Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 196 No. 12

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Sections 1 to 32, inclusive, agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Senator Diarmuid Wilson): Information on Diarmuid Wilson  Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson  Amendment No. 1 is consequential on amendment No. 5 and amendments Nos. 2,3 and 4 are related and as such amendments Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  I move amendment No. 1:

I stated my intention on Second Stage to bring forth this amendment. I am concerned that in the context of unnecessarily rushed legislation and of a set of proposals contained therein, which are fine, the Minister is none the less proposing to use a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. All of this is being done in the context of a concern everyone in society shares about the theft of certain firearms, the unlawful use of firearms, the emergence of a gun culture and a sense of powerlessness in the face of certain types of criminal activity, especially gang related activity. This is the background and context for the Minister’s proposal to ban certain types of firearms according to certain categories, calibre, working mechanism, muzzle energy and so on. More important, it is the context for the proposal to create an offence as set out in section 33 through [913]the insertion of a new section 4C in the principal Act which offence will be that of a person facilitating or engaging the use of a firearm for the purposes of practical or dynamic shooting.

As I said last Friday, I come to this as a person who has never in his life picked up a gun — I used the phrase “a pacifist by physique”— and as a person who recognises that difficult times can call for extraordinary measures. However, it is precisely during difficult times that one must be careful about how laws are enacted and how that rule of law is used and should not be abused and, in our efforts to protect the rule of law, should not give us carte blanche to encroach on legitimate freedoms enjoyed by honest and responsible people.

Having discussed section 33 with some of the people who will be affected by it, I believe the Minister is targeting a type of activity which he believes might provide cover for anti-social or criminal elements. In targeting this activity in the manner he is doing, the Minister will inhibit and prevent the enjoyment of legitimate sports by people who are bona fide. As I said last Friday, I am concerned this is all about optics and being seen to be tough on crime. We all want to be tough on crime and to make this country a cold and unwelcoming place for criminals of any kind, especially those who have no respect for life not to mention property. However, in being tough on crime and bringing forward measures which will restrict people’s freedoms supposedly in the interest of a greater good, we must first enure we have done everything necessary to target the behaviour which is wrongful and not legitimate respectable activities which may or may not be engaged in by people with criminal intent.

I have proposed in my amendments a change to the content of what section 33 would import. Amendment No. 1 seeks to substitute “section” with “sections”. I have also proposed the insertion of new subsections 4C(5) and 4D. Whereas the legislation provides for the creation of an offence where a person facilitates or engages in the use of a firearm for the purposes of practical or dynamic shooting, I propose that it provide for the Minister’s ability to make an order prohibiting the facilitation or engagement in a certain activity. The scope of what the Minister proposes in creating this offence is ill-thought out, encompasses legitimate and respectable activities and encroaches unnecessarily on people’s freedoms, in particular the freedom of people interested in using guns for bona fide and legitimate sporting purposes. We need to delay the prohibition of any activity until we are sure what activity should be prohibited. In that regard, I propose we insert into the Bill an enabling provision that will allow the Minister to prohibit by order at a future point the facilitation or engagement in an activity of a certain kind rather than make such an offence in this Bill.

There is confusion to say the very least about what particular activity the Minister proposes to criminalise. Practical or dynamic shooting has been referred to. Section 4C(4), as inserted by section 33, states that practical or dynamic shooting “means any form of activity in which firearms are used to simulate combat or combat training”. On face value, this would appear to provide some comfort for people such as those involved in the International Practical Shooting Confederation who state that their activity, which is known as practical shooting, does not in any sense simulate combat or combat training. One could argue that whatever simulation means, it cannot mean what the IPSC is doing. The confederation makes the case strenuously that its activity does not involve defensive or combat training techniques, that one would be more likely to get that in a game of paintball. It states that its activity involves the use of certain types of handgun to engage in firing at targets that do not resemble human or animal forms in quick succession. That is similar to shooting as an Olympic sport and it is a long way from immature people in fatigues playing at war games and pretending to attack and assault each other unexpectedly, the sort of thing we would associate with a game of paintball, which I have engaged in on one occasion, never to do so again.

[914]Section 4 as proposed may very well exclude from the remit of the offence the activity the IPSC is involved in, but the IPSC and its adherents feel no comfort in this regard precisely because of the dialogue they have been having with the officials and the Minister because of what has been said in these Houses and at meetings of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party about the sort of activity they are engaged in. It is their belief that the Minister believes that practical or dynamic shooting of the kind practised by the International Practical Shooting Confederation involves such simulated combat activity or training whereas it is the confederation’s case that it is involved in a much more respectable and less war-like sort of activity in that it involves the use of certain types of handgun to shoot at particular targets that are not human or animal in form and to do so in quick succession, thus practising the skill of fast moving shooting. Clay pigeon shooting is an example of an activity that involves a high degree of hand to eye co-ordination and I doubt we propose to ban that.

Amendment No. 2 states that the Minister may prohibit by order the activity known as practical or dynamic shooting or facilitation of or engagement in that activity. It would change the situation from the creation of the offence in the Bill to one where the Minister has power under the Bill to criminalise or prohibit an activity known as practical or dynamic shooting. There is no clarity or correctness in the Minister’s mind about what exactly is going on in this activity. I await the Minister’s comments on whether section 33(4), the Government’s proposal, would relieve of criminal sanction any activity of the kind I have described being practised by the IPSC, which involves firing at non-human or animal targets in quick succession using a certain level of handgun.

To put the issue beyond doubt, I have proposed amendment No. 4, which would allow for further clarification of what the Minister may prohibit and the circumstances under which the Minister may prohibit practical or dynamic shooting. The amendment would provide that for the purposes of the section, an activity shall not be designated practical or dynamic shooting simply because it entails the use of specified firearms and-or that it entails aiming and firing at particular targets in rapid succession where the said targets are not designed to represent human and-or animal figures and where no combat or other defence techniques are entailed in the said activity.

Given the doubt and confusion surrounding what practical or dynamic shooting involves and the unsatisfactory nature of the correspondence between adherents of that sporting activity and those in power, I propose that we clarify the issue and provide that the Minister may not prohibit practical or dynamic shooting if the only reason for doing so is that a certain type of firearm is involved, because he has power under section 27 to prohibit certain firearms.

I did not table an amendment to section 27 because it provides that the Minister may make an order in the future, and I hope this will lead to common sense when judging what to prohibit by order. There is reason in section 27 because it allows for dialogue and the checking out of matters before a prohibition is made.

I have concentrated my fire on section 33 because it takes a step that may injure the rights of respectable people to carry out a legitimate activity. In the proposed amendment, the Minister, in designating an activity as practical or dynamic shooting, and therefore prohibiting it, may not so designate it simply because it involves the use of specified firearms, unless they are already prohibited, and may not do so if what is involved is the aiming and firing at particular targets in rapid succession. In proposing that limitation on the Minister’s ability to designate a certain sport as practical or dynamic shooting, that limitation applies on the Minister where we are not talking about the use of human or animal type targets and where we are not talking about the use of combat or other techniques. The onus will be on the Minister to only designate [915]the activity as practical or dynamic shooting where something more is involved. The mere fact that an activity involves a certain type of handgun or firing at targets in quick succession is not enough to bring that activity within the scope of that legislation.

