There are close to a quarter of a million legally held firearms across the country, figures show, amid concerns of a rise in these weapons being used in murder-suicides.
There are currently 234,000 firearm certificates in circulation, according to Garda Headquarters. This equates to one in eight households in Ireland possessing a legally held firearm.
There is rising concern among gardaí and within the Government over the number of legally held guns being used in tragic incidents.
Minister of State for Law Reform at the Department of Justice, James Browne, has now pledged to establish an "advisory committee” to guide garda superintendents on best practice when granting gun licences.
Earlier this month in Lixnaw, north Kerry, Mossie O’Sullivan carried out a double murder-suicide when he shot his long-term partner Eileen (56), and his son Jamie (24), before then turning the gun on himself. He used a legally held shotgun.
Last October, in Kanturk, north Cork, a legally held semi-automatic rifle and a bolt-action rifle were both used to kill Mark O’Sullivan, who died at the hands of his father Tadg and younger brother Diarmuid. The pair then took their own lives.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin stated two weeks ago that Ireland cannot ignore the latest deaths of three members of the same family in the Lixnaw murder-suicide.
Mr Martin indicated that he would be open to a conversation about changes to gun laws in Ireland.
"These are devastating events and the enormity of them is quite shocking,” he said. “I do think we need to evaluate… we can’t ignore events of this kind.”
The Department of Justice says there are “stringent controls” on the licensing of firearms. However, because the granting of a gun licence is dependent on a garda superintendent’s discretion, there are wide variances in the numbers issued in different parts of the country.
Mr Browne told the Sunday Independent that he is now setting up a “fixed-term advisory committee” — with experts from An Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and gun specialists — to provide guidance to superintendents about granting gun licences.
He said the committee will have a “wide remit” and will also examine how gardaí can consider mental health issues as part of the process.
“Garda superintendents grant firearms certificates. They have discretion to do so and it’s important that they have this discretion. But it can also lead to inconsistencies in certain areas. This committee will provide guidance to garda superintendents on granting gun licences."
The minister said he was concerned at licensed guns being used in murder-suicides.
“It is a genuine concern when legal firearms are used in murder-suicides. When things like this happen, it is important for us to review our policies and legislation, to ensure they are fit for purpose.
"The advisory committee will have a wide remit. Examining mental health issues in the context of issuing gun licences will be considered.”
Under Section 8 of the Firearms Act, those barred from holding a firearms certificate include “any person of intemperate habits”.
According to a directive issued to gardaí in relation to the granting of firearms certificates: "Other factors which may inform a decision on a person of intemperate habits may include evidence of aggressive or anti-social behaviour, which may include domestic disputes or evidence of hostility likely to lead to violence.
"Again, an assessment will need to be made of each case, particularly as regards the seriousness of individual incidents.”
Rita Duffy, the sister of innocent gun victim James Hughes, last year directly appealed to Commissioner Drew Harris to urgently review the Garda system of granting gun licences.
Her brother’s killer, Shane Rogers, had been granted numerous gun licences by gardaí. He should have been prohibited from doing so, say his victim’s family, as the 32-year-old had amassed numerous criminal convictions by the time he committed murder.
James Hughes was shot dead in Dundalk 10 years ago as he was dropping a friend home. Shane Rogers ended the 35-year-old’s life with two blasts from a legally held shotgun. The Crossmaglen Rangers captain was gunned down in a taxi by the convicted criminal on December 11, 2011.
The Department of Justice says there are “stringent controls” under Irish legislation for the issuing of firearm certificates, as well as rules as how they must be safely stored.
Under law, applicants for a licence must provide written consent for an officer to make any enquiries to a health professional in relation to the applicant’s medical history.