Irish Shooting Politics

January 30, 2015

Filed under: Politics — Mark Dennehy @ 11:06 pm

As mentioned earlier, there’s a review of the Firearms Act being proposed, and we’ve already submitted our comments to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and appeared before them about this (even with the odd funny moment). However, the Department of Justice was also seeking submissions of comments about their proposals, so here are mine. Most of this was the same as for the submission to the Joint Committee, but there are some significant changes here and there (and it’s a bit shorter too).

Here’s the pdf, as the Word->Web translation tends to mess up the formatting horribly…


January 25, 2015

Opening Statements

Filed under: Politics — Mark Dennehy @ 1:19 am

All the opening statements from the Joint Committee hearings.

January 24, 2015

Why Santa would be put in jail under the Firearms Act in Ireland

Filed under: Politics — Mark Dennehy @ 6:53 pm

One of the lighter moments from the Joint Committee hearing…

Is it a weapon or a firearm?

Filed under: Politics — Mark Dennehy @ 6:52 pm

There were some interesting moments from the Joint Committee presentation, so I thought I’d extract them from the several hours of footage and post them up here as I went. Here’s the first, my own personal bugbear (and please note the Deputy accepting the point at the end, because the Examiner missed that bit…):

January 9, 2015

Filed under: Politics — Mark Dennehy @ 3:16 pm
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For those who don’t know, a review of the firearms act has been proposed by the Gardai. It has been, to say the least, controversial.

After the frankly appalling meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice to hear these Garda proposals, submissions to the committee were sought from interested parties. Here’s mine for anyone interested (the formatting below is a little mangled by the conversion from the document to a webpage). Others have been posted on the thread here.


March 2, 2012

Old media, new media and copyright law

Filed under: Politics — Mark Dennehy @ 11:09 am

At the moment, the press (affectionately referred to in punditry as “old media”) has been running quite a lot of stories on the conflict between business models created in 1605 with the founding of the first newspaper., and business models created in the last few years following widespread adoption of the world wide web and the internet in general, a development which it is quite arguably not hyperbole to describe as being in the same category as the development of the printing press and the drive to extend literacy to all members of society.

These new models are inherently justified because they reflect a fundamental change in the underlying nature of the interaction between seller and buyer. In the past, the seller employed journalists to create content, the buyer then bought the newspaper or other media to consume this content, and the seller then used this transaction to sell space within the media which would otherwise contain the content the buyer sought, to third party sellers who used this space for advertising. And thus the original seller made their profit.

It is not grossly unfair to describe the advertising sold in this manner as parasitic, a point the editor of today’s Irish Examiner might do well to consider; though arguably a more charitable description would have in the past been symbiotic, as the revenue from the advertising paid for the creation of the content.

However, this business model has as a prerequisite the assumption that buyers will buy the media to access the content; if the content is available in other media then the buyer might buy that media instead, and now you have concepts such as exclusivity and copyright.

It is the argument of the adherants of the old business models that these concepts retain their full meaning and necessity in the face of newer business models, where the vast majority of the produced content is produced by the buyers themselves in a collective media which all have access to – ie. the world wide web.

This is a point which was debatable in the past, when the press ran many, many training courses for members of the public to produce content in a form which the press could readily integrate into a sellable product instead of the journalists producing every item of content in the product themselves; with the advent of widespread adoption of the web, is has become deeply debatable and by no means obvious.

When the production of content is no longer carried out by the seller, is there still a moral duty to respectthe seller’s copyright claim? The authors’ claims appear to be even more valid than before, but as in the majority of cases, the author no longer has a contract with the seller, this seems to undermine the seller’s moral rights rather than enhance them.

In Ireland, this debate is becoming pointed, perhaps not least because Ireland has no real protection in law for the common “fair use” concept seen in most of the civilised world (likewise we also lack class actions, our search warrants are functions of the Gardai rather than the Judiciary, and we have many other quaint foibles which would probably cause great concern were they to be introduced to other jurisdictions today). As such, strictly speaking, to quote a single line of a newspaper article could be seen as breaching copyright law without permission being given by the newspaper itself, though this is not regularly done because it would be economically self-destructive for the press to do on a regular basis. The law, it must be pointed out, should not rely on economics preventing widespread adoption of an unjust act; not least because economics does not prohibit individual unjust acts!

A question we need to be asking ourselves is what the fundamental underlying morality surrounding copyright and similar areas in our laws should be, rather than the question we are asking ourselves which boils down to which wording we use to enforce concepts created in the context of 1605.

