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.

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