Report and recommendation for the Firearms Consultative Panel on the issue of Shooting and Hunting at night.
Following the 3rd Meeting of the Firearms Consultative Panel 5 April 2016 a decision was made to put in place a working group to look at the issue of shooting and hunting at night. This WG was open to all FCP members. However it was felt by those present as more relevant to the deer hunting organisations, Sports Coalition, National Parks & Wildlife Service and An Garda Siochana. This working group was to be chaired by Wesley Atkinson who represents NPWS on the FCP. There was agreement that the issue of unregulated shooting and hunting at night was a potential Health and Safety issue to the farming community, other rural dwellers and the general public.
The WG convened on 3 occasions;
27th May 2016 – Wicklow Garda Station
12th September 2016 – IFA Farm Centre
10th April 2017 – Wicklow Garda Station
The initial meeting on the 27th May was to agree a draft terms of reference for the WG which was to be presented to the FCP on 18th July 2016.
At this meeting a general discussion took place on the issue of shooting and hunting at night in general and the associated safety issues unregulated activity can cause. All present agreed that there is an issue with aspects of this activity but at the same time there was a balance to be struck between curtailing/eliminating illegal dangerous activities versus the need for farmers, foresters and other land managers to manage their enterprise/landholding in a legal and safe manner. Such management would include control of dogs causing damage to stock (particularly sheep), vermin control or the control of protected wildlife causing damage (inc. Deer). Recorded incidents are relatively uncommon but those that are reported pose a real health and safety risk and are a cause of concern. This issue is under reported to AGS or NPWS but anecdotally those present had heard of incidents that for whatever reason had not been reported.
All agreed that education and the provision of simple and accurate information would be hugely beneficial and an outright ban would be neither possible nor enforceable and would be viewed in a very negative light by farming, landowning and hunters groups. Furthermore while the WG issues where primarily around safety concerns arising from firearms usage at night, concern was expressed within the WG that illegal hunting in general on lands at night was a growing concern. This involves mostly the use of dogs and lamps and feeds into the area of rural crime etc. Where possible any outputs from the WG should incorporate this issue.
Recommendations for consideration by FCP meeting of 18th July 2016.
Best practice guidance would be drawn up by the FCP in conjunction with the stakeholders that will provide clear and practical information on this subject. There is already best practice guidance available from the UK in relation to the Night Shooting of deer under licence and much of this guidance is applicable for all types of shooting at night and could easily be adopted. The Irish Deer Management Forum has just negotiated the use of the UK best practice guides from the relevant bodies in the UK and as such may have a role to play here. The additional issue of night hunting without firearms and issues such as trespass by illegal hunters could be easily covered in these guides.
Guidance to Gardaí assessing Firearms licences could be updated to cover the issue of using firearms at night.
The issue of cross communication in relation to firearms relevant to wildlife crime and wildlife act convictions. Inspector Paul Greene said that, subject to AGS clearance, the FPU could act as the conduit for updating information on convictions between AGS and NPWS.
To explore the practicalities of imposing a curfew during hours of darkness (11pm till dawn was discussed) whereby shooting should not take place save in accordance with a licence or permit.
AGS would look the terms and conditions that might practically be applied to firearms certificates to effect some control over night shooting.
These recommendations were accepted by the FCP on 18th July 2016.
The 2nd meeting of the WG was held on 12th September 2016 in the IFA Farm Centre to progress the recommendations to the FCP.
This meeting was attended by the IFA Vice President Richard Kennedy. He gave the IFA perspective in relation to the issues involved. He said a balance had to be struck between dealing with illegality and H & S issues while allowing framers and landowners to use night shooting as a tool to protect their livestock and crops from pest species such as foxes and rabbits and the issue of sheep being worried by dogs etc. The best approach should be through providing information, education and promoting best practice for night shooting. He went on to say many of the issues we were discussing were also the same issues that raised their heads in relation to rural crime and criminality. The Vice President’s attendance clearly demonstrates that this issue is of concern to farmers and landowners and not just those involved in shooting and hunting.
Outputs from Recommendations;
1. Best Practice Guidance
This best practice guidance has been drawn up by a working group of the FCP. The WG comprises of representatives or written inputs from AGS, IFA, NPWS, SC, IDS and WDAI. See Appendix 1.
It is hoped that this guidance will provide clear and practical information on this subject. There is already best practice guidance available from the UK in relation to the Night Shooting of rabbits and foxes (commonly known as pest species) and deer under licence. Much of this guidance is applicable for all types of shooting at night and with the exception of differences in legislation is applicable in Ireland. In addition, the Irish Deer Management Forum has recently negotiated the use of the UK best practice guides from the relevant bodies in the UK and as such may have a role to play here. The issue of night hunting without firearms and issues such as trespass by illegal hunters are also covered in simple terms.
The Draft outlined in Appendix 1 can be incorporated in the AGS Commissioner’s Guidelines
or incorporated in a best practice guidance leaflet to be used by the FCPs constituent
stakeholder groups. This could a joint initiative or produced individually tailored to the
2. Guidance to Gardaí assessing Firearms licences
For brevity an edited version of the BPG is included in Appendix 2 to be used to cover the issue of using firearms at night.
3. Cross communication between AGS & NPWS in relation to firearms relevant to wildlife crime and wildlife act convictions.
On the issue of cross communication in relation to firearms relevant to wildlife crime and wildlife act convictions. Inspector Paul Greene said that subject to AGS clearance the FPU could act as the conduit for updating information on convictions between AGS and NPWS. The Chair has written formally to NPWS on this matter and the process is being included in an MOU that is currently being drawn up between AGS and NPWS.
4. To explore the practicalities of imposing a curfew during hours of darkness
Given the fact that dawn changes as the season’s progress, a simple straightforward solution to this issue was somewhat problematic. The WG was acutely conscious for the balance to be struck between curtailing/eliminating illegal dangerous activities versus the need for farmers, foresters and other land managers to manage their enterprise/landholding in a legal and safe manner.
There was agreement that the majority of issues associated with shooting or hunting at night centre around (but not exclusively) the autumn, winter and spring periods.
The solution proposed is that a curfew is in place from 1st Sept until 31st March and operates between the hours of 12 midnight and 6am. During the curfew period no shooting or hunting should take place except in accordance with a licence or permit (e.g. Sec 42).
There will be no curfew in April, May, June, July and August when the nights are very short. If it becomes apparent that these months are indeed problematic they can be reviewed.
5. AGS to examine the conditions that may be applied to firearms certificates to affect some control over night shooting in the interests of public safety.
This matter is incorporated in 2 above.
Chairman on behalf of Working Group.