  1 o’clock

The last amendment stems from the reasonable efforts made by advocates of practical or dynamic shooting to be regulated. They want any dodgy characters who seek to be engaged with the activity for a criminal purpose to be policed and they want to co-operate in such regulation. Amendment No. 5 provides that the Minister may regulate any sport carrying or including the designation practical or dynamic shooting to ensure the practice of the said sport or sports in a manner that protects public safety and security. In a sense, these are alternatives. The Minister may prohibit facilitation of or engagement in practical or dynamic shooting. If he does not like that approach he has the option, under section 4D, of regulating the activity which he chooses to designate practical or dynamic shooting. Thus, there are options available for the Minister.

Why am I proposing this? As I have said, there is a belief that a certain viewpoint has been taken by members of the Garda Síochána whose claims, although they are acting in good faith, deserve to be scrutinised. There is a fear that the Minister, in seeking to be tough on crime and to be seen to be tough on crime, is accepting uncritically a certain narrative about a certain activity, namely, that a gun culture is emerging and that this activity is ripe for the plucking, so to speak, by people with criminal intent. It is not that I do not respect greatly the good work being done by the Garda Síochána. However, the Garda does not make the laws of this land. It can advise the Minister as to what he should do but, in making up his mind, he needs to be careful about not encompassing legitimate activities in his rush to take what are largely good measures. He must be very careful to listen to the other side. There should be proper investigation of this kind of activity. The Minister might go and see for himself what is involved. Perhaps he has already done so and we will hear this. He may have asked certain questions and been unhappy with the answers he got.

On Committee Stage of this Bill, at a meeting of the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights, the Minister quoted from a letter he had received from the former Garda assistant commissioner, now deputy commissioner, Nacie Rice:

Practical pistol and shotgun shooting are new activities which mimic combat or confrontational shooting scenarios. This was developed as a more realistic training method for military and police personnel. The shooting at human-shaped targets would not be considered as legitimate firearms use and possession and the question therefore arises if such practice is considered as a legitimate reason for possessing or using the weapons. There would be concerns that this type of shooting ... could be seen as a way of training in the use of these weapons with a view to criminal actions and as such the banning of this type of shooting would remove the inherent dangers associated with people engaging in this type of shooting. It is agreed that the scenario-based combat simulation situations could easily lead to criminal elements using the type of shooting as a “cover” for the training in the use of these weapons. I recommend that practical shooting, which is clearly compared to combat shooting and not target shooting, should be removed and banned as this type of training in weapons is not legitimate and could be utilised by criminal elements.

Here we see the root of the misunderstanding — the association of practical shooting, or something to be designated as such, with a type of combat-based activity which we all agree should be prohibited or at least controlled to a considerable degree. In a letter to the deputy Garda commissioner, an adherent of the sport stated that its representatives had engaged with the firearms policy unit of the Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to show that while this may the impression given by ungoverned individuals in [916]the United States, it does not accurately represent the sport of IPSC. It is the contention of the correspondent, who practises practical shooting, that officials in the firearms policy unit and the Department were left under no illusion as to what the sport was, bearing in mind that it is a recognised sport in 80 countries worldwide, including in Europe.

The practitioners of this sport deny that it involves combat-style shooting and human-shaped targets and they wonder how that impression can persist among the Garda Síochána and in the views of Government Departments. What these practitioners have been asking is that IPSC be investigated properly and that people consider exactly what is involved in the sport. They give their personal assurance that it has neither criminal nor tactical connotations. It makes one wonder how a sport can be practised legitimately in 80 countries yet be criminalised in Ireland.

I also received documents about the difference between tactical and combat training and IPSC sport shooting, with which I do not propose to detain the House. However, it is important to put on record an open letter from Nick Alexakos, the president of IPSC, in which he states:

It seems that is a rather strange basis on which to draw a line between acceptable and non-acceptable sports given the limited number of Olympic sports. Mr. Alexakos continues:

Here is the interesting part. He notes:

I emphasise that this means a sport for civilians, as distinct from a sport that targets civilians. The letter continues:

[917]There appears to be a mistaken impression of what the sport is. Mr. Alexakos states:

I mentioned this myself in the context of clay shooting. He continues:

I have taken all of this into account in preparing my amendment in order to allow the Minister to target what should be banned and not what need not be banned. Mr. Alexakos concludes by saying:

I am an Independent Member, not a member of the Fianna Fáil Party, but I have it on good authority that there is a degree of satisfaction within that party at how the Minister addressed the concerns of backbenchers at a parliamentary party meeting on this issue. I understand a significant number of Members took the opportunity to raise concerns about the unnecessarily broad scope of this provision and what it will entail, and that contrary to the Minister’s assertion in the House, he did not leave even the majority of those with whom he discussed the matter satisfied in the light of certain supports he offered for his conviction that this is the correct approach to take. I acknowledge that the Minister is a good man and that his objective is to legislate for the common good. However, there have been many references in this House in recent days to the inappropriateness of rushing so much legislation through at the end of sessions, particularly legislation that impacts on recognised civil liberties. We spoke about how this undermines the important role of the Seanad as a second Chamber where legislation is properly scrutinised.

If that is the case in regard to legislation generally, surely it must be even more the case where there is such a difference of opinion about the activity the Minister proposes to criminalise. Surely this calls loudly for further consideration and for a proper investigation of the relevant sport. Why would the Minister cause such unnecessary offence to law-abiding citizens by bringing forth sloppy criminal justice legislation and by criminalising an activity that does no harm to anybody and which is practised by respectable people? What he should do, if he [918]fears such activity may be infiltrated by criminal elements, is to facilitate the policing and regulation of that activity. As I suggested last week, one might as well ban paintball on the basis that some gang in Limerick might send its members out to play it to learn combat techniques. One might come closer to doing the public some good by doing that.

The exchanges between adherents of practical shooting and the Department are continuing. An issue that has caused a degree of confusion is the tendency of the Minister and Ministers of State to give varying reasons for their approach in this matter. In the Dáil debate on the Bill, the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, seemed to suggest that the motivation in bringing forward this proposal was not necessarily because of concerns regarding the emergence of a gun culture. He stated: “I have never claimed that these measures were intended to target gangland crime.” The Minister of State went on to say:

That is an aspiration we all share. It is a question of what means are employed to achieve that goal.

However, the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, apparently contradicted that when he stated in the Dáil:

The last sentence is particularly important, offering a far more sensible approach. In it, the Minister acknowledges that if one targets a particular type of weapon or instrument, one moves away from intentionality, which is the key issue. We are all aware that the most ordinary, everyday implements can be used as weapons of murder.

The correct approach should be to concentrate on the circumstances in which items are in a person’s possession. If that is the correct approach, how can it be right to criminalise a particular type of sporting activity? What should be done is to criminalise the use of a particular type of activity for a certain purpose or the engagement by particular people in a particular type of sporting activity for a nefarious purpose. What is required is policing, not unnecessarily sweeping prohibitions which target respectable people unfairly. I commend these amendments to the House.

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan  Zoom on Eugene Regan  I support Senator Mullen’s amendments Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5 and commend my amendment No. 3 to the House. Subsection 4C(1), as inserted by section 33, states: “It is an offence for a person to facilitate or engage in the use of a firearm for the purposes of practical or dynamic shooting”. My amendment proposes to insert “save and except any firearm used for legitimate and controlled sporting purposes as may be specified in Regulations” after the word “shooting” in the subsection. Either this amendment or those of Senator Mullen would deal with the issue we have raised. We are seeking to understand the rationale [919]for criminalising a particular sport which has no obvious offensive objectives for those involved. It is essentially a question of proportionality. There is no evidence that those engaged in this sport see it as other than sport or that it is engaged in for any purpose other than enjoyment as a sport.

