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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 27 Jun 1968

Vol. 65 No. 8

Firearms (Proofing) Bill, 1968: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

The main purpose of this Bill is to provide for the setting up of a proof house to test firearms. The need for the proof house has arisen from the recent establishment in Birr of a factory for the manufacture of shot guns, principally for export. In some of the countries, to which this factory will be exporting, there is a prohibition on the sale of firearms unless they bear a mark indicating that they have been tested in accordance with recognised procedures and that they comply with specified minimum standards of safety. The testing is required to be carried out, either by one of the recognised proof houses in these countries, or by a foreign proof house established by law and recognised by the authorities in these countries for the purpose.

The Birr factory is, therefore, at a disadvantage because of the lack of a proof house here as its guns have to be sent abroad to be tested. The Bill will remedy this situation, as it is intended that the new proof house will be capable of securing the recognition of the authorities of any country to which Irish manufactured guns are being exported.

Senators will, I think, agree that the body to which the duty of proofing guns should most appropriately be given is the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards. The Institute is already charged with the responsibility for testing commodities intended for sale or for use by the public and it has the required experience and technical resources to provide a service of this nature.

Accommodation for the proof house is already available at the Institute and premises there are being adapted and equipped to enable proofing to be carried out. It is intended, once the Bill becomes law, to lose no time in making the necessary regulations provided for in the Bill prescribing the methods to be employed on the testing of firearms, the mark or marks to be used to designate compliance with the proofing requirements and the fees to be charged for the service.

There are no restrictions here on dealing in unproofed firearms, unlike other countries. Because of the dangers arising from the use of guns which may not be up to the generally recognised standards of safety, the power is being taken in the Bill to prohibit the export, sale or hiring of unproofed guns and it is the intention to make the necessary orders as soon as the Bill has been enacted and the testing facilities are available. The power is also being taken to enable me to prohibit the actual use of unproofed guns.

As an example of the effect of an order made under these provisions, which are contained in Section 4 of the Bill, the hiring-out of unproofed guns on commercial shoots would be prohibited—or even, if considered necessary, the use of such guns whether hired or not. It will be appreciated that accidents on commercial shoots, especially if they involved out-of-State visitors, could create bad publicity for game shooting in Ireland. On the other hand, it would be unreasonable if, for example, a visitor could not use his own favourite weapon solely because it did not carry an Irish proof mark, even though it carried the mark of a responsible foreign authority. The section, as drafted, will make it possible for my Department to pursue a reasonably flexible policy in such matters.

The point was made during the debate in the Dáil that the mark used on guns would be of much greater value if it were to indicate the year in which the gun was proofed. The relevant provision in the Bill would enable me to prescribe a mark which includes the date of proofing and, while there are certain technical difficulties involved, I will certainly give full consideration to the suggestion when I come to make the particular order.

I hope that the proposals contained in the Bill will be acceptable to the House.

This seems to be a Bill designed to rectify a defect in the Firearms Act, 1964. When I see that the body that will be concerned in the proofing of firearms is the Institute of Industrial Research and Standards, I may say it is a matter which commends the Bill to me straight away because I think there are very few institutes in this country who do so much valuable work in secret, as I rather think, and get so little praise for it, as the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards. On any occasion I have in my professional capacity to observe the work of that Institute, I have always been gratified by the high standard and quality shown.

I must say it comes as something of a surprise to me that we are becoming a maker of armaments. I have no doubt the socialists among us who will take into account the Vietnam war will regret that this Bill should be necessary at all. It seems to me that so long as firearms may also be made for lawful purposes, and I take it the majority of those made by the factory will be for that purpose, very few of us would object to them so long as there are necessary and proper standards of safety applied to them. It is necessary, of course, to apply safety standards to other things we use from time to time. Accordingly, as I do not know anything whatever about firearms, and do not wish to know anything, it seems to me that this is a Bill which the House can safely accept.

I presume that this Bill is to facilitate the sale of arms or guns in those countries where the proof mark is required. There cannot be any doubt as to the necessity for testing so as to ensure that defective arms are not offered for sale. It is true to say that a number of accidents occur from the bursting of barrels, but more accidents occur through badly constructed trigger mechanism than are ever likely to occur by reason of a barrel bursting. I have some experience in this regard and I would be very meticulous about the state of the trigger mechanism; they are delicate features of equipment and if not properly made, could always be dangerous. I would be in favour of the proofing of barrels but more anxious about the safety of the trigger mechanism.

I do not know whether the purpose of this Bill is to produce a gun that can be sold with a guarantee that it is safe. If the purpose of the Bill is to do that, then some consideration should be given to the question of the type of trigger mechanism built into the gun. In nine cases out of ten, accidents occur because of these badly-made trigger mechanisms and the careless use of such guns. If a person goes to a shop and purchases a gun and sees the proof on the barrel, it will not be an indication that the gun is safe—it may not be—but if there was a guarantee attached that the trigger mechanism was approved, then I might consider the gun safe.

I would like to welcome this Bill on behalf of the Labour Party. I think it is essential. The Minister has indicated that we are manufacturing guns in the State and to enable us to sell these guns on the world market, we must have evidence of proof on the barrel. Therefore, it is essential that we give this Bill rather quick passage. I should like to endorse the remarks of Senator Honan when he says that it is not always due to the explosion of the barrel that accidents occur but to defective trigger mechanism and I do think that the Minister should be well advised on that aspect. I am sure he and his Department will ensure that that aspect of the manufacture of guns will be seen to. We have a number of guns licensed in the State at the moment and it is not always realised that when a licence is given for those guns, they may have defective barrels or defective trigger mechanism, or that the gun itself may be unsafe. I would like an indication from the Minister as to what standards are observed when guns are being examined. Are they examined, or is a licence just issued? Perhaps this is not pertinent to this Bill but I think it is something that should be looked into when the Department are issuing licences for guns.

I appreciate the point that has been made with regard to the necessity for ensuring that more than the barrel is safe on a gun but I would like to put this matter into perspective. This Bill is primarily an industrial Bill and the proof will be operating only in respect of new guns, not in respect of existing guns, some of which are alleged to be very old and unsafe. This Bill will have no effect whatsoever in regard to those. I understand there are about 80,000 guns of this kind which are licensed each year and the operation of checking them perhaps before issue of a licence, periodically every five years or at shorter intervals, would be very substantial and would involve additional expense on the part of the licence-holders. I am not saying that it should not be done or that this is not the position, but it would be a fairly large-scale undertaking more appropriate to the Department of Justice than to the Department of Industry and Commerce. The Minister for Justice is, in fact, looking at this matter to see whether it is feasible or not.

In so far as this Bill is concerned with the proofing of new guns, I stated in Dáil Éireann in response to a question that the proofing of a gun would cover not only the barrel but the trigger mechanism. It is correct to speak of a clarification which I should like to make here now. The proofing mark would apply only to the barrel. It could be applied to the barrel and would, in fact, cover only the barrel. This is the international practice but the Institute of Industrial Research and Standards, in exercise of its general responsibility for standards, will check the mechanism of all the guns presented to it but, strictly speaking, the legal proofing will cover only the barrel.

It could happen, if not perhaps to any substantial degree, that the Institute would be presented only with the barrel and not with the rest of the mechanism. In that case the proof mark would be applied, that the barrel conformed to the necessary standards and the mechanism would not have been checked. This, however, is expected to be only in a small number of cases, if it happened at all. In the normal way, the legal proof will cover only the barrel, but in actual fact the Institute in discharge of its obligation regarding standards, will check the mechanism of the gun.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.