NORTHERN IRELAND’S leading countryside organisations have urged the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to rethink plans for a 100 per cent online firearms license process.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Countryside Alliance Ireland (CAI) and the Gun Trade Guild Northern Ireland (GTG NI) had been working in partnership with the PSNI’s Firearms and Explosives Branch since late 2015 on the development of online applications forms.
In late April, however, PSNI publicly announced plans to scrap paper applications completely, moving 100 per cent to online applications by July/August this year. Countryside groups believe this could adversely affect older shooters who may be less internet-savvy.
BASC NI director Tommy Mayne said: “While BASC supports PSNI plans to move to electronic applications in principle, we feel the option to submit a paper application should remain available and the move to electronic format should be phased in over a five-year period.
“BASC and our partner organisations attended a meeting of the Northern Ireland Firearms Forum (NIFF) recently and we left the PSNI in no doubt about our opposition to this premature move.
“Around 65 per cent of firearm certificate holders are over 50 years of age, over 40 per cent are in their 60s and almost 20 per cent are in their 70s, 80s and 90s. We fear that to enforce a wholly digital process on them will, in fact, exclude them from the process.”
GTG NI chairman David Robinson said: “There has been no consultation on a move which, if implemented, will discriminate against those who are not IT literate and those who do not have access to computers or mobile devices. We also need to consider the fact that broadband is not widely available in parts of rural Northern Ireland.”
Countryside Alliance Ireland chief executive Lyalll Plant said: “As representative organisations, we would like to assure the shooting community that no avenue will be closed in pursuing equality of treatment for all.
“A policy of ‘Digital by Default’ is one that is embraced by the European Union and the Northern Ireland Assembly, but they all clearly state that same policy should not mean ‘Digital Only’.”
Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) deputy president Ivor Ferguson said: “While technological advances are an opportunity to move our industry forward, major cutbacks to traditional communication methods would disadvantage the farming sector, especially those who are not computer literate.
“Variable broadband accessibility and quality in rural areas is an issue that affects many farmers who, through no fault of their own, are unable to perform even basic digital tasks. Until good quality broadband is available in rural areas, the UFU remains opposed to moving application processes entirely online. Removing the paper-based option would undoubtedly cause negative repercussions for the farming sector.”