RTÉ Prime Time reporter Barry Cummins in Wicklow during last night’s show
Last night Prime Time on RTÊ One tackled the issue of gun ownership in Ireland (ahead of proposed restrictive legislation).
Lots of scary synth music then.
But what did the legally held firearm-owning community think?
Was it fair and, indeed, balanced?
Marksman Mark Dennehy writes:
Where do you start? Well, actually, there’s a good place to start and that’s by spending 40 seconds passing on the one bit of information that should have been at the top of the report but was never mentioned, which is this:
The most important thing to remember is that the law keeps the public safe. The Firearms Act prohibits the Gardai from giving out firearms licences if doing so would create a threat to the public or the peace and if that threat arises after the licence is given out, the Firearms Act empowers them to revoke the licence instantly.
Firearms licence owners are vetted thoroughly by the Gardai and licences are only issued where there’s a valid reason for having the firearm, where the applicant has a safe place to use it and a secure place to store it, and these things are checked by the Gardai both during the application and at random inspections after the licence is issued.
While there are problems with the Firearms Act, they’re problems that only affect sportspeople, they don’t compromise public safety and can be readily resolved by the Oireachtas in a very straightforward manner if they so wished.
With that most important bit out of the way, last night’s report has already had a half-dozen formal complaints submitted to RTÉ on the grounds of biased coverage, so what are the specific complaints? Well…
– They never explained to the public the current state of the firearms licencing laws, never mentioned the basic requirements for getting a firearms licence or the powers granted to the Gardai (and the legal duties) to ensure that firearms licencing never compromises public safety. And they cut off the only interviewee who tried to explain them.
– They never spoke at all about the actual proposals which have been made by the Gardai. So nobody ever learned that those proposals have nothing to do with public safety. There’s no proposal to increase the minimum mandatory security levels required, there’s no proposal to introduce new criminal offences to tackle gun crime or to increase penalties for existing offences, nothing like that. The proposals explicitly and solely deal with licencing of firearms for sport.
– They never raised any questions over the garda statistics and even let [Fianna Fáil] Deputy [Finian] McGrath bring them up without comment even though both Finian and Miriam were told about the problems in those statistics last week (and every broadsheet reader was as well). Miriam even hushed Egan when he protested that the statistics were wrong, saying that he would “bamboozle them with figures”.
– They spent money on sinister sounding music and graphics when showing target shooting, but never once mentioned their 165-year-long safety record.
– They showed lots of airsoft replicas as though they were licenced firearms (which they’re not, they’re toys) and lots more illegal firearms that nobody can legally licence as though they were what the proposals were about (including footage of submachine guns that were confiscated in a drugs bust a fortnight ago in Cork, guns that aren’t legal to own anywhere in the EU).
– They said the official scheduled inspection of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice to the range at Nurney was a happenstance casual visit and they never asked Deputy McGrath why he failed to attend that scheduled inspection as a member of the Committee (and they also quietly skipped over how Finian didn’t go to the Garda HQ presentation that day as well, and how he didn’t show up for all the committee hearings on the proposals)
– They never gave any context for the figures they presented. So they said there are about 200,000 firearms in Ireland, but they didn’t point out that this is the fourth lowest firearms ownership rate in the EU and that it’d be lower in reality because the term “Firearm” in Ireland includes many items that aren’t firearms in the EU. And they said there were approximately 1,800 licenced handguns in Ireland but never mentioned that that’s a 30% reduction in handgun ownership compared to the ownership levels we had before the Gardai and Minister sidestepped the Dail to bring in an illegal de facto ban on them in ’72.
– They kept saying that firearms stolen from licenced firearms owners were used in crime, but never mention how we’ve been asking for proof of that in the Dáil for a decade and have never heard of even one confirmed case of a stolen handgun being used in crime.
– They talked about an “Olympic Standard” pistol. I’m an ISSF-accredited judge, and I’ve been involved in Olympic shooting for 22 years now and there is no such animal. And the proposals that are being discussed would ban the entry level pistols beginners use in Olympic pistol shooting.
– They portrayed deer stalking in a very negative light, as if it was a couple of yobbos shooting deer for a bit of craic. They never mentioned the reasons for deer stalking. They said nothing about entire herds of deer starving to death over winter because of overpopulation (deer have no predators in Ireland). They didn’t mention the care the hunters take of the herd outside the shooting seasons. They barely mentioned the legislation governing it. And not one mention was made of the facts that the hunters are the eyes and ears of the National Wildlife and Parks Service against poachers, or of how hunters are the group who do more for conservation in this state than anyone else. It might not be pleasant viewing for people, but it’s a necessary thing. And why it was shown at all only for Prime Time to then say “oh, the proposals don’t affect these guns” is downright questionable.
– They brought up mass shootings like Dunblane without any details or context, like the many issues that the Cullen Inquiry raised with the Scottish Police in Dunblane and how the law that existed in Scotland at the time gave the police all the necessary powers to preempt Dunblane, but they ignored a written report from Detective Sergeant Paul Hughes where he said:
“I am firmly of the opinion that Hamilton is an unsavoury character and an unstable personality. … I would contend that Mr. Hamilton will be a risk to children whenever he has access to them and that he appears to me to be an unsuitable person to possess a firearms
certificate in view of the number of occasions he has come to the adverse attention of the police and his apparent instability. ….respectfully request that serious consideration is given to withdrawing this man’s firearms certificate as a precautionary measure as it is my opinion that he is a scheming, devious and deceitful individual who is not to be trusted.”
– And at no point in the report did they ever give the context for the proposals – that is, the several million euro bill the Gardai are facing in court costs for over six hundred and fifty lost court cases regarding licencing; the several supreme court judgement which have stated that the Gardai and Minister acted unlawfully in regard to firearms licencing for over thirty years; and the recent development which has seen District Court case appeals being permitted to seek costs from the Gardai in the event of an applicant being successful in appealing a licencing decision.
In short then, they didn’t tell anyone what the whole story was about, they never gave context for anything, they presented the whole thing using sound and lighting cues so it all appeared very sinister and scary, and they completely skipped over the actual investigative journalism bit.
As that might have brought up a story about error-ridden garda statistics, large unnecessary court bills being footed by the taxpayer, and an attempt to rewrite the law to get around the awkwardness of having to present a case in public when a decision is challanged.
A terrible waste of airtime on a lost opportunity.