Firearms (Firearm Certificates for Non-Residents) Bill, 2000: Second Stage.

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

There is a printing error on the Order Paper. It should read Second Stage, not Committee Stage.

The Firearms (Firearm Certificates for Non-Residents) Bill, 2000 will replace the temporary legislation in this area, the Firearms (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1998, which came into effect on 14 July 1998 and will cease to operate on 14 July 2000.

The Bill provides for the amendment of the provisions governing the granting, under section 3 of the Firearms Act, 1925, of firearm certificates to persons ordinarily resident outside the State, whether for hunting or sporting purposes or for shooting species where such shooting is not pro hibited by law, for example, vermin, or for other purposes. It also amends the Wildlife Act, 1976, primarily in regard to the granting of hunting licences to persons ordinarily resident outside the State.

Under section 3(2) of the Firearms Act, 1925, the granting of firearm certificates to non-residents is a matter for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Under section 29(2) of the Wildlife Act, 1976, a non-resident who wishes to hunt protected or exempted wild animals or protected wild birds in Ireland must have a separate licence to hunt from the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. There are two types of hunting licences: a licence to hunt exempted wild mammals other than hares – in practical terms this means deer – and a licence to hunt protected wild birds and hares.

A firearm certificate will not be issued to a non-resident applicant who intends to hunt unless he or she has been granted a licence to hunt from the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, whether it authorises the hunting of deer or protected wild birds and hares.

The situation in the case of residents of the State differs in that, under section 3(1) of the Firearms Act, 1925, the granting of firearm certificates to residents is a matter for the local Garda superintendent in the area in which the applicant is residing. As in the case of non-residents, a resident who wishes to hunt protected wild mammals other than hares must satisfy the Garda Síochána that he or she is the holder of a current licence to so hunt from the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands before he or she can get a firearm certificate. However, under section 29(5) of the Wildlife Act, 1976, a superintendent can grant a combined firearm certificate and hunting licence to a resident who wishes to hunt hares or protected wild birds.

The Bill amends the provisions of the Firearms Act, 1925 to allow the Garda authorities, after an initial transitional period during which the Minister will continue to be responsible, to grant firearm certificates to non-residents for hunting or sporting purposes and to process those applications in a similar way to the arrangements which apply in the case of residents of the State. For the first time, a combined firearm certificate and hunting licence will be available to non-residents for the purpose of hunting hares or protected wild birds. A separate hunting licence from the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands will still be required in the case of non-residents who wish to hunt deer, as is the case for residents of the State.

The Bill amends the Wildlife Act, 1976, by the insertion of a new section 29, provided for in section 4 of this Bill, to allow this new scheme for non-residents to operate. The new scheme, when fully operational after the initial transitional period to which I have just referred, will establish a level playing field in the matter of the granting of hunting licences to residents and non-residents alike, with some minor modifications to reflect the different situation of non-residents. For instance, many non-resident hunters come here only for short periods and may not return for several years, if ever, unlike residents who are entitled to hunt here for whole seasons and possess their firearms throughout the years. Non-residents, like residents, will have to be 16 years of age or over to get a firearm certificate, will be able to use the firearm only for the purposes specified and can have their certificates revoked for, among other reasons, failure to comply with the limitations as to use, and will have to comply with the obligations under the Wildlife Acts to get a hunting licence.

As Senators will be aware from the debate on the Firearms (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1998, the background to the Bill is that the High Court decided on 12 June 1998, following a judicial review sought by the National Association of Regional Game Councils which represents domestic shooters, that the procedures adopted to enable the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform adequately to discharge the obligations imposed by the Firearms Act, 1925, in granting firearm certificates to non-resident hunters were ineffective and insufficient. The High Court found that the procedures followed by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands in granting hunting licences to non-residents, which they must first obtain in order to be granted firearm certificates, were also ineffective and insufficient. The effect of this judgment was that both Ministers were precluded from granting hunting licences, and the consequential firearm certificates, to non-residents and the granting of licences and firearm certificates ceased with effect from the date of the judgment.