Why is it necessary to interfere with the right to engage in that activity? Is there a less interventionist way to deal with concerns the Minister may have? As Senator Mullen suggested, greater regulation of the sport is key, including inspection by the Garda Síochána. A range of measures could be introduced which would interfere to a much lesser extent with the activities of persons involved in the sport of practical shooting. As I understand it, this sport is recognised as a legitimate shooting sport in other European states, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. If I am mistaken in this regard and if authorities in other jurisdictions have considered it necessary to criminalise this sport in the interests of public safety, the rule of law and order or whatever, I ask the Minister of State to clarify that. The Minister and his Minister of State have not set out the rationale or justification for the measure either in this House or the Lower House. The documentation on the Bill produced by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service states:

Although I do not engage in this sport, the first activity I look at when we go to a carnival or fair is the shooting range. I enjoy trying my hand at shooting, an activity made more interesting when there are moving targets. I fail to understand the reason this sporting activity is regarded as so nefarious as to require us to make the leap of banning it. An exception is made for clay pigeon shooting because it is obviously a safe sport. Less onerous measures are available than banning what many people consider a sport.

The report by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service continues:

Clearly, this is a sport which is becoming more popular in other jurisdictions, including our nearest neighbour. What is the justification for the draconian measure proposed in the Bill? What elements led to the proposed ban?

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated in the Dáil that the Garda authorities have recommended that practical shooting be prohibited and the activity is not endorsed by the firearms consultative panel. He added that it was not in the public interest to tolerate the development of a sub-culture predicated on a shooting activity which, by the liberal standards of the United States, is regarded as an extreme shooting activity. Will the Minister of State elaborate on the Minister’s statement?

Practical shooting appears to be a variation on the sport of shooting. It is recognised internationally and less draconian ways of regulating it than outright criminalisation are available. The grounds the Minister advanced for criminalising the sport are flimsy and his approach his simplistic. The measure has been proposed without consultation and the Minister has not shown a willingness to engage or consider that there are certain nuances in how the sport is practised [920]which could lead one to be persuaded that it is not as offensive as he or the Garda Síochána make out. While the Minister has referred to the Garda Síochána, we have not seen a Garda report on this matter. In such circumstances, we do not know on what the recommendation to which the Minister refers is based or whether it represents an isolated view.

While the Fine Gael Party supports many of the elements of the Bill, I question the validity of this measure and recommend the amendment. I ask the Minister of State to clarify the rationale for criminalising this shooting activity in Ireland when it is a recognised sporting activity in other countries, specifically other member states of the European Union.

Senator Denis O’Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  I will lend what support I can to my colleagues opposite on this issue but, under the Whip system, my hands are regrettably tied.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  It is never too late to stand up for a good principle.

Senator Denis O’Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  I have done so on several occasions.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  Perhaps the Senator will speak for as long as he did on the Harbours (Amendment) Bill. He could talk out the legislation without voting against the Government.

Senator Denis O’Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  Unfortunately, I am not permitted to do so on Report Stage.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  We are on Committee Stage.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Please allow Senator O’Donovan to continue without interruption.

Senator Denis O’Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  Having listened to the contributions of Senators Mullen and Regan, I have serious concerns to raise with the Minister of State. Is section 33 a killjoy provision? When I first read the legislation and listened to some of the comments made by individuals who run legitimate gun clubs, practice ranges, etc., I concluded that the Bill constituted a serious setback for them. Retired members of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces who have practised shooting like to keep up this activity from time to time in a legitimate, curtailed and regulated fashion. I am concerned that this measure will put some clubs out of business. Perhaps we are taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut and the measures go too far.

I ask the Minister of State to bear in mind that I have strong reservations about the proposed measure. Unfortunately, I had to leave the meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party which discussed this issue to attend to other business. I am aware, however, that many of my party colleagues expressed serious reservations about this measure.

The Minister argues that the section must be stringent and inflexible because evidence has been provided by senior Garda sources that groups from outside the jurisdiction have used the facilities in question to train and upskill themselves for activities other than recreational purposes. If that is the case, the relevant evidence and its source should be made transparent.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  Hear, hear.

Senator Denis O’Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  If there are reservations, more substance should be provided because serious allegations have been made to the Minister by, I presume, senior Garda sources as a result of intelligence gathering operations and so forth. If that is the case, someone should outline the source of the information, whether the activity in question has occurred regularly or only once and what action can be taken to clamp down on it.

If people want to train in the use of illegal weapons or acquire such weapons, they can buy a Glock pistol for €150 on the street, as a Garda source in Dublin has informed me. People [921]can go underground and train in woods and remote areas, as has been done in the past. It is a harsh measure that can severely curtail certain recreational clubs, such as those for practical dynamic shooting. Some of them may be put out of business so I have reservations. Unfortunately, however, under the Whips system if a vote is called I will be obliged to concur. Nonetheless, it is important for people on this side of the House to express their concerns and reservations if we feel that measures are going over the top. On this occasion I feel we may be going too far with this measure in that it may not have the desired effect that legislators, the Minister and the Garda Síochána intended.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy John Moloney): Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  I thank Senators Mullen, Regan and O’Donovan for their specific contributions. I hope I can be equally specific in my response. I will start by referring to the points raised by Senator Mullen. I wish to put on record that I am a pacifist also. I want to be clear, however, that I do not think that issue comes into it. I hasten to add that I am not a killjoy either, which was the word used by Senator O’Donovan. I recognise from the three Senators’ contributions that they are on the side of law and order.

I do not believe the legislation represents a sledgehammer to crack a nut, or that it is an attempt to target specific groups. I am not too sure about the Senators’ understanding of what happened at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting. I can confirm, as Senator O’Donovan did a few minutes ago, that a number of people in our party have reservations. Those reservations were quite properly articulated at our parliamentary party meeting, the same as at other party meetings. The Minister went on to explain the issues concerning that. I do not accept that the Bill is being sloppy with civil liberties. I will try to separate the notion that paintball and this activity are much the same because I do not think so.

I can understand Senator Regan’s opening comment whereby he is trying to understand the rationale of the legislation. I take the point concerning the proportionality of the response and whether there is an easier way. The point has been made in several debates in the Lower House concerning the possibility of greater regulation. I note that in this House, as in the Dáil, the question was raised as to whether the Minister was acting on Garda advice. Apparently, in other European jurisdictions the procedure has grown away from its military roots.

I do not believe the legislation is rushed, nor do I believe that practical shooting is a sport. Senator Mullen asked if the Minister had visited such centres. I can confirm that gardaí and officials from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have on occasion visited ranges. In addition, they have met the representatives of the Irish Practical Shooting Association on a number of occasions. The shooting bodies of the firearms consultative panel have all disowned practical shooting. The Senator referred to some correspondence and quoted certain experts so I will do the same to see if we can come to a position of understanding.

The US Practical Shooting Association still uses human-shaped targets. They are the ones who have initiated the terminology of extreme sports, so that is where it is derived from. Senator O’Donovan wondered about the advice of the Garda Síochána and whether the sport has been hijacked by groups outside the jurisdiction. I am not too sure if that has been the basis of the thinking behind the Bill, however. The amendments tabled by Senators Regan and Mullen would in effect legalise the activity of practical shooting, which the Minister is seeking to prohibit. That is the Minister’s point.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  No.

