The Northern Ireland Department of Justice’s latest review of the Northern Ireland firearms licensing system has been challenged by the UK’s largest shooting organisation, The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC).
The challenge came during a firearms licensing fees workshop at Stormont which was organised and hosted by the Department of Justice (DoJ). The workshop was attended by BASC and other stakeholders including gun trade representatives.
The NI Assembly Committee for Justice previously rejected an attempt by the DoJ to significantly increase firearms licensing fees from the current £50 for a five year certificate to £121.
The recent fees workshop was assessing the results of a review of the licensing process carried out in November. The documentation provided by the DoJ suggested that the cost of processing an application is £131 however BASC’s expert firearms licensing team reviewed and analysed the report which was produced by Business Consultancy Services (BCS).
The BASC team discovered the review included a number of errors which over-stated actual costs. For example, the review assumed that Firearms Enquiry Officers (FEOs) would travel to and from their base to assess each applicant. In reality, FEOs usually visit several applicants on one journey, increasing efficiency and reducing costs.
The costings put forward by the review team also included costs not attributable to the application process which are already covered by the policing budget such as FEOs providing advice on firearms to police colleagues.
The review team had also included the cost of “enforcement activities” in the report. Enforcement activities would include, for example, situations where it is necessary for FEOs to seize firearms.
The Department of Finance and Personnel’s guidance document entitled “Managing Public Money in Northern Ireland” shows that the PSNI cannot charge for enforcement activities, the cost of which should come out of the Chief Constable’s annual policing budget.
All of these factors over-inflated the actual costs of processing applications.
BASC Northern Ireland director Tommy Mayne said: “The review of costs put forward has provided the opportunity for our specialist firearms team to go through the various processes and the associated costs. Our review highlighted areas where there has been cross-charging, double accounting or charges levied for enforcement. These are not part of the application process and therefore not payable by certificate holders. We are grateful for the time and effort put into the review by the Department of Justice, the police and the Business Consultancy Service (BCS). It gives us an opportunity to work on the costs and processes and to reach agreement on the issue of licensing fees.”
Danny Kinahan MLA, Chair of the NI Assembly’s All Party Group on Country Sports, said: “The issue of firearms licensing fees has been rumbling on for some considerable time and I welcome the DoJ’s costs review and the engagement of BASC and other stakeholders. This has allowed them to provide valuable feedback on the various processes and associated costs. This has made the process of review more transparent and accountable.
“Clearly, both the DoJ and the police still have a lot of work to do in order to streamline the processes and identify the true costs. We note that a similar thorough review of licensing costs has been carried out in GB by all stakeholders including the Government, the police and shooting organisations such as BASC. We hope that the process in Northern Ireland will be as robust and will result in proposals which can be agreed by all concerned.”
Paul Givan MLA, outgoing Chair of the NI Committee for Justice, said: “I welcome the DoJ’s latest review and their engagement with BASC and other stakeholders on fees however I am disappointed that there has been little or no progress on a number of other significant issues.
“These include lowering the age limit which would allow young people to use both shotguns and airguns under supervision and a system that would allow certificate holders to exchange one firearm for another within specific bands. This system has the potential to significantly reduce the workload and increase the efficiency of firearms licensing staff.
“I also am conscious of the fact that the department has done nothing to increase the accountability of civilian staff within the PSNI’s Firearms and Explosives Branch. I am keen to see progress in all of these areas and to see similar levels of stakeholder engagement.”
BASC remains committed to working with the Department of Justice, the Committee for Justice, the All Party Group on Country Sports and all partner organisations to ensure that certificate holders and firearms dealers get an efficient service which provides value for money.
For more information please contact Tommy Mayne on 028 9260 5050 or the BASC press office on 01244 573052