The Ulster Farmers’ Union, in conjunction with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Gun Trade Guild Northern Ireland (GTG NI), have been lobbying jointly against PSNI plans to introduce an on-line only firearms licensing system.
PSNI are proposing to introduce the system in autumn 2016 and the UFU only became aware of this in May 2016. PSNI state it is necessary to make a more efficient and faster system with the resources they have available. However, it was only on 22nd February 2016 that the cost for the grant of a firearms certificate nearly doubled from £50 to £98 which was to cover the administrate cost of processing applications.
This is a major change in policy that will affect approximately 59,000 firearms certificate holders and 90 firearms dealers. Yet there has been a significant lack of appropriate and meaningful consultation or consideration for its impact on service users.
Many rural dwellers in Northern Ireland are digitally excluded due to poor availability of quality broadband and computer literacy levels. An online only system ignores and discriminates against these service users.
The nature of the proposed system means that an applicant would have to complete their application in one session, they may need to upload photographs and will have to make their payment online.
Applicants will need to nominate two referees who will then be required to review their application on-line to verify the applicant’s details within seven days, otherwise the application will be cancelled.
Northern Ireland, with the lowest broadband connectivity rate in the UK, appears to be the only region with these plans.
The UFU and our partner organisation, BASC and the GTG NI, are not against a move to introduce online systems but only where there is an alternative dual paper based system to support and include those that are digitally excluded. The UFU would suggest that if an online system is user friendly and incentivised, service users would use it as their preferred option.
The UFU is supporting the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Gun Trade Guild NI, in a presentation that they are making to the Northern Ireland Policing Board next week. The Policing Board will be informed that the three organisations will only accept a move towards a digital system where an appropriate alternative system operates for a minimum of five years.
The UFU will continue to work with BASC and the GTG NI, lobbying our elected representatives to ensure that any change to the current system will be inclusive to all service users.