As time did not permit an extensive overhaul of the Firearms Act, 1925, having regard to the fact that the Dáil was due to go into recess on 2 July 1998, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform decided that a two stage response was essential to deal with the matters raised by the High Court judgment. First, he decided that the public interest required that interim legislation be introduced as quickly as possible to enable hunting licences and firearm certificates to be granted and to protect the State against potential liabilities. The interim legislation, the Firearms (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1998, came into effect on 14 July 1998.

Second, the Minister decided to establish a review group comprising representatives of the relevant Departments, the Garda Síochána and interest groups to examine the implications of the judgment generally for the granting of firearms certificates to non-residents. The group was charged with bringing forward proposals in this sensitive but complicated area following a full review and having taken account of the views of the major sectional interests involved. The group reported in November 1998 and its report formed the basis for the preparation of the Bill.

The main recommendation of the Firearms Legislation Review Group was that the firearms Acts should be amended to provide for the granting of firearm certificates to non-residents by Garda authorities who, as I have explained, grant firearm certificates to residents. The group recommended that for the first two years the legislation was in force there should be a parallel right to apply to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Thereafter, such firearm certificates would not be granted by the Minister "except where circumstances warranted it". The review group's report admitted that its recommendation was less than ideal but that it would ensure tourism interests were not damaged.

The group also recommended that the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands should include a provision in the Wildlife Bill "whereby firearm certificates will be deemed to be hunting licences also". In addition, the review group recommended that the certificates be granted for a period of one year and that the combined hunting licence and firearm certificate should specify the lands available to the tourist for shooting purposes.

While the Minister for Justice, Equality and law Reform accepted the main recommendation of the review group that the firearms Acts should be amended to provided for the granting of firearm certificates to non-residents by the Garda superintendent in charge of the district visited, he was concerned that the recommendation for two parallel routes for applicants, the Minister and the Garda Síochána, could give rise to administrative difficulties and confusion and therefore prove to be impracticable. He was also concerned about the essentially open ended aspect of the recommendation whereby, even after the two year transitional period, applications might still be made to the Minister in certain unidentified circumstances.

The Bill proposes, therefore, a slightly different and more clearcut arrangement under which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will continue, on a transitional basis, to grant certificates to non-resident shooters for a further two years, after which period the granting of firearm certificates in such cases will be a matter for the Garda Síochána. However, this is qualified by a provision under which any time after the commencement of the legislation in July, the Minister may by order relinquish that function to the Garda. He would do this if he was satisfied that the Garda was organisationally ready within two years to assume full responsibility for granting firearm certificates for hunting and sporting purposes to foreign shooters.

An amendment of the Wildlife Act, 1976, will allow firearm certificates granted to non-residents for the purpose,inter alia, of hunting hares or protected wild birds to be deemed to be hunting licences for the purpose of the Wildlife Acts, that is, it will provide for a combined firearm certificate or hunting licence to issue in these cases as already applies in the case of residents of the State, as soon as the Garda assumes responsibility for the granting of firearm certificates to non-resident shooters.

As I have already indicated, the Firearms Legislation Review Group recommended that the certificates be granted for a period of one year and that the combined hunting licence and firearm certificate should specify the lands available to the tourists for shooting purposes. Certificates issued to residents of the State have a life of one year. Tourists exercise Community law rights to travel and avail of services and Article 6 of the Treaty of Rome precludes any discrimination against tourists exercising these rights unless they are capable of objective justification. Section 2(6) provides for a certificate life of up to one year, thus complying with the recommendation of the review group and EU law.

