The number of people being shot and wounded in gun attacks has been declining for years in the Republic, new HSE data reveals.
The information debunks the commonly held view the Republic has a worsening gun crime problem.
HSE data obtained by The Irish Times reveals more than twice as many people were being wounded in shootings a decade ago compared with the past three years.
And more people have been shot and wounded during accidental gun discharges, mostly involving legally held firearms, in the past decade and a half than in gun attacks.
The information from the HSE covers all cases of people admitted to hospital for treatment as inpatients for gunshot wounds. It does not include people shot dead.
The data is split into two categories: those wounded in “gun assaults” and those wounded “accidentally”.
- More people were treated for "accidental" gunshot wounds than for "gun assault" wounds – 461 compared with 446 – in the period 2005 to 2018;
- More gun assault victims were treated in 2005 – at 59 – than in any other year since then. The next highest annual total was 38 gun assault cases recorded in 2007, 2008 and 2013;
- The lowest number of gun assault victims receiving treatment was in 2016, at 16 cases, a 73 per cent decline on the peak of 200;
- While the number of people being wounded in gun attacks has increased slightly in the past two years, it is still very low in the context of the 14-year period under review; some 21 victims in 2015, 16 in 2016, 23 in 2017 and 24 last year;
- The number of people wounded in gun accidents was at its highest in 2006 when 61 cases emerged;
- The vast majority of gun crime is linked to the drugs trade. When the drugs trade contracted in line with recreational drug users' disposable incomes during the recession, it appears gun crime mirrored the decline. However, as the economy has recovered, gardaí say there are signs the drugs trade and gun crime are beginning to show early signs of increasing.
Those concerns for the future aside, the Garda’s gun crime data over the past decade and a half corroborates the HSE’s data in showing pronounced declines to gun crime.
In 2005, for example, there were 311 cases of discharges of a firearm recorded by the Garda and 330 in 2007. But in the following decade the rate declined, to just 93 cases in 2017, or 72 per cent off the peak of 2007.
Similarly, the offence of possession of a firearm saw 432 cases in 2005, increasing to a peak of 453 cases in 2008. It then steadily declined, to as low as 209 cases in 2017; a 54 per cent decline on the 2008 peak.
While gun feuding – especially in parts of Dublin and Louth – has put the Garda under considerable pressure in recent years, it is confined to very small groups of people.
Though some men have been injured and killed in feud gun attacks, the number of shootings linked to the feuds has not been large enough to have a serious impact on national gun crime trends.
Feuding that occurred in Dublin and Limerick in the decade to 2010 was the worst in the history of the Irish underworld. Though some of the more recent feuds have been very volatile and violent, they have not resulted in the same level of death and injury witnessed in the previous decade.
There have been five gangland-style gun murders so far this year, all in Dublin. Those attacks caused deep concern, especially as three of the shootings occurred within one week. However, the death toll from gun attacks this year is very low in the context of the past two decades, when annual totals have often exceeded 20.