminder: Public consultation on firearms Directive / Consultation publique sur l’ouverture de la Directive sur les armes à feu / Rückmeldung abschicken -Vorschlag für eine Richtlinie zur Änderung der Richtlinie 91/477/EWG
Importance: High

 

Dear Members (français ci-dessous / Den deutschen Text finden Sie untenstehend),

Reminder: the European Commission is carrying out a public consultation on its proposal regarding the opening of the Firearms Directive on the following link:

 

https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/?fuseaction=feedback&docId=3085376&language=en

We invite you to participate responding to the questions with the FACE position (attached).

We furthermore invite you to give it the widest circulation within your membership.

Please be reminded that you can reply in your national language.

The deadline for replying is 1 February 2016.

Kind regards,


Chers Membres,

La Commission européenne a décidé de réaliser une consultation publique sur sa proposition relative à l’ouverture de la Directive sur les armes à feu sur le lien suivant:

https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/?fuseaction=feedback&docId=3085376&language=fr

Nous vous invitons à y participer en répondant aux questions à l’aide du papier de position de la FACE en pièce jointe.

Nous vous invitons également à faire circuler cette demande de participation auprès de vos membres.

N’oubliez pas que vous pouvez répondre dans votre langue nationale.

La date limite pour répondre est le 1 février 2016.

Cordialement,


Sehr geehrte Mitglieder,

Die Europäische Kommission führt eine öffentliche Konsultation über die Novellierung der Feuerwaffen Richtlinie.

https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/?fuseaction=feedback&docId=3085376&language=de

Wir laden Sie ein, den Fragebogen zu beantworten, indem Sie die FACE-Stellungnahme (siehe Anhang) anwenden.

Wir laden Sie außerdem ein, dieser Konsultation die größte Zirkulation innerhalb Ihrer Mitgliedschaft zu geben.

Zur Erinnerung. Sie können in Ihrer Landessprache antworten.

ie Rückmeldungfrist endet am 1. Februar 2016.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen,

Johan SVALBY

Director of Legal and Public Affairs
FACE – Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the EU
Rue F. Pelletier 82, B-1030 BRUSSELS
T: +32 (0) 2 732 6900
F: +32 (0) 2 732 7072
E: johan.svalby@face.eu

www.face.eu

Any views expressed in this message are those of the individual sender, except where the sender specifies with authority, states them to be the views of FACE. This e-mail may contain information which is privileged or confidential. If you received this e-mail in error, please notify us immediately by e-mail or telephone and delete the e-mail without copying or disclosing its contents to any other person.

Letter to Justice department

Sent: 16 December 2015 12:48
To: ‘Marion G. Walsh’
Subject: Firearms Directive

Dear Marion,

As you know, Irish shooting interests are represented at the level of the European institutions by the Federation of Associations for Shooting and Conservation (FACE), which also represents the national associations of firearms owners in 36 countries, including all EU. In addition to my position as National Director of NARGC, I am also the Irish representative to FACE where I have served variously as a Board Member and also two terms as Vice President over the past 20 years.

Among many other issues, FACE has been dealing with the Commission’s proposals to amend the Firearms Directive. I understand the Council of the EU will meet on Friday in Brussels to discuss the Directive and the proposals for amendment Article by Article. Following discussion and consultation with all the member state shooting organisations, FACE has prepared a position paper in response to what is proposed. While many of the proposals will not significantly affect Ireland as our regulatory regime is already largely in “harmony” with what is being proposed, there are nonetheless some proposals which would alter our situation and which we, and FACE would oppose. In particular, we oppose the proposal to use this Directive for a purpose for which it was never designed for i.e. anti-crime/terrorism measures. The Directive was implemented to facilitate the free movement of citizens with sporting firearms and is not even within the brief of the Commission which is responsible for security. It deals with firearms which are not what are being used by terrorist groups. The Commission’s proposals will manifestly have no impact on criminal/terrorist access to their firearms of preference. The only effect of the amendments as proposed will be to make life more difficult for law abiding citizens without contributing any measurable improvement to safety and security of EU citizens.

