Dáil debates

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

3:00 pm

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Question 51: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of licensed handguns, the number of licensed handguns that were reported stolen, and the number of such stolen guns that were subsequently used in crimes in respect of each year from 2002 to date in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21485/09]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I refer the Deputy to a tabular statement setting out the information sought by him on handguns stolen and licensed for the years 2004 to date when handguns began to be licensed again. The figures show 42 weapons classified as handguns have been stolen in the period in question. The current number of licensed handguns is approximately 1,800.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that stolen firearms are used in the course of the commission of other criminal offences. Since not all stolen firearms used in the commission of offences are recovered, obviously it is not possible to say precisely how many formerly legally held handguns have been used in the commission of criminal offences. However, common sense suggests they are stolen for a purpose that is likely to be either to trade in them or to use them in the commission of offences. As I said on Second Stage of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill last week, stolen handguns have, by definition, fallen into the hands of criminals, in the first instance at least the criminals who have stolen them.

I have consistently tried not to overstate the effect of a handgun ban on the activities of criminal gangs. That is why substantial resources, including those provided under Operation Anvil, have been devoted to trying to track down illegal guns. Approximately 2,400 illegally held weapons have been recovered as part of that operation. As I stated previously, we have increased the budget for the operation this year by €1 million. It would be folly to suppose that the issue of legally held handguns falling into the wrong hands can be ignored.

It has been made clear, including by me, that the reasons for a handgun ban are much broader that supposed. In particular, I have made it clear that I do not wish a handgun culture to take hold in Ireland. While I understand the representations that have been made to many Deputies, including me, arguing against my proposals, I note that the Chief Inspector of the Garda Síochána has endorsed my approach, drawing on her very considerable experience of policing in the United States. The Garda Commissioner has also done so on many occasions.

The tragic reality is that, in various parts of the world, even in recent times, there has been a series of mass killings involving legally held guns. This has forced other jurisdictions to review their laws on handguns. If such a dreadful event were to take place here, I have no doubt the debate on a handgun ban would be over. My approach is to adopt measures designed to prevent such a tragedy rather than respond belatedly in its aftermath.

Handguns licensed1

2003-042004-052005-062006-072007-082008-09
13709481,3681,8951,803

Handguns stolen2

2003-042004-052005-062006-072007-082008-09
3710778

1The number of handguns, recorded on PULSE, for which a firearm certificate has been issued for the years 2004 to 2009 (to 1 April 2009).

2Between 2004 and 2009, 42 handguns are recorded as stolen.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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We all share the Minister's objective but the logic of it is that unless one bans all guns, one cannot be sure some deranged person will not be able to access a weapon that could inflict great harm at any time. Has the Minister any evidence that handguns leaked from legitimately licensed sports or gun clubs have been used in a fatal killing? I agree with him that there is a problem with the use of guns, especially by criminal gangs fighting for supremacy in order to avail of the profits from the drugs trade in particular. Is it not the case, however, that their weapons, in the main, seem to be sourced outside the jurisdiction where they source the drugs, and that the number of handguns leaked from properly supervised, licensed and vetted sports clubs is very small compared to the number of illegal handguns in the jurisdiction?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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As I stated in my reply, I regard these two issues as separate. I do not regard what I am trying to do in respect of licensed handguns as the silver bullet or even part of the bullet to solve the issue of gangland crime and illegally held arms. Forty-two weapons that are regarded as handguns have been stolen since 2004. I do not have figures as to whether they have been used in the commission of offences but that is not the point. There are those who are trying to suggest that the Government is trying in some way to solve the problems of gangland crime and murder by the handgun ban. It is not; rather, it is trying to respond to the court decision that overturned the ban, which obtained for decades, on holding legally held handguns. Given the exponential increase in the number of legally held handguns as a result of a series of court cases, particularly the one in 2004, it is incumbent on the Oireachtas to decide by way of policy whether it wants, in households around the country, small weapons that are reasonably easy to obtain. I say this based on experience. We know the position on shotguns, for example. There are thousands of these available but, if one were to extend Deputy Rabbitte's logic, one would be banning ordinary household knives because they are potentially dangerous weapons. It depends on the circumstances in each case.

Having a licensed handgun in a house affords-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I want to allow Deputy Carey to ask a brief supplementary question.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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-----more opportunities for it to be used in circumstances that the holder might not envisage, such as a domestic dispute.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Is it not the same for a shotgun?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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It is the same for a shotgun but we are where we are in respect of shotguns.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I call Deputy Carey.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I am not saying we should take shotguns out of the system. We are where we are-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Will Members please have regard to the Chair?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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We should not allow the number of handguns to increase exponentially.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Will the Minister have regard to the Chair also? I am trying to allow Deputies to have an input. I call Deputy Carey.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I am sorry.

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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The problem clearly is not legally held handguns but illegally held handguns. What steps is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform taking to rid this State of illegally held handguns, which represent the real problem?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I answered that in my reply. Operation Anvil, since its inception, has taken in thousands of extra handguns. While I have been criticised for budgetary reductions elsewhere this year because of the constrained financial circumstances, I have increased the money available for Operation Anvil. It is particularly earmarked for removing illegal weapons and other weapons from the system. Some 2,400 have been confiscated by the Garda as a result of the operation. I increased the budget from €20 million last year to €21 million this year.