The firearms legislation in Ireland is essentially a four-tier system of control:
1) Unregulated – toy guns, replica firearms
2) Subject to police permit – “defective” firearms, meaning firearms which are inoperable for any reason, due to age, or damage, or through having been rendered permanently inoperable. Application for a permit is made to the Garda Superintendent for the area in which the applicant resides. The superintendent may attach any conditions he feels necessary, relating to secure storage or otherwise, to any permit and may at any time revoke the permit if he considers it necessary.
3) Firearms requiring a firearm certificate – all other firearms, including airguns and also crossbows, require a firearm certificate for possession.
Application for a firearm certificate is made to the superintendent of the Garda in the area in which the applicant resides. Applicants must be at least 16 years of age (14 for a training certificate) and not be prohibited by any statutory provision (i.e. unsound mind, criminal history, intemperate habits) from possessing firearms. The applicant must also have a “good reason” for requiring a firearm. The typical reasons accepted by the Garda are: target shooting, (provided the applicant is a member of an authorised gun club), pest control and other agricultural uses, and deer stalking. There is also a substantial amount of supporting documentation required, referees, proof of “good reason” etc., (I suggest reading the application form.)
Certificates are valid for three years. Unlike the rest of the British Isles, firearm certificates relate only to one firearm – a person wishing to possess more than one firearm must hold a firearm certificate for each gun. Certificates are only subject to variation when the person disposes of a firearm and wishes to acquire another immediately.
The certificate also authorises the possession and acquisition of ammunition, in the quantities the applicant has shown “good reason” for. Although handloading of ammunition is technically legal, obtaining an explosives licence for the possession of primers and powder is exceptionally difficult, thus handloading of ammunition is effectively banned.
Firearm certificates are subject to conditions, prescribed by the superintendent or statute. He may add conditions he considers necessary, such as restricting a rifle possessed for target shooting to be used on authorised ranges, for example. Firearms must be kept securely.
A fee of €80 is payable upon application for a firearm certificate (€40 for a training certificate). Because certificates relate only to one gun, the licensing fee costs make it difficult for most gun owners to own more than a few guns.
4) Firearms requiring the authority of the Minister of Justice – Irish law only expressly forbids a small number of firearms, essentially firearms which expel noxious substances (which includes stun guns). However, the Minister of Justice has sweeping power to declare most types of firearms “especially dangerous” and subject to a Dangerous Weapons Order (such as machineguns). Firearms so classified, like prohibited weapons, require the permission of the Minister of Justice as well as a firearm certificate to possess.
However, the principle method of prohibiting firearms was a “policy” entered into between the Garda and the Ministry of Justice. All firearms were prohibited, with the exception of shotguns with a barrel length of at least 24 inches, any .22 rimfire rifle, or any bolt-action rifle with a calibre of .277 inches or less (the policy states .270, however this has been interpreted to include .270 Winchester, which has a diameter of .277 inches), excluding “military weapons” (which essentially means anything chambered in 5.56mm or .223 Remington). This policy was scrapped in 2004 due to legal pressure, and it became clear such a policy had no legal standing.
Further important information is contained in this editorial which explains new policies in relation to the licensing of many types of firearm in the Republic and also the list of what types of firearm are actually legal.
The Minister will only give permission to possess prohibited firearms in very rare cases, such as to military contractors for example.
For more information, I strongly suggest you visit the Irish Department of Justice website, which contains more details.
(Note: I have basically given up trying to summarise Irish firearm law, there are too many amendments to the Firearms Act 1925 and various parts of it are constantly under challenge in court – it is essentially incomprehensible at this point. If you want to try, read this summary. Also the Garda guidelines.)
As a sometimes rebellious province of the British Empire, Ireland had been subject to various weapon laws throughout its history, which are detailed to some degree under the entry for Northern Ireland.
After the partition of Ireland, the Oireachtas (Irish legislature) enacted the Firearms (Temporary Provisions) Act 1924, which essentially continued the Firearms Act 1920. This was followed by the Firearms (Temporary Provisions)(Continuance) Act 1925.
All three Acts were repealed and replaced by the Firearms Act 1925, which is still the principal piece of firearms legislation in the Republic. Although based on the Firearms Act 1920, there were various changes, such as the deregulation of air guns. However, it essentially was identical to the 1920 Act.
Unlike the UK, there were no correcting or amending provisions to the Act, and by the early 1960s, it was abundantly clear that there were serious anomalies in the 1925 Act, and also there was concern about political unrest which had simmered throughout Ireland since the partition.
