176. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his Department considered the risks associated with time lock mechanisms before including such mechanisms as a requirement for strong rooms in the context of SI No. 646 of 2017 Firearms (Storage of Firearms and Ammunition by Firearms Dealers) Regulations 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 14367/18 asked on 28 Mar 2018)

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): I propose to take Questions Nos. 175 to 178, inclusive, together.

I wish to advise the Deputy that Statutory Instrument 646 of 2017, entitled Firearms (Storage of Firearms and Ammunition by Firearms Dealers) Regulations 2017, was signed into law by me and circulated to firearms dealers.

These Regulations give effect to minimum standards for the safe and secure storage of firearms and ammunition in the premises of firearms dealers. They recognise that firearms dealers are entitled to be in possession of large quantities of firearms but require them to conduct business from a premises that has been constructed to a high standard. The Regulations also recognise the different categories of firearms dealers and scales the requirements depending on the quantities of ammunition and firearms being stored. For example, a time lock requirement does not apply to those dealers who deal only in small quantities of ammunition.

This Statutory Instrument derives from the powers conferred under Sections 9(10) and (11) of the Firearms Act 1925, which were inserted by Section 38 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006. Section 9(10) provides “The Minister, after consultation with the Commissioner, may by regulations specify minimum standards to be complied with in relation to premises in which a firearms dealer carries on a business or proposes to do so”.

Section 9(11) provides “The minimum standards shall be determined by reference to

(a) the security of the premises

(b) their safety, and

(c) their standard of construction,

and having regard to their use for, as the case may be, the manufacture, repair, testing, proving or sale of firearms or ammunition”.

These provisions were passed by the Oireachtas on 5 July 2006 and signed into law by the President on 16 July 2006 and commenced on 1 January 2008.

The Regulations were developed following consultation with a sub-group of the Firearms Consultative Panel (FCP) consisting of registered firearms dealers. It was agreed by the FCP when this sub group was being established that the firearms dealers on the Panel at the time should sit on the sub-group for the purpose of examining this particular issue. Firearms dealers’ premises were visited in fourteen counties prior to and during the drafting of this legislation. The dealers who sat on the sub-group are knowledgeable of the security that they and their colleagues utilise. Additionally, An Garda Síochána who were represented on the group have extensive experience with regard to security measures available in the industry and particularly in firearms dealers’ premises.

Concerns have been raised by some firearms dealers, particularly in relation to the time lock requirement. The inclusion of the requirement for time locks was originally suggested by the sub-group to act as a significant deterrent and discouragement to criminal attack. Some dealers have claimed that their monitored alarm system serves the same purpose as a time-lock. This is not correct. The existing monitored alarm system will alert if the strong room is opened but it will not prevent the door from being opened. The time-lock mechanism will prevent the door from being opened until a time pre-determined by the firearms dealer. This measure is to make a ‘Tiger Kidnapping’ situation less likely to occur whereby a dealer could be forced to open the strong room under duress. The time-lock will lock the door at a time decided by the dealer (e.g. at the end of the business day) and cannot be opened until a pre-determined time (e.g. the commencement of the next business day.) It is also understood that some dealers view is that time locks would prevent access in the event of a fire and could lead to dealers being held kidnapped for a longer period while waiting for time locks to open. It is likely that criminals would not risk waiting for the deactivation of time locks when there are risks that other security measures included in the premises could be activated e.g. duress panic buttons.

The Commissioner of An Garda Síochána has strongly endorsed the security measures contained in this Regulation and has advised that the inclusion of a requirement for a time-lock on the strong room door will deter criminal activity and require the use of greater resources by any person attempting to access firearms or ammunition illegally. Similar security measures have been applied successfully elsewhere, e.g. in banks, pharmacies and the jewellery sector.

In order to minimise the financial impact, a lead-in time of twelve months (to 1 February 2019) for compliance has been included in the Regulation in order to permit dealers sufficient time to comply with the legislation.

I wish to advise the Deputy that I have no plans to amend these regulations which have been introduced as a public safety measure.