Irish Shooting Politics

March 20, 2009

The Law and Money

Filed under: Politics — Mark Dennehy @ 1:47 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Reviewing the email sent round the usual routes in order to publicise the upcoming meeting, I note the prevalence of one aspect:

A meeting ... will address the legal and other difficulties facing the shooting community...Legal
representation will be present to advise ... it is proposed to ... challenge any unjust
legislation brought forward without consultation by way of legal challenge ...

Perhaps nostalgia is all it’s cracked up to be – certainly this missive is reminding me of the NRPAI AGMs again. For those who never went to a meeting of the National Rifle and Pistol Association of Ireland, it was difficult to go to one and avoid being entertained if your sense of humour was robust enough to take the workout. One memory in particular is prompted, that of the founding of the Firearms Legislation Action Group or FLAG (though I doubt the acronym predates the name). In hindsight, where such things are judged, FLAG must surely count as the most ill-advised venture the NRPAI ever countenanced, but the remarkable thing is that it was recognised in more moderate quarters as being so from its inception. I must confess, at the time I was not well-read in the annals of the NRPAI and was actually optimistic about the idea. The educational process was painful, I’m afraid, but a matter for another time.

The reason that FLAG occurs to me now, is that FLAG’s raison d’etre was to use legal challanges to force the Government to give target shooters whatever they wanted. This may sound somewhat adversarial as approaches go, but on it’s presentation the word I would have chosen would have been stronger, something like jingoistic or gung ho perhaps. The plan was exceptionally simplistic, and I feel that there was a failure to understand the legal system when the plan was formulated – and not a minor failure, nor a technical one, but an enormous gulf of ignorance between the planners and the basic tenets of our legal system.

For example, there is the matter of the famous 1972 Temporary Custody Order (formally, SI 187/1972 ; informally known by less civil terms). The problem here is that the 1972 TCO ran out in 1972, and ceased to operate thereafter. It did not remain in force for over three decades, as is often asserted. Instead, it was through cynical timing and the introduction of internal policies that the de facto ban on pistols and fullbore rifles was implemented by the Government of the day. This may seem a minor point, but when legal representation is engaged on an expensive and hourly basis to challange a piece of secondary legislation that ran out 32 years previously, minor points become expensive points.

This raises the most prominent and fundamental … the word ‘flaw’ seems woefully understated for this purpose … delusion of the plan – funding. Sufficient funds were never available to the FLAG committee to cover their losses in the event of a High Court case being lost, or indeed if it was won unless costs were awarded by the Court. Even a favourable settlement – which would in itself be a failure to establish the desired legal precedent – might have taxed the finances available past the breaking point. After seven years of fundraising and self-proclaimed minimal expenditure, FLAG’s own estimate of funds available came to approximately €7,500. As any new home-owner can inform you, that amount could easily come up short when paying a solicitor alone to do the paperwork involved in buying a single house – which is a relatively straightforward transaction. Taking a constitutional challange against statute law in the High Court is a much more complex and specialised undertaking and a serious attempt would require a team of solicitors, barristers, expert witnesses and would probably take several days of the Courts time. All this would run up a legal fees bill which could reach a six-figure sum without much in the way of difficulty.

The problem would lie in what happens after such a bill is run up. FLAG itself had no assets for the sherrif to seize after its coffers were emptied; the remainder of any five or six figure sum would be taken from the assets of the NRPAI itself, which as an unincorporated association (ie. a club) had no financial protection for its members – which meant the assets of its constituent bodies as they had oversight of FLAG’s actions. Thus, the collective assets of the NTSA, NASRC, NSAI and Pony Club would have been at risk had FLAG ever pursued its plan to challange legislation in the High Court. Whether or not the individuals and clubs affiliated to the NRPAI could have been successfully pursued for their assets in payment of the bill or whether their not being individual members of the NRPAI was sufficent insulation is a question that would have generated more work for the solicitors and barristers of the Government.

I mention this because if legal representation has already been secured for this weekend’s upcoming entertainment with the express plan of taking on legislation in the High Court, one would wonder where the money is to come from. Perhaps the original contributers to FLAG have survived the recent economic downturn and have hundreds of thousands of euros which they would wish to support our legal industry with, but one can’t help but wish that such philantropy would be directed towards our sport instead of its politics.

One would caution those who would donate to this new flag, however, to be sure that they wish no further control of their funds, even if the new organisation is wound up – the original monies contributed to FLAG gave their donators no special privileges such as being informed as to progress of the plan; nor were their donations to be returned on the winding up of FLAG even where records were kept of where the monies originated. Instead the FLAG commitee chose to direct in its resignation letter that the funds be divided equally between the three children’s hospitals in Dublin. And while the worthiness of those recipients is beyond question, one has to ask whether the original donators to FLAG would have liked to have been there when the FLAG chairman handed over the cheques to the hospital masters and received thanks for a job well done…

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