Our current laws support situations which appear obviously unjust; as an example, if you write an article for a print publication wherein you cast aspersions on the good name of a group of identifiable individuals, those individuals are not permitted by law to reproduce that article in “new” media for the purposes of discussion of its merits, without permission from the person who attacked these individuals; yet if the group be sufficiently large, it is not possible to bring suit for defamation in response; and no legal definition seems to exist relating to the threshold of the size of the group.

Such a scenario is morally repugnant, yet legally supported in Ireland today (and it happens on a regular basis in all walks of life). Perhaps Minister Sherlock should consider matters such as this when drafting his next Statutory Instrument.

February 16, 2012


Filed under: Politics — Mark Dennehy @ 11:51 pm

The dust has settled somewhat now on the most recent foray into the courts by the shooting community, and public comment is finally no longer considered Technical Contempt by the judiciary. This should be the time when we could finally discuss amongst ourselves in the shooting community what the large number of cases on the legal diary achieved in return for:

  • the high financial costs incurred (estimated by some at between €200,000 and €250,000 just for the cases to be taken on by the legal team, to say nothing of the costs detailed in the 168 section 68 letters that would have been produced),
  • the higher financial risks undertaken (estimates for the cost of a failed court case run from five to six figure sums for the High Court and start at six figure sums for the Supreme Court),
  • the extreme legal risks involved (a lost case would have had enormous repercussions for the entire shooting community for the whole of the foreseeable future),
  • the enormous damage done to professional relationships (it seems likely that the taking of these cases and the chosen public statements made by the NARGC in this matter have seriously damaged if not destroyed the prospects for a calmer, more lasting solution via the Firearms Consultation Panel; it also seems not beyond the bounds of possibility that these victories would be overridden by legislative changes at little to no cost to the government and without possibility of legal or other challange by the shooting community),
  • the appalling public relations involved (it may appear viscerally satisfying for a sitting High Court Justice to have made the comments Hedigan has made, and no doubt there is benefit in the long term to have shown the world what the Gardai admitted publicly six years ago – that certain Garda personnel are the root cause of many of our licencing issues — but in the short and medium terms, we have just displayed a malfunctioning system to the general public which they believe exists to safeguard them; the logical thing for the general public to now want is further firearms legislation, something which can only serve to worsen the situation for the entire shooting community),
  • and of course, the hidden costs of being Law Society gossip for the past two years (taking 168 District Court Justices to the High Court to have their decisions reviewed by their High Court “overseers” is not a legal strategy that appears to have been well thought of in judicial circles around the metaphorical water cooler), such as District Court Justices who may have a poor view of future challanges to poor licencing decisions by Superintendents (after all, if it is felt that a plaintiff will go to the High Court should they not like the judgement, it cannot be discounted that this may colour the Justice’s thoughts on a the matter if only subconsciously – a District Court Justice is only human after all).

Given this high price, both monetary and otherwise, should we not consider the gains? Reading the extensive statement from Egan&Associates on the topic of the court cases, I admit a degree of confusion in identifying those gains. I should note that this author is, for now, ignoring the disturbing public statements from those who claim to be amongst the 168 plaintiffs, that they in fact have not yet seen nor agreed to the conditions of any settlement nor signed any document giving the right to their legal team to settle on their behalf. This author understands that such statements cannot be completely verified, but the mere possibility (which seems to be given weight by the upcoming public meeting to discuss the case with those plaintiffs) that a legal team might agree to a settlement and commence making public statements about it without first informing all of the plaintiffs they represent is a disturbing one. One hopes it is merely a misunderstanding that will soon be resolved simply and cleanly.

From my reading of the analysis mentioned above, it seems that those who took cases in the District Court, whether or not they sought Judicial Review of those cases’ outcomes in the High Court, are granted leave by the settlement referred to (whose terms thus far remain confidential) to reapply for the licences they were initially denied.

This does appear at first glance to be a substantial gain if not an outright win, but here is where my confusion begins, because I was under the impression, having read the Firearms Act in some small detail, that any person in the State who is eligible to apply for a firearms certificate, and does so, and is refused; is not barred by any legislation from reapplying ad nauseum in the event of a refusal, nor from seeking review of such refusal in the District Courts on each and every such refusal. This would have been the right of the plaintiffs long before going to the High Court, so I cannot see how leave to reapply can be seen as a gain. To be sure, the Garda personnel involved will be less likely to refuse the application on this specific instance; but no obstacle stands in their way from refusing the next application in three years time, nor does any obstacle prevent their placing preconditions on these licences which the applicants might find inconvenient; to my personal view then, it would appear that little was gained.

