Shooters of all ages have come together to abolish unnecessary age restrictions for shooters in Northern Ireland. The Countryside Alliance Ireland (CAI) has collected more than 5,000 signed postcards asking for a change to firearms legislation, all of which were delivered to Eric Kingsmill, head of firearms and explosives at the Northern Ireland Office, on 21 December. The CAI is hoping to bring Northern Irish legislation into line with the rest of the UK.

The current age limit for holding a shotgun certificate in Northern Ireland is 18 years old, while the age limit for shooting while under the supervision of a certificate holder is 16.

The CAI?s postcard campaign follows the publication of a consultation by the Northern Ireland office entitled Young People and Firearms in Northern Ireland. The consultation offered recipients three options: that supervised shooting remain with an age limit of 16 years old, that the minimum age for supervised shooting be lowered to 12 years old, or that it be brought into line with the law of Great Britain, where there is no minimum age limit. Campaigners are calling for the implementation of the third option, which is seen to have no negative consequences in terms of accidents, as well as being regarded as vital for shooters, particularly those shooting competitively. Shooters would be able to receive vital instruction from an early age, something not currently afforded to them.

Ronan Gorman, chief executive of the CAI, has been leading the campaign to change the age limit. He told ST: ?The House of Commons Northern Irish affairs committee held an inquiry into firearms legislation in 2003 and recommended a single regime should govern young people?s access to firearms across the United Kingdom. That is the driver behind the recommendation. We made a presentation to the committee and it endorsed our calls.

The committee took evidence from all sides and found no reason why a lowering of the age limit would present any problems with regard to firearms-related crime. Giving evidence to the Northern Irish affairs committee, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said that the supervised use of sporting firearms by young people presented no threat whatsoever to public safety.?

Mr Gorman was hopeful that a change could be brought about by May 2007: ?It could be changed by the first game fair in Northern Ireland, which is in May,? he said. ?That would allow plenty of time for the consultation. My own view is that it will be later, but we expect the changes to be made in the first half of 2007. The campaign is one to end discrimination. Young people in the rest of the UK have a significant advantage, particularly at clayshooting. No other sportsmen are forbidden to take up their chosen sport until they are 18 years old and we simply want them to be brought into line. There is no coherent argument at all not to change the legislation.

The province?s 75,000 sporting firearms users feel very strongly about the issue and that?s why we launched the postcard campaign, so normal shooters could have their say.?