Irish Shooting Politics

March 22, 2009

The meeting itself

Filed under: Politics — Mark Dennehy @ 12:57 am

Well, in the interests of accurate reporting, I attended the much-flagged meeting.

I believe that it can be well summed up by noting that I cannot get those six hours back again.

But perhaps that is unfair to some of those who were there, so I shall attempt to relate what happened more objectively.

The meeting started on Irish time (ie. nearly half an hour late) and finished at 1500 so people could go watch the rugby. Which I feel speaks badly about the attitude of the top table, but perhaps I simply don’t appreciate the other, non-shooting sports sufficiently. Perhaps watching a Grand Slam win is worth the compromise of the foundation of an organisation being set up assertedly to address a desperate situation that threatens our entire sport.

Declan Keogh was at the top table as PRO, which surprised few and did rather present a problem for several from the point of view of keeping an open mind, but there were 44 other people in the room, so you try at least. Cal Ward was also present, but surprisingly given his prominence in advertising the event, was not at the top table.

The initial comments from the chair raised my eyebrows, but then I am somewhat prone to that I suppose. Apparently, we are all serious people, conducting serious business. Well, it’s rather reminiscent of an internet cartoon or two, but it could just be a poor choice of phrase and I thought of it as such initially. We are also, it seems, Law-abiding people. Not violent men. And we will abide by legal means to achieve our goals. Which I must say, was rather a relief because I’m not sure how I can convey my overdue library tickets as a protest against firearms policy – not to mention, the average age in the room suggested that overly-physical legal protests might be medically inadvisable, let alone anything less than scrupulously adherent to the law. At this point, it was made clear that any dissenters or people who didn’t wish to join could leave right there or be removed if they caused a ruckus. Sadly, I’m not as young as I used to be either, and my ruckus days are a dim (if fond) memory now. Perhaps if there had been someone younger than me there, they might have obliged, but, well. (I did register my lack of support in written form at the end of the meeting so there’d be no confusion and no ruckus).

Maybe it sounds as though I’m mocking. Well, in part I am. However, it was well-earned mockery, and I’m being quite moderate. And I honestly did try to listen and keep an open mind (as hard as that was to do) and I did try very hard to keep in mind that there were a lot of people there who were genuine in their intent, who were upset and frustrated, and that that was down to the communication issues we mentioned here before. These people have been failed by the administration of our sport and its legislation and the poor rhetoric of those at the top table shouldn’t be allowed to hide that. As much unintentional humour as was provided today, there are underlying issues that the Powers That Be on all sides need to seriously address, lest the entire system fail its userbase.

Following the opening remarks by the Chair, he handed over to Declan Keogh, who gave a summary of past events from his point of view. I should point out that my recollections of the events he recounted (which I was involved in) differ from this presented point of view in several significant details, and that I feel that his posted statements in boards.ie on these matters also differ from this point of view, but apparently all of this is water under the bridge.

Actually, I disagree with that particular metaphor as well, it’s really just all water over our heads.

At any rate, Declan had to be interrupted a few times by the head of the SSAI, Joe Costello, in order to correct factual errors regarding what Garrett Byrne had said at the last FCP seminar (and which had been accurately reported to the public domain on boards.ie, and which really shouldn’t have been so ill-quoted to begin with). Joe was forced to digress from that initial interruption to explain the actual procedure used by the FCP and the Department in formulating Bills, and to correct more incorrect assertions and some really quite basic errors on facts and procedures which the speakers had misunderstood or misremembered. I found it rather embarrassing to be frank, at any presentation I’ve had to give professionally such mistakes would be seen far less favorably than they were treated today. I realise we are an amateur sport rather than a professional one, but that does tend to belie the opening comments on being engaged in serious business, as well as undercutting the authority of the committee to make proclaimations on firearms law.

I think in fact, that those who attended out of a lack of information probably should be quite grateful to Joe for the information he provided.

Eventually however, the chair took back over and introduced the solicitor who has been retained by the committee. I see no real reason to comment on the solicitor, I’m certain she is a competent professional as are the majority of her profession, and she seemed quite personable and reasonable in person, and I understand that a solicitor is as bound by her clients’ instructions as the civil servants in the Department of Justice are bound by their Minister’s instructions, to use a reasonable analogy.

