To deal with the last point first, there is some evidence of indiscriminate shooting but this is on a very small scale at present. Matters have improved greatly recently. Approximately nine months ago the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, appointed 30 new rangers who are acting on the ground at present and are very successful in policing activities. I also understand that shoot operators have introduced a set of guidelines which are being adhered to and that the situation has improved greatly. There will always by those who will disobey rules and guidelines and seek to become involved in indiscriminate shooting, which is absolutely disgraceful, but any such persons will be severely dealt with under the law if apprehended. That is the message Deputies will want to go out from this House. A sufficient number of rangers are now in place to police this activity.
I propose to take the Deputies' amendments Nos. 5 and 6 together, as they are concerned with the same issues, but I cannot accept them for the following reasons. First, if the proposed measure was introduced it would create a situation whereby we would introduce an uneven playing field where non-residents would be subject to greater restrictions than resident hunters. This would be contrary to the High Court judgment and to EU anti-discrimination laws. These laws,inter alia, preclude discrimination against tourists exercising their rights to travel and to avail of services unless any difference of treatment was capable of objective justification. My legal advice is that the different requirements for resident and non-resident applicants, as proposed in the amendments, are not capable of objective justification.
Second, section 28 of the Wildlife Act, 1976, states that a person, whether resident or non-resident, cannot lawfully hunt with firearms unless such a person is a qualified person within the provisions of that section. To be such a qualified person, a person must,inter alia, be entitled to sporting rights over land or have the permission of the person who is entitled to such sporting rights. Any application for a hunting licence under section 29 of the Wildlife Act, 1976, must be accompanied by a list of the lands over which the applicant has permission to hunt. In addition, any application to the Garda Síochána for a firearm certificate which will be used and endorsed for hunting must be accompanied by a declaration which includes details of the lands to be hunted over.
Third, it would not be possible to restrict a non-resident to certain specific lands as, after the firearm certificate has been issued, the licence holder may receive permission to hunt over new lands. Accordingly, it would not be proper to restrict his or her hunting to certain lands that may have been originally listed on the licence. Fourth, section 44 of the Wildlife Act, 1976, already provides that it will be an offence to hunt over lands with a firearm without the permission of the landowner.
Specifically in relation to Deputy Stagg's amendment, as the Bill is drafted, the maximum licence period in the case of both a firearm certificate and a hunting licence is one year. Accordingly, there are already various strong provisions in relation to the lands over which people may hunt which apply to both residents and non-residents. The amendments, therefore, are unnecessary and would be contrary to the legal and European requirements which had to be taken into account in the preparation of the Bill. This was confirmed by the advice of the Attorney General.