I would like to remind the House, as we are on Report Stage and there are many amendments, that a Senator may speak once on the amendment on Report Stage except the proposer of the amendment who has, of course, the right to reply. I have arranged a list of amendments and if there is any confusion as we go along please feel free to refer to the Chair. Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are related and may be discussed together.
Firearms and Offensive Weapons Bill, 1989: Report and Final Stages.
Before I move them, I would like to point out that I have looked very closely at the debate on Committee Stage on this section of the Bill and since that debate and in the intervening period a lot of information has come to light about the Bill that I have become aware of. I do not think that it would be quite adequate to deal with it on Report Stage today. I am looking particularly at the first grouping, amendments Nos. 1 to 6. It is my view that that section needs to be teased out in some detail. For that reason I would propose the Bill be recommitted in regard to amendments Nos. 1 to 6 so that they could be teased out and that we could have a discussion on them. Therefore I would formally propose that the Bill be so recommitted. I hope the Minister will see fit to accept that.
I second that.
Perhaps I should explain that if this motion is opposed, under Standing Order No. 91 the Chair allows the proposer to make an explanatory statement of the reasons for the proposed recomittal, and a statement from a Senator who opposes the motion before putting the question. Recommittal means that the amendments are considered as on Committee Stage, that is to say that Members are allowed to speak more than once. Is the motion opposed?
I feel that we should go ahead with all the amendments and complete the Report Stage today.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Bulbulia, Katharine.
- Cregan, Denis.
- Doyle, Joe.
- Fennell, Nuala.
- Ferris, Michael.
- Harte, John.
- Loughrey, Joachim.
- McCormack, Padraic.
- McMahon, Larry.
- Manning, Maurice.
- Murphy, John A.
- Norris, David.
- O'Shea, Brian.
- O'Toole, Joe.
- Reynolds, Gerry.
- Robb, John D. A.
- Ross, Shane P. N.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Bohan, Edward Joseph.
- Bromell, John A. (Tony)
- Byrne, Seán.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Cullimore, Seamus.
- Eogan, George.
- Fallon, Seán.
- Farrell, Willie.
- Fitzgerald, Tom.
- Fitzsimons, Jack.
- Hanafin, Des.
- Haughey, Seán F.
- Hillery, Brian.
- Hussey, Thomas.
- Kiely, Dan.
- Kiely, Rory.
- Lanigan, Mick.
- Lydon, Donal.
- McEllistrim, Tom.
- McGowan, Patrick.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Mullooly, Brian.
- Mulroy, Jimmy.
- O'Callaghan, Vivian.
- O'Connell, John.
- O'Conchubhair, Nioclás.
- O'Toole, Martin J.
- Ryan, William.
- Wallace, Mary.
We are taking amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 together as they are related. I understand the Minister is in the Dáil for a division. I am sure we do not want anything to go wrong there. Will we suspend the sitting?
For ten minutes.
Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 4, line 5, to delete "or other lethal weapon".
As I said on Second Stage I am very supportive of the general aims and objectives outlined by the Minister for Justice when he presented the Bill to us. I understand why the Minister is not here today. He had a family bereavement. I would like to extend my sympathies to him on that matter.
I hope that Senators will bear with me. The general view is that crossbows and things like that are dangerous and, therefore, we should treat them like all other offensive weapons or all other lethal firearms. I want to make a number of points. I am referring in particular to the first three amendments. In the first one I have proposed that the words "or other lethal weapon" be taken out of section 4. It would then read "a lethal firearm of any description from which any shot or bullet can be discharged". At the moment it reads "a lethal firearm or other lethal weapon" and it also adds "from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged". I ask the Minister to give further consideration to this point which I made at an earlier stage.
We all understand what lethal means. The clear simple definition of "lethal" is deadly. A "weapon" is defined as any object which is used for attack or defence and a "missile" is defined as an object thrown. I did not make that up. There is no argument about that and there can be no discussion about that. That is a matter of fact. It is pure semantics and that is the way it stands.
Let us apply that to ordinary situations. How can the Minister or anybody else say to me that a catapult is not an offensive weapon? It can be deadly and it can certainly launch a missile and it does. A clay pigeon launcher is used by sports people to shoot clay pigeons. It is a little arm that throws a clay disc into the air. That can be lethal. People have been killed by them. It fulfils all the requirements that are there. In fact there are a whole lot of areas which could be covered by that.