Of real concern for shooting associations here in Ireland is the proposal on minimum age. This would simply strangle the lifeblood of shooting associations and is a measure we would have to vigorously oppose. There are also issues around de-activated firearms and standards for same which we could support in principle. An EU policy on sound moderators could be welcome, if it removes the inconsistencies as exist here which commonly result in prejudice being the deciding factor rather than merit with many licensing officers. The creation of new categories of certain semi-auto firearms is illogical.

I attach for your information a copy of the FACE position paper which we support and I would ask you to bring it to the attention of whoever will be attending Friday’s meeting representing Ireland. If you have any queries on any matter in the paper, please feel free to give me a call or email.

Kindest regards,

Des Crofton
National Director
NARGC
& Spokesperson for the Sports Coalition

FACE Position with AM on Firearms Directive 15 Dec2015

NASRPC RESIGNATION FROM THE SPORTS COALITION

The NASRPC resigned from the Sports Coalition on the 24th of October.  This followed several weeks of difficulties which had arisen between the NASRPC and the other Coalition Members in the run up to the Minister’s announcement of 18th of September which accompanied a new S.I. bringing clarity to the licensing of .22 calibre handguns and setting out a road map to the licensing system into the future.  It is unfortunate that the NASRPC’s principal officers have sought fit at various gatherings of shooting people to misrepresent the reasons for the difficulties which arose leading to their resignation.  I am therefore now publishing the full exchange of correspondence between the NASRPC and the Sports Coalition which clarifies the position and will demonstrate beyond doubt that the NASRPC personnel concerned were at all times off-side.

 

Des Crofton

National Director
&
Spokesperson for the Sports Coalition

6/11/2015

NASRPC To Des Crofton – 16/10/2015

NASRPC E-Mail to Sports Coalition – Resigning from Coalition – 24/10/2015

Des Crofton Response to NASRPC – 26/10/2015

Minister releases New SI & planned new arrangements for firearms administration

Dear All,

 

The Minister for Justice & Equality, France Fitzgerald TD, published last Friday, September the 18th, a new S.I. (attached) governing the licensing of target handguns together with announcing planned new arrangements for the administration of the firearms licensing system generally (also attached).  These announcements come in response to the controversial report and recommendations of the joint review carried out by the Department of Justice and An Garda Siochana this time last year and the response and campaign to that report by the Sports Coalition.  Of significance is the fact that all of the arrangements which the Minister has announced were sought by the Sports Coalition in its numerous meetings, briefings and submissions.  Suffice to say that all firearms currently licensed are safe and there are no proposals to ban anything.  Of particular significance for game shooting people is the fact that the proposal to ban certain semi-automatic shotguns is dropped as are the proposals to give An Garda Siochana new powers to refuse firearms licence applications for any firearm based on calibre, appearance, proliferation etc.

 

I wish to express my sincere gratitude to our colleagues in the Sports Coalition for their support and work over the past year.  I also wish to thank the many thousands of individual shooting people who contributed actively to our campaign by lobbying their local public representatives.  My appreciation also goes to those members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice & Equality and particularly its Chairman, David Stanton T.D., for their measured consideration and contributions to resolving what had become a difficult and complicated issue.  I also want to acknowledge the positive and pragmatic approach adopted by Minister Fitzgerald in arriving at her decision.  Her planned proposals will in time make a very positive contribution to removing the acrimonious and adversarial approach, which has characterised firearms licensing in this Country over the past ten years, while at the same time taking full account of public safety concerns.  It therefore goes without saying that I and the Sports Coalition welcome and fully endorse the Ministers announcement. Lastly, I wish to pay tribute to William Egan, Solicitor, who has been a fearless defender of shooting sports for the past twenty years. His achievements are unrivalled anywhere in this area.  He has provided free legal advice to the Sports Coalition since it was formed which has proved invaluable in our campaign. There are other individuals who are deserving of our gratitude and suffice to say I will be communicating that to those people personally in due course.

