A COURT has heard "disturbing" evidence that a senior garda altered a "substantial number" of application forms for firearms certificates lodged by shooting enthusiasts.
A series of test cases brought on behalf of gun owners -- who are challenging a refusal by An Garda Siochana to issue them with firearms certificates -- took a dramatic turn yesterday after claims that a large number of application forms had been altered by a senior garda.
Yesterday, High Court judge Mr Justice John 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 gun owners are seeking orders quashing the refusals saying they breach their constitutional rights and amount to a fixed policy of not issuing licences for guns that can be legally held. The Garda Sioch- ana, which is opposing the action, denies the claims, including that there is any fixed policy.
Large sections of the official application forms, whose completion is mandatory, had also not been filled in, leading to licences being refused.
The judge noted yesterday that this had been described as "inadvertence", or an error by the authorities. 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.
The judge adjourned the actions until next Tuesday to allow the authorities to consider what he described as "disturbing" evidence heard in recent days.
Gun licences, including licences issued to shooting enthusiasts and those who use guns and rifles in sporting activities, are granted by the Garda Commissioner who, in turn, designates the issuing of licences to chief superintendents.
But 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.
"This occurred after these proceedings were initiated," said the judge, who added that the accuracy and integrity of licensing records was essential to the safe and effective operation of the scheme.
"The integrity, meaning the unalterability of such records, is obvious," said the judge .
"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."