A GROUP representing gun-owners has warned that the loss of files on its members by gardai could lead to weapons falling into the wrong hands.
The National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC) has claimed that gardai have mislaid hundreds of files containing sensitive information including names and addresses of gun owners as well as security arrangements.
While gardai have said that they are not aware of widespread loss of files containing information on gun owners, the NARGC has warned that people's lives could be put at risk if the information fell into the hands of criminals.
Its director, Des Crofton, told the Irish Independent: "The fear is that if the files were in the wrong hands, they identify for a criminal where guns are kept, who has them, what the security arrangements are they'd have to get through and so on. That's an outrage. That puts people and their families at risk."
He added: "If they're not in the hands of the gardai, if some of these applications have been lost, it begs the question of where the hell are they?"
A Sunday newspaper reported that the Data Protection Commissioner had received a number of complaints in relation to the loss of firearms licences from garda stations.
It reported that the NARGC had made the complaints and that the gardai had issued new instructions to its network stations on how to handle gun owners' applications and renewal forms in future.
Mr Crofton said that "based on the complaints we have received, the numbers of files lost is considerable; it is in the low hundreds at the very least".
He claimed he had received another complaint about a lost file just last week and said: "The Data Protection Commissioner did carry out an investigation, did find against them, did require them to take steps to safeguard the security of the data."
A garda spokesman said he wasn't aware of widespread losses of forms relating to gun ownership.
In a statement, the gardai also said: " An Garda Siochana would like to confirm that we have liaised with the Office of the Data Commissioner in relation to this matter."
It continued: "The Data Commissioner has confirmed that all historical matters were dealt with to the satisfaction of the Data Commissioner and they also wish to state that following a recent audit they are satisfied with the procedures currently used by An Garda Siochana.
"Both An Garda Siochana and the Data Commissioner are unaware of any new complaints to this issue."
The Data Protection Commissioner could not be contacted last night.