Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Fourth Report

A Firearms Consultative Committee for Northern Ireland

156. The original NIO consultation document suggested that a Firearms Consultative Forum for Northern Ireland would be established, after the model of the Firearms Consultative Committee for Great Britain.[164] Since we had heard nothing more about this proposal, we asked the Minister whether this proposal was being pursued. She told us that "the establishment of such a forum would not be necessary given the comprehensive nature of the review that we are undergoing at the moment": the Northern Ireland Office received the reports of the Firearms Consultative Committee for Great Britain, and she believed that to conduct parallel exercises in Northern Ireland would be "an unnecessary bureaucratic burden at this stage".[165]

157. We hope that we can persuade the Minister otherwise. The Ulster Rifle Association believed that there was a role for a Firearms Consultative Committee;[166] the GTANI wrote to us again following the Minister's evidence, to emphasise the importance they placed on such a body.[167] Most tellingly, the Chairman of the Firearms Consultative Committee for Great Britain believed that there should be an equivalent body for Northern Ireland, and that the two should work jointly on common issues of concern, such as the availability of firearms to young people.[168]

158. Throughout our Report we have sought to stress our belief that, wherever possible, firearms controls across the United Kingdom should follow the same principles. Total unification of controls is not going to happen overnight: the political environment in Northern Ireland means that Northern Ireland's approach to firearms will continue to be different in certain key respects for some time to come. Further, across the United Kingdom it is reasonable to expect that the firearms controls which appear to be appropriate now may prove to be inappropriate in future. In certain cases - most particularly the hand gun ban - we have recommended that policy continue to be kept under review: it is right that policy should evolve to reflect cultural development. We should also note that 'different' does not necessarily mean inferior: in some cases the evidence would tend to suggest that Great Britain should follow Northern Ireland's lead.

159. The Firearms Consultative Committee for Great Britain has proved its worth, and we believe that there is a clear role for such a body in Northern Ireland. Like its counterpart, it should include in its membership firearms experts and representatives of both the 'pro-gun' and 'anti-gun' communities. It should be charged with investigating and advising the Secretary of State on firearms controls, and should work co-operatively with the Firearms Consultative Committee for Great Britain on issues of common concern, and on best practice. We expect that such consultations would be a two-way process. We urge the Government to set up a Firearms Consultative Committee for Northern Ireland as soon as possible.

164   Consultation paper, p36 Back

165   Q413 Back

166   Q109 Back

167   Appendix 15 Back

168   Q327 Back

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Prepared 4 February 2003