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  That is his initial point and I will come to it in a few minutes. The Minister also said that any basic research on practical shooting will see that it considers itself an extreme sport. In his opening response, the Minister also said that this is an imported gun [922]culture and has nothing to offer Irish society. The Senators said that experts attached to the Olympic movement have no difficulty with this matter. However, I read the position of Mr. Horst Schreiber, the general secretary of the International Shooting Sports Federation in 2006, which shows the contradictory position that has entered this debate. The ISSF is a member of the International Olympic Committee and is in charge of Olympic shooting events. It does not and will not support IPSC shooting in any form. The ISSF’s position was forcefully made by the secretary general at the 2006 assembly of the General Association of International Sports Federations where an application for membership was made by the IPSC.

I do not wish to waste Senators’ time by going into long quotations, but I will give the drift of the thinking at that time. The general secretary told delegates that the ISSF firmly believed that IPSC shooting events could not be recognised as sports shooting events because they too closely resembled combat, police and personal defence training to be considered as sports within the Olympic sports community. I am trying to tease out the notion of whether it is a sport and, as part of my opening position, I must rely on the opinion of an authority such as the general secretary of the ISSF who does not recognise practical shooting as a sport within the Olympic sports community. He said that targets should not symbolise the killing or destruction of human beings or animals. The priority of the IPSC’s activities is that of technical training and competitive firearms, rather than sport. In these competitions points are awarded not just on the accuracy of the participant, but also on the power of the handgun used. Although I am not an expert in this area, I am purely trying to tease out the best response.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  There is also a skill involved.

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  I accept there is a skill involved, but the difficulty in moving from the skill to the sport element is the additional marking involves accreditations based on the power of the gun used. I wonder about the sporting element of that. Either way, only seven of 70 votes were in favour of granting membership to the IPSC, based on the notion that they did not respect the fact that practical shooting was considered a sport. The shooting events practised by the IPSC are excellent tests of practical firearms skills. They are not sporting events in the understanding of the ISSF. Military and police shooting activities, as well as training activities for bodyguards and self-defence purposes are necessary and practical, but certainly cannot be considered as sports within the activities of the Olympic movement.

It is also important to clarify the Minister’s reliance on the advice of the Garda Síochána. Senator Mullen said the Garda Síochána does not make the law, that it is up to us to do that. At the same time, we all understand that in order to make laws one must rely on experts in one’s specific departmental area. It is important to try to come to an understanding of that particular issue. I must reaffirm that gardaí have occasionally visited the centre, so they are speaking from a position of knowledge.

I would like to read a short extract from a letter the Minister received from the office of the assistant commissioner:

Practical pistol and shotgun shooting are new activities which mimic combat or confrontational shooting scenarios. This was developed as a more realistic training method for military and police personnel. The shooting at human shape targets would not be recognised as legitimate firearms use and possession, and the question therefore arises whether such practice is considered a legitimate reason for possessing or using the weapons. There would be concerns that this type of shooting could be seen as training in the use of these weapons, with a view to criminal actions, and as such, the banning of this type of shooting would remove the inherent dangers associated with people engaging in this type of shooting. Again, [923]of course, it is agreed that the scenario based combat simulation situations could easily lead to criminal activity elements using this type of shooting as a cover for training in the use of these weapons... Practical shooting, which is clearly comparable to combat shooting and not target shooting, should be removed and banned, as this type of training in weapons is not legitimate and could be utilised for criminal elements.

This partly explains where the Minister is coming from on the issue. He was not just relying on that letter, as numerous Garda superintendents held a similar point of view. It is fair to make the point that this is not being rushed, but is being based on practical advice.

The Senator also asked why we are not banning paintball. The important difference between practical shooting and paintball is that paintball markers are not harmful and are not lethal. Paintball and airsoft are tag sports for the vast majority of players in Ireland, where the focus is on physical activity, fun and teamwork.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  One might learn the combat skills in paintball——

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  The Minister of State, without interruption.

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  I have never had the privilege to take part in either activity. The style of play in both paintball and airsoft is completely based on the low range of the device, which is about 40 metres for airsoft. It is far removed from real combat, due to the limitations of the devices themselves. This is a world away from practical and dynamic shooting, where 9 millimetres is the minimum calibre required to take part. Competitors move at speed, shooting their way through stages on an obstacle laden course. It is not a sport and should have no place in society. The Dáil voted for its prohibition last week.

There were some criticisms of the Minister’s position which claimed that his response was over the top, but he expressed his concern several times about the possible creation of a gun culture. People felt that by bringing this Bill forward rather than dealing with criminal elements, it was seen as an over the top response that pretends to be tough on criminal activity. I do not think that this is a fair criticism. When the Minister voiced his concerns about a gun culture in Ireland, he was not talking about youngsters playing cowboys and Indians, but about people who felt they had the right to be granted a licence for any firearms they wanted, including extremely powerful handguns. This is the specific area of his concern. He is concerned with the growth in the use of handguns, especially when compared with the number of such guns in 2004 and 2005. He is also acting in response to a statement in the High Court about the proliferation of handguns. He also referred to people organising competitions where they run with loaded guns, shooting their way through obstacle courses, as well as competitions where results are achieved through accuracy, power and speed, rather than simply on accuracy as is the case with traditional “bull’s-eye” static target shooting.

Practical and dynamic shooting have only begun to develop in Ireland in the last few years, but it clearly has a very vocal lobby. It has grown in a vacuum created by recent court decisions. In his opening statement in the Dáil, the Minister made the point that he was not prepared to allow that vacuum to continue. This is why he is bringing the Bill before the House. I do not believe that it has been rushed, because many submissions had already been made before publication.

Some Members feel the Minister is targeting a certain group and that he has no support. The reality is that many groups that represent various gun lobbies are in support of what the Minister has been saying and they support his Bill. People claim that we are anti-sports for the sake of a pretence of being hard on criminal activity, so it is important to note that many respected groups have reservations and have voiced their support in favour of the Minister’s [924]proposals. The NRAGC has 28,000 members and it took the original handgun challenge case a few years ago, and it has made its position very clear on practical shooting. The chairman of the Sports Shooting Association of Ireland, which represents almost all of the national governing bodies, has even written to the Minister in the past few days on the issue. He stated that he was aware of the Minister’s concerns with practical and dynamic shooting, and he gave his personal assurance that it will be neither promoted nor condoned at any of the 35 affiliated clubs and ranges. To my mind, that is fairly strong support for the Minister’s proposals.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  He is afraid the Minister will crack down on their activities. That is what is going on there.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Allow the Minister of State to reply, without interruption.

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  I do not think we can presume the future when we are trying to deal with a current issue.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  We might have a go at understanding their motivation.

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  I do not think that the chairman of the Sports Shooting Association of Ireland would make such a strong point for fear that his organisation might be next. Other bodies do not support practical shooting, and they have also made their position clear. The National Association of Sporting Rifle and Pistol Clubs have also supported the Minister’s position, as has the National Target Shooting Association, which represents the groups about which we spoke a few minutes ago, the Olympic shooters, the Irish Clay Pigeon Shooting Association, the Irish Deer Society, the Irish Gun Trade Association and the Countryside Alliance.

The prohibition on practical shooting is not an attack on shooting. The grassroots have spoken loudly and clearly, and they want practical and dynamic shooting stamped out because they are dangerous and in bad taste. It is simply not acceptable that individuals can engage in this activity with full-bore handguns, rifles and shotguns. On the websites of many practical shooting clubs throughout the world, this form of shooting activity is clearly linked to self-defence and combat situations. The Minister believes that this mindset, which gives us a glimpse of the handgun culture, must be stopped in its tracks. I acknowledge Senator Regan’s point that it is recognised as a sport in some European countries. I accept that it is true that such countries have involved themselves in the regulation of such activities.

