Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 277 - 279)




  277. Chief Constable and Mr McCausland, you are very welcome. It is a very pleasant surprise to have you with the Committee rather sooner than we expected, but nonetheless welcome for that. I hope you will not be in any way put off by your first visit that you will be reluctant to come back again because I know we shall want to talk to you about many other matters. For now we are concentrating on the control of firearms in Northern Ireland and the draft Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order. Article 5 of that order provides for you to be satisfied of an applicant's competence in handling a firearm before granting a certificate. This is something rather new in the concept of all this. We asked Commissioner Hart about this. He deferred to you for review and said he thought it might administratively not be that easy.
  (Mr Orde) With the greatest respect to Commissioner Hart may I deal with that at a number of levels. In terms of the full-bore and rifle club weapons, I see no change there in terms of current practice, which is ensuring that those who wish to own such weapons have completed a recognised course, for example in deer management, which is provided by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), which covers all the issues around safe storage, handling and proficiency of such weapons. These are at the top end of the most dangerous weapons available and need to be properly controlled. In terms of target weapons and a similar type, then we need a letter of support from a club official certifying the capability and competence of a member before we would want to issue such a certificate. At the lower end, the 0.22 rifle, here we are looking at the need for the initial firearms dealer instruction in basic storage and handling skills for first-time applicants, which will be allowed under the new Order, and a certificate to the effect that that has taken place so the individual has had some training. In terms of issuing licences for vermin and predator control, then I have also looked to put a condition on the licence that first-time applicants are supervised by a named and experienced tutor, which under our definition would be someone who has held a licence for a period of two years.

  278. Would you be satisfied with the question of the firearms dealer having an interest in certifying the man as competent otherwise he would not be able to sell him the firearm? Is there a conflict of interest there possibly?
  (Mr Orde) Slightly, I think. What we are looking at is that I am also allowed to put conditions on firearms dealers and we are looking with the NIO at a course which we would require them to go through before we were happy to give them a licence, so we were satisfied they had the skills and competence. Yes, there is a potential conflict but it is an additional control which is of great value to me in putting additional constraints on people who handle these lethal weapons.

  279. The other side of the argument which has been put to us quite forcefully is concerned that competency is not well enough defined and that you might not have the resources to police this.
  (Mr Orde) The Order gives me additional and very valuable powers to delegate some of these responsibilities to trained civilians which will give me better value for money and potentially more people employed. I am also looking at a quite substantial investment in IT systems so we have a control process in place. In terms of the length of time for which a licence may be issued we do recognise the potential, where we can actually shorten that so it will not necessarily be five years in the beginning but three, four or five years, to put some extra controls in place. Competency, by definition, will be a subjective thing. We can put some controls on it. It will not be a perfect science.

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