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Calls for probe after top garda altered gun licence forms

PRESSURE is mounting on the Government to launch an inquiry after one of the country's most senior gardai admitted altering application forms for firearms licences.

The alterations by Crumlin Chief Superintendent John Manley, described last week as "disturbing" by a High Court judge, took place after legal action was brought by almost 200 shooting enthusiasts who were refused firearms licences.

Another senior garda responsible for issuing gun licences has admitted, in a series of test cases brought by three sports enthusiasts, that he failed to complete mandatory sections on statutory application forms.

Chief Superintendent Gerard Phillips, of Ballymun garda station, explained to Mr Justice John Hedigan that the failure to fill in mandatory sections on the official forms and to accurately record the outcome of the applications was an oversight.

Chief Supt Phillips, who presides over policing in the Garda's Dublin Metropolitan North region, has been approved by Justice Minister Alan Shatter for promotion to the ranks of Assistant Commissioner.

The admissions by the two Dublin chief superintendents could have major implications for the operation, by gardai, of the national gun licensing system.

And the State may move to settle the legal action today after the case was dramatically adjourned to allow the authorities to decide whether it could stand over the current system.

Ireland's firearms laws were changed in 2009 to make it more difficult, on public safety and security grounds, to obtain a licence.

But shooting enthusiasts have complained that their applications have been refused on a blanket basis by gardai without adequate reasons.

The gardai have denied claims by the licence applicants that there is a fixed policy of refusing licences.

However, it has emerged that there are potential problems in up to 17 garda districts throughout the country where there are high refusal rates.

Last Friday, Mr Justice Hedigan invited the authorities to consider whether they would stand over the Garda Siochana's firearms licensing system after hearing evidence that a number of application forms were altered after the legal action began. The judge found that the evidence in two of the three test cases so far showed that the recording process had not been correctly followed.

The judge said that the licensing of powerful handguns and rifles was a matter of "the gravest nature" and noted that it had been admitted that a substantial number of application forms had been altered, after having been previously signed and finalised.

"The system which refuses restricted licences is the same system which grants them. If the system put in place is not being followed, then both the granting and refusing process is clearly flawed," he said.

Yesterday, almost 50 appeals against refusals by gardai to issue gun licences were adjourned at Dublin's District Court.

Under the current system, the Commissioner of An Garda Siochana is responsible for issuing gun licences.

This power, in turn, is delegated to chief superintendents who decide whether a gun license should be approved or revoked.

Some 200 cases are pending the outcome of the gun-licensing test cases, which are being supported by the National Association of Regional Game Councils.

Irish Independent