It is important to address the issue of the risk to the State, which has arisen in this context. When the Minister was considering the introduction of this legislation, he relied on the advice of his departmental officials, who recently wrote to the State Claims Agency to inform it that the Department proposes to assume certain certification functions that are currently held by the Garda Síochána. The State Claims Agency examined the issue of practical shooting, which involves people running with loaded firearms, shooting from unstable platforms and engaging in various forms of potentially dangerous behaviour, purely from a risk perspective. It decided that practical shooting presents unacceptable risks to the State, as it would leave it open to potential negligence claims. When the Minister was bringing this legislation together, the agency strongly advised him that the State could not certify ranges for this activity. I assure the House that the Minister has sympathy for bona fide target shooters of Olympic calibre. That is why, following the receipt of a submission from the Irish rifle and pistol shooting association, he wrote to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. The Ministers are reflecting on the content of the association’s complex submission, which was received at a late stage in the development of this Bill. It is not a question of agreeing that it is being rushed. The reality [925]is that it is a complex matter. For example, it has been suggested that a person of Olympic calibre should have to serve an apprenticeship of two years, and be a member of a recognised target shooting club, before he or she can apply for a licence for a centre fire pistol.

In light of what I have said, I ask the Senators to withdraw their amendments. This legislation, which is based on sound advice from the Garda, is not being rushed. The Minister’s stance is respected by many respected groups. Rather than being a killjoy measure, this is a response to concerns that have been expressed to the Minister over recent years. In particular, it forms part of his direct response to the proliferation of handguns.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as ucht an méid atá ráite aige. Rinne mé machnamh ar an argóint de réir mar a bhí síá chur in iúl dúinn. Beidh mé ag brú na ceiste seo chun vótála. Creidim go bhfuil fíor-bhotún á dhéanamh ag an Rialtas anseo. Níl an t-idirdhealú ceart idir an sórt gníomhaíocht le gunnaí gur chóir a bheith coiriúil agus an sórt gníomhaíocht nár chóir a bheith coiriúil — atá spórtiúil agus measúil —á dhéanamh ag an Rialtas. When I listened to the Minister of State, I was reminded of the lines of Shakespeare:

His argument was a reversal of the Shakespearean proposition that whereas a name might change, the designated thing will remain the same. The opposite is the case here — the name is staying the same, but wild confusion is reigning in the minds of the Minister and his officials about what the name designates or connotes. I contend that the Minister’s core mistake — he is hitting the innocent as well as the guilty, the undeserving as well as the deserving — results from his fixation on a certain idea of what practical shooting involves. He should be defining the kind of activity he wants to prohibit. I refer to any shooting activity that involves combat techniques or human targets, for example. All the activities about which he claims to be concerned could quite easily be prohibited if they were to be named in this legislation. Instead, the Minister has brought in a certain idea of what the word “practical” means in the context of practical shooting. He is proposing, in a completely sloppy way, to criminalise quite legitimate activities. There is an onus on the Minister to show beyond any doubt that the activity connoted by “practical shooting” is always undesirable. We have put the issue in doubt. As a result, this legislation should not be unnecessarily rushed. We need to hear more about the matter. There is something gnostic about the manner in which we are being told that the Minister has been in touch with the Garda authorities, who have said they know things we do not know.

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  That is not what is happening.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  This Legislature should undertake a proper consideration of this matter. I hope it is not too late for us to refer this matter to an Oireachtas committee, which could hear precisely what the Garda has to say about what it thinks is involved in the activities of the International Practical Shooting Confederation. We should also hear from those who participate in this sport, before making a judgment for ourselves. The Minister of State is asking us to trust him and his senior colleague. They have suggested that decent people have told them there is something wrong with this activity, but the decent people to whom we have spoken are telling us they are being unfairly targeted and represented. The Minister, Deputy Curran, said in the Dáil some weeks ago:

[926]That may very well be true of USPSA-sanctioned practical shooting; if so, it should by all means be outlawed.

I understand that some members of the Cabinet are fond of skiing. I mentioned last week that although I have seen enough James Bond films to know that plenty of those who come down the slopes in goggles are dodgy characters, I would not outlaw skiing on that basis. I ask Members to consider what might happen if they and members of other parliaments were fond of a sport called “parliamentary practical skiing” that involved certain practical skills, such as dodging, that would be useful on the slopes, but it came to light that a body called the “American Parliamentary Paramilitary Practical Skiing Association” was involved in throwing hand grenades and developing various other martial-type skills. Would we ban all forms of parliamentary practical skiing simply because they happened to be described as “practical”? This is folly of the worst kind.

I thank the Minister of State for acknowledging that I believe in the rule of law. I do not want a gun culture to emerge in Ireland. I agree that all possible means should be used to prevent unsavoury anti-social and criminal elements from developing the kinds of skills they would like to use to the detriment of all of us. I do not think we should criminalise a particular kind of shooting activity in such a blanket way, simply because it is described as “practical”. I have not yet received an answer to one of the questions I asked the Minister of State in this context. Can he guarantee that practical shooting will continue to be permitted if what the International Practical Shooting Confederation is saying is true? I refer to its statement that the activities its members practice do not involve human or animal targets or combat defensive techniques. The proposed new section 4C(4) of the Firearms Act 1925 states that “in this section ‘practical or dynamic shooting’ means any form of activity in which firearms are used to simulate combat or combat training”. Does that mean practical shooting activities will not be illegal, as long as they do not “simulate combat or combat training”? If that is the case, we can all go home. I am worried that when the Government talks about practical shooting, it keeps implicating the International Practical Shooting Confederation, which strenuously denies it is engaged in any kind of combat activity. Perhaps we can all go home because my amendments are unnecessary. I will withdraw my amendments if the Minister of State confirms that if the International Practical Shooting Confederation is not involved in any kind of combat training or simulated combat activity, its practitioners will escape prosecution because they will not be committing an offence.

  2 o’clock

I raised the issue of the parliamentary party meeting because I had spoken to a member of it and while it is my understanding it was represented to the Dáil that people’s concerns had been allayed by the Minister’s explanations, according to at least one member of the parliamentary party, that was not the case at all. That is why I said it because it is important to put it on the record. It is too easy for us to say under parliamentary privilege in the House that we were talking to members of the Garda who said it was dodgy or that we had been talking to the members of the Fianna Fáil Party who are happy now that we are right. One can avoid every argument by pretending one knows something no one else does, but that is not fair on the citizens who are carrying out a legitimate activity and believe they are being misrepresented.

i will not draw the Cathaoirleach into this because he is in the Chair but I know he is a sportsman and I am sure he appreciates how bizarre all this is. We all hate the idea of a gun culture and dislike people who are trigger happy. We all worry about immature people getting their hands on guns. I believe it was Michael Moore, a man for whose judgement I do not have much regard, who brought out the fact in one of his films, “Bowling for Columbine”, that [927]although there was a relatively high degree of gun ownership in Canada, that did not make it a violent society. That is why I believe the Minister of State would be foolish not to accept my amendments because they do not propose to legalise any activity. They propose to allow the Minister to prohibit a certain type of shooting activity where it involves simulated combat or combat training. It leaves the Minister with the power. The other amendment I propose says in effect and even more appropriately that if there is a problem about the way a particular sporting organisation is behaving or the type of sport in which it engages despite its repeated protestations, all we need do is regulate and establish conditions under which a particular sport may take place, up to and including how such guns may be obtained, where they may be stored and what activities may be practised under the heading of that particular sport. It is mad to fixate on the word “practical” and ban everything that carries that in the title.

