Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Questions (563)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

563. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to examine the gun ownership regulations that allow applicants to obtain firearms without providing medical reports or undertaking psychiatric evaluation as part of the application process. [13907/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I can advise the Deputy that there are stringent controls under Irish legislation on the issue of firearm certificates by An Garda Síochána and the conditions under which firearms can be held.

An Garda Síochána advise that each application for a firearms certificate is considered on its merits by the issuing officer in accordance with the relevant legislation.

The Barr Tribunal investigated the circumstances regarding a fatal shooting in Abbeylara, Co. Longford in April 2000. In his Report, Mr. Justice Barr agreed with the view of the Irish College of Psychiatrists that psychiatric assessments in relation to firearms certificate applications as a statutory requirement were not appropriate.

Regarding the provision of medical reports, Mr Justice Barr’s Report stated:

“The submissions and evidence on this issue from a wide range of experts to which I have already referred, when considered in conjunction with Lord Cullen’s opinion in his Dunblane Report (with which there appears to be general agreement) establishes that there should not be any statutory requirement for the mandatory provision of medical certificates by applicants for gun licences or renewals thereof. In the light of the evidence presented on this topic, it is evident that there are major practical difficulties in implementing such a statutory requirement. These include the fact that in many instances a gun licence applicant’s general medical practitioner may not have sufficient knowledge of his or her patient, or specialist expertise to make an appropriate assessment and the time factor (and expense) involved in making a realistic psychiatric specialist assessment of the applicant. In my opinion it is not a workable proposition.”

Arising from concerns expressed at the Barr Tribunal, new conditions for applications were introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2006. These conditions include the requirement of applicants to provide two referees to attest to their character, and also a requirement on each applicant to provide written consent for an issuing officer to make any enquiries in relation to the applicant’s medical history from a health professional.

The Garda Commissioner’s Guidelines, as to the practical application and operation of the Firearms Acts 1925 to 2009, point out that this is a very sensitive issue and it is not possible to advise on every potential scenario which may arise in a decision making process.

The Guidelines state that:

- Issuing persons should be alert to cases in which a general practitioner's report reveals that an applicant has exhibited, or is exhibiting, signs of depression, suicidal tendencies, longstanding or intermittent periods of either emotional instability or unpredictable behaviour.

- Issuing persons should also be alert to any of these signs exhibited by existing certificate holders.

- It should be remembered that because a person has received treatment in the past for certain illnesses or conditions, such as depression or stress, it does not automatically follow they are unfit to possess a firearm. It is simply one of the factors to be considered with all other evidence relating to the applicant's character and history. In such cases, account should be taken of the latest medical opinion.

In accordance with Section 3E of the Firearms Act 1925, as amended, the Garda Commissioner conducts an annual review of the operation of the Firearms Acts 1925 to 2009. This report is provided to the Minister and is laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

The legislation regarding the regulation of firearm licensing continues to be reviewed on an ongoing basis.