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Northern Irish firearms licensing teams struggle to manage backlog of applications

The firearms licensing branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland is in crisis with top officers declaring a ‘critical incident’ as teams buckle under a backlog of applications.

PSNI Chief Superintendent Sam Donaldson and Dr Jonathan Howarth, Head of PSNI Firearms and Explosives Branch announced that the situation had become critical at a meeting with members of the Northern Ireland Firearms Representative Group (NIFRG).

During the meeting at PSNI headquarters in Belfast, the PSNI admitted that 3000 applications were yet to be processed and that the number is increasing. The chaotic situation has arisen from a mix of factors including lack of officers to process applications and a failing IT system. Speaking after the meeting, a NIFRG spokesperson said: “The NIFRG took the opportunity to convey our deep dissatisfaction with the current situation within firearms licensing and we committed to work with PSNI to effect immediate and sustained improvements in performance.

“Processing timescales of up to a year are wholly unacceptable. However, this meeting offered a glimmer of hope, in what is a desperate situation. The current crisis not only reflects badly on PSNI FEB, but in the wider context, it has also damaged public confidence in the police service generally.

“This direct intervention by PSNI is a much-needed move and the NIFRG will be assisting FEB with a review of its current processes in a bid to make them more efficient. We will also be providing feedback to PSNI on its new complaints procedure which will help monitor performance and ensure the accountability of FEB staff.”

Northern Irish shooter Doyle Thomas was among those welcoming the decision. Doyle said: “It’s about time. There have been totally unacceptable working practices and no accountability or transparency.”

The PSNI has made some moves in recent years to simplify the system for firearms licensing including introducing an ‘any other lawful quarry’ condition on certificates, however these have failed to ease the backlog sufficiently for officers to bring the situation under control. Firearms in Northern Ireland are regulated under different legislation and a different system from those used in the rest of the UK.