If we were to worry too much about what might happen, would we allow any type of sport? Would we allow private flying licences when one thinks about what some people have done with aeroplanes in the past decade? Where does one stop once one departs from the need to focus specifically on the evil activity, so to speak, when one moves away from focusing on the wrong intention and activity, and instead begins to focus on activity that might or might not provide a context for criminality? It is very dangerous to ban an entire sport, especially one that is recognised in 80 countries.

I am not persuaded there is a case simply because the International Shooting Sport Federation, for example, refuses to admit the International Practical Shooting Confederation. We do not have before us the reason for this decision by that organisation. There may be all manner of turf wars in terms of the regulation of sport. It may have nothing to do with the perception that trigger happy people are involved in the IPSC. We simply do not know. It is not satisfactory for the Oireachtas as the Legislature to be making this decision on the basis of what is effectively a hearsay situation to the effect that other bodies do not like them either.

Can we not look at the issue on its own merit and hear from the Garda? Have we not got forums within the Oireachtas that would allow us, before we make this decision, to consider properly in committee the nature of the activities the Minister proposes to outlaw, and to hear from all the interested parties? Would that not be a more sensible way to go about making law?

I am not happy that we simply accept the views of other international associations or the view among certain bodies not to accept IPSC’s claims or application for a particular status. We simply do not know enough about the reasons they have for that view, just as we do not know enough about what lies behind the view of certain senior gardaí to the effect that this shooting activity should be outlawed. It could be because they know something which, if were all aware of it, would mean we might share their viewpoint, or perhaps it is because they are being lazy in this regard. We are entitled to say that in the event. We have excellent forces of law and order within the Garda Síochána, but sometimes it is easier to ban something in a blanket way rather than doing the hard work of policing. It is our job as Members of the Oireachtas to be aware of that risk and difficulty, try to be specific about what we are proposing to prohibit, and prohibit only to the extent necessary to protect the common good.

Will the Minister of State clarify whether, if IPSC activities do not involve simulated combat training or techniques, people will be free to carry out the activities unmolested by the law? If he can clarify that this is the case, then I certainly will be open to withdrawing my amendments. If he cannot, then I shall have to push this to a vote because I believe it is bad law, being rushed through without being properly considered and without due regard for the legitimate interests of respectable citizens.

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan  Zoom on Eugene Regan  We have now established that other EU member states recognise this sport and do not seek to ban or criminalise it. That tells us a good deal about the approach [928]of the Minister. There is no objective justification for this measure. In a context of 233,000 firearms in the country, a small proportion of which are revolvers or pistols, it seems entirely disproportionate. The Bill seeks to introduce a comprehensive and very strict regulatory and licensing regime for firearms. To pick out one sport and victimise the people involved in it when there is European recognition of it seems rather perverse.

Senator Mullen referred to members of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party in this House and indicated they do not really agree with the Minister. If we continue to analyse the situation we might be led to believe that no one in the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, apart from the Minister, believes in banning this sport. However, that gets us nowhere because everyone can play that game. I believe the Minister of State, in his presentation, was mincing his words somewhat in terms of his conviction on this issue, but then again, if only the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would listen to members of the parliamentary party, things would be all right and this particular section of the Bill could be deleted. In a way it is somewhat cynical. The fact is the Minister, with the full force of Government, is pursuing this approach. It is discriminatory and not objectively based. I have suggested in my amendment that discretion should be left to the Minister to regulate the sport by means of a statutory instrument if he deems fit. The reservation should be allowed in the legislation to allow the Minister to be able to revisit the issue following consultation and review on foot of international best practice in this area.

The measure is discriminatory and disproportionate in the context of the overall legislation and of proper regulation and a proper licensing regime with no inconsistencies between the awarding of licences for firearms. Within that context, to pick on this particular sport without any hard facts to justify the action seems discriminatory and disproportionate and leaves the Bill open to legal challenge. I do not wish to speak further on the issue because the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is set on rejecting any amendments of this or any type to any legislation that he brings before this House. Once he has made up his mind on an issue he is not for turning, notwithstanding any submissions, observations or insights which may emanate from a debate in this House or the Lower House.

Senator Denis O’Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  He accepted two amendments from the Labour Party yesterday.

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan  Zoom on Eugene Regan  IPSC shooting is a recognised sport internationally and within the EU. It has been characterised by the Minister and in this legislation in a way which is not necessarily justifiable. I do not believe it is justifiable, however, by accepting the amendment I have tabled, the Minister could leave this open for review and further examination. The amendment leaves to him a discretion following that examination to regulate this sport in a proportionate manner. It is incongruous in the context of a general revision of the regulatory and licensing regime to ban a sport that is internationally recognised, and in particular recognised by member states of the EU, which one would expect to apply the very highest standards and have the same concerns regarding any leakage into the criminal fraternity. There are ways of regulating that and those member states have been able to do that without banning and criminalising sportspeople involved in this sporting activity.

I understand the essence of the sport to be to test the shooting skills of participants in a safe and fun environment and for the love of their chosen sport. If there is any evidence that this is a dramatisation of what the sport is really about, the Minister is obliged to bring that evidence and provide that justification for this draconian measure of criminalising the people who are, and have been for some time, involved in this sport. It is discriminatory, disproportionate and open to challenge, and I persist in my amendment.

[929]Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  The arguments of Senators Regan and Mullen are well made, particularly in this regard. Senator Regan touched on it as he finished. I am very taken with what Senator Mullen said and I agree with him wholeheartedly when he criticised the Minister for essentially adopting the position of, “Trust me”. The Minister tells us he has taken all the advice, spoken with the Garda and been assured the measure is necessary, been persuaded of a risk to public safety associated with this activity and he proposes to legislate against it. That is what the Minister is saying to the House.

I have no objection to, and would expect, a responsible Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to take advice from the relevant bodies and seek to understand the risk, if there is one. I expect a Minister to break it down and scrutinise those advisors and experts who are advising him or her to come up with the best policy, as the Minister and Government see fit, particularly where there is an apprehension of a risk to public safety. That is an important role of any Minister. What, however, is the role of the Parliament? Is it simply to nod at the Minister or Minister of State and say, “Yes, Sir, we understand you have taken this advice, we accept your bona fides and what you can say, and you can have your legislation exactly as you have proposed it”?

Do we have any role in examining the basis for or argument in favour of the change? If so, Senator Mullen is right that we should be allowed to share in and see the basic information, advice and risk assessment the Minister has seen. Why is that information not shared with us? It is a fundamental question and criticism by Senator Mullen. Senator Regan also makes this point. It is not enough for the Minister to come into the House and assert a risk. He must demonstrate, at least to some level, to parliamentarians and the public that this risk exists.

Other Senators made this point regarding other legislation. It is exactly the same approach that has been taken to other measures, particularly this week and last week. I believe an active decision has been made by the Minister, members of the Government or whoever at that level that either it is not necessary to persuade people in the Parliament, or there is a very peculiar view on what parliamentary scrutiny entails. I do not know about the people in the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, for whom I have respect, although I am not particularly interested in them in this case and I do not say that in a disrespectful way, because this is the Parliament. Parliamentary scrutiny is not about just nodding and saying, “Yes, Sir, we will do as we are asked”.

