The main purpose of this Bill is to provide for the setting up of a proof house to test firearms. The need for the proof house has arisen from the recent establishment in Birr of a factory for the manufacture of shot guns, principally for export. In some of the countries, to which this factory will be exporting, there is a prohibition on the sale of firearms unless they bear a mark indicating that they have been tested in accordance with recognised procedures and that they comply with specified minimum standards of safety. The testing is required to be carried out, either by one of the recognised proof houses in these countries, or by a foreign proof house established by law and recognised by the authorities in these countries for the purpose.
The Birr factory is, therefore, at a disadvantage because of the lack of a proof house here as its guns have to be sent abroad to be tested. The Bill will remedy this situation, as it is intended that the new proof house will be capable of securing the recognition of the authorities of any country to which Irish manufactured guns are being exported.
Senators will, I think, agree that the body to which the duty of proofing guns should most appropriately be given is the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards. The Institute is already charged with the responsibility for testing commodities intended for sale or for use by the public and it has the required experience and technical resources to provide a service of this nature.
Accommodation for the proof house is already available at the Institute and premises there are being adapted and equipped to enable proofing to be carried out. It is intended, once the Bill becomes law, to lose no time in making the necessary regulations provided for in the Bill prescribing the methods to be employed on the testing of firearms, the mark or marks to be used to designate compliance with the proofing requirements and the fees to be charged for the service.
There are no restrictions here on dealing in unproofed firearms, unlike other countries. Because of the dangers arising from the use of guns which may not be up to the generally recognised standards of safety, the power is being taken in the Bill to prohibit the export, sale or hiring of unproofed guns and it is the intention to make the necessary orders as soon as the Bill has been enacted and the testing facilities are available. The power is also being taken to enable me to prohibit the actual use of unproofed guns.
As an example of the effect of an order made under these provisions, which are contained in Section 4 of the Bill, the hiring-out of unproofed guns on commercial shoots would be prohibited—or even, if considered necessary, the use of such guns whether hired or not. It will be appreciated that accidents on commercial shoots, especially if they involved out-of-State visitors, could create bad publicity for game shooting in Ireland. On the other hand, it would be unreasonable if, for example, a visitor could not use his own favourite weapon solely because it did not carry an Irish proof mark, even though it carried the mark of a responsible foreign authority. The section, as drafted, will make it possible for my Department to pursue a reasonably flexible policy in such matters.
The point was made during the debate in the Dáil that the mark used on guns would be of much greater value if it were to indicate the year in which the gun was proofed. The relevant provision in the Bill would enable me to prescribe a mark which includes the date of proofing and, while there are certain technical difficulties involved, I will certainly give full consideration to the suggestion when I come to make the particular order.
I hope that the proposals contained in the Bill will be acceptable to the House.