Minister to highlight economic impact of NI firearms licensing crisis

A rack of shotguns

Agriculture and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots MLA has agreed to support organisations challenging the poor performance of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) Firearms and Explosive Branch (FEB).

Minister Poots gave his backing during a meeting with the Northern Ireland Firearms Representative Group (NIFRG), which represents nine national and local shooting and countryside organisations.

The meeting was arranged following the declaration last June by the PSNI of a ‘critical incident’ within FEB, as it deals with a backlog of more than 3,000 applicants.

The NIFRG highlighted the economic impact of such failings in the licensing system and raised concerns over the PSNI’s apparent failure to procure a ‘fit for purpose’ IT system and the lack of training for FEB staff prior to implementation of that system.

The NIFRG claims the licensing system is now broken beyond repair and says relationships with the PSNI are at an all-time low.

The Minister shared the group’s concerns and agreed that the situation was wholly unacceptable. The Minister also agreed to several specific actions to help fix the current crisis. 

An NIFRG spokesperson said: “We thank Minister Poots for taking time out of his busy schedule to listen to our concerns and offer his assistance. 

“The crisis is having a very real impact on all aspects of sporting shooting in Northern Ireland including firearms dealers, shooting grounds and sporting estates, many of whom are small, family-run, rural businesses. Many of these businesses and their staff are facing a very uncertain future as a direct result of FEB’s inability to deliver an effective, efficient service. The viability of local community gun clubs who deliver important conservation work and opportunities for recreation in our countryside is also being affected.

“Licensing delays of six to nine months and, in some cases, up to and over a year, are unacceptable under any circumstances. This crisis not only impacts on the reputation of FEB but also that of the wider police service generally.”

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