Department of Justice urged to rethink proposals to increase firearms licensing fees in NI

Guns for saleMidland Game Fair Weston Park 2004The NI Justice Committee has urged Department of Justice (DoJ) officials to rethink their latest proposal to significantly increase firearms licensing fees. The department’s latest proposals on a range of firearms issues were debated during a meeting of the Justice Committee at Stormont yesterday, Wednesday 18 June.

The latest proposals would see fees for an individual firearm certificate rise from £50 to £100 and the cost of a firearms dealer’s certificate rise from £150 to £300.  Departmental officials explained that the proposed increases were an interim measure and that the department planned to carry out a further review in 18 months time in order to achieve full cost recovery. 

The department had originally planned to increase the cost of an individual firearm certificate from £50 to £121 and the cost of a firearms dealer’s certificate from £150 to £528 however these were previously rejected by the Justice Committee in October 2013.

Justice Committee chairman Paul Givan made it clear early on in the meeting that he would not be signing up to an interim fee with a further review in 18 months time, stating that the department needed to meet with stakeholders and put the work in now. Mr Givan, supported by other members of the committee, urged the department to follow the Home Office model and establish a working group in NI to look at the issue of licensing fees.

The age reduction for young shooters was also debated, with many members of the Justice Committee questioning the department’s rationale for planning an age reduction to 12 years of age for supervised shooting of clay targets only. Members of the committee questioned the department in relation to what problems had been encountered in GB where there is no minimum age for supervised shooting and a department official admitted that they were not aware of any problems in GB in relation to young people having supervised access to shotguns but felt that 12 years of age was a suitable starting point.

The banded system that would allow a certificate holder to exchange one firearm for another within specific bands was also debated at length, with committee member Patsy McGlone seeking clarification in relation to why the DoJ had not put their own and PSNI’s concerns on paper, despite being asked to do so by stakeholders on at least three separate occasions.  Chairman Paul Givan again urged the department to engage with stakeholders given that they had the expertise and experience to work through any issues or concerns.

Mr Givan, supported by other committee members, also questioned the department on its rationale for not giving genuine consideration to a 10 year firearm certificate, stating that a 10 year certificate made absolute sense, particularly when the necessary checks could still be done at the five year point and when the PSNI should be in a position to monitor the behaviour of certificate holders on a 365 day a year basis. 

The department will now have to reconsider its revised proposals and engage with stakeholders to discuss a way forward.

Speaking after the Committee for Justice meeting at Stormont, BASC NI director Tommy Mayne said: “We are very grateful to the Justice Committee for their cooperation, understanding and their pragmatic approach to these very important issues.  I would particularly like to thank committee chairman Paul Givan and committee colleagues Patsy McGlone and Tom Elliott who, as members of the All Party Group on Country Sports, are well up to speed on the problems faced by both shooters and firearms dealers.  I would also say a big thank you to the All Party Group on Country Sports for their patience and understanding over the past year. The group is very much aware of the difficulties being faced by both shooters and the gun trade.” 

“BASC will continue to work with the Justice Committee, the department and partner organisations to ensure firearm certificate holders in Northern Ireland receive an efficient level of service at a fair price. In GB, BASC is working with the Home Office and the police to determine the correct level of fees payable by shooters for firearms licensing.”

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