 

On a personal note, I am particularly proud to have been chosen by the sports shooting organisations in the Coalition to lead the campaign which has achieved this positive result.  It is for me the culmination of more than 6 year’s hard work which at times seemed hopeless and was punctuated in equal measure by highs and lows.  It is my hope that shooting people can now settle down to concentrating on participation in their chosen sport and leave behind the need to engage in a constant battle to even renew a firearms certificate.

 

I look forward to a more positive engagement with the DOJ and An Garda Siochana.

Desmond Crofton
National Director – NARGC
&
Spokesperson for the Sports Coalition

Meeting with Ms Francis Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice & Equality, and Ms Noreen O’Sullivan, Commissioner of An Garda Siochana

logo2


By

Des Crofton, National Director – NARGC and Spokesperson for the Sports Coalition

Meeting with Ms Francis Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice & Equality, and Ms Noreen O’Sullivan, Commissioner of An Garda Siochana, at 521 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2 at 10am on Wednesday, April 20th, 2015.

The Sports Coalition representatives were of Des Crofton (NARGC and Spokesperson for the Sports Coalition), Paul Walsh (Firearms Dealer), Victor Quirke, (Irish Bullseye Association), Mick Tope (NASRPC), Mark Maguire (Harbour House Range), Gerry McCarthy (WA1500 Association) and Sean Gilliland (Range Operator).

The Minister welcomed all and invited each party attending or representing an association at the meeting to introduce themselves

We could not let the occasion pass without remarking that the meeting had been a long time coming and indeed should have come long before the number of court challenges reached the levels they did.  We outlined that it is set against a background of the goalposts having been unfairly moved by the Gardai over the past six years.  We instanced the agreement on the Annex F list and the letters of encouragement from senior Garda Officers to apply for firearms which it is now being contended are restricted and therefore no longer licenceable.  We pointed out it is an act of extreme bad faith for the Gardai to be issuing pre-populated forms inviting people to renew their firearms certificates while knowing that a blanket policy to refuse will be applied.

There have now been almost 700 court cases with every single one seeking no more than compliance with the legislation.  It should be noted that none of the court challenges sought to widen the scope of availability of firearms or sought a reduction in the criteria to be met.  By the end of 2009, following the consultations and eventual enactment of the new legislation, the Department of Justice and An Garda Siochana had a very valuable prize in their hands – the respect and confidence of all representative associations.  But it is a matter of record that the respect and confidence achieved evaporated in the months and years following as a direct result of the actions of An Garda Siochana and inaction by the Department of justice.

Firstly, there are some general matters in the Justice Committee’s Interim Report we commented on.  The Joint Report of the Department of Justice and An Garda Siochana is predicated on the notion that a great many firearms are stolen from the homes of licence holders and end up in the hands of criminals in the commission of crimes and the Gardai have provided statistical data which they claim backs up that assertion.  However, the figures as presented give anything but a true reflection of what firearms have been stolen from the homes of licence holders and quite frankly, the statistics published lack credibility and there is no other way to put that.  At the meeting on the 29th, the Garda Commissioner, in the face of our comments on the credibility of the Garda statistics on stolen firearms, clarified that the correct figure for firearms stolen from homes over the relevant four year period was 1,100 firearms and not 1,710 as previously published.  This is of course more than a 50% margin of error!!!  But more importantly and worrying is the fact that the figures have been presented in a way which demonises firearms owners in the eyes of the public.  Others have published an analysis already of the statistics and both the Department and the Gardai are well aware of that.  If the statistics show anything at all it is that the security arrangements where they are implemented are working very well.  Set against the background of how the figures have been presented, we welcome the acknowledgement of the Oireachtas Committee of the responsibility and professionalism of firearms owners and we particularly welcome their caution against comparing licenced firearms owners with criminal activity and we urge everyone to kindly take note of that.