This resulted in the Firearms Act 1964, which heavily amended and added to the 1925 Act, to make it clearer and more consistent, and removed a wide variety of anomalies in the law. These changes allowed target shooting in Ireland to grow in popularity, as people were able to now use firearms without a certificate while a member of a club, and also at fairgrounds and other places which had been made subject to certificate control in 1920.
More worrisome however was the extension of the law to cover airguns again, and even more worrisome were Sections 4 through 6 of the Act, which enabled the Minister of Justice to call in all legally possessed firearms in any specified area in the “interests of public safety”. This was portrayed as an emergency procedure. An order under Section 4 could only be stopped by a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
In the early 1970s, the political situation in Ireland turned violent, and in a largely misguided attempt to prevent the Catholic minority in the North from acquiring firearms from sympathisers in the South, the Oireachtas passed the Firearms Act 1971, which gave the Minister of Justice the power to specify firearms which appeared to him to be “especially dangerous” and not “sporting firearms”. The Act provided that only unrifled airguns, .22 calibre rifles and shotguns with a barrel length of 24 inches or more were to be considered innately “sporting”. The Garda then entered into a policy in 1972 that they would not issue a certificate for any other firearm without the permission of the Minister, and another provision of the Act applied similar provisions to firearms dealers.
A few months later in 1972, an order was made under Section 4 of the 1964 Act requiring all firearms held in the Republic to be surrendered for safe-keeping to the Garda.
Therefore, essentially all firearms, with the exception of .22 rifles and shotguns, were prohibited in the Republic. The 1971 Act and the attendant policy constitutes without question the most restrictive gun restrictions ever imposed in Europe, and likely the most restrictive gun law ever passed by a democratically elected Government.
Eventually, the order under the 1964 Act was lifted, but only in respect of sporting shotguns and .22 rifles. The minister later allowed the trade in air rifles to resume. Pistols and other rifles and shotguns were effectively confiscated.
In 1990, in parallel with Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 in Great Britain, the Oireachtas passed the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990, which prohibited a variety of weapons, such as flick-knives and martial arts weapons. The Act also extended firearm certificate controls to firearm silencers, stun guns and crossbows. Also introduced was the requirement for a police permit to possess a “defective” firearm.
In 1993, following the European Firearms Directive, the European Communities (Acquisition and Possession of Weapons and Ammunition) Regulations 1993 were made under the European Communities Act. These regulations make provision for European Firearm Passes, Article 7 authorities, and prohibition of certain firearms and ammunition as in Great Britain.
The Ministry of Justice had promised shooters in Ireland that the onerous laws would be reconsidered if the security situation in Ireland improved, and in 1994 during the IRA cease-fire they kept their word – but only just. The Minister of Justice issued a policy routinely allowing firearms dealers and certificate holders to possess rifles in calibres up to .270 inches.
In 1998, the Irish courts ruled that the Minister of Justice could only grant non-resident firearm certificates to people who met the same conditions as residents under the Acts – that essentially made it impossible for certificates to be issued, as there is no way the Minister can check the background of a person resident in another country.
This led to the Firearms (Temporary Provisions) Act 1998, which authorises the Minister to issue a firearm certificate to anyone who holds a European Firearm Pass, or any other licence or permit from their home country that the Minister feels is acceptable. The Act was valid for one year, while the Ministry considered permanent amendments to the Firearms Acts 1925 – 90. However, it was extended for a further year.
It was finally repealed and replaced by the Firearms (Firearm Certificates for Non-Residents) Act 2000. This Act gave the Minister for Justice the power to grant firearm certificates to non-residents, and he may take the fact that an applicant holds a European Firearms Pass if they are resident in another EU State, or holds a licence equivalent to a firearm certificate if they reside outside the EU, as evidence of suitability. However, this is not a requirement and the Minister may grant a certificate if he is satisfied the applicant is a suitable person to hold one. After two years, the power to grant certificates moved to the Garda Superintendent for the area in which the non-resident intends to reside in while in Ireland, and applications will then have to be made to the Garda. The Act also empowered the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands to grant game licenses to non-residents for the “hunting and killing of animals”.
In 2004, a legal challenge to the policy adopted in 1972 led to it being withdrawn when it became clear it was legally indefensible as it had no force of law. Consequently, firearm certificates are once again being granted for the possession of pistols and rifles of any calibre, provided the applicant shows: “good reason”.
In reaction to the court ruling, the Oireachtas heavily amended Ireland’s firearm laws with the Criminal Justice Act 2006, Part V of which makes a considerable number of major changes. The most major change is the introduction of the concept of a “restricted firearm”, which requires an applicant to show a “good and sufficient reason” in order to be able to possess one, instead of just “good reason”. Further information on restricted firearms and the re-introduction of a handgun ban are contained in this editorial.