Lead gunshot regulation to be raised in Dáil
'Down the barrel of a gun', an article published by The Anglo-Celt newspaper back in July 2019 explains in depth the dilemma faced by those most at odds with the change.
The European Commission's REACH Committee's recent adoption of a regulation on the use of lead gunshot will be raised in the Dáil later today.
Cavan-Monaghan Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy will raise the issue with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O'Brien
It is one of the Topical Issues selected by the Ceann Comhairle and scheduled for discussion today from 5.32pm to 6.20pm.
The local Deputy will have four minutes to make an initial statement and the Minister/Minister of state has four minutes to reply.
The Deputy has then two minutes for a supplementary statement and the Minister/Minister of state has two minutes of his own to make a concluding statement.
Proceedings in Dáil Éireann can be viewed live HERE.
READ MORE: A story on the issue published in The Anglo-Celt newspaper back in July 2019.
Down the barrel of a gun
EU has lead shot ban in its sights
Gun owners in Ireland are facing the proverbial wrong end of the barrel if new restrictions on lead in shooting and fishing are pressed ahead with by the EU.
It follows moves by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), through the Committee for Socio-economic Analysis (SEAC), to ban lead shot and associated compounds fired in wetland areas.
The Helsinki headquartered agency first trained sights on the issue back in 2016, targetted by evidence that waterbirds such as ducks, geese and swans are ingesting ‘spent’ gunshot dispersed into the environment through hunting and sport shooting.
In addition, predatory and scavenging birds have been found to ingest lead gunshot present in their food, causing damage their nervous system, liver and kidneys. It likewise damages the bird's gizzard preventing feeding, and ultimately leading to death.
Europe estimates approximately one million wetland birds die annually from lead poisoning.
There are only a handful of countries where lead shot is still actively used. Ireland is one of them.
The ECHA/SEAC believes the benefit of restriction outweighs the environmental cost as well as that burdened by hunters, although its accepted the brunt may differ between Member States.
Peter Simpson is Senior Scientific Officer and Process Coordinator of Restrictions in the Risk Management Directorate at the ECHA.
He confirms ECHA/SEAC's recommendation has now been forwarded to the REACH Committee- the European Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals.
“In some Member States what we've proposed is no different from what they already have. In some its a little bit different, and in some, like Ireland, its obviously an enormous change from the status quo is because there is restrictions on the use of lead shot in weapons,” says Peter.
Aside from impacting waterbirds, there are concerns too for human health, as Peter's colleague, ECHA Scientific Officer Christoph Rheinberger, alludes.
There is no safe threshold for lead exposure, and Christoph notes where humans can be exposed is when they consume game meat killed with lead ammunition.
Research suggests cutting tissue from around the wound is not sufficient to remove contamination, and over-exposure can damage development, particularly in the brains of children.
The problems facing, and reservations held, by gun-owners in Ireland regarding the ban are “multiple”, Keith Foran explains in his opening salvo.
Keith is Chair of the National Association of Regional Game Council (NARGC) in Cavan. The Dublin-native was only elected to the post last month, but he's well-versed in the doubts held by members.
There are some 2,206 NARGC members in Cavan, and on that basis its safe to assume there are at least the same number of firearms held locally, if not more.
Keith estimates a “good” functional shotgun can cost upwards of €1,000, with a mid-range guns around €2,000. Others cost much more, based on vintage or if it is equipped for niche use.
Those who stand to lose most he feels, are landowners and infrequent gun users, such as those clearing vermin.
“A lot are farmers, some are into hunting, others into clay pigeon shooting. As one man said to me, he maybe takes his gun out once a year, but when he does, he needs it,” Keith comments.
Its estimated there are more than 200,000 guns licensed nationally, and the NARGC hypothesize up to 80 per cent will become obsolete due to the restriction. To replace them it could cost as much as €150 million.
“You wouldn't fire steel shot through an old gun. Its too dangerous,” testifies Keith, who himself uses a double barrel under/over for clays shooting, and hunts with a newer version shotgun.
The newer gun is marked with a 'Fleur de Lys', the recognised stamp for a gun is proofed to shoot steel shot. His other gun is not.
Proofing a gun is not as simple as following a tutorial video on YouTube.
The nearest place to get a gun certifiably proofed is the Birmingham Gun Barrel Proof House or the London Proof House and the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers.
Both are national organisations responsible for the administration of safe firearms proof testing.
There is currently no similar infrastructure available here in Ireland, an issue that may even before more complicated in a post Brexit scenario.
Many post-2006 manufactured guns are proofed already. The dilemma therefore emerges for all guns predating that.
The approximate cost to proof a gun, the NARGC worked out, could top €300- at €46 proofing cost; estimated insurance €70; €160 export/import to UK through a registered firearms dealer; and €30 for inspection by dealer for viability back in Ireland.
