320. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will address a matter (details supplied) raised by her Dáil contribution of 15 January 2015; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3936/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Firstly I would like to clarify to the Deputy that in answering a Parliamentary Question on 15 January, I inadvertently said 1,363 firearms applications were refused by the District Courts. The applications referred to, totalling 1,363 applications, were refused by An Garda Síochána and not by the Courts. I have arranged to have the Dáil record corrected to reflect that fact.
Section 8 of the Working Group Report on the review of firearms licensing, published for consultation in November 2013, sets out views expressed by members of the judiciary in relation to legislative provisions governing firearms. The Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on individual cases before the Courts. However, I am advised that over the past four years, Judges in District Courts have commented that it is a matter for the legislature and not the judiciary to address the concerns of senior Garda Officers tasked with considering applications to licence, in particular, large calibre handguns and semi automatic centre fire rifles. For example, I am advised by An Garda Síochána that Judge Lucey, in various District Courts throughout the country, Judge O‘Kelly in Limerick District Court and Judge Kennedy in Bray District Court have dealt with the issue that as the legislation currently allows for the licensing of such firearms, the law must be applied as it currently exists.
Furthermore, An Garda Síochána have advised that judges have raised issues in relation to interpreting Section 33 of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, which prohibits 'practical or dynamic shooting'. I am advised by An Garda Síochána that Judge Riordan in Cork District Court, Judge McNulty in Bandon District Court, Judge Larkin in Kilmallock District Court, Judge Neylon in Mullingar District Court and Judge Kelleher in Cork District Court have commented on the difficulties in interpreting what exactly constitutes 'a form of activity in which firearms are used to simulate combat or combat training', which was a central issue in appeal cases before these courts.
Additionally, Judge Durcan, in a written judgment in Ennis District Court on 5 November, 2014, addressed an issue relating to the interpretation of the legislation when he stated: “By way of casual initial observation, it must be said that the manner of amendment adopted by the legislature with respect to the Firearms Code is to be regretted. The 2006 Act amends substantially fourteen of the thirty sections of the Principal Act, six important sections of the Principal Act being completely amended by substitution. The 2009 Act contains an additional 20 sections which effect considerable amendments to the code. It is highly unsatisfactory that the code must now be read by reference to a number of different statutes, when the opportunity could have been taken to provide a consolidating statute. Despite developments in information technology and the empowerment of computer consolidation, Statue Law should be easily accessible not merely to Lawyers and Legislators, but also to ordinary citizens in a comprehensible manner”.
The Deputy has also raised the question of the ability of the Garda PULSE system to produce figures on the number of cases which were appealed to the District Court and how many were granted. The Deputy will appreciate that firearms legislation provides for an appeal to the District Court where a firearms licence has been refused by An Garda Síochána. I am informed that the information sought regarding such cases is not readily available to An Garda Síochána or the Courts Service. The work required to collate this information could only be retrieved by way of a manual examination of each individual court record. This would require a disproportionate and inordinate amount of staff time and effort and could not be justified in current circumstances where there are other significant demands on resources. Furthermore, An Garda Síochána have advised that refused renewal applications for restricted firearms that were subsequently granted on appeal are no longer recorded on PULSE as refused or appealed. These applications are updated on the system to show the application as granted. I understand this new method of updating the licensing system on PULSE was introduced to address concerns of interest groups, so that licence holders granted a licence after an appeal do not have an initial refusal recorded on their licence record.