The Bill provides in section 2(6) that a firearm certificate will operate from the date of its commencement until the following 31 July, which is the date on which hunting licences expire or for such shorter period as may be specified in the certificate. Section 2(6) also allows applications to be made before 31 July in respect of certificates required after 1 August. These arrangements mirror the provisions in relation to residents in the Firearms Act, 1925. The majority of applications for firearm certificates from non-residents are for the purpose of hunting hares or protected wild birds. The convergence in the expiry dates of the authorisations will make the issue of combined firearm certificates and hunting licences for the purpose of hunting hares or protected wild birds easier from an administrative point of view.

As regards the Firearms Legislation Review Group recommendation that the combined hunting licence and firearm certificate should specify the lands available to the tourists for shooting purposes, this recommendation could not be accepted as it would have introduced a separate regime in that respect for residents and non-residents, thus possibly breaching European anti-discrimination laws. This is because all residents of EU member states must be treated equally.

Regarding the other main provisions of the Bill, it is important to emphasise that, in practical terms, the provisions of the Bill do not change the procedures which have been followed for some years, under different Governments, in granting firearm certificates to non-residents. While the Bill proposes to amend the statutory provisions governing the limitations and restrictions for the granting of firearm certificates to non-residents, in real terms it gives effect to the existing procedures in recognition of the fact that the statutory obligations were, prior to the 1998 Temporary Provisions Act, in practice, difficult to meet and, in some instances, impossible. In the granting of firearm certificates to non-residents, regard has always been had to the preservation of the public safety and the peace. This was always the overriding consideration.

The measures proposed in this Bill will in no way change this. In fact, two additional restrictive measures are introduced. These are in section 2(10) which allows the issuing person to attach conditions to a firearm certificate and also in section 2(13), where provision is made to allow the issuing person to revoke a firearm certificate where he or she is of the opinion that the holder of the certificate cannot, without danger to the public safety or to the peace, be permitted to have a firearm in his or her possession or that he or she is using, or has used, such firearm for purposes not authorised by the certificate or has contravened a condition attaching to the firearm certificate. These are new permanent provisions. Up to now there has been no provision in permanent legislation permitting the attachment of conditions to, or for the revocation of, a firearm certificate granted to a non-resident.

I also want to emphasise that the policy, which in the main has been in existence since 1972, of restricting the granting of firearm certificates to certain categories of firearms, is not changed by this Bill. That policy, which is among the most restrictive in Europe, provides that firearm certificates will only be granted for shotguns and rifles in certain limited categories. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is currently reviewing certain aspects of this policy but that is not a matter covered by this Bill.

Quite apart from what might be described as new restrictions, the Bill provides in section 2(8) that, before granting a firearm certificate, the issuing person, whether it be the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform during the transitional period, or the Garda authorities thereafter, shall be of the opinion that the application is bona fide and that there is no good reason to refuse to grant the certificate. For the purpose of establishing that there is no good reason for refusing a firearm certificate, the issuing person may seek evidence of a European firearms pass where the applicant is resident in an EU member state, or any other documents relevant to firearms issued by an appropriate body outside the State, or the issuing person may make such inquiries as he or she considers appropriate. Such inquiries could be made to the Garda Síochána in the transitional period, or to other police forces, if it is considered necessary to do that to determine suitability in any particular case.

The European firearms pass is a document which is issued by the authorities of a member state of the EU to a person lawfully entering into possession of and using a firearm. The pass contains information about the holder's identity and is a non-transferrable document on which are entered details of the firearm or firearms possessed and used by the holder of the pass. The pass is required to be always in the possession of the person using the firearm and changes in the possession, or characteristics, of the firearms must be indicated on the pass, as well as the loss or theft of a firearm.

In the interests of further improving public safety, section 3 of the Bill makes it an offence to give false information when making an application for a firearm certificate or to alter a certificate with intent to deceive or to use a certificate with intent to deceive. Those offences are punishable by a fine of up to £10,000 or imprisonment for up to five years or both. Any other problems with firearm misuse by a non-resident can effectively be dealt with by the enforcement of existing firearm legislation in the same way as it applies to residents of the State. This new provision along with other provisions will ensure that the scheme being put in place will be among the most stringent and restrictive in Europe.

