Did the Minister consider the possibility of defining the phrase "prohibition of weapons" on the lines set out in the White Paper? I realise it is dealt with in another Act.
Firearms Bill, 1963—Committee and Final Stages.
Does the Deputy mean to define it in this Bill as well?
That is hardly necessary.
The Minister will realise it is not very easy to follow these Acts because it is necessary to jump around to find definitions. However, I am not pressing the point.
I wonder has the Minister given any further consideration to the point I raised on the Second Stage? This is the section which enables the complete prohibition of the carrying of firearms, quite apart from their discharge, for limited periods. It is designed primarily for the protection of game. The point of view I put to the Minister earlier was that very often a very necessary part of game protection is the destruction of vermin which can sometimes be done only by the use of a shotgun. While I understand the purpose of the section and appreciate it in the interest of game preservation, in the long run it might prove to have a harmful rather than a beneficial effect.
There is provision in subsection (4) (a) that the superintendent may issue a special permit:
Whenever an order under subsection (1) of this section is in force in relation to any district, the Superintendent of that district may, in his absolute discretion, grant to any person a permit to use and carry in that district for a purpose (other than the shooting of game) specified in the permit during a period specified in the permit a firearm to the use or carriage of which the order applies.
That probably covers it.
I move amendment No. 1:
In subsection (2), page 4, line 20, after "sold" to insert "or destroyed".
I think we could take amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4, with this amendment. As Deputies will see, the object of section 7 is to enable the Garda Síochána to sell firearms that have accumulated in their hands over the years mainly because the owners have not thought it worthwhile to sell or otherwise dispose of them. The proposal in the amendment is that where the Gardaí have failed in their attempts to sell the weapons and where they are of the opinion that they will not succeed in selling them, they may destroy them. It is possible that some of these weapons will have no saleable value whatever and the object of the amendment, therefore, is to authorise their destruction where the owners refuse to take them. It is just to authorise the Gardaí to destroy as well as to sell.
Would the Minister not think it would be better there should be an obligation on the Gardaí to make an effort to sell before giving them power to destroy? The Minister said in introducing the amendment that where the Gardaí are unable to sell and, in their opinion will fail to sell——
Where the Gardaí have failed in their attempts to sell and are of the opinion that they will be unable to sell.
That is all right.
I move amendment No. 2:
In subsection (3), page 4, line 30, after "sold" to insert "or destroyed".
I move amendment No. 3:
In subsection (4), page 4, line 62, after "Exchequer" to insert ", and".
I move amendment No. 4:
In subsection (4), page 4, after paragraph (b) to insert the following paragraph:
(c) the Commissioner may cause to be destroyed any firearm or ammunition that has been offered for sale under paragraph (b) of this subsection and has not been sold, if, in the opinion of the Commissioner, the firearm or ammunition is unlikely to be sold if offered for sale again and shall cause to be sent to any person who is believed to be the owner of the firearm or ammunition or (where appropriate) to another person in accordance with paragraph (b) of subsection (3) of this section a notice informing the person to whom it is sent of such destruction."
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 5, line 29, after "sold" to insert "or destroyed".
This follows the same lines?
That is so.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 5, after paragraph (e) to insert the following paragraph:
"(f) the Superintendent may cause to be destroyed any firearm or ammunition that has been offered for sale under paragraph (e) of this section and has not been sold if, in the opinion of the Superintendent, the firearm or ammunition is unlikely to be sold if offered for sale again and shall send to the person by post to his last known address a notice informing him of such destruction,".
Would the Minister explain the object of the section more fully? This is the section which provides in part for part licences—that a person may get out a licence for a period without having to pay the fee for the full licence.
This merely enables licences to be renewed.
That is to carry on the same certificate without the issue of a fresh certificate each time?
That is correct. We are to have some sort of booklet. Instead of having the Garda write out a new certificate every year, some form of certificate will be provided which will be renewable from year to year.
This is the section I had in mind.