More importantly, the Bill further refers in paragraph (c) to a crossbow with a draw weight of at least 1.4 kilos. I defy the Minister to explain to me what the position is of a long bow. The crossbow is the one that is fired like a rifle, the William Tell effort, which is aimed and launches a bolt. The long bow is the long one, or the recurve bow is the long one, with a little squiggle on the top and bottom. Both of those do precisely the same job as a crossbow. This Bill purports to say that we have to have a licence for a crossbow but there is no need for a licence for a long bow or a recurve bow. There is no logic in that.
The Minister should be big enough to accept the argument that this is a serious flaw in the legislation. My only interest here is in tidying up the legislation. As it now stands a catapult could be considered to be a lethal weapon. As it now stands we will be requiring people to have a licence for a crossbow but not for any other kind of bow. In saying that, I am conscious of the fact that the Department of Justice have indicated to a number of groups that it will not be necessary. I have here a letter from the Department of Justice written by a named official in February of this year. It says:
I refer to your recent letter in which you raised a number of questions in relation to the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Bill, that a firearms certificate should be required to enable a person to have a crossbow. The position is as follows:
Longbows, these are outside the scope of the Bill.
It might be all very well for a civil servant with the best will in the world to send that letter out to an interested citizen but I defy the Minister to explain to me how a long bow is not a lethal weapon which launches a missile. It cannot be done.
It would be better to say: "I accept you are right but we are not accepting your amendment". It would even be better to do the decent thing and accept my amendment. Certainly as it stands this Bill is faulty. For that reason I ask the Minister to accept amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3.
I would like to point out some of the difficulties that this will create for all sorts of people. Archery is one of the few sports where we have total integration. Integration of the handicapped is an objective of the Government through many different Departments — through the Department of Social Welfare, certainly through Education and through many others. Archery is one of the few sports in which a handicapped person can participate from his or her wheelchair beside a person who does not have any handicapped disadvantage or disablement. It is very difficult for people in these situations to cope with the cost. We are now saying on top of everything else that in future those people will have to have a licence. I have outlined the difficulties. To recap on that particular section, the wording is loose. It creates difficulties. It encompasses areas that were never envisaged in the Bill in the first place. I do not accept that long bows or recurved bows are excluded from the Bill.
On a point of information, what was the last term Senator O'Toole used?
The last term I used was "a recurved bow". I explained it earlier. There are a number of bows. There is the crossbow, the one that is held horizontally, and then there is the long bow, which is what we normally say Robin Hood used. Then there is a variation of that, where just at the very top it goes through a sort of squiggle. It recurves back at the top and at the bottom. It gives added tension to the draw weight. I hope that suffices.
I am lost in admiration of the Senator's expertise.
It is just as well, Cathaoirleach, that one is erudite.
Senator O'Toole without interruption.
I thank the Chair. I am glad you spoke in my defence because of these unruly interruptions from my colleagues beside me who were testing me on the issue. I accept that all sorts of bows are dangerous, that they are lethal and that they should be controlled, so we are that far together. I would accept a control that they should be restricted to certain age limits.
I see the Government and various groups are talking about restricting access to alcohol in pubs to people under a certain age. A similar arrangement might well be made in regard to the use of long bows, cross bows or whatever. I propose taking those particular implements, crossbows particularly, out of section 2 and putting them into section 3 of the Bill.
That is the point of amendments Nos. 5 and 6. In other words, I am saying they should be classified as offensive weapons. That means it would be an offence to have them and they should be regulated in the same way as a sheath-knife, a flick-knife or any other kind of dangerous pointed weapon like that. It would be an offence to have them in a dance-hall, dance marquee, discotheque, cinema or wherever people are gathered. It would be an offence to have them in any kind of premises for entertainment or in any kind of indoor situation except ones which are clearly obvious. I will not read through the Bill on that. I am saying it would be covered as outlined in section 8 and that would now apply to the bows. It is a very reasonable arrangement. Not only that, but to take it a little bit further, we would include crossbows at the end of section 8 and again in the first part of section 9.
The net effect then, of what I have proposed, is that we would look at the flaws which I have pointed out. If we leave the words "lethal weapon" and "or other missile" in, we can require people to have licences for catapults and we can require people who have a clay pigeon launcher to have a licence. Anything which fires a missile could be said to be lethal. That is a very wide range of things indeed. It can be taken very far. It does not make any sense to leave it that way. I know that what the Minister will say will depress me. He will stand up ably supported by Senators on the Government Front Bench and try to talk me out of a perfectly logical argument. For once he should accept reason and bow to this argument, accept the proposals that I make and tighten up and improve this Bill.
