A firearms licensing and fees working group, involving all relevant stakeholders, must be set up by the NI Department of Justice (DoJ) to examine all issues involving firearms licensing and to increase transparency and accountability in the administration of firearms law in Northern Ireland.
The UK’s largest shooting organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) is calling on the DoJ to establish the working group without delay and to involve shooting and gun trade organisations in the process. A similar working group has been set up in GB by the Home Office.
The call was also made in BASC NI’s response to the DoJ’s recent consultation on licensing fees and a proposed age reduction which would allow young people to be properly trained in the safe use of shotguns and airguns.
BASC NI director Tommy Mayne said:
“Licensing administration and fees are serious issues in NI which have been shrouded in controversy for years. A significant fees increase has been proposed but the DoJ has not supplied sufficient evidence to support it.”
“BASC firmly believes there should be no increase in fees without a full and transparent review of the necessary processes within firearms licensing. The DoJ needs to engage with the shooting and gun trade organisations and provide transparency and the evidence to substantiate their figures. The establishment of a working group involving all stakeholders would go a long way towards rectifying this situation.”
“The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) also needs to provide clear minimum standards of service including guaranteed turnaround times for the processing of applications. BASC NI is aware of some cases where decisions on applications have been delayed for between seven and nine months. This is not acceptable and cannot be justified under any circumstances.”
“There are also major issues around the lack of accountability of PSNI Firearms and Explosives Branch staff yet the DoJ has failed to acknowledge there is a problem, despite numerous examples submitted by stakeholder organisations.”
“The DoJ is seeking full cost recovery from certificate holders in order to ensure compliance with the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) guidance on managing public money. At the same time the DoJ is ignoring another part of that same guidance document which clearly sets out the standards expected from all public services. These include openness, accountability, transparency, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and integrity.”
“The PSNI’s lack of accountability has also been recognised by the NI Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee. Its report of 28 March 2014 (Recommendation 8) stated: “The Ombudsman must be able to examine the conduct of all staff. The PSNI should cease the practice of employing anyone who is unaccountable to the Police Ombudsman”. “
“The Police Ombudsman is currently unable to investigate complaints against civilian police staff, such as those employed to manage firearms licensing. BASC fully supports the NI Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee’s recommendations and we have written to the Committee for Justice asking them to consider changing legislation to allow the ombudsman to investigate complaints against PSNI staff.”
“BASC will continue to work with our elected representatives, including the Committee for Justice, the All-Party Group on Country Sports and partner organisations to ensure that PSNI firearms licensing staff are accountable and that certificate holders receive efficient levels of service that represent value for money.”