On behalf of the Sports Coalition we welcomed of the Interim Report of the Oireachtas Justice Committee as the first unbiased and objective consideration of the issues and difficulties around firearms ownership in this country.  That is not to say we can agree with everything in the Interim Report – we do not, but there is much we can agree with and we do believe the general direction and approach of the Justice Committee is the correct one and we welcome the Report for those reasons.

Turning to the specific recommendations in the Justice Committee’s Report:

1. The Committee strongly recommends that the Minister requests that the Garda Inspectorate carry out an independent review of the current firearms licensing regime;

It seems to us that this is just the beginning, or at least it should be.  The Justice Committee has confirmed it is continuing with its work and we believe intends, when finished, to issue a final report.  The Committee has also strongly recommended that the administration of the licensing system be referred to the Garda Inspectorate.  There is much to recommend this course.  If we are to attempt to fix whatever problems are in the system, it seems to us to be sensible that we know what problems we should fix from an objective assessment by an independent body.  The Sports Coalition had been calling for the Inspectorate to examine these issues for some time.  The Minister said she wished to first examine some matters concerning the terms of reference of the Inspectorate.

 

2. The Minister should establish a national firearms control and advisory licensing authority with an associated central database also accessible by an Garda Síochána;

We agree with this recommendation in principle, especially the concept of a centralised licensing system which will undoubtedly deliver consistency of approach and much needed knowledge over time, not to mention increased efficiency.  We are on record as calling for this previously.  However, we are totally opposed to any idea that the administration of a centralised system would rest within and under the control of An Garda Siochana and we made that clear at the meeting.  We agree that the Gardai should be the sole body in charge of character vetting – arguably the most important and critical aspect of assessment for suitability for a firearms certificate.  As such, an applicant for a firearms certificate should first be required to obtain a “character clearance certificate” from the Gardai before applying for a firearms certificate.  This model has huge benefits.  No records of any nature which might be regarded as confidential or of operational nature are required to be passed to anyone outside the Gardai.  The clearance certificate, if refused is a matter between the would-be applicant and the Gardai exclusively and would not involve the licensing authority.  This system would reduce the scope for argument and litigation substantially without compromising public safety.

We agree in principle with the other proposed functions of a National Licensing Authority albeit that much of how they would work needs to be discussed and given greater definition and relevance in the Irish context.

 3. A ballistics record of all licensed firearms should be created and maintained;

While we accept the sentiment behind this recommendation, we believe it is not possible, practical or proportionate for all firearms and I believe there was general agreement on this.  The focus here should be on those firearms which appear to be of concern i.e. short firearms.

4. The Committee recommends that the licencing of .22 calibre short firearms and centre fire semi-automatic rifles be temporarily restricted;

This is currently the most contentious and urgent issue as those firearms affected are currently commencing renewal and renewals will intensify in the second half of the year.  We do not accept that any justifiable case has been made to restrict or ban .22 calibre short firearms.  The simple test is amply illustrated by (a) the number of such firearms as have been stolen from the homes of licence holders since 2009 when the new security arrangements came into force and (b) of the tiny number stolen, the number which have been established as having been used in the subsequent commission of a crime.  We reminded the Minister that we have called for an independent risk assessment where the banning and/or restriction of any firearm is being contemplated and we outlined how this assessment could take place.  We said that the issue of the status of currently licensed .22 calibre short firearms and the future licensing of these firearms is of the utmost importance to the Sports Coalition.  We made clear there are no circumstances in which the Sports Coalition will accept a ban or cap in any form, whether through the front door, the back door or any other door, of .22 calibre handguns or any existing firearms for sporting purposes.  If there is a ban or cap, while we must obey the law, there will be very significant political consequences.

