Thursday, 26 February 2004

Questions (4)

John Deasy

Question:

4 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the policy on the issuing of licences for 0308 firearms and other similar armaments; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this policy prevents marksmen from representing Ireland internationally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6399/04]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Deputy will appreciate that there is a difficult balance to be drawn between, on the one hand, having a firearms policy which seeks to limit the availability of particular classes of firearm for reasons of public safety and national security and, on the other hand, endeavouring to meet the requirements of those who wish to participate in international shooting competitions.

Since 1972 the general approach has been that the use of all rifled firearms of a calibre exceeding .22 inches and all handguns should be curbed. It was the view of successive Ministers for Justice that public safety and security was best served by that approach as it was designed particularly to make it more difficult for pistols, revolvers and heavy calibre rifles to come into the hands of those who would misuse them, not least in the context of the then prevailing security situation. The policy has not been inflexible in that in 1993 the then Government authorised an increase in the calibre of firearms which might be licensed for deer culling and competitive target shooting from .22 inch to .270 inch.

Granting firearms certificates, which authorise possession, use and carrying of a firearm, is a matter at the discretion of Garda superintendents in accordance with the relevant legislation. The Supreme Court found in May 2002 that in exercising that statutory function, superintendents could not be subject to directions from the Garda Commissioner. However, where a licence is required for the importation of firearms this, under law, is a matter for the Minister, and the long-standing policy would exclude the issuing of a licence for the importation of the type of firearm referred to by the Deputy.

I have heard from and met people who consider that policy antiquated. I can see some considerable force — this is a view which Deputy Deasy might share — in the proposition that the real danger to Irish society probably does not come from misappropriated sporting firearms or competitive shooting firearms, and that the prevalence of firearms and their availability from other sources is probably much more obvious as a problem than this particular problem. I want to review the position and address the difficulties that competitive shooters currently encounter.

I appreciate the response. The problem is that this has been going on for about five or six years. The Minister spoke of balance in the policy, but there does not appear to be much of that. There does not seem to be much common sense here. A European champion applied for a licence and he poses no threat to national security, yet he was not allowed a licence.

This is officialdom gone mad on drugs. It is crazy that somebody like Nicholas Flood — we do not have many European champions — cannot get a certificate for a 0308 firearm. There must be some way out for those people who represent Ireland in these shooting competitions. The Minister informs me that neither he nor the Garda Commissioner has the power to direct a superintendent in this case. The person concerned has been informed that the superintendent has consulted his superiors and that they have said "no". It is does not make sense; this is madness. He is caught in a bureaucratic minefield — a crazy tangle of bureaucracy and officialdom.

Somebody needs to step in and make sense of this. It does not seem the gardaí are willing to do that. The Minister must address this from a common-sense standpoint. I appreciate the Minister said he will review this but, in the meantime, this country is losing money by not being able to hold these events. Somebody must step in, make sense of this and provide a way out for these people who represent our country.

I agree with Deputy Deasy. The situation at present is unduly conservative and a political steer is needed. I confess that I met some of the relevant interests over a year ago and promised them early action. For one reason or another, I have been blown off course on that issue.

The Opposition was not co-operative, I presume.

I am glad Deputy Costello is interrupting me while I am admitting to fault. An intelligent, common-sense approach will make for a situation which would be more satisfactory. I share Deputy Deasy's view that people engaging in a competitive sport recognised at Olympic level and the like should not face insuperable or impossible odds on a domestic legislation front just because they live in Ireland, which is not wholly different from any other society in the world in terms of the firearms issue, when we all just wish them well when they go abroad to represent the State.

The Minister said he will undertake a review. How soon will he do so? These people have been put on the long finger for years.

I will stick my neck out and say that I will ask my officials to set in train a review with a view to coming to a firm decision by mid-summer of this year.