Let us tighten up the first one; let us be certain what lethal weapons are and be certain that the Bill does what we intend it to do. That can be done by accepting the first three amendments. There is no possible way in which that can be interpreted to exclude long bows. Long bows do all the things which we have in the definition section. Long bows are lethal and launch a missile. That covers a long bow. I believe that the Department would be willing to accept that point. It is a very minor change to make. Regarding the other one, so that we will control them, let us not call them firearms, let us call them offensive weapons. I am beginning to repeat myself. I hope I have made the point adequately. I hope the Minister will accept my point and accept the amendments.
I second the amendment. In the unfortunate absence of Senator O'Toole during Committee Stage, I moved this amendment. I had not the opportunity to study it or to think about it with the degree of detail I would have liked. Reading the Bill now, there is a faintly Orwellian tone to section 4 because we are beginning to stand the English language on its head and say that essentially a firearm, notwithstanding what most people understand it to be, is what we say it is, irrespective of logic or English usage.
We are beginning to define firearms as a whole lot of things that are not in any way conceivably firearms. That is not in any way to suggest that other implements which are dangerous, lethal and need to be controlled, restricted and regulated should not be controlled, restricted and regulated. We have a certain duty to ourselves, to the Oireachtas and, indeed, whether it be the English or Irish language, to ensure that what we put through the Houses of the Oireachtas is actually in coherent English and not a "new speak" that we concoct ourselves to meet our own purposes.
It appears to be that to attempt to define a crossbow as a firearm is pushing the English language beyond any limit which that poor, misfortunate language should be expected to go. If we have a problem with these sort of weapons then let us have specific legislation to deal with them. I would not be tied up in any way with any civil libertarian notion that people should be allowed freely to use dangerous and offensive weapons, to have dangerous and offensive weapons, to threaten people with dangerous or offensive weapons, or to do any of a number of things with them, but I feel the Oireachtas would do a disservice to itself by taking short cuts with the English language and by simply saying the handiest way to deal with extra items as they come on the market is to call them all firearms. It is turning the English language inside out and saying that things are quite clearly not what they are simply saying that because we say it, therefore it is.
I know we happen to have that great power of privilege, the power of the privileged to discuss and pass legislation. We also have a responsibility within that power which is not to turn the English language inside out. Senator O'Toole has made a compelling and logical case for a clear distinction to be made between those things which are firearms and which are clearly recognisable in the eyes of the public as being firearms or related to firearms and those things which are offensive, dangerous and deadly but which are not firearms. It is very unworthy of this House and very sloppy drafting to simply say that the simplest thing to do is to keep on saying more and more things are firearms. They are not firearms. They are clearly not firearms and should not be called firearms. If we need to regulate them with whatever stringency we need, let us do it, but let us not do it by taking short cuts that offend the English language.
I agree with the previous two Senators that we must not redefine the English or the Irish language. When we say that a firearm covers some weapon that does fire and is an arm, I do not think we are going too far with the definition. We must remember why the Bill is here at all. It is to ban offensive weapons. There was a case in Britain not so long ago where somebody was slain with a crossbow. It would be necessary to redefine the whole Bill. I can see no reason why any kind of crossbow, long bow, or the other type of bow — I know the Senator has many strings to his bow — cannot be included under a "lethal weapon" or "firearm". They should be made subject to the Firearms Acts. A stun gun is included under prohibited weapons. We could include them under that. It makes no difference.
Senator O'Toole wants to put the word "crossbow" into section 8 as well. That section is really to guard against people carrying into dancehalls, discotheques, marquees or any other place, weapons that can be hidden, like knives, screwdrivers, pocket knives, pieces of glass or whatever. I do not think anybody could walk into a marquee or dancehall in possession of one of these weapons. One would want to be very tall to secret a long bow anywhere on one's person. I do not see the need for the insertion of that word.
On a point of information, the Senator will not be aware of a pistol crossbow which is a much smaller weapon. One would not need to be that tall to carry it.
I accept the clarification. I was not aware of a pistol crossbow but, as I said, the Senator has many strings to his bow. That is another one for me. However, I think we should include it under the Firearms Bill.
I support what my two colleagues have said, particularly in regard to the question of definition. I feel I am obliged to speak since the question of the English language is being called into operation here. It would be professional suicide not to.