In summary, this Bill maintains our traditionally strict controls over the use and possession of firearms by non-residents while safeguarding the jobs and incomes of those engaged in our tourism industry and rural economy generally. The Bill does not lessen the measures taken to safeguard the public safety and the peace. All checks previously undertaken will continue in force. In addition, two additional permanent safeguards have been introduced, the power to add conditions to certificates and the power to revoke them.

In conclusion, I hope that the proposals contained in this significant and somewhat technical Bill will meet with the approval of all Senators. I commend the Bill to the House.

The Minister is welcome. I welcome the Bill which is a very important one because of the regulations and, of course, the passing down of Mr. Justice Quirke's comments in the High Court. Speaking on the Bill, one would have to say that the vast majority of people in Ireland, perhaps 92% to 95% of people, have never seen a gun. We need to try to keep it that way. The Bill is emphasising that very strongly but as shown by the introduction of the first regulations on gun licences since 1925, the original Act or the regulations were not being implemented properly. A judge could see that and carelessness was found with respect to the possession of lethal weapons. I can understand the Minister's point. I can also understand his point regarding the importance of making sure that our second biggest industry, tourism, is well covered, that people can come here and, if they want to, use guns at a particular date or time. I do not hunt but at the same time it is understandable that this business should be protected.

It is also important that we are assured of the suitability of any person, particularly a non-resident, who is given a licence to use a shotgun or rifle. That must be emphasised strongly. The judge was correct when he said that this was not followed up properly. When we consider the number of accidents involving guns which occur today, we must be careful about who gets a licence, not just non-residents but also residents.

The vast majority of people in Ireland do not want to see a gun and nobody wants them in use. I would much prefer if they were not used, even to hunt wildlife, but business is business and I do not deny that. Hunting is extremely popular at certain times of the year and many people travel here to hunt. I do not believe we are strict enough when it comes to implementing these provisions and there are some sections in the legislation on which I will comment.

As was stated in the Lower House, the legislation was not brought forward quickly enough. The principal change following the recommendations of the Firearms Legislation Review Group is that there be one licence and one Department, in other words, people will no longer have to apply to two Departments. One wonders whether those centrally involved in the administration of a sport are the most suitable to consider what is best for it. This is a dangerous sport if it is not regulated properly. Did the review group bring forward recommendations to suit itself? That is a danger and the Minister of State will not deny it. I can understand why the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform did not agree with all the review group's recommendations but at the same time most of its recommendations have been accepted.

Does the Minister agree that it would be better if two Departments oversaw the granting of licences rather than one? Up to now a non-resident went to a Garda station to apply for a licence but did the local garda or superintendent know him or her? They held firearm certificates from other countries but it is not necessarily the case that legislation or regulations in such countries are as strict as in Ireland. One wonders whether similar regulations apply in the US when one considers the number of people who are shot there daily. When it comes to granting firearm certificates, Ireland is strict and I hope we become more strict. We must protect our own and everybody who enters the country. We must ensure that applicants for firearm certificates are genuine. I am concerned about European and other international regulations. Gun licensing in the US differs from state to state. I want American hunters to visit Ireland but I want to make sure that we are well covered.

How can a local sergeant, inspector or superintendent define whether a non-resident is a suitable person to be granted a licence? For example, when a licence is granted, from where does the gun come? Is it bought locally or is it brought into the country? Is the gun brought to the place where the licence is issued? That is relevant under the legislation and I will raise that question on Committee Stage. We must ensure that residents are protected. The Garda is strict when it comes to enforcing gun controls and residents. Members of the force regularly visit licence hold ers in rural areas to make sure everything is in order but that still does not protect everybody. A few weeks ago we saw what can happen.

