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.