Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill 2019: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 by increasing the maximum sentence that can be imposed for the possession of a knife to cause injury to, incapacitate or intimidate any person.

I seek leave to introduce legislation entitled the Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill 2019. The purpose of the legislation is to amend section 9 of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990, which deals with the crime of possession of knives. The Acting Chairman will be aware that there have recently been a number of significant criminal events involving the use of knives. Last month a young man was killed with a knife in Dundrum. Earlier this month a man was killed with a knife on O'Connell Street. Two days ago, a woman was killed with a knife in the region of the Liberties in Dublin. Unfortunately the crime statistics that are compiled do not give us specific detail on the number of homicides or assaults committed with a knife, but we do have some statistics that indicate that the use and carrying of knives is increasing. An Garda Síochána has been able to provide information to the Minister, which he shared with me in the answer to a parliamentary question. The number of knives seized by An Garda Síochána has increased by approximately 66% since 2016. In 2017, 1,600 knives were seized. In 2018, 2,000 were seized. From the recent terrible events and the statistics with which we have been provided, it seems that knives are being carried more frequently. Unfortunately, it also appears to be the case that people are using knives, sometimes with fatal and tragic consequences.

As I have said, the purpose of this legislation is to amend section 9 of the 1990 Act. This section deals with the possession of knives. Section 9(7) deals with the penalties that can be imposed by a court on somebody who is convicted of possession of a knife. The simple purpose of this legislation is to increase the maximum penal sentence that can be imposed upon a person who is found guilty on indictment of possession of a knife from five years to ten years. At present the maximum penalty is five years. Fianna Fáil believes this should be increased to ten years.

We are also fully aware that legislation cannot be the only response to this issue. The legislation will seek to provide a greater deterrent to those who are contemplating carrying a knife but we need a much broader response, based in society, to the issue. Unfortunately, it appears to be the case that many young men think it is appropriate, acceptable and, sometimes, necessary to carry a knife when going out. The message needs to get across that this is not correct. It is dangerous for them and for others and it can destroy lives, whether the life of a person stabbed with a knife or the life of a person who perpetrates such an act. Many perpetrators do not go out with a knife on the day of the offence with the intention of causing harm. They do so because they unwisely believe that it is necessary for their own defence.

In the neighbouring jurisdiction, and in London in particular, there is a chronic problem with the use of knives and the damage such use causes to younger people in particular. We are fortunate to be nowhere near that level of difficulty in this jurisdiction but we have to be conscious that seizures of knives are increasing and that fatal attacks have been carried out with knives. For that reason, this Oireachtas should try to send out a message by increasing the potential maximum sentence for those convicted. It is for that reason that I seek to introduce this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.