It is perfectly clear to anybody reading these sections that the only section which comes remotely close to a correct linguistic definition of firearm is in section 4(1)(a). The rest simply do not apply. I, for linguistic reasons, would be forced to agree with Senator O'Toole and Senator Ryan that it is actually dangerous to allow the development of a specialist legal language system which is so divorced from the common or garden English usage that it will cause confusion to those against whom or in the interests of whom the law is applied. For this reason it is very appropriate that the amendment, which is a reasoned, carefully argued amendment, should be included. Also behind this lies the notion that some instruments become offensive weapons according to context.
This is part of the reasoning behind Senator O'Toole's amendment. For example, carrying a screwdriver on a building site would not necessarily be construed as offensive, particularly if the person carrying the instrument was a carpenter. In a discotheque late at night attired in a certain manner with a particularly aggressive demeanour a screwdriver could certainly be construed according to context as an offensive weapon.
Even if one were a carpenter.
Even if one were a carpenter as my colleague says. I take both parts of his amendment as being well-reasoned and capable of logical support and sustension. I would like, however, to refer to the fact that my good friend, Senator Lydon, referred to the inclusion of stun guns and so on. In a way it is rather unfortunate because they, again, are very clearly different. They are not lethal weapons. In the kind of situation that I am very aware of in the north inner city, where premises, such as publichouses, are very frequently made the target of attack, a stun gun can be something that is employed as a method of defence that does no permanent damage.
Here again in the list of definitions we are coming up against radically different categories covered blandly by what Senator Ryan has described as an Orwellian use of language. I suppose he was probably thinking of Animal Farm and the redefinition of birds and so on, to fit the prevailing political ideology. I would describe it as the humpty-dumpty effect in language where humpty-dumpty says “words mean exactly what I want them to mean, no more and no less”. This is a reasonable principle for characters in imaginative fiction. I suggest to the House with the greatest deference that it is not a particularly good principle upon which to base legal draftsmanship. I am more than happy to support this series of excellent amendments.
I cannot claim to have the range of knowledge of these crossbows and so on that Senator O'Toole obviously knows about, or the semantic range of Senator Norris's contribution. I know, however, that crossbows of the type above the weight specified in the Bill are really lethal. They are elaborate pieces of equipment. For all practical purposes they are indistinguishable from guns in terms of their appearance and impact. As the father of five children I am particularly conscious of the safety element for children in general. Given the potential danger of crossbows of this bigger variety, the licensing provision is entirely reasonable. After all, many of these lethal weapons are bought on impulse and they deserve a much more considered approach and the licensing of them is entirely reasonable.
On a point of information with regard to the stun gun being a lethal weapon, the one that is marketed here is a Nova XR 5000 which delivers 45,000 volts, can stun a 1,400 lb. bull and disable it and if used against someone with a weak heart, or just recovering from a bypass, it could actually kill him.
If the amendments were accepted for no control over availability or use of crossbows, the levels of control would make the Bill worthless. If we accept these amendments, people, irrespective of age, could go out and purchase these legitimately and use them in any public places other than those in section 8. We must recognise the sophisticated type of crossbow that is on the market. It is important that Members recall that a woman was killed by a crossbow in Britain not so long ago and that a young garda was injured in this country not too long ago. One of the most lethal weapons used by poachers of game and deer in this country is the crossbow. It facilitates an easy kill and also at the same time there is no undue noise level.
I am not approaching this matter with any automatic commitment to my colleague's amendment. I listened very carefully because as I said on one occasion in this House the definition of an Independent is that he is independent of all other Independents. I listened very carefully to Senator O'Toole's cogent argument. I am against anything that will diminish the rigour of this Bill. I am a hawk on these matters; I am in favour of the maximum banning of all these weapons.
We made that clear on Second Stage. It is not clear to me that Senator O'Toole's amendment would meet my concerns in that regard. Of course, I share the concern of my colleagues about the looseness of language but I am not so sure that a firearm cannot legitimately be interpreted as a crossbow. In any case, what surprises me about Senator O'Toole's amendment in view of the distinction that he drew between crossbow, longbow and recurve bow is why did he not introduce these terms into his proposed amendments so that that point could be clarified? I disagree with my colleagues in this regard.
At the outset I would like to say that the Minister for Justice would like to be here but, as Senator O'Toole has said, he is unable to be here today as he is attending the funeral of his mother who was a very wonderful person, Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
And a teacher.