I do have to question the wisdom – whether it be of the solicitor or the client – of seeking out Michael McDowell SC as a barrister. Mr.McDowell’s conflict of interest in bringing a legal action against legislation he himself architected must have been obvious from the start, and frankly I would be surprised if the suggestion was granted even more than a summary decision by him. Had he agreed, I think that the committee might have found the depth of feeling against the architect of the legislation we are now labouring under might have perhaps exceeded their expectation, and subsequent fundraising might have been exceptionally difficult at best.

We are assured that another barrister has been selected, and his is a household name, which has been withheld (I must admit I am unqualified to speculate as to his name, my house was not one where the names of barristers tended to frequent conversation) – and fairly enough since he has not accepted the office as yet. Fees, of course, remain confidential, if not speculative at this time.

I’m afraid that my overarching impression here is one of wasted time and wasted opportunity and a failing to maintain proper communications between the ordinary shooters and their representatives. The line of communication from the ordinary shooter to their clubs, to the associations above them is in need of review and in some cases repair. Facilities like boards.ie need to be used more than they are and the incessant need we see time and again in shooting organisations to control access to information needs to become an unlearnt habit.

As to what was said, many things said today were in principle absolutely correct. We do need better PR and we absolutely do need to push our sport in the media. And it is very gratifying to hear this, given that I have been saying it for twelve years to a sequence of committees (many of whom were sitting with me today) who either refused to listen, rubbished the notion, dismissed it as naive, or just outright ignored the idea. So to see it taken up as the new gospel, well it does warm the cockles and stroke the ego, there’s no point denying it. Unfortunately, I’ve become cynical and so while all the right things were said today, I believe that the phrase to keep in mind is most assuredly that Action expresses priorities.

On more concrete matters, there is no funding. A collection was called for in the meeting and those present were asked to donate ten euro apiece. I myself decided on reflection that I could not support this organisation even in this small degree lest the symbolism be used to confuse affairs, and so did not contribute; Joe pointed out that he was already spending an amount in the four figures range per month on phone calls, travel bills and other expenses on behalf of the SSAI members and so wasn’t going to contribute. A future collection is planned to take place shortly with each person being asked to contribute a hundred euro. By my reckoning, this will net some €400 today and €4,000 more if all contribute as asked. I believe it is obvious to all that this amount is woefully insufficient, and given the small number who attended or responded to the call to attend, and the low number of clubs (cited as five, and I presume that includes me as sole representative of WTSC), I hold grave reservations about their potential future fundraising ability, any deficit in which would prove a severe handicap in any legal action.

A constitution has apparently been drafted, but was not distributed and is not publicly available, nor are there plans to make it so – instead copies will be emailed to those who were present. No website has been created, and so it seems that on their first public outing, this new body has already fallen into the trap of insufficient communications that they have so roundly criticised in other shooting bodies.

Indeed, so much is in flux that even the name is not fixed – the new name of the proposed association has changed from the admittedly-cynical-sounding Shooting Sports Federation of Ireland to the moniker of the Federation of Irish Gun Sports, or, we presume, FIGS for short. (As an aside, it is names like this that prompted names like Tennis Ireland to be thought up. No embarrassing acronyms, no confusing 1970s syle titles, just what the body does as its name. Neater. And the Scaffolding, Shoring and Forming Institute doesn’t get upset either)

As to coherent planning, this is more in the realm of a quick pencil sketch than a detailed document, but given that the Misc.Provisions Bill has yet to be published and the contents remain unknown to the committee, perhaps this is not truly a failing but a matter of practical necessity, certainly this is the case in every other shooting organisation at present. Once the heads of the Bill are published, a more detailed plan could be formulated, though some of the outlined possible approaches, such as pursuing a constitutional challenge to the Bill on the grounds of denied Natural Justice, seemed to my ears to be ill-conceived at best and worryingly expensive propositions in the bargain.

At any rate, I am sorry that my overall conclusion with regard to today’s events must seem so negative. If it is any consolation, there are already a multitude of bodies who are actively working to represent the interests of shooters at Departmental level, something which has never been the case at any time in Irish history before now; and all of the current worry and fear and anxiety may resolve itself to a degree upon the publication of the heads of the bill, at which time, any protests which have to be made can be made both by representatives at the top level and by the grassroots at the bottom, coordinating with facilities like boards.ie. We can but hope that if that day comes in two weeks time, that those now exerting such energies will have sufficient reserves to pen a letter, affix a stamp, and join the rest of the grass roots in the exercise of our constitutional rights.

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