The firearms legislation in Ireland is essentially a four-tier system of control:
1) Unregulated - toy guns, replica firearms
2) Subject to police permit - "defective" firearms, meaning firearms which are inoperable for any reason, due to age, or damage, or through having been rendered permanently inoperable. Application for a permit is made to the Garda Superintendent for the area in which the applicant resides. The superintendent may attach any conditions he feels necessary, relating to secure storage or otherwise, to any permit and may at any time revoke the permit if he considers it necessary.
3) Firearms requiring a firearm certificate - all other firearms, including airguns and also crossbows, require a firearm certificate for possession.
Application for a firearm certificate is made to the superintendent of the Garda in the area in which the applicant resides. Applicants must be at least 16 years of age and not be prohibited by any statutory provision (i.e. unsound mind, criminal history, intemperate habits) from possessing firearms. The applicant must also have a "good reason" for requiring a firearm. The typical reasons accepted by the Garda are: target shooting, (provided the applicant is a member of an authorised gun club), pest control and other agricultural uses, and deer stalking.
Certificates are valid from 1 August to 31 July the following year. On the initial grant of a certificate, the certificate is valid until the 31 July the following year.
Unlike the rest of the British Isles, firearm certificates relate only to one firearm - a person wishing to possess more than one firearm must hold a firearm certificate for each gun. Certificates are only subject to variation when the person disposes of a firearm and wishes to acquire another immediately.
The certificate also authorises the possession and acquisition of ammunition, in the quantities the applicant has shown "good reason" for. Although handloading of ammunition is technically legal, obtaining an explosives licence for the possession of primers and powder is exceptionally difficult, thus handloading of ammunition is effectively banned.
Firearm certificates are subject to conditions, prescribed by the superintendent. He may add conditions he considers necessary, such as restricting a rifle possessed for target shooting to be used on authorised ranges, for example. (The Irish Supreme Court has ruled that requirements for secure storage were unlawful as they were issued in violation of the Firearm Acts, although the Garda still advise certificate holders to have secure storage for their firearms.)
A fee is payable upon application for a firearm certificate. Fees for a certificate to possess a shotgun are €25 for the first shotgun and €6 for each additional shotgun, certificates for other firearms cost €38 each. Because certificates must be renewed annually and relate only to one gun, the licensing fee costs make it difficult for most gun owners to own more than a few guns.
4) Firearms requiring the authority of the Minister of Justice - Irish law only expressly forbids a small number of firearms, essentially firearms which expel noxious substances (which includes stun guns). However, the Minister of Justice has sweeping power to declare most types of firearms "especially dangerous" and subject to a Dangerous Weapons Order (such as machineguns). Firearms so classified, like prohibited weapons, require the permission of the Minister of Justice as well as a firearm certificate to possess.
However, the principle method of prohibiting firearms was a "policy" entered into between the Garda and the Ministry of Justice. All firearms were prohibited, with the exception of shotguns with a barrel length of at least 24 inches, any .22 rimfire rifle, or any bolt-action rifle with a calibre of .277 inches or less (the policy states .270, however this has been interpreted to include .270 Winchester, which has a diameter of .277 inches), excluding "military weapons" (which essentially means anything chambered in 5.56mm or .223 Remington). This policy was recently scrapped due to legal pressure, and it became clear such a policy had no legal standing.
The Minister will only give permission to possess prohibited firearms in very rare cases, such as to military contractors for example.