Yes, a teacher and a very dedicated Irishwoman, Lord have mercy on her. In relation to the amendments they are not being accepted. The combined purpose of the amendments is to provide that a crossbow will not be defined as a firearm and will not, therefore, be encompassed by the controls of the Firearms Acts. That is the basic thing.
Senator Murphy said he was a hawk. Basically in this we are all hawks to some extent at this stage because we want to have controls; we want to see offensive and dangerous weapons controlled and in some cases banned. The people want to see this happening too, because there are far too many instances where dangerous weapons are being abused, misused and turning up in all the wrong places. They are being used to threaten people in their homes and cause damage and, as Senator Cullimore said used, by poachers to kill deer and for a whole range of other things. We want to bring them under control. They are extremely dangerous instruments. They are very much akin to a firearm, much more so in practice and in experience than even the longbow or the curved one, to which Senator O'Toole referred.
As an alternative form of control the Senators are proposing, by amendment Nos. 4 and 5, to include crossbows with knives and similar articles, the carrying of which is prohibited in section 8 (1) in certain specified places, in places of public entertainment and resort and by amendment No. 6 to include a crossbow among those weapons which it would be an offence to have under section 9 while trespassing on premises. I can understand the intention of the Senators in their amendments but the effect would be devastating in that it would remove the requirement for certification for licensing.
We want to know where the crossbows are, we want to know who has them. There should be a licensing system for crossbows because they are very dangerous weapons. The effect of these amendments, if accepted, would be to make it an offence to have a crossbow in places like publichouses, football grounds, dance halls, etc., or while trespassing on private premises. Otherwise there would be no controls on the availability or use of crossbows. Anybody would be entitled to buy one and to carry it on the street or in any public place, other than the specified areas of public entertainment, and it is, of course, unlikely to be carried in those places in any event.
Such a level of control would be practically worthless. That point was made by a number of Senators, including Senator Lydon and Senator Hillery, who are concerned about children. Senator Murphy was very concerned about the abuse of such instruments but we would not meet their requirements if we expected the amendment.
Crossbows have to be licensed and the difficulties that have been mentioned can be overcome. Crossbows are dangerous weapons with a lethal potential. They have many of the characteristics of a gun: they can be carried pre-loaded and ready to fire; they can be accurate and lethal over a considerable distance, they can be used without a great deal of skill and they are reasonably compact. In considering what control should be placed on a weapon like that, the most important question is who should be allowed to have them rather than where they should be allowed. This means, of course, a licensing system and the most effective licensing system for weapons is provided under the Firearms Act. That works very effectively and we see no difficulty for people who participate in the sport and use crossbows having a licence.
With particular regard to amendments Nos. 1 and 2, the Garda authorities are of the very strong view that the words in the existing definition of a firearm, which these amendments seek to delete, should be retained. They report that the words in question are used in the fight against terrorism to secure convictions in relation to homemade rocket launchers and projected grenades, neither of which would otherwise come within the legal definition of a firearm. The relevant provisions are also used to deal with a variety of missiles which can be projected or thrown in a number of different ways. For these reasons the amendments are not acceptable.
A number of Senators mentioned cases of injury with crossbows. There was an incident of a garda being shot and injured with a crossbow by a person resisting arrest. Crossbows have also been found in possession of persons of very dubious character, for example, persons suspected of drug dealing and persons suspected of having connections with subversive organisations. In England in a recent murder a crossbow was used. In addition there have been several incidents where animals have been shot and cruelly maimed by crossbows and of a child being seriously injured while using one.
There is none of this evidence against the long bow and none of this practical experience in relation to it. Certainly in relation to the crossbow there is plenty of evidence and it is regarded as a very lethal weapon. For this reason, the Minister is right in seeking to have certification of crossbows. We are not accepting these amendments and I have dealt with the points which have been raised.
I appreciate that in a sport such as archery there is the question of the integration of the handicapped but those cases will be covered by the licensing system and there would not be any difficulty in that regard. A crossbow is such a dangerous weapon that you must know who has it and where it is. If you have that kind of certification then the licensing system will cover it.
I note that Senator Norris was quick to jump to defend the English language and was concerned about the legal language which might be used. We are quite satisfied — and our legal advisers are quite satisfied — that the language is correct and that it will have the effect which is intended.