I am uncomfortable as a citizen, parliamentarian and parent with any proliferation at any level of any kind of guns. I am personally very uncomfortable about that. However, I know that in rural Ireland and in other contexts in this and other countries, guns are manufactured and exist. In some contexts, including military contexts, guns are often a necessary evil. They are manufactured and used in certain contexts, whether military or otherwise and in those contexts they are, perhaps regrettably, required. We want to regulate them and ensure they do not get into the wrong hands. We want to ensure there is no spread of the use or availability of firearms in any context that can be avoided. I agree with the objective 100%.

To return to the sporting activity involved here, which Senator Regan reminds us is recognised in many other countries, surely the burden falls on the Minister who wants to ban this activity not just to assert but to tell us why it would constitute a genuine threat to public safety. I was not in the Chamber when the Minister spoke but I heard some of what he said in my office. I have heard the Minister’s colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, speaking on Second Stage on this issue. There is no justification other than this general sense that it is an undesirable activity. In the Minister’s Second Stage speech he said, “In so far as it is akin to police and military tactical training, it is an undesirable activity”. There is always this peculiar formulation. That is a slightly dishonest phraseology. Is it akin to police and military tactical [930]training? There is the other phrase, which is a catch-all phrase covering a multitude, which the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, said on Second Stage — I do not know if the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, today repeated it or anything like it — that it was not rooted in any tradition in Ireland. As if not having a tradition of it alone, if true, would be a reason for introducing the very draconian ban that is proposed, which should have no place in our society.

On Second Stage the Minister also made the point that the majority of what are called mainstream shooting organisations have dissociated themselves from this activity. I have not had enough time to establish whether this means that they simply do not engage in it, have no interest in it or in some way have condemned it. I am genuinely asking this question and it is not just rhetorical. Have these organisations urged the Minister to ban this activity and if so on what basis? What is their rationale that this should be done?

As I am sure all of us do, I come from the point of view of not wanting in any sense to be party to any inappropriate proliferation in the use of firearms. However, we are entitled to be treated with the sort of respect with which I am sure the Minister of State would expect to be treated were he over here. That is, the Minister of the day should demonstrate, not just assert, what the risk to public safety entails and why this measure is so necessary to meet that threat.

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  Senators have expressed the view that they feel the Minister is acting unilaterally in not taking into consideration sound advice. Senator Alex White asked on what his advice is based, what his strategy is and how he reached this point. I will talk for a minute about the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party which seems to attract enormous interest in here and in the Sunday newspapers. Other parties never seem to be quoted, but ours does.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  Apparently it all happens there rather than in Parliament.

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  I recognise that. There is no big deal about the fact that Members went to a parliamentary party meeting and queried the Minister on aspects of legislation. That happens every week. An item on the agenda is forthcoming legislation. People are invited to participate. It is not a matter of the Minister coming in and saying to the——

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  The question is whether they were as placated as he said they were.

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  I will come to that. It is not a matter of coming into the parliamentary party meeting every Tuesday and facing Members who will ask a Minister questions. The opposite is the case. There is an invitation on the agenda to engage in conversation or debate regarding forthcoming legislation. I do not believe the Minister attempted to placate people by offering some safeguards or rubbishing their proposals. That was not the case — I will try to come to that.

In response to Senator Mullen, I wish to clear up the issue of whether the Minister was just sitting in his office and decided to begin this legislation rather than referring to certain advices. The advices to which he was referring would have included that of the Garda Síochána. The International Shooting Sport Federation is a member of the International Olympic Committee and is in charge of Olympic shooting events. It does not and will not support IPSC shooting in any form. It is important to take into consideration that a governing body associated with the Olympic Games does not and will never support IPSC in any form.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  Is it a turf war?

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  I took note of what the Senator said about a turf war. I do not think it can be brought down to simply regarding it as a turf war between groups. If I tie into the [931]question Senator Alex White asked a few minutes ago, I will show the Senator that it is not just a turf war between organisations.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  How do we know?

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  I will come to that. I acknowledge the Senator’s point as to why I can come in here and quote certain organisations. He is quite properly asking whether they are simply saying they do not condone or whether they support the Minister. I will come to that in a few minutes to explain on what their level of support for the Minister is based.

I am not trying to be soft on advices from the Garda. I recognise the issue of civil liberties. When I was involved in the pub trade, the Garda would often make submissions to the Minister regarding licensing laws, opening hours, under-age drinking controls etc. Any Minister would take those advices, just as advice is being taken here now. Senator Alex White asked to see the advice the Garda gave the Minister. I can only refer to the submission by the assistant commissioner, in the final paragraph of which he stated that he recommended that practical shooting, which is clearly compared to combat shooting and not target shooting, should be removed and banned as this type of training in weapons is not legitimate and could be utilised by criminal elements. It would not be in the best interest of the citizen or the State for the Minister to ignore that level of advice.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  What about interrogating the advice?

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  I would not take that letter as the final reason for the Minister coming to this position. We were also made aware that numerous Garda superintendents have made the same submission.

A few minutes ago I responded to Senator Regan that other European countries have no difficulty in this area, and he has relied on that response to strengthen his case.

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan  Zoom on Eugene Regan  Partly.

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  I will respond to him by making the point that it is not allowed in Great Britain, which has a total ban on handguns. The Senator asked if it is allowed in certain European countries why it is not allowed here. While I am not trying to take a direction from our nearest neighbour, the fact that handguns are prohibited in the UK shows that the sport is not permitted there. It depends on each state’s thinking in the terminology of sport. That explains our thinking and that of the UK in that context.

Senator Regan also made the point about fairgrounds and carnivals. While the target is moving, the practitioner is not standing still. There is a world of difference here. That is only a basic point I make there.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  The coconut shy will be next.

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan  Zoom on Eugene Regan  The Minister of State is scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  It is not scraping the barrel. The central point here is the co-ordination of the eye and arm movement. There is a world of difference between people running at a moving target with a very high calibre handgun versus standing still. The issue is one of safety. It brings me back to the points raised by Senator Mullen. Do we want people running with high calibre loaded guns, running against the clock in an obstacle laden course? Certainly the Minister does not want it, nor does the Garda, as it has made clear.

[932]I wish to come back to what I regard as the basic point. Senator Alex White has put it up to the Minister to ascertain on what he is relying. I will read into the record a letter from the director of the National Association of Regional Game Councils, which I believe we all agree is a respectable association that is involved in sport. I only received this letter on 25 June. The director, in referring to a meeting of mainstream shooting associations which occurred on 11 December last, wrote:

To my mind that clears the issue that one of the Senators raised as to whether the association was going along with the ban or simply condoning the Minister’s position. The association was definite in its view. The director also wrote: “That was the position then and to my certain knowledge that remains the position today as none of the associations in attendance at that meeting have given any indication that they have changed their position on the matter.” The director went on to state:

He was writing on behalf of people I consider to be, as I am sure do the Senators, respected sports enthusiasts involved in this area of sport and he reiterated that the association fully supports the Minister’s position. I do not believe for a second that this legislation is being rushed through.

I am in the company of four lawyers but I am not a lawyer so I am not into debating in that respect, nor am I into debating Shakespeare. My position remains that indicated by the Minister and therefore I cannot accept the amendments. I did not study much Shakespeare, but from having Macbeth drummed into me in school, one quote I remember was to the effect that if it was to be done, let it be done quickly.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  That is certainly the philosophy at the moment.