As the Deputy knows, under the existing laws a certificate issued by the Minister for Justice to visitors, like those issued by superintendents to residents, expires on 31st July, with the result that a visitor staying here only a few weeks has to get out a licence for two periods if he stays here for a period which overlaps the 31st July. The section proposes that the firearms certificate issued in future will run for 12 months from the date of issue.
It is designed only to meet the case of visitors?
That is right.
At present the position is when you get a firearms certificate, if you have two firearms, you get what is called a second or subsequent certificate in respect of which you pay a charge of, I think, 10/- only. Will that be altered?
This section is for a person who changes his firearm during the course of the year. He will not have to get a new firearms certificate simply because of that, provided he does not go into a dearer range.
Take the position of a person who has two shotguns. He goes in at the end of July, say, and gets his certificates for those guns. At present he pays—my figures may not be quite accurate—£2 or £2 10s. for what is called the principal certificate and he gets what is regarded as a second or subsequent certificate in respect of which he pays 10/-. If he disposes of the gun covered by the second certificate, I think the position is clear. At the worst, he would have to pay another 10/- but if he disposes of the gun covered by the principal certificate and replaces it by another gun, what is the position?
He is all right. There is no change.
I think it is £2 5s. and 10/-?
Yes, £2 5s.
This deals with the limited 10/- certificate.
It was regarded as the "farmers' certificate".
The vermin certificate.
May I ask the Minister one question in connection with paragraph (f) on page 8? As a matter of interest, why is it necessary in the case of theatrical performances or rehearsals and so on to include the authority in respect of ammunition? Is it envisaged that live ammunition would be used in these performances or is it intended only to cover blank ammunition?
Blank ammunition, I think. I am told that, apparently, at times they must use live ammunition in films.
That did occur to me.
It is a pity they do not use more of it.
This is the raising of age?
Yes, from 15 to 16.
I move amendment No.7:—
In page 10, after paragraph (a), to insert the following paragraph:
"(b) the substitution for subsection (4) of the following subsection:
`(4) It shall not be lawful for any registered firearms dealer to return to any person a firearm or ammunition given to the dealer for repair, test or proof unless the person—
(a) produces a firearm certificate authorising him to have possession of the firearm or ammunition, or
(b) proves to the satisfaction of the dealer that he is entitled to have possession of the firearm or ammunition without having a firearm certificate therefor, and' ".
This is a minor amendment of the provisions of the 1925 Act. The existing provision prohibits a firearms dealer from accepting for repair any firearm unless the person handing it in has a firearms certificate or shows that he is otherwise authorised to have it. This causes some difficulty in practice because a person brings a firearm along and forgets to bring the certificate. It is obvious that the requirement will be met if the stipulation were to the effect that the person must have his firearms certificate when the gun is being given back to him. It is the handing out that is important, not the handing in. That is what is involved here.
Is the handing in covered at present?
Yes, the firearms dealer cannot take in a gun unless the person has a firearms certificate with him—which is a bit ridiculous.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 10, line 27, after "section" to insert "or under section 22 of this Act".
It is only a drafting amendment. The object of section 22 is to ensure that if the Gardaí happen to seize firearms, they must adopt a fixed procedure in regard to disposing of them so that the legitimate interests of the owner will be adequately safeguarded. Firearms may be seized under section 22 of the 1925 Act as well as under section 21. The amendment is to ensure that the fixed procedure will apply in both cases.
This is to insert a new section 22 in this Bill?
This Bill will be the 1925 Act.
I see. It is an insertion in the 1925 Act. It is only a coincidence that both are sections 22?
That is right.
I made it clear on Second Reading that I regard this as quite an undesirable section to get the approval of this House. This is the section which provides that where the existence or non-existence of a firearms certificate is material to the case being made by the prosecution in court, notwithstanding that fact, the Gardaí are to be relieved of any obligation of giving proof of the existence or non-existence of the certificate. That is highly undesirable. It is a feature that is creeping in more and more into our legislation—this idea of removing from the authorities the obligation to prove the complaint in respect of which they are bringing a defendant into court.