What then of the exposure of the modification of completed and finalised firearms certificate applications by senior Gardai upon the commencement of a court case challanging the decisions they pertained to? This is, it must be stated, an important result; proof of wrongdoing of this scale would be a hefty chip indeed to play in later negotiations with the Gardai and the Department and the Minister in order to secure more favorable treatment. Two small queries do however present themselves when considering this result, namely:

  • Why did the Minister state in his answer to two recent parliamentary questions on this topic that the settlement accepts that no wrongdoing took place? Surely the settlement would not simply throw away the single most important fact it established in a public court? And yet, the officers in question have since been the recipient of promotion to very high ranks within the Gardai, which one would imagine would be at least impeded by a High Court Justice declaring from the bench that they had acted illegally – an obstacle which one imagines only a settlement waiving the complaint could remove.
  • At what point does the NARGC plan to sit down with the Gardai or the Minister or the Department and utilise this chip, given that it has spent over a year now destroying professional relationships that took hundreds of man-years to build up over the past decade and even in its most recent public statements refuses to meet with the personnel involved? One cannot cry in the public media this week that certain key personnel are corrupt or incompetent or bereft of good judgement, and then hope to sit with those personnel next week in search of a solution to a real problem; for those personnel will never accept that the discussion is being entered into in good faith. Nor in this economic climate – nor indeed, even before it – could anyone reasonably expect a mass firing of staff from a state body because of the objections to certain personnel with clean Civil Service records by a sporting body.

I find it difficult because of these random thoughts to see this aspect of the cases as being a substantial gain. What then remains? We have, it is very true, avoided the enormous legal and financial risk that rolling the dice on the remaining 165 court cases entailed; but this was avoidable by engaging with the Firearms Consultation Panel, as proven by many of the target shooting governing bodies during the past few years, or even by merely not taking all 168 cases at once but instead taking only a smaller number of test cases.

What does appear to be readily visible however, both from the statements from Egan&Associates and from the public statements by the NARGC, is that these cases appear to have been directed by the NARGC for purposes which go beyond the immediate scope of the cases themselves. We have said it here on many occasions, court cases are risky endeavours at the best of times; but it seems utterly foolhardy to have undertaken these cases — which could never have resulted in a single licence being directed to be issued because a High Court Judicial Review simply does not have any legal means to so do — purely for the purposes of seeking more favourable legislation for shooters, something which the judiciary is simply not in a position to provide even if they wished to do so.

Nor does obtaining such a result seem likely to be aided by public belittlement of those with whom the shooting community has no choice but to work in order to improve our legislative position. To quote the NARGC director himself,

the High Court settlement has not bought tuppence worth of peace in relation to how the Gardai operate the licensing system and NARGC is determined to continue the battle in the courts until someone in the political establishment engages with us with a view to bringing forward a lasting peace.  Neither current DOJ officials nor any member of the Garda Siochana are capable of commanding the trust and respect necessary to deliver that peace.  Certainly, NARGC will not again sit with such people. 

Such language is both illuminating of the facts of the matter and the mindset of the parties involved, in the opinion of this author, who was fully convinced that the shooting community was not in fact either a seperate sovereign nation in a state of declared war with anyone, nor a paramilitary organisation in a similar situation. This author was convinced on the basis of ten years of work and contact with the parties involved that such an idea was not only distasteful to all, but belied a poor grasp of the needs of ordinary shooters, whose objectives here are basically to enjoy their sports and activities, rather than to seek a long protracted shouting match which can never resolve anything satisfactorily.

Nor for that matter, does this author gain any confidence from the nonchalance with which the NARGC director, on the strength of court cases apparently settled without any finding of wrongdoing or visible gain for the plaintiffs, demand the firing of dozens of high-ranking personnel in the Gardai and Civil Service despite those bodies’ recent severe troubles with low manpower and hiring freezes due to the economic situation. It seems almost impossible that anyone with the level of political experience the director has would have any doubt that such a demand could never be entertained, let alone met; it would then follow that this is a stratagem of some form, which has not been disclosed to the wider shooting community. Such an approach implicitly assumes that the director has the right to speak for the entire shooting community; one would humbly suggest that the dozens of recognised sporting governing bodies on the island would beg to differ on that point, and justifiably so.

November 2, 2011

Petition to call for a review of the Firearms Act and to extend the remit of the FCP

Filed under: Politics — Mark Dennehy @ 2:43 pm
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We wish to call for a review of the Firearms Act and to have the remit of the Firearms Consultation Panel extended

Firearms law in Ireland is currently spread across 19 Acts, 2 EU directives and well over 60 Statutory Instruments, before case law and the Garda Commissioner’s guidelines are taken into account. It is estimated that fewer than two dozen people in the state have a working understanding of Irish firearms law as a result of this.

