Northern Ireland Police Service declares Firearms and Explosives Branch “critical incident”

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has declared a “critical incident” due to protracted backlogs of applications within its firearms licensing department.   A critical incident is defined as “Any incident where the effectiveness of the police response is likely to have a significant impact on the confidence of the victim, their family or the community”.

The announcement was made during a recent meeting between PSNI Chief Superintendent Sam Donaldson, Dr Jonathan Howarth, Head of PSNI Firearms and Explosives Branch (FEB) and members of the Northern Ireland Firearms Representative Group (NIFRG).

Formed in May 2021, the NIFRG is an umbrella group which brings together all the national and local shooting and countryside organisations.

The meeting took place at PSNI Headquarters in Belfast, during which the PSNI advised that the backlog was sitting at roughly 3,000 applications and rising.

The influencing factors for the backlog given by PSNI, include a lack of resources and a requirement for IT system upgrades.  As a result, the PSNI has introduced a Gold Command strategy to deal with the situation.

Speaking after the meeting, an 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.

“The introduction of a Gold Command strategy is good news, as it means the crisis has been highlighted at Chief Constable level, and that a strategy has been introduced to resolve the situation.

“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.”

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