“If the gun fails proofing, you've lads who'll have gone through all that cost, be with a gun they can't use, that's worth nothing. What do you do then? If you don't proof them, under the restrictions, guns you've had for years, that work perfectly, become useless,” says Dan Curley, Chair of the NARGC nationally.
Dan has sat on the fringes of the lead restriction debates since almost the very beginning. The calibre of his contention is backed by several to Brussels, and he has been highly vocal when the NARGC submitted their view during the public consultation process on the lead ban in 2017.
So why are the majority of people only now becoming aware of the issue?
“If I'm honest, we're approaching the end game now. People are becoming aware of the difficulties coming down the track, and interest is picking up.”
The primer for NARGC's argument is how 'wetlands' are perceived as per what is known as the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental environmental treaty established in 1971 by UNESCO.
There are already restrictions to lead shot use over wetlands in Northern Ireland, ever since Westminster committed to the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) in November 1999.
Despite never implementing it's measures, the Department’s position is to support the AEWA commitment. It is the case should draft regulation progress into law that provision for a lead-in time to facilitate arrangements to source alternatives to lead shot would be made. “The Department has had discussions with hunting and farming bodies on this matter and contacts will continue as the situation evolves,” a spokesperson said.
By comparison, Denmark banned lead shot almost 30 years ago, while the balance of EU Member States have banned to varying degrees using lead shot either on wetlands or for waterfowl hunting.
The Convention on Migratory Species has furthermore established a task force to promote the implementation of guidelines on lead. These guidelines were agreed by the Convention’s parties in 2014, but again Ireland failed to act on phasing out lead shot use within these habitats.
Accordingly Dan suggests improving compliance should be the focus now, rather than obligating the country to impose new and potentially impossible to enforce restrictions.
Under the strictest reading of Ramsar, Dan warns practically all of Ireland will come under pressure. “Basically any peatland, bog, or any field that ever even flooded, which is nearly all of Ireland.”
As for the claim of widespread evidence that waterfowl are ingesting ‘spent’ lead gunshot, Dan reloads his argument to point towards an inspection carried out by Michael McCreesh, veterinary surgeon with St David's Poultry Team Ireland back in March 2019 on behalf of NARGC.
Mr McCreesh dissected 1,197 gizzards for the presence of lead shot pellets, provided by NARGC members from ducks shot across from 23 different counties during the 2018-19 season.
Lead shot was found in just 21 gizzards, an incidence rate of just 1.75%.
Department of Justice figures show lead shot use fell by 15% in Ireland since 2015, to around 16,400,000 rounds fired last year, with the vast majority of those being clay shooting.
“What the EU has is a one-size fits all idea that's totally disproportionate, apart from being practically impossible to implement. If there is a clearly defined problem, address it where it is,” contends Dan.
Another complication the NARGC broaches is alternative ammunition, particularly for small rifles under .223mm- the likes predominantly used by farmers to kill vermin.
Ammunition manufacturers do offer a range of alternative shot- containing steel, iron, copper, zinc, tungsten or bismuth as a primary declared component.
But such ammunition is not without its own risks, as discovered in a study by the Technical University of Munich, where researchers found some alternatives are even more toxic than conventional lead shot, with higher than expected concentrations of copper and zinc.
Elizabeth Ormiston is a suckler farmer from Mullagh in Co Cavan, and the first IFA female county committee chair in the country. Her own sons grew up shooting clay and hunting, and she is an ardent advocate for rural culture and pastimes.
For this reason, she thinks: “It is yet another pot shot at life in rural Ireland. Another part of rural livelihood, its identity being caught up and stripped about by red tape.”
To emphasis her point she recalls the introduction of lower drink driving limits and how, she claims, it heighten rural isolation.
“Income is already very limited, and when you take beef and suckler farmers especially at the minute, it'll hit them very hard. When the gun isn't taken out its put away in a secure cabinet, which I'll remind, they had to pay €150 when that became compulsory. It beggars belief. Its pressure upon pressure for some people.”
In addition, Cecil 'Baz' Whyte from Cootehill promotes the social aspect of sport shooting and hunting. He, with friends, recently established the Cavan Clay Club near Killinkere. They have 15 members already, and Baz also shoots with the Knockbride and Shercock Gun Club, which has 60 members.
Among the guns he uses is a hammer-action side-by-side, handed down to him through two generations. The gun is unfit for proofing, and Cecil would greatly lament any forced retirement. “Its a beautiful gun. It'd never be fit to be got again, and it'd never be fit to be proofed for steel shot either. Its going to be a disaster.”
Like many gun owners, Cecil takes part in various charity events that help raise hundreds of thousands of euro annually for charities across the country.
Cecil recently signed-up to take part in National Clay Shoot for Pieta House, hosted by Sligo man Kieran Finn later this year.
It will see Cecil, and others gun users each shoot 1,000 clays in a single day, a remarkable feat of skill and endurance by any standard.
