Online firearms licensing plans a concern

Northern Ireland's leading countryside organisations have urged the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to rethink plans for a 100% online firearms licence process.

Countryside Alliance Ireland (CAI), The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), and the Gun Trade Guild Northern Ireland (GTG NI) had been working in partnership with the PSNI’s Firearms and Explosives Branch since late 2015 on the development of online application forms.

In late April, however, PSNI publicly announced plans to scrap paper applications completely, moving 100 per cent to online applications by July/August this year. Countryside groups believe this could adversely affect older shooters who may be less internet-savvy.

While we support PSNI plans to move to electronic applications in principle, we feel the option to submit a paper application should remain available and the move to electronic format should be phased in.

We attended a meeting of the Northern Ireland Firearms Forum (NIFF) recently and we left the PSNI in no doubt about our opposition to this premature move. Around 65% of firearm certificate holders are over 50 years of age, over 40% are in their 60s and almost 20% are in their 70s, 80s and 90s. We fear that to enforce a wholly digital process on them will, in fact, exclude them from the process.

There has been no consultation on a move which, if implemented, will discriminate against those who are not IT literate and those who do not have access to computers or mobile devices. We also need to consider the fact that broadband is not widely available in parts of rural Northern Ireland.

As representative organisations, we would like to assure the shooting community that no avenue will be closed in pursuing equality of treatment for all.

A policy of ‘Digital by Default’ is one that is embraced by the European Union and the Northern Ireland Assembly, but they all clearly state that same policy should not mean ‘Digital Only’.

Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has also expressed concern and Deputy President, Ivor Ferguson said: “While technological advances are an opportunity to move our industry forward, major cutbacks to traditional communication methods would disadvantage the farming sector, especially those who are not computer literate.

“Variable broadband accessibility and quality in rural areas is an issue that affects many farmers who, through no fault of their own, are unable to perform even basic digital tasks. Until good quality broadband is available in rural areas, the UFU remains opposed to moving application processes entirely online. Removing the paper-based option would undoubtedly cause negative repercussions for the farming sector.”

New Equestrian Competitions at NI Countrysports Fair

Countryside Alliance Ireland will again be attending the NI Countrysports Fair at Scarvagh House over the last weekend of May.

One of our member groups, Newry Hunt, last year paraded their hounds on both days and hosted two hunt chase qualifiers for the thrilling finale held at Dublin Horse Show each year.

This year Newry Hunt and the NI Countrysports Fair have broadened the equestrian classes to now include an 80cm and 1m derby course and a gate jumping competition with a £200 prize fund, as well as a senior and junior hunt chase.

The derby and gate jumping competitions are open to everyone and will both be held on the Saturday and entry includes free access to the fair.

Entries are now open for all classes and entry forms are available via the NI Countrysports Fair website.

As always, it promises to be a great weekend and there will be something there for everyone.