However, I welcome the Bill, although I have a number of questions. Are we happy that the legislation is strict enough? For example, on Second Stage in the Dáil the Minister stated that ". . . for the granting of firearm certificates to non-residents, in real terms it gives effect to the existing procedures in recognition of the fact that the statutory obligations were, prior to the 1998 Temporary Provisions Act, in practice, difficult to meet and, in some instances, impossible". Are we saying this Bill is better? It does not show it. It brings about a change from two Ministers to one.

It was impossible up to 1998 to implement the 1925 and 1976 regulations. Are we saying this legislation is so strict that there is no danger now? Up to now firearms posed little danger. There have been freak accidents where people have jumped over a ditch carrying a loaded gun. There is no doubt there will be accidents. This was always the overriding consideration and the measures proposed in the Bill will in no way change this. Two additional restrictive measures have been introduced in section 2(10), which we will examine on Committee Stage. Are we satisfied that the vast majority of people are protected under this new legislation which is long overdue?

The judge's comments in the High Court case were frightening – there was no such thing as an investigation into the suitability of the person applying in the case of non-residents. I do not blame the judge. He specifically stated that nobody, either national or non-resident, should be permitted to have in his or her possession, use or carry a firearm or ammunition without an inquiry or investigation into the suitability of that person. How can we investigate the suitability of a person – a non-national – coming into the country for the first time? Are they suitable because they have a firearm certificate from Italy, the US, Bulgaria or Great Britain? The Bill does not provide for such investigation. The judge is perfectly right. The specifics of investigating the suitability of non-nationals must be outlined. How many seek licences annually and for what duration?

Are we saying the manpower is available to monitor the expiration of licences annually and inquire whether a gun has not been used since 31 March when the hunting season closes? How do we know whether a gun has been used? Is the licence holder allotted a specific amount of ammunition? The vast majority of people do not know anything about these issues. That is why the judge made these points. Is the legislation strong enough to address the judge's comments in the High Court? He pointed out that such carelessness in respect of the possession of lethal weapons was reckless and irresponsible. He is telling us that we were not on top of our job and he is right. Is the legislation strong enough? How can we assume that a person with a firearm licence has the right to hold that licence in the Republic, whether it is for one or 12 months? How can we know that the gun has not been used elsewhere? Is the gun handed over when the person is not in the State? Is that covered by the legislation?

Residents of the State are investigated thoroughly. I have heard of the police calling at people's houses to check that guns are in the proper place and ammunition is stored safely. That is the right thing to do because we have seen the harm guns can cause. The barrels of shotguns can be sawed off to make them even more dangerous. Who looks after the gun when the person is not a resident of the State? Where is it kept? That is what the judge will want to know.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I was here two years ago when emergency legislation was introduced as a result of the High Court case taken by the game councils. Legislation was necessary because otherwise tourists would have been prohibited from shooting. Many licensed operators are currently taking bookings for the winter season. It is important that measures are in place to protect this valuable sector of the tourism industry.

I am delighted the Minister is introducing regulations. Non-residents will now be treated in the same manner as residents of the State. The Garda will be able to issue a combined firearm certificate and hunting licence.

The regulations controlling licences in this State are already strict but I am glad to see power being handed to the Garda. Even residents cannot get a licence unless they are gun club members or own lands over which there are shooting rights. In addition, the Garda will not issue licences unless the proper insurance is in place and produced at the Garda station.

I am glad to see these new regulations being introduced. I know a man from Brussels who visits Ireland four or five times a season. Previously he had to make an application for a new permit each time he arrived but, under these new regulations, he will get one permit to cover the entire year in the same way as a resident.

The legislation is important for those who shoot competitively for Ireland because it addresses the movement of arms within the European Union. Ireland is the home of top class gun clubs and we have some of the best shooters in the world competing in the Olympic Games and the European and World Championships. I was delighted to see two people from County Kerry coming second in the world in that sport. Castleisland has one of the finest gun clubs in Europe.

