Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 by increasing the maximum sentence that can be imposed for the possession of a knife to cause injury to, incapacitate or intimidate any person.

The purpose of the Bill is to introduce a change to the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990. The Ceann Comhairle will be aware that section 9 of that Act states that it is a criminal offence for somebody to be found in possession of a knife for the purpose of trying to inflict harm upon another. The purpose of the legislation is to increase the maximum sentence for that offence from five to ten years.

Two years ago, when I was Opposition spokesperson on justice, my Fianna Fáil colleagues and I introduced a similar Bill for the purpose of trying to respond to what at that time was a very serious problem that was developing in respect of the possession of knives. I regret to say that the problem continues to exist in our society. Part of the reason for introducing the Bill two years ago related to the increased incidence of seizure of knives by An Garda Síochána. The Garda had revealed to the then Minister that in 2016 it had seized 1,200 knives. That increased in 2017 to 1,600 knives and in 2018 it increased again to 2,000 knives.

Unfortunately, many people, I regret to say it is predominantly young men and boys, are carrying knives for the purpose of defending themselves. Unfortunately, what occurs is that they get involved in a fight and somebody can become seriously injured or indeed fatally injured. I also regret to say that the problem does not appear to be easing. Not far from this building in January a boy was fatally stabbed and received significant prominence as a result of that terrible crime. A woman was also stabbed in the vicinity of the convention centre in January and subsequently died a month later. Last Monday evening, what can only be described as a large fight took place on Samuel Beckett Bridge in the aftermath of which a person was stabbed and suffered injuries.

I regret that we have an ongoing problem in respect of the possession and use of knives. Obviously, the solution to this is not exclusively in the criminal justice system. We also need to recognise that we need to educate young men and boys in particular about the dangers of carrying knives. As I have said, very many of them carry knives for the purpose of seeking to defend themselves, not intending to use those knives when they carry them out. However, we learn through tragic experience that on a night when a knife is used, people can lose their lives through being fatally stabbed. Part of the solution is in education and we need to provide more public information in respect of the dangers of knives and to warn people about the consequences that can arise as a result of carrying a knife out in the evening time or even during the daytime.

We also need to look at the criminal justice process. My view, which is shared by my Fianna Fáil colleagues, is that the maximum sentence for carrying a knife for the purpose of trying to inflict harm on another person is too low and should be increased to give a court greater discretion when it comes to the imposition of a sentence. Obviously, this will not be the only solution, but it sends a strong message to our community that it is unacceptable to carry knives.

I have also had the opportunity to have a good discussion with the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy James Browne. He is very interested in trying to target the issue of knife crime. I know he has met the Garda Commissioner to discuss the issue.

I have spoken to him and I think he intends to bring forward some legislative proposals to deal with this. I welcome that and I hope that when they come forward, those proposals will be complementary with this Bill. It is necessary that as a society we start to respond more vigorously and attentively to this ongoing problem. As I said earlier, the purpose of the legislation is to amend section 9 of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990. If this Bill is enacted, the maximum sentence that could be imposed under section 9 of that Act will be increased from five to ten years. For that reason, I seek leave to introduce the Bill today.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.