Since 2006 – since which time three acts, approximately twenty statutory instruments and an EU directive have been added – the Law Reform Commission has been calling for a restatement of the Firearms Act to simplify this situation. High Court Justice Peter Charleton has stated, in McCarron-v-Kearney, “the piecemeal spreading over multiple pieces of legislation of the statutory rules for the control of firearms is undesirable. Codification in that area is almost as pressing a need as it is in the area of sexual violence.”

Since 2006, an expert panel has existed, consisting of representatives of the target shooting and hunting community, their insurers, the firearm dealers trade, the Gardai, the Department of Sport, and chaired by the Department of Justice. This panel, the Firearms Consultation Panel, has advised on technical aspects of firearms practice and how that practice and firearms legislation can best coexist. However that Panel’s remit was only to oversee the implementation of the 2006 and 2009 acts and as such is now coming to a close.

We, the undersigned, wish to call upon the Minister for Justice to review the Firearms Act and the Law Reform Commission’s call for a restatement of that Act, and to extend the remit of the Firearms Consultation Panel to become a permanent advisory panel to the Firearms Unit of the Department of Justice. We believe that the current state of affairs with regard to firearms legislation in Ireland is unacceptably complex and that dismissing the Firearms Consultation Panel at this time would be a significant mistake in light of that complexity and the urgent need to address it.

Click here to sign the petition

June 21, 2011

In today’s Examiner…

Filed under: Politics — Mark Dennehy @ 12:33 am
Tags: , , ,

From today’s Examiner’s Letters to the Editor section:

Make firearms panel a permanent body

 Tuesday, June 21, 2011

OVER the next 10 days, we will see several target shooting competitions being run in Ireland, from club level matches, to national level matches, to an enormous international shooting competition (the Creedmoor Cup, last held in Ireland in 1875) and the Irish team and their fans and spectators will also be representing Ireland in the Olympic target shooting world cup in Munich.

These sportsmen and sportswomen achieve what they do despite the many draconian obstacles put in their path by the current Firearms Act, a body of Irish law which is so poorly compiled that the Law Reform Commission has been calling for its overhaul since 2006.

At most only one or two dozen people in the entire state are familiar with the entire body of Irish firearms law because it is made up of 18 separate acts, two EU directives and over 60 statutory instruments.

Might I suggest to the Minister for Justice that instead of winding up the Firearms Consultation Panel — the body of experts from all fields who advise the Minister on firearms legislation — he instead make it a permanent body and undertake to carry out the Law Reform Commission’s recommended overhaul of the act, and thus make it harder for criminals to obtain firearms instead of the current situation where criminals find it easy to get weapons but Olympic athletes find it exceptionally hard to get sports equipment?

Mark Dennehy

Read more:

June 8, 2011

Applying for grants improperly

Filed under: Politics — Mark Dennehy @ 4:32 pm

Obviously, running a sporting body is an endeavor which has a financial cost. Facilities cost money to run, consumables cost money to keep in stock, and there are often administrative fees and such to be concerned about. However, the worth of sport to society as a whole is well established. Between improving the health of the nation (and thus reducing the expense of running its healthcare system) and improving the lives of those involved by giving them a sense of personal achievement and control over their destiny (at least within the limited venue of the playing field), it is obvious that sport is a positive thing within society and that as such, society should promote and encourage it.

As a result of this, whether the sporting body in question is a club or a body higher up the administration chain, there are often many grants available from both public and private sources. These grants not only support local and regional clubs in their chosen sports; they also support the National Governing Bodies of those sports as not all sports earn (or are able to earn) sufficient amounts to support their top level administration in the way that (for example) the GAA can. These top level administrative grants cover basic running costs, training, developmental work, specific sporting projects and so forth and are on the whole a good thing.

In Ireland at the moment, two shooting bodies are eligible for these grants, which are administered by the Irish Sports Council (ISC), and one more is applying for eligibility (this is not a secret). The two recognised bodies are the Irish Clay Pigeon Shooting Association (ICPSA), who administer clay pigeon shooting; and the Shooting Sports Association of Ireland (SSAI), who administer non-Olympic rifle and pistol target shooting; and the body applying for recognition is the National Target Shooting Association (NTSA), who administer Olympic rifle and pistol target shooting.

Obviously, these are public monies being distributed, and as such, levels of oversight are required and facilitated by an application process administered by the Irish Sports Council. Every year, they compile a list of eligible bodies and send those bodies an application form to complete listing off how much money they want, what they want it for, and how they spent the last grant they received (this is obviously a very short summary of the form; it is far more formal and expansive than this, but this does capture the gist of it). Delays in this process can and do arise owing to paperwork issues and so forth, and these are resolved through dialogue between the Irish Sports Council and the Body in question. Since dialogue is a necessary part of the process, each body must nominate a contact point. This is all standard for such matters.