I am a firearms enthusiast, as are my friends and family. Senator Denis Cregan said that there not many people interested in shooting. At the last count, there were 200,000 licensed firearms holders in the State.

That is frightening.

It is not frightening – this is a sport. There are many young people involved and we are enticing more people to join all the time. Our young shooters are the best in the world. The Olympic Games in Sydney will allow us to improve our reputation.

Many people have accused gun clubs of allowing people who come to Ireland to shoot protected species. Nothing could be further from the truth. One person was caught once leaving Dublin Airport with a swan in his bag, but that was a long time ago. When tourists go out with a gun club, they go with a local person who will tell them what birds they can shoot. They supervise the person hunting.

The gun clubs should be commended for restocking the duck, pheasant, grouse and partridge populations, and more work should be done in that regard. The Bill deals with the issuing of a separate licence for shooting deer. Deer are becoming very plentiful and farmers complain about them destroying their crops. A balance must be struck and the gun clubs play an active role in that. In County Kerry there is an abundance of deer. At times they escape from the wildlife park in Killarney and move into the neighbouring farms where they do a lot of damage. Their numbers must be thinned out.

The safety of guns was mentioned. In future gun owners will have to have a safe with special locks for their guns installed in their homes so that young people and non-licence holders will not be able to get at them. That is a good approach. Any person applying for a new licence will have to install such a safe. Many firearms owners already have them installed.

A person entering the State with a firearm can leave it with a registered firearms dealer and pick it up again when he returns with his licence.

Under this new legislation, to apply for a licence from the Garda an EU passport must be shown. This provision was introduced some years ago for those in shooting competitions who travelled to Europe to compete. Their passport confirmed the identity of their firearms. People applying for permission to hunt will have to produce their passport and a firearms licence.

This legislation gives more power to the Garda. It is welcome and warranted and deserves the support of the House.

I thank the Senator for his contribution. I am sure it was not his swan song.

I welcome the Bill which addresses matters in order to enable us to benefit to the maximum amount from our tourism industry. The provisions of the Bill relating to tourists who seek a firearms licence are not clear to me. Is there a maximum number of guns that will be covered by such a licence? Does it refer to one or two firearms per person? To be fair to visitors, people who travel here to partake in clay pigeon or game shooting require different weapons. Consequently, we should be flexible in that regard.

Under the new security arrangements the Garda Commissioner is proposing for the safety of such guns that bed and breakfast establishments and hotels should have facilities available to ensure the guns will be in safe-keeping on such premises. Ordinary game licence holders are being given 12 months in order to provide secure safes, but the Minister should extend that period by a further 12 months. As Senator Dan Kiely said, there are approximately 200,000 licensed guns and a substantial number of people will not have secure safes in their homes. I agree with the proposal which is necessary, but more time should be given to enable people to comply with it. Otherwise, people will panic if they have to provide the secure facilities within only 12 months.

As regards the involvement of Dúchas and the Garda Commissioner, does Waterways Ireland have control of certain areas and, thus, an involvement similar to that of Dúchas?

We must examine the aspects of this issue relating to the control of wildlife. As other Senators have mentioned, deer have caused damage to crops but they can also endanger the lives of motorists travelling through or close to forests. Many complaints have arisen in this regard, but no one appears to be responsible for such herds of deer. Neither the landowners nor the forestry authorities claim any responsibility for them, yet the animals can cause a huge amount of damage to cars. It is only a matter of time before lives will be lost as a result of this.

I hope the Bill will enable more visitors to enjoy our tourism facilities and, in particular, clay pigeon shooting. Many private operators have developed such facilities around the country for visitors from England and continental Europe.

I compliment the Minister of State on introducing this legislation.