The ordinary conception of justice in this country heretofore has been that an accused person was regarded as innocent until his guilt was proved. In this section, and in other sections in comparatively recent legislation, that position has been reversed and under this section, if a person is charged in relation to an offence where the existence or non-existence of a firearms certificate is material, from this on, when the Bill becomes law, he will be regarded as guilty unless he himself proves his innocence. That is a complete reversal of the ordinary conception of justice.
We do not regard it as doing quite that. All we say is that it shall not be necessary to prove it. So far as we read the section, all that means is that the prosecution need not, when opening a case, prove that the person had not got a certificate. I explained to the House on the Second Stage how and to what ridiculous lengths the Department and the Gardaí can be pushed in order to have to prove that a person did not have a certificate, though the defendant or the accused never claims to have had it. In my opinion, the words "it shall not be necessary to prove" cannot mean that non-possession of a certificate ceases to be an ingredient in the offence. I admit that if the prosecution and the accused say nothing, then it will be taken that the accused did not have a certificate. I submit that if the accused can raise any sort of doubt at all in the minds of the court that he could have a certificate, then the onus of proof will go back on to the prosecution. It seems to me that all that is involved here is that if the accused does not claim to have a certificate, then it will not be necessary for the Department, off its own bat, as it were, to prove that he did not have one.
The Minister has been long enough in his present position to know that what he says in the Dáil has nothing good, bad or indifferent to do with the decision the courts are asked to arrive at. The courts will be asked to interpret this section. They must interpret it as meaning what it says, and what the section says is something entirely different from what the Minister says it means. There is no question of the section merely saying all that it involves is that the prosecution do not need to tender their proofs on opening their case. That is not in the section. There is no question in the section of putting forward the position of the accused person, as to whether he claims or does not claim to have had a certificate.
The Minister, as his second leg, advances the theory in relation to this section that what it means is that the accused person does not claim that he had a certificate and that then it is not necessary to prove it. That is not in the section. The Minister went on to say that if the accused person made any claim at all that he had a certificate, that if he cast any doubt on the State's assertion that he had not, then the onus shifts on to the State to prove that he had not a certificate. That is not in the section. All that is in the section is that if a person is charged with an offence, in respect of which the existence or non-existence of the certificate is material, under those circumstances the State will not be required to prove either that the certificate existed or did not exist. I think it is a shocking bad section, particularly in a Bill of this kind.
If an accused claims that he had a certificate, can he not, on discovery of documents, compel the State to show whether one had been issued or not?
That is not so. He cannot compel the State to do that. If it were a civil action, where an order was made by a judge, that would be a different matter. In those circumstances it would probably be the Minister who would be defending and I have no doubt that the Minister would plead privilege, or that the document was under the Official Secrets Act. As far as a prosecution of this sort is concerned, I do not think the defendant has any remedy at all. The only remedy he would have would be to have a certificate in his hand and produce it. If he lost that he would be sunk as far as this section goes.
I have no objection to the section but I should like the Minister to explain it.
It has to deal with imitation firearms. Section 23 (1) (a) of the Larceny Act, 1916, makes it a felony to rob a person while armed with an offensive weapon and section 28 of the same Act makes it a misdemeanour for a person to be found by night with any dangerous or offensive weapon with intent to break or enter into any building and to commit a felony. The new section proposes to provide that unloaded firearms and imitation firearms are, for the purpose of those sections of the Larceny Act that have been mentioned, to be deemed to be offensive weapons.
I should like the Minister to explain whether this is a question of theft of a vehicle.
That is right. It makes it an indictable offence for a person taking a motor vehicle without the permission of the owner to have a firearm or an imitation firearm in his possession unless he shows that he had the firearm or imitation firearm with him for a lawful purpose at the time.
This is the same. It is an indictable offence for a person to use or produce a firearm or an imitation firearm for the purpose of resisting arrest or aiding an escape from lawful custody.
It seems to me like a pious hope rather than anything else.