Thursday 14 December 2017

New report on gun licensing requested by Garda Commissioner

Ed Carty and Steven McCaffrey

GARDA Commissioner Martin Callinan has been asked for a report on gun licensing practices by senior officers in the force, Justice Minister Alan Shatter has revealed.

The order was given after hunting and shooting enthusiasts settled a lawsuit with garda authorities amid allegations of blanket refusals for certificates for restricted weapons, including handguns.

"We are obviously going to have to examine what emerged in the court case, and I don't want to pre-empt or pre-judge the information that is going to come back to me, but quite clearly it is a matter that is going to have to be addressed," Mr Shatter said.

The High Court action, brought by three men including a firearms dealer who has seven pistols for sport, was considered a test case for about 160 shooting enthusiasts who had been refused licences.

Garda figures show there are just over 215,000 legally held firearms in Ireland.

Judge John Hedigan had warned during hearings that he had serious concerns over claims that senior gardai altered a substantial number of licence applications.

Evidence heard in the court claimed to show forms altered after they had been finalised and apparently signed off. Large sections of forms were also left blank, leading to licences being refused.

Mr Shatter suggested it was unlikely new legislation will be needed to deal with the issue.

"The difficulty that appears to have arisen in those proceedings didn't relate so much to the legislation as to the decision-making process and forms that were either filled in or not appropriately filled in," he said.

"And I am not going to pre-empt the initial report that I am going to get from the Garda Commissioner.

"I am aware of some of the judicial comments made in that case and it is an issue that of course we are going to have to address, but I want to await the Garda Commissioner's report."

The garda denied there was a fixed policy of refusing licences.

The Dublin-based firearms dealer was seeking to overturn a licence refusal by Chief Superintendent Gerard Phillips of Ballymun Garda Station.

Under the current system, brought in three years ago to make it more difficult, on public safety and security grounds, to obtain a licence, the Garda Commissioner has responsibility for issuing licences.

The power is delegated to chief superintendents who decide whether an application should be approved.

It is understood gun enthusiasts have reported high refusal rates in 17 garda districts.

The National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC) yesterday claimed the licensing system was seriously flawed and have called for the process to be overhauled.

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