I thank Senators who contributed to the debate on this short, non-controversial but nonetheless important legislation. It is of particular relevance to those rural areas that attract tourists who wish to hunt, which is a relatively specialised sector of the tourism industry. In the absence of the Bill, as and from 14 July, there would have been no statutory framework for the granting of firearm certificates and hunting licences to non-resident hunters.

I wish to deal with some of the points raised by Senators. Senator Dino Cregan referred to the lateness in bringing the Bill before the House. The Bill largely gives effect to the recommendations of the firearms legislation review group. It is also constrained in what it can do by the High Court judgment in 1998 and by European anti-discrimination laws. Therefore, it is relatively straightforward and uncontroversial. In these circumstances, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform did not consider it necessary to delay work on any other legislation in preparation in his Department in order to give priority to this Bill which, in any case, would not have come into operation until 14 July.

This is the 31st Bill passed by the Oireachtas in the lifetime of the current Dáil for which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has responsibility. A further ten Bills from the Minister's Department are at various stages before the Oireachtas, and many more are in preparation. While this Bill is largely straightforward, the control of firearms is a complex area and requires careful legislation and a coherent, sensible and balanced approach. These elements have been brought together in the Bill now before the House.

Senator Cregan also asked what checks were made on non-resident applicants for firearm certificates. Section 2(10) provides that the issuing person may make such inquiries as he or she considers appropriate as to the suitability of any applicant for a firearm certificate. There is also provision in section 2(9) for the issuing person to treat any document issued by an appropriate authority as evidence of suitability. Detailed information is submitted at the time of application for a firearm certificate by a non-resident. Checks are made at that stage, including verification of age, firearm calibre, evidence of firearm authorisation, confirmation of permission to shoot on land, and details of the Irish address at which the non-resident will be staying. Checks are also made to ensure that no convictions have been recorded against the applicant in the State.

Due to the different procedures and practices in other countries, it would not always be practical to insist on a police certificate of conviction and, in any case, it might not always be the most appropriate way of assessing a person's suitability for use of a firearm in this country. Also, the gardaí will know the local landowner who has given permission to the non-national to shoot on declared lands. That is the benefit of involving the local gardaí who can also liaise with the local wildlife rangers.

Senator Cregan wanted to know if the Bill complied with the High Court decision of 1998. In preparing the Bill, the Minister had regard to the High Court decision of 1998 – which gave rise to the Firearms (Temporary Provisions) Act of that year – European anti-discrimination laws and the report of the firearms legislation review group. All these matters pointed clearly to the fact that the legislation should provide obligations that can be discharged and that the provisions applying to applications for and grants of firearms certificates from residents and non-residents alike should be as closely aligned as possible, taking into account that justifiable differences can arise from different circumstances. To sum up, the High Court decision was foremost in the minds of the Minister and his legal advisers during the preparation of the Bill, and that is clearly reflected in the text.

Senator Cregan asked what happens to such firearms when not in use. If the weapon remains in the country it must be lodged with a registered firearms dealer. However, generally, the firearms are taken out of the country by the non-residents.

There was an inquiry about the number of firearm certificates issued to non-residents for hunting and sporting purposes. The number of firearm certificates issued in this category is in the region of 4,000 per annum, while the number of hunting licences issued annually is approximately 3,000. The number of firearm certificates issued is usually greater than the number of hunting licences because while a firearm certificate must be issued in respect of each gun, the non-resident applicant may have more than one firearm.

Senator Kiely is correct that it is illegal to shoot songbirds. The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, 1999, will introduce stronger provisions for wild birds and animals.

Senator Moylan referred to the directive on gun cabinets. The recent directive on gun cabinets is a matter solely for the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has no statutory function relating to it. Accordingly, the process under which the verification of the gun cabinet installation is carried out is a matter for the Garda Commissioner to determine and implement. I assure Senators that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will bring the concerns expressed in the House regarding the directive on cabinets to the attention of the Garda Commissioner. The Minister has already informed the Garda Commissioner of comments made by Deputies during the debate in the other House.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Now.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.