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  Therefore, I cannot accept the amendments.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  The quote “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble” comes to mind. The Minister of State did not indicate that if no combat technique or training was involved in the IPSC, it would escape——

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  I apologise for not replying to that point. The reality is that there is combat training involved. I would not say that it is training for combat purposes and it is important to stress that, but the activity engaged in is one that is about combat purposes. I am not saying that there is an ulterior motive involved, but it is certainly not a sport. That is what I believe.

[933]Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  In general terms, mens rea, or the guilty mind, is one of the requirements before one is reached by the criminal law. As the Minister of State said, there are exceptions where one can have strict liability and so on, but in general terms, disregard to the intention of the party carrying out a certain action is not a great basis for establishing a criminal offence. That is certainly the case here.

We are probably dealing with one of those situations where we are at a disadvantage from not being able to view this kind of activity. It is unsatisfactory that we are being asked to take at face value the Minister of State’s assurance that some wise and good people have told us that he should take this course of action. It is also unsatisfactory that we are being asked to take at face value his assurance that there are many people involved in shooting sports who agree with his course of action when what we would like to be able to do, as Senator Alex White eloquently said in his contribution, is to ask questions about that, to hear from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, why we should take this course of action and to interrogate those who advocate it as to their motivation and the case they make.

I am not ascribing any motivation to the other bodies the Minister of State cites as supporting this legislation, but it may well be the case that there are people involved in other types of gun sports activities who believe they will not be thanked if they do not support what the Minister is proposing and he might bring forward something even more draconian, which could except them. I am entitled to say that is a possible motivation. I am also entitled to say, and it would be irresponsible of me not to suggest, that it may be possible that there is a degree of competition as between certain organisations for resources and support. It is not unknown for one sporting body in this country to regard another sporting body or activity as being something of a rival. There are all sorts of reasons the Minister might enjoy support in this respect.

The Minister of State has said that a sport that involves using a gun or firing at targets at high speed if one is moving is a problem in this respect because one might be simulating some sort of war game. I stress again, that approach is too sloppy, given the activity involved in paintball sport would also equip people for combat. That fact that those participating in that sport might not be using a real gun and that they are only firing pellets of paint seems to be beside the point when there might be real guns of equivalent weight that they could be using and through their taking part in paintball activity, they might acquire many skills of a combat kind. All the Minister of State is saying is that this activity involves a person running and shooting at the same time at targets that do not even resemble human or animal targets.

It seems that is an unnecessary incursion into citizens’ rights to practise a particular skill. People run and people shoot as part of normal sporting activity. That they should do both at the same time need not concern us too much if it is properly regulated. If the Minister of State is willing to take the opportunity, my amendments offer him the chance to regulate the activity. We can establish conditions under which this running and shooting activity can take place. We can establish rules as to where the guns are maintained and what type of initiation is required before people are entitled to participate. We can do many things, and many things would be preferable to this crude and unfairly inclusive measure.

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan  Zoom on Eugene Regan  The Minister of State conceded that the rest of Europe recognises the IPSC’s shooting sport as a legitimate sport. I referred to the position in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. I am not sure the Minister of State’s point in retort to what I suggested is relevant to the debate. Those are recognised sports in those countries, including in the United Kingdom.

[934]Acting Chairman (Senator Paul Coghlan): Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  Does the Minister of State wish to respond further?

Deputy John Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  I appreciate the courtesy but I am not accepting the amendments.

Acting Chairman: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  Is Senator Mullen pressing his amendment.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  I will not press amendments Nos. 1 and 2 as I will be supporting Senator Regan’s amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 2 not moved.

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan  Zoom on Eugene Regan  I move amendment No. 3:

I am pressing my amendment.

Amendment put.

The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 28.

Information on Ivana Bacik  Zoom on Ivana Bacik  Bacik, Ivana. Information on Paul Bradford  Zoom on Paul Bradford  Bradford, Paul.
Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Buttimer, Jerry. Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  Callely, Ivor.
Information on Ciaran Cannon  Zoom on Ciaran Cannon  Cannon, Ciaran. Information on Paudie Coffey  Zoom on Paudie Coffey  Coffey, Paudie.
Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  Coghlan, Paul. Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  Cummins, Maurice.
Information on Paschal Donohoe  Zoom on Paschal Donohoe  Donohoe, Paschal. Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  Fitzgerald, Frances.
Information on Dominic Hannigan  Zoom on Dominic Hannigan  Hannigan, Dominic. Information on Fidelma Healy Eames  Zoom on Fidelma Healy Eames  Healy Eames, Fidelma.
Information on Michael McCarthy  Zoom on Michael McCarthy  McCarthy, Michael. Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  McFadden, Nicky.
Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  Mullen, Rónán. Information on Joe O'Reilly  Zoom on Joe O'Reilly  O’Reilly, Joe.
Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  O’Toole, Joe. Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  Phelan, John Paul.
Information on Eugene Regan  Zoom on Eugene Regan  Regan, Eugene. Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Ross, Shane.
Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Ryan, Brendan. Information on Liam Twomey  Zoom on Liam Twomey  Twomey, Liam.
Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  White, Alex.  


Níl
Information on Dan Boyle  Zoom on Dan Boyle  Boyle, Dan. Information on Martin Brady  Zoom on Martin Brady  Brady, Martin.
Information on Larry Butler  Zoom on Larry Butler  Butler, Larry. Information on Peter Callanan  Zoom on Peter Callanan  Callanan, Peter.
Information on John Carty  Zoom on John Carty  Carty, John. Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Cassidy, Donie.
Information on Maria Corrigan  Zoom on Maria Corrigan  Corrigan, Maria. Information on Mark Daly  Zoom on Mark Daly  Daly, Mark.
Information on Déirdre de Búrca  Zoom on Déirdre de Búrca  de Búrca, Déirdre. Information on John Ellis  Zoom on John Ellis  Ellis, John.
Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  Feeney, Geraldine. Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  Glynn, Camillus.
Information on John Gerard Hanafin  Zoom on John Gerard Hanafin  Hanafin, John. Information on Cecilia Keaveney  Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney  Keaveney, Cecilia.
Information on Terry Leyden  Zoom on Terry Leyden  Leyden, Terry. Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Norris, David.
Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill  Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill  Ó Domhnaill, Brian. Information on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Zoom on Labhrás Ó Murchú  Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Information on Francis O'Brien  Zoom on Francis O'Brien  O’Brien, Francis. Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  O’Donovan, Denis.
Information on Fiona O'Malley  Zoom on Fiona O'Malley  O’Malley, Fiona. Information on Ned O'Sullivan  Zoom on Ned O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Ned.
Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  Ormonde, Ann. Information on Kieran Phelan  Zoom on Kieran Phelan  Phelan, Kieran.
Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  Quinn, Feargal. Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  Walsh, Jim.
Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  White, Mary M. Information on Diarmuid Wilson  Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson  Wilson, Diarmuid.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Maurice Cummins and Eugene Regan; Níl, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson.

[935]Amendment declared lost.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Amendment No. 4 has been already discussed with amendment No. 1. Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  Yes. I move amendment No. 4:

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 5 not moved.

Section 33 agreed to.

Sections 34 to 52, inclusive, agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Is the Title agreed?

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Ronan Mullen  Zoom on Ronan Mullen  No.

Question put: “That the Title be the Title to the Bill.”

Senators:  Vótáil.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  Will the Senators claiming a division please rise?

Senators Rónán Mullen, Shane Ross and Feargal Quinn rose.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  As fewer than five Members have risen, I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 70 the names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Seanad.

Question declared carried.

Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.


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