Firearms (Firearm Certificates for Non-Residents) Bill, 2000: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

A non-resident could be a European or a person from outside Europe. Section 2(9) states, "The issuing person may make such inquiries as he or she considers appropriate as to the suitability of any applicant for a firearm certificate under this section." I hope I misunderstood him but the Minister of State said in reply to Second Stage regarding definitions in this area that if a person had a conviction in another European state, it would not necessarily mean that he or she would not be entitled to an appropriate licence. I ask him to clarify that matter because it is confusing.

What operation will be involved in terms of other EU countries and the granting of licences to non-residents in Ireland? What investigations will be carried out or system put in place regarding the granting of licences to people from different parts of the United States? Regulations differ between American states. For example, I was in Florida at one time and I stayed with a person in the Titusville area, which is near Cape Kennedy, for three nights. He was married to a girl from Cork and I was visiting Cape Kennedy and Orlando, which is only 20 minutes away. In his house, he showed me three different guns. I was very quiet when the guns were shown to me in his bedroom and I was not comfortable for the rest of the night.

I do not want such situations in Ireland. The vast majority of people in the Republic of Ireland have never seen a gun and my view is that the fewer people who see them, the better. The judge also made this point. The legislation and regulations established under it must ensure that people coming to Ireland are properly investigated with regard to licences to carry guns or bring guns into the country.

I thought I addressed this aspect in my reply on Second Stage. There will be discretion in relation to those issuing licences. The holder of a licence in another country must produce his or her pass. This will be a safeguard in terms of how a person behaves in his or her own country. The production of a pass is an indication that a person's credentials are in order in relation to the issuing of a certificate.

The Minister of State is correct and I understand his point. However, my point is that the legislation governing firearms in the United States is very loose. For example, a 16 year old can get a licence. What investigations will be carried out or regulations put in place regarding who has authority over a 16 year old who has a rifle or a shotgun? A 16 year old cannot enter an off-licence or a licensed premises, and rightly so. I am confused and I ask the Minister of State to clarify the position.

I do not like the idea that individuals can bring guns to Ireland from America given that the legislation governing firearms is so haphazard between different states. Is it the case that the authorities will be happy for a person to bring in a gun just because he or she has a licence from their state which entitles them to carry a shotgun there? If that were the position I would not be happy about it. If I was a Garda sergeant, superintendent or inspector with any type of logic, I would not be happy about it.

I understand Senator Cregan's concerns because I lived in the United States for some time. However, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with a person possessing a hunting gun. There is a big difference in the type of weapons used in the United States and Ireland. Small calibre guns, such as shotguns, are used in Ireland for sports such as clay pigeon shooting. People use small calibre 0.22 rifles and permits are required for larger weapons such as 0.225, 0.222 or 0.228 guns for the hunting of deer. This is the highest calibre of gun allowed in Ireland. One cannot possess or hold a larger firearm and they are not extremely dangerous weapons.

I like the fact that the local superintendent will make the decision. He will have to have some knowledge of the person applying for the licence. At present, a person can make an application to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform by submitting the relevant information. Under the Bill, the person making the decision will be on the ground. The applicant will have to appear before the Garda Síochána and he or she will have to be recommended by another person. It is a good element of the Bill and I welcome it.

As I indicated earlier, our laws will be the most strict in the EU. The legislation clearly indicates that a person over the age of 16 will be entitled to apply for a licence. Regarding Senator Cregan's point, if a person has a conviction, he or she will not have the necessary documentation to apply for a licence. If the Minister is unhappy with the information, he can make further inquiries in relation to the application.

Are we happy with 16 year olds having licences?

We have an excellent junior team whose members are 16 and 17 years of age. They have been successful in shooting competitions all over the world. The members of the team were vetted before they took possession of a gun and they underwent a comprehensive training programme run by the clubs I mentioned earlier. They are the type of people we are trying to attract into the business because it is good for the country to have an Irish flag flying over a junior, senior or veteran shooting team.

The Senator misunderstood my point. I am not referring to sporting people. I ask the Minister of State to clarify that the authorities are happy that guns will not get into the wrong hands. Perhaps somebody could explain to me from where sawn-off shotguns come. We do not want to give the impression, as Senator Kiely did, that only particular guns are used in Ireland. As the Garda has admitted, sawn-off shotguns are stolen from the legal owners. We must ensure that the procedures are as strict as possible. We must ensure that the majority of people who have not seen and do not want to see a gun – unless I am suffering from delusions, which I doubt – do not see one. I would like to see more people involved in such sport, whether clay shooting or otherwise, but we must ensure it is well protected and done properly. This is big business in Ireland and I welcome it. However, the judge said it was not protected. We cannot deny that, and that is why the Bill is before us.

Senator Cregan mentioned 16 year olds. The National Association of Regional Game Councils is making every effort to ensure that people are properly trained in gun safety. The Senator also mentioned sawn-off shotguns. The Department, the Minister and the Garda Commissioner are taking steps to ensure that fewer guns are stolen by providing proper safes, which is important. It is not a problem to get a licence for a gun. However, old guns, which can be dangerous, are being licensed and used. We should consider testing guns once they have reached a certain age or have been used for a certain length of time. This issue is not relevant to the Bill but it is important.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 3 to 8, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister of State for his logical replies. I have known him for a long time and it is always a pleasure to get replies from him because he understands what we are saying. He also takes other people's views and ideas into consideration. He usually gives fair replies for which he deserves credit. I wish him well in the future and thank him for bringing this important legislation before the House before the end of the session.

I compliment the Minister of State for bringing this Bill before the House and for dealing with it. I pay tribute to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who has introduced 30 Bills to the House since becoming Minister.

Will there be an election?

It is only a couple of weeks since the total was 26. However, five more Bills have been passed since then, which brings the total to 31, and more are in the pipeline. Both he and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government are extremely busy. All the legislation which has been introduced is warranted and welcome. The Minister of State has spent a lot of time in this House and I compliment him on that.

I thank the Senators who took part in the debate for their positive and constructive approach to this important Bill. I assure them that the Minister is aware of their anxiety about aspects of the Bill. Our purpose was to get the Bill into the House as quickly as possible to ensure it becomes law before 14 July. We have a common interest in ensuring this legislation is enacted and that the people who will avail of it, whether in sport or otherwise, will do what is right and best in their interest and the interest of the community.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 3.15 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.