As Halloween is shortly upon us, it is important to be aware of the law relating to fireworks. Ireland is just one of two countries in the world to ban fireworks so stringently. Chile is the other. However, instead of moving to liberalise the sale of small fireworks in line with other European countries, Ireland has in fact made its laws stricter in recent years.
Before 2006, the sale of fireworks was illegal under the Explosives Act of 1875. However, the law was vague and there was no clear offence of possessing or detonating fireworks. The law before 2006 only covered the importation of fireworks into Ireland without a licence which meant that the use of fireworks was a customs and excise issue rather than a criminal issue. However, now under Part 6 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, which amended