The event is being held in conjunction with the Irish Clay Target Shooting Association (ICTSA), and hopes to raise €30,000 for the national suicide and suicide bereavement charity.
“I was at a charity shoot up in Ballivor, and they probably gathered up five or six thousand in a day. We're going to the Esker (Galway) shoot with Kieran [Finn], there's 30 of us going to shoot, and I alone have gathered up maybe close to €2,000 from the shooting community. There is a lot of charity work like that done, and [the restrictions] are going to make it a lot harder on those type events.”
For the likes of competitive shooting, gun retailer Kevin Ball of Bawnboy Shooting refers to Ireland hosting the 5th ICTSF World English Sporting Championships in Dowth, Co Meath earlier this year.
The event, set across 500-acres of sprawling parkland estate, attracted hundreds of gun enthusiasts from across the UK, Ireland and Europe. It had a massive spin-off to the local economy as well in terms of food and hospitality sale.
That opportunity, Kevin suggests, could be lost if a lead shot ban on lead is introduced.
Kevin sells up to 40 guns a year. He himself shoots using an automatic. Its 20 years old, and not proofed. He first bought the gun when he was 16 years old, and laughs when saying: “There's a lot of shooting left in it yet.”
Weighing up the all that is contained, he admits to understanding why restrictions are being proposed, but draws short of accepting an outright ban on lead shot. “Take farmers for instance. He'd maybe shoots three bullets a year, two to scare crows, and one to scare a dog. I'd sell a pack of bullets and maybe not see him for a few years later. Who is this ban aimed at?” he asks.
Comitology is the set of procedures through which EU countries control how the EU Commission implements law. Before an act is implemented, the Commission must consult a committee where every EU country is represented.
As a result, Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy is asking why the Irish Government is allowing the plan to introduce restrictions proceed without objection.
The matter was further discussed by elected members to Cavan County Council, where Sinn Féin's Paddy McDonald successfully tabled a motion calling on the EU to holster the lead ban proposal.
MEP Cathy reveals he has already engaged with both the Commissioner and European Ombudsman on the issue, and will continue to fight for a full and robust dialogue before any legislation is “further contemplated”.
The transposition of any future ban in Ireland looks set to come under the Department for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, but such are the implications for the farming community, MEP Carthy feels an intervention from the Agriculture Minister is warranted.
While supporting measures to “protect and conserve” the environment, he does not endorse what he deems here as “unworkable or tokenistic” proposals that may even “isolate the very partners we need in the delivery of these objectives.”
“Considering the particular impact that the proposal would have in Ireland it would be appropriate for the government to withdraw its intention to implement any such legislation until such stage as a comprehensive consultation has taken place.”
Sean Gilliland is a former member of An Garda Síóchána, and Director of the family-run Mourne Shooting Grounds near Lough Egish in Co Monaghan.
He also represents Fine Gael on Monaghan County Council, and says what gun owners need to start to realise is that this issue is “here to stay”. The involvement of the ECHA he adds, only heightens the demand for change, as it now concerns public safety.
He cites a report compiled by Des Crofton, a consultant and gun enthusiast, who points out how the ban can be aligned to when people opposed the adoption of a Code of Good Practice for night shooting which, when introduced, actually saved the practice from being outlawed altogether.
Consequently Cllr Gilliland is in favour of being proactive in ensuring Ireland's voice is heard, and has lobbied, among others, Vice President of the European Parliament MEP Mairead McGuinness, and Minister for Business, Heather Humphreys.
“We're at stage now where we're trying to appeal for a degradation or partial exemption,” says Cllr Gilliland, who is in no doubt that Ireland and gun-owners in this country are fighting an “uphill battle” if simply seeking to seeking to avoid a ban is the hollow-point of their agenda.
Instead, he'd hope to attain extra time so that more investigation can be done to challenge what the ECHA has tabled, and outline how a ban on lead and switching to alternatives may not be the “greener option”.
Cllr Gilliland outlines how lead, when exposed to air, oxidises but doesn't leach, whereas steel does after use. “The alternatives out there are not the final solution to all this. Along with other agencies we're acutely aware of the issues that are out there. But we may need more time to get our points across.”
Back to Peter in the ECHA, who claims the greatest challenge then facing the ECHA is dealing with the “myths” surrounding a lead ban. Moreover, he's convinced while there will be a degree of transitioning needed, eventually the strictures of the ban will be accepted.
“Essentially we try to debunk with our analysis because none of [what's claimed] has been proven to be true.
“But its quite typical to be wary of a change. Where these regulations have come in in Member States in the past, there is a transition to the use of alternatives, and eventually once everyone has got use to it there is no long term negative effects.”
In addition to those who contributed views, The Anglo-Celt contacted Birdwatch Ireland, and the proofing houses in Birmingham and London for comment, but none was provided by time of going to print.