We had already made a submission to the Justice Committee as to how the current impasse involving .22 calibre short firearms can be resolved i.e. that .22 calibre firearms with barrel lengths of not less than 5 inches, suitable for competition under ISSF rules and with a magazine capacity of not more than 10 rounds be licenced.  We also suggested that this criteria should be regarded as also including existing Olympic short firearms (including where the barrel length is shorter as the Gardai have stated they do not have a problem with these).  The criteria suggested is prescriptive and will remove the adversarial system which has developed resulting in so many court cases.  There is absolutely no case to be made for restricting these firearms and we pointed to the relatively small number licensed nationally over the past 11 years since short firearms became licenceable again.  In addition, the notion that so-called Olympic style short firearms are somehow less lethal than any or all those currently licensed is an absolute fiction and has no basis in fact.  Anything which can be done with any of the .22 short firearms currently licensed can also be done with any of the so-called Olympic style guns without exception.

5. The Committee recommends that all firearms be stored in a gun safe;

The IFA made a strong case that farmers with just one shotgun who have to defend their stock from predators and roaming dogs, particularly at night, need to have quick access to their firearms and this was accepted and supported by all of the shooting associations.

6. It is recommended that holders of restricted firearms are required to have time control locks fitted to their gun safes only allowing access at pre-determined times;

While on the face of it, this appears a worthwhile move, we suggest it is neither practical nor in fact workable and the costs for licence holders would be prohibitive.  There was a general acceptance of this.

7. The Committee recommends the establishment of a structured and graduated licensing scheme.  

We suggested that this has merit and the details and structure should be worked out with the relevant shooting associations in due course but with exceptions in specific circumstances i.e. rifles, shotguns etc..

 

We also addressed some matters on which the Justice Committee had made no comment.  Head 2 of the Joint Report of the Garda Siochana and Department of Justice seeks to amend Section 4 of the Firearms Act 1925 by the granting of new powers of refusal of a firearms licence application based on: Proliferation, Calibre, Velocity of ammunition, Size and shape (appearance) of the firearm and Lethality of the firearm.  We vehemently opposed this amendment as being grossly disproportionate and wide open to abuse.  In fact we would regard this recommendation as a charter for refusing reasonable applications and in coming to this conclusion we are conscious of the many occasions these reasons have been attempted by licensing officers already but which have been struck down by the courts as being unreasonable.  We suggest there are sufficient powers within the legislation currently to address any concerns.

A further matter we raised is the issue of penalties.  We are at a loss to understand the absence of any mention of amendment to penalties in the Report of the Joint Working Group and the Justice Committee’s Interim Report.  We have made a submission on this to the Committee.  We do suggested there is a glaring omission and it is the absence of a special offence of “Theft of Firearm”.  The creation of such an offence would be a meaningful contribution to public safety and send out the right message.  This was supported by other associations and the IFA in particular.

We asked the Minister if it is intended that the meeting constitutes the entirety of the promised consultation in view of the complexity of the issues to be addressed.  She said that she intended to take all the views and contributions into consideration before deciding what next to do.

Finally, we invited the Minister to visit Harbour House Target Shooting Range to see first-hand how organised sports shooting is managed and conducted and the safety procedures which apply.  We noted that the Chairman and members of the Justice Committee had acknowledged how helpful and enlightening they found their visit to Harbour House and we had no doubt a visit would be of great benefit to the Minister’s considerations also.  We thanked her for the opportunity to put forward our initial views and we look forward to the next steps.

 

Briefing:

A briefing meeting for members of the Sports Coalition associations on what was discussed at the meeting with the Minister and related matters was held on May 6th in the Spa Hotel, Lucan which was well attended.  Also in attendance were Senator Paschal Mooney (FF), Senator Pat O’Neill (FG) and Councillor James Lawless (FF), all of whom addressed the meeting and affirmed their support for the Coalition.  The briefing was followed by a question and answers session with the meeting unanimously registering its support for the Coalition.