Gun licences given to 260 foreign security staff in last two years
SF wants ‘clarity’ on foreign police officers and bodyguards carrying firearms in State
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: weapons licences were granted to protect “certain persons such as visiting dignitaries and others, when travelling to this State”. Photograph: James Forde
The Government granted permission to over 260 foreign security personnel to carry guns within the State in the last two years.
The issue of foreign security services carrying weapons has come under scrutiny lately after it emerged armed Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) personnel had escorted Garda Commissioner Drew Harris south of the Border.
Last week, the Department of Justice confirmed an agreement with the UK authorities has been in place since 2013 which allows certain PSNI officers to carry weapons in the Republic and certain gardaí carry weapons in Northern Ireland.
In 2018, 134 licences were granted by the Department of Justice to foreign police officers and bodyguards to carry a gun. The figure for 2017 was 131.
They were granted licences for the purposes of protecting “certain persons such as visiting dignitaries and others, when travelling to this State,” Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said. “This is a normal and established feature of international relations between states.”
Ireland has been visited by a succession of European leaders in the last two years, mostly as part of preparations for Brexit. Members of the British royal family such as Prince Charles and Prince Harry have also visited.
The granting of such licences is governed by the Firearms (Firearm Certificates For Non-Residents) Act, 2000 and the Garda is consulted before they are granted, Mr Flanagan said in response to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.
However, the Minister declined to outline the reasons permission was granted in specific cases, stating “it is long-standing practice not to comment in detail on matters relating to security in such circumstances”.
Questions about the legislation governing the 2013 PSNI agreement were ruled out of order by the Ceann Comhairle’s office which said the questions would require the Minister to offer a legal interpretation on the legislation.
Calling for additional clarity, Mr Ó Laoghaire told The Irish Times: “These are important issues, and there has to be clarity and a legal basis for such arrangements and, so far, the Minister has yet to answer these questions.”
An unspecified number of firearms certificates were issued to non-security personnel including for “ceremonial purposes; to a veterinary team; and foreign defence personnel who were participating in target-shooting competitions”, the Minster said.