I am afraid that Senator O'Toole has managed to split the Independents even more than he normally manages to do in private. He has now publicly done so. I, like Senator Murphy, have an instinct about things like this. Whereas the amendment is proposed with the best will in the world, for very good linguistic and other reasons, it is wrong that we should be seen in any way to be making offensive weapons more readily available or less easy to control. Whichever way you look at this amendment, the effect of it, as I understand from what the Minister said, is to remove the certification of crossbows which are very offensive and lethal weapons. I instinctively believe that anything that does that is wrong and that these weapons come under the same categorisation as what we traditionally understand as firearms, being guns of a lethal sort.
I fully understand the points made by Senator Norris who stands second to none in his mastery of the English language about it possibly being a clumsy way of defining firearms and the wrong way of doing so. The overriding argument here must be the one which the Minister, Senators Lydon and Cullimore made, that we must not make offensive weapons more easily available to anybody whatever and whoever they are. Whereas those who hold these weapons legally will have nothing to fear, if this amendment is accepted I am afraid there will be more people holding more weapons which are not controlled.
In dealing with points made it always concerns me when we talk about the licence and control of any kind of weapons. I listened carefully to Senator Hillery and it worries me further when somebody stands up and says he is the father of five children. I am the father of five children and I have views that that weapon should also be licensed. In terms of damage that might be done that is no way to justify any need for licensing or control.
I have, however, taken great trouble to investigate the use of crossbows in matters of arrest and so on. It is not giving the full facts to say that somebody in the course of an arrest was found with a crossbow. I know the case mentioned, indeed I know of every case which involved a crossbow in this country over the last number of years. The case mentioned was the well known one in Kerry which is referred to as the "Big Chief" case where a German citizen residing in the west — very close to the Blasket Islands — fired a shot through a hole in his roof which had been put there by gardaí while trying to make an arrest. The man had a lot of other difficulties; they were protecting him from himself and they tried to rescue him through the roof and he did release an arrow from a crossbow at them. One shot was fired and the garda was wounded, but not seriously, I understand. The facts of the case are as the Minister stated, but it is certainly not a case for licensing a crossbow because he could just as easily have done as much damage with a kitchen knife, flick knife, boiling water, a billiard ball or a lot of other things.
The Minister also referred to the case involving a drugs dealer but it is emotive to say that because a drugs dealer had a crossbow we should control it, licence it and stop it. In the case to which the Minister referred, a drugs dealer was charged with possession of a crossbow. He came to his front door with a bow in his hand when the gardaí came to arrest him on other charges. It is not even clear whether he had an arrow in the bow. There was no question of him releasing it and he certainly gave himself up.
Another case involved a horse in Tallaght and another where a crossbow bolt was fired through the window of a Garda barracks in Cork. There was another where a 14 year old released an object from a crossbow at a friend by pure accident. There was no malicious intent but a child was injured. I have taken the trouble to go through them. If you are trying to make the case for licensing on the basis of how they have been used over the last number of years, I assure you that the case is a non-starter. Many other implements and weapons have caused far more damage over the last number of years. Crossbows have traditionally had a bad press, from the 11th century when the Lateran Council denounced the crossbow as being a weapon hateful to God and fit only for infidels and Turks. That kind of language today would find us in breach of the Incitement to Hatred Act outside this House.
It has a long history but the people who use crossbows in this country are very responsible. I would also like to refer to some of the points made by Senators, particularly the one made by Senator Lydon. Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 do not just simply refer to the carrying of a crossbow in public places, dance halls, marquees and so on. They also cover the carrying of crossbows in cases of trespassing or at night and in other premises or clearly having them with wrong intent. They go much further than that.
I cannot even rely on my own friends and I certainly accept that defeat is staring me in the face. However, I am a pragmatist at heart and I ask the Minister to just accept my argument. I realise this Bill will have to go to the other House — I was very pleased to hear the Taoiseach today refer to "the House down there"— and it might just be changed there. I would ask the Minister to take back what he said, that a crossbow is something that can be used without any skill. That is a grave injustice to people who spend their life perfecting the art of accurate shooting with a crossbow. It takes a fair amount of skill to shoot a crossbow, far more skill than to use a firearm.
The Minister said there would be no problem for the handicapped. Does this mean that handicapped people will not be required to have a licence? The great difference between the crossbow and other things is how one identifies them. They are not appropriate for carrying serial numbers. How do you keep a check on them? Somebody said we would like to know where they are. I can give statistics from my file as to how many there are in the country and what kind of dealer sold them. Does the Minister realise that a regular sports dealer who deals in crossbows will now be required under the Firearms Act to build a strongroom and to fulfil all the conditions and regulations which up until now have been appropriate for guns and firearms? Surely that is not acceptable. It is an unacceptable pressure to put on dealers.
