Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Fourth Report


The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:



As in other parts of the United Kingdom there are in Northern Ireland substantial numbers of individuals who hold and use firearms entirely safely and legitimately for leisure and business purposes. Their possession and use of firearms is governed by the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 1981. In July 2002, the Government laid before Parliament a proposal for a draft Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order which would in due course replace the 1981 Order. This has been the focus of our inquiry.

While there are a wide range of firearms covered by the legislation there are inevitably some which cause greater public concern than others. Handguns are not banned in Northern Ireland, although they were banned in Great Britain following the shootings at Dunblane in 1996. Between 11,000 and 12,000 handguns are held by individuals in Northern Ireland for personal protection. Although we believe that gun laws in Great Britain and Northern Ireland should be consistent, we believe that the time is not right for a hand gun ban in Northern Ireland.

Other questions similarly give cause for continuing debate. The current firearms regimes in Great Britain and Northern Ireland are complex and vary from each other in certain key aspects. As a general principle, we advocate the view that regulation throughout the United Kingdom should be consistent, wherever possible. With that in mind, we have recommended that a single regime should govern young people's access to firearms throughout the United Kingdom, and that a single regime should continue to govern access to imitation and replica firearms. We have also requested that the Government establish a Firearms Consultative Committee for Northern Ireland as an advisory body similar in character to the Firearms Consultative Committee for Great Britain. We believe that such a body would have an important role to play in determining areas of common ground and best practice in firearms regulation.

A new proposal is that the competence of an individual should be tested before his application for a firearm certificate is approved. Although we agree with the principle of testing competence, the full practical implications of the proposal have yet to be worked through. It will require considerable further work before it is ready for implementation.

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Prepared 4 February 2003