Dáil debates

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


3:35 pm

Photo of Jim O'CallaghanJim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I will share my time with Deputy Devlin, who I believe is to speak for five minutes. I welcome the opportunity to commence the Second Stage debate on the Firearms and Offensive Weapons (Amendment) Bill 2021. Fianna Fáil and I introduced this legislation last March because of the increasing concern of the parliamentary party regarding the increased use of knives in disputes and fights taking place in public areas. This is an issue of considerable concern not only to young people, but to their parents, because of a number of very high-profile and tragic cases of knife crime that resulted in the deaths of boys and young men.

Along with everyone in Fianna Fáil, I fully recognise that the issue of knife crime cannot be resolved through legislation alone. Simply enacting this legislation, or any other legislation, will not resolve the problem of knife crime. It is important to accept that there will always be an issue with, and an incidence of, knife crime in our society, just as there is in most other societies in the world. However, if we see the incidence of knife crime rising, we must, as policymakers, take steps to try to reduce that incidence. Legislation in one way whereby this can be achieved but there are many others. I will talk about those in due course. We need to look at issues such as educating men and young boys about the danger of carrying knives. We need to think about whether it may be necessary to introduce an amnesty for those persons who hold onto knives for the purpose of inflicting harm on others. We also need to reflect on whether we need to introduce legislation preventing the sale of knives to people under a certain age.

I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, on the interest he has taken in this topic since assuming office ten months ago. I know it is an issue he is very concerned about and I commend him on driving the issue in his Department. He has spoken to me, Deputy Devlin and many other Fianna Fáil Deputies about this issue. He has a significant concern in this regard and I very much look forward to the speech he is to give in due course.

This Bill was introduced last March because of a number of very tragic killings of boys and young men with knives. Last January, not far from this convention centre, a boy called Josh Dunne was fatally stabbed as a result of a row. It was terrible not only for this family and friends, but for society in general, to see a young boy of such talent being lost so needlessly. Of course, a year prior to Josh Dunne's fatal stabbing, we saw the fatal stabbing of a young man in Cork, Cameron Blair. Again, this was a young man of tremendous potential with a great life to live who was needlessly killed as a result of a dispute arising on a night when everyone should have been enjoying themselves. Prior to that, not far from my constituency, another young man, Azzam Raguragui, was fatally stabbed in Finsbury Park in the summer of 2019. All of these deaths were terrible tragedies for the families of the boy and young men who died.

However, they had another impact. They devastated the lives of the people involved in the disputes, including persons subsequently convicted of the manslaughter and-or killing of the individuals concerned.

We need to send a message to young men and boys in our society that it is not acceptable for them to carry knives. Some boys and young men seem to believe it is appropriate and necessary to carry knives to defend themselves. The carrying of knives for what may be perceived as self-defence purposes can lead to tragic outcomes. A fight or dispute develops, a knife is produced, a person is unintentionally killed and there are terminal and tragic consequences for the person killed, their family and the other individuals involved in the dispute.

We need to reflect upon the fact that knives are not just commonly used for violent purposes by boys and young men. I know from speaking to the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, that there is a high incidence of use of knives for violent purposes in domestic violence disputes. We need to tackle that issue, not just through legislation in respect of knife crime but predominantly through ensuring domestic violence is recognised as the scourge it is and tackled relentlessly in order that it be stamped out.

This Bill seeks to amend section 9 of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990. That sections provides that it shall be a criminal offence to carry a knife with the intent to inflict harm or injury upon another. The legislation we introduced last March and are debating today seeks to increase the maximum sentence that can apply for any person convicted of carrying a knife for the purpose of seeking to inflict harm upon another person. At present, the maximum sentence on indictment is five years. Under the terms of the Bill, that would increase to ten years.

People may ask why Fianna Fáil is putting this forward. It is because we think it is necessary to develop a debate and start a conversation about knife crime. It is important we send out a strong message that the carrying of knives for the purpose of seeking to inflict harm on others is something our society abhors and wants to challenge. For that reason, it is appropriate the sentencing available to a judge in respect of a person convicted of carrying a knife should be increased in the way we have outlined.

Legislation in itself is not the solution. We need to look at other factors. I mentioned that we need to look at education when it comes to boys and young men and the carrying of knives. We need to start looking in our schools and educate boys going through school on the danger caused and the harm inflicted by knives. People are not generally aware of the extent of the damage that can be inflicted by them. Boys and young men seem to think knives can be carried for the purpose of defending themselves or revealing the knife to deter somebody who may seek to attack them. Unfortunately, we know from experience that that is not what occurs. When a knife is produced in a fight or dispute, it can have tragic consequences.

We need to look at whether we need to create other offences relating to the age at which people are entitled to purchase knives from shops. We will never be able to remove knives from Irish society. They play an important and significant role in culinary matters. In every kitchen in Ireland, there will be knives. We are not talking about trying to remove those, but particular types of knives are manufactured not for culinary purposes but for those of combat. We need to ensure they are outlawed and that young people under a certain age cannot purchase them. If we introduce legislation around that as well as rolling out an information and education programme to young people throughout our society, it will improve the opportunity and increase societal discussion about violence and the use of knives.

We do not know the extent to which knives are used in domestic violence disputes. We do not know the number of times knives are used threateningly but not for inflicting physical harm on a partner. We do know the full statistics as to the number of times knives are used threateningly in a domestic environment. We need to ensure that when we seek to tackle, outlaw and target the scourge of domestic violence, we emphasise that it comes in many forms and the threat of violence is as significant as violence itself.

I will stop and give my colleague, Deputy Devlin, time to speak on the matter. Then I await with interest what the Minister of State has to say.


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