Thus, which this background in place, let us consider a recent discrepancy in the application process.

As regular readers have already heard, there was recently a Questions and Answers session held in public by the SSAI Chairman, mainly (though not exclusively) for members of the National Association of Sporting Rifle and Pistol Clubs (NASRPC). Amongst the many complaints and criticisms worded in question form at that meeting in early October, there was a long discussion of the Irish Sports Council grant to the SSAI. It was explained, at some length but without naming names, that due to a failure of a previous committee to keep adequate records of how one aspect of the funding from the Irish Sports Council had been used, there was an indefinite delay on further funding for the Irish Sports Council until such time as the paperwork was in order once more.

This prompted much noise and heat (if very little light) from the members of the audience, whose National Governing Body, the NASRPC – as an affiliated member of the SSAI – derived much of its annual funding from the Irish Sports Council grant. The mechanism for this was simple in nature – each affiliated member of the SSAI prepared a grant application and forwarded this to the SSAI committee, who collated these applications into a single composite document and forwarded it to the Irish Sports Council for consideration. With the Irish Sports Council grant on hold therefore, the NASRPC could not obtain monies through this route. It was spelled out  in no uncertain terms that while this was unfortunate and a resolution was being sought with vigour, the problem had been caused during the tenure of the previous SSAI committee, who were now the loudest complainants from the NASRPC and who indeed held committee posts within the NASRPC. The SSAI undertook to continue to work on the problem, and the matter appeared to rest at that point.

However, a recent Freedom of Information request made to the Irish Sports Council turned up a very unusual document, namely an application made to the Irish Sports Council by the SSAI in November 2010 – a month after the meeting where it was publicly stated that the SSAI would not be eligible for an Irish Sports Council grant for several more months. It was curious that they would have submitted an application so quickly given the scale of the problem being dealt with; and even more so that they would have had time to solicit and receive grant application submissions from each of its affiliated members; the time this task takes each year has traditionally been far longer than this.

Upon further careful reading of the application, some puzzling inconsistencies jump out. The application in full is attached at the bottom of this entry (after the link), but for our purposes we can examine just the two relevant pages in detail. Looking first at the contacts page, the inconsistency is immediately obvious:

Contact listYou will, I trust, forgive the redaction of personal addresses, but matters of personal security should be kept in mind here.

For those who have not spotted it yet, the inconsistency lies in the stated Contact for ISC person of Patrick Herlihy. Mr. Herlihy is not the designated contact point for the Irish Sports Council to the SSAI, that would be the Chairman of the SSAI, Joe Costello. This error seems most unusual – and indeed, the Irish Sports Council though so too and rejected the application for that reason (as well as some others), stating that if the contact point was to be changed to Mr.Herlihy, then some documentation approving that change would be required from Mr.Costello (for obvious reasons – otherwise any person could submit, for example, a claim for thousands of euro from the GAA grant and cite themselves as the contact point for verification of this claim; a situation with very obvious defects from the point of view of responsibly distributing public monies).

The inconsistency becomes more obvious on the signature page of the document:

Signature page

The puzzling point here was the question of why, on a form of some importance and consequence, filed well ahead of schedule with the Irish Sports Council, were the signatories the Public Relations Officer and the Treasurer, instead of the Chairman and the Secretary or the Treasurer, as was normal in such cases?

Subsequent inquiries provided resolution to this puzzle – it transpired that the document had in fact been prepared, signed and sent to the Irish Sports Council without the prior authorisation of the SSAI. No SSAI board meeting had approved the document, nor had the Chairman been made aware of it prior to its dispatch despite being the designated SSAI contact point for the ISC.

An uncharitable mind might use ugly words to describe such an act.

Perhaps we could be charitable and recall the adage that one should never attribute to malice what is equally explainable by utter incompetence? Some, it seems likely, will not; yet perhaps they should offer at least the opportunity for those involved to point out their innocent error before making any legally actionable charges. There could be a completely innocent explanation for why, for example, it escaped Mr.Herlihy’s mind while preparing the document that he was not at the time in fact the Honorary Treasurer of the SSAI, and had not been for some time.

Either way, it seems obvious that such an action, at a bare minimum, cannot have greatly aided relations between the SSAI and the Irish Sports Council at a time when grants and funding were already at issue, no matter how heartening it is to see that the controls enacted by the Irish Sports Council were successful in preventing the inadvertently erroneous allocation and distribution of public monies. (more…)

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