There is a difference between the sale and the storing and sorting of guns, etc. The Minister is now saying that the shop that is selling crossbows, etc., will now have to build a strong room. There is no evidence that terrorists or people like that have ever shown the slightest interest in crossbows and it is quite clear that they have never used them. One point the Minister made is certainly new to me, that the Garda support this inclusion in the Bill. That is not my information. No group in the country, including the Garda, the farmers, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the veterinary profession and the medical profession, have called for the licensing of crossbows. I want to make it clear that people dealing with what might be termed the results of the misuse of crossbows are not shouting for the licensing and the control of these things in the manner put in the Bill. It would be fair to have a crossbow classified as an offensive weapon but not as a firearm. Let us address this matter rationally and see it for what it is.
At the earlier Stage the Government brought in an amendment to the effect that Part II of this Bill shall only come into operation on such day or days as may be fixed therefore by order or orders of the Minister and that different days may be fixed for different provisions of that Part. Will the Minister indicate, perhaps by a nod of the head, seeing that he is not allowed to come back into the debate — which is why I originally wanted it dealt with on Committee Stage rather than on Report Stage — if the Government in bringing in the regulations in Part II in requiring licences now want to implement this Bill on section, say 1 (a), 1 (b), 1 (d), 1 (e), 1 (f) etc., leaving out 1 (c) for the time being, the one on the crossbow? If that is possible it would allow us to fight it in another place, on another day. I would certainly like clarification on that. That would take a lot of the difficulty out of it because it would clear the road for the bona fide sports shop and for the bona fide person involved in the sport, until such time as the Department had more experience of this legislation. If it is then necessary to extend it, perhaps it could be done by ministerial order. That is not my wish but it is the fall back point I would put to the Minister.
I assure the Minister that those people involved in the sport of archery would be fully prepared to support and work in any way possible with the Minister in that regard. I have fought the good fight and I cannot take it any further. I regret that the Minister is not prepared to accept this amendment.
There is not much more to say at this stage. I accept that Senator O'Toole has made a spirited defence of his amendments but there is the underlying fact that these are weapons which can be extremely dangerous. In fact, Seantor O'Toole confirmed what I had to say earlier, although he was not in a position to confirm the information about subversives. I am not surprised at that, nor will he be in a position to confirm that because it is a matter about which the Minister and the Garda will know.
In relation to the other points the Senator made, yes, they would have to be numbered and there would have to be adequate security. That is something that can be discussed then with the Minister subsequently and in the implementation. There was a question about the different days and the idea there is to allow time for adjustment and for the introduction and regularisation of the position. That again is something I will convey to the Minister. I will let him know the Senator's views on that and his concern that adequate time would be provided to make suitable arrangements. There is no intention in this of interfering with or upsetting the sport. It is just that the weapons are regarded as dangerous and in that event we want to know who has them and we want to insist on certification. That is the basic point. That is what people generally feel here in the House. I am very happy that the Senator is prepared to withdraw the amendment.
I did not say that.
I thought he did.
Senators are allowed to speak once on Report Stage and points of information are not allowed.
Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are alternatives to No. 7 and they may be discussed together.
I was not here on Committee Stage but the Minister purposes here to meet the concerns expressed by a number of Senators in the course of the debates on earlier Stages of the Bill that the repair and modification of weapons of the type dealt within section 11 should be brought within the scope of that section and should be made a criminal offence. This amendment will largely achieve the same purpose as amendments Nos. 8 and 9 which have been put down by Senators O'Toole and Murphy but will, in restricting the application of section 11 to repair or modification of weapons by way of business, avoid the difficulties inherent in those amendments, that is if the terms "repair" were introduced into the section without the qualifying phrase "by way of business" it would create a situation where it would be unlawful for a person to undertake the repair of a weapon otherwise lawfully held by him. If this amendment is accepted it will make it an offence for anybody on a commercial basis to undertake repair or modification of the weapons covered by the section. This should meet the concerns of Senators O'Toole and Murphy and perhaps they will agree to withdraw amendments Nos. 8 and 9.
As I pointed out on Second Stage, it stated in the original Bill:
Any person who manufactures, sells, hires offers or exposes for sale or hire or has in his possession for the purpose of sale or hire or puts on display or lends or gives to any person ... shall be guilty of an offence.
On my first reading of it I immediately saw the classic court defence, that I was not selling, I was not hiring, I was not exposing for sale or hire, I did not have it for anything specific, I was only fixing it for my brother. I felt that this was a major flow in the Bill and I put forward the proposal that it should include "the repair" as well as "for hire and sale", etc. I see that the Minister has been good enough to come back. I thought he might have been good enough to give me credit for bringing it to the attention of the Department.
I thought I did.
With elections coming closer all the time this kind of thing becomes very important.
I did not realise the Senator was going for Europe.
Please return to the amendment, Senator.
I accept that the Minister has taken my excellent proposals to heart and has come back with an improved and enhanced version of what I had intended to propose. Therefore, I do not intend moving amendment Nos. 8 and 9. I support the Minister's proposal and thank him sincerely for bringing back that particular one to close the loophole in the legislation. It underlines the need for a Seanad to go through the legislation in detail with a fine-comb to tease it out, to put forward proposals. Again, it illustrates the effectiveness of this House in dealing with legislation. I thank the Minister for being prepared to improve this legislation by accepting the amendment.
The reason my name is on these amendments is because the House will recall that, regrettably, Senator O'Toole was erased from history for a brief period in pre- glasnost fashion. In his absence I and other Senators, including Senator Ryan as I recall, quite ably, not perhaps as ably as Senator O'Toole, but adequately ably, pointed out the loophole in this Bill. I am pleased that the Minister has taken our point on board and has come up with a very satisfactory Government amendment. It always give me great pleasure when this happens. This surely is what constructive legislation is about and perhaps this House particularly lends itself to that form of co-operation. I want to express my personal thanks.
I was puzzled by a point made earlier in the debate by a number of speakers who referred to the size of their families. I do not wish to engage in a debate on sexual prowess but for the record I also have five children.
I will feel more protected now.
I could not make a point of information on the last amendment. Am I allowed to make two points of information now?
No, you are allowed to make a point on the amendment.
There is no point then in saying that the Garda are against it.
Like Senator O'Toole, I would ask the Minister to pass on my condolences to the Minister on the reasons for his absence. I am sorry.
I cannot help wondering if Seantor Murphy was regretting Senator O'Toole's temporary erasure from history. Given that we are constituency rivals one is entitled to at least have a doubt.
As a revisionist I am glad he is back.
The number of children I have is a matter of record, I will not talk about that as I would not match my colleague.
That has nothing to do with the amendment before the House.
The amendment will probably go entirely unnoticed, as most of us have learned to our regret. When Bills are amended — often dramatically amended — in this House the matter goes unnoticed. It is a matter which is worked on by large numbers of Members of this House from time to time. Legislation is not Holy Writ and is considerably changed during its progress through both Houses of the Oireachtas. There is not just one House in the Oireachtas in which legislation is debated and amended. This is a simple response by the Minister to, I concede, Senator O'Toole's perspicacity in noticing this on Second Stage. We can, of course, claim credit for rescuing Senator O'Toole from his own exuberance by being here to propose the motion.
I want to say two things about the Bill. First, I want to refer to section 17. I am pleased to see other offensive legislation, the Vagrancy Act, 1824, repealed. There are many other sections of that Act which I would commend to the Government's attention for immediate repeal, including the offensive sections dealing with begging. The second point is a slight touch of nostalgia for perhaps a more innocent era. I accept the necessity to classify airguns as firearms, although in my relatively recent youth such weapons were regarded as quite innocent and harmless and no great threat to anybody. It is perhaps a reflection on a loss of innocence in our society that what used to be toys, which perhaps has some risk attached to them, have now, of necessity, to be treated as dangerous weapons.
The portion of the Vagrancy Act being repealed refers to the deletion of the words "being armed with any gun, pistol, hanger, cutlass bludgeon or other offensive weapons". It is the language of another age. Will the Minister indicate what a "hanger" is?
The Act referred to is that of 1871. At that stage I presume a hanger was a metal instrument for hanging meat. I can find out for the Senator and let him know. This is to remove very old legislation with old definitions.
I thank the Senators for their support, their suggestions and ideas. I agree with what has been said by the Senators that if the Bill can have full consideration in the Seanad it will be a better Bill. This is very important legislation. It will strengthen the hand of the Garda in their fight against crime. In particular it will prohibit stun guns, control crossbows through licensing and make the carrying of flick knives and other dangerous weapons an offence. This is something which Members in this House and in the Dáil will be very happy to do, by giving support to the Garda in dealing with crime in this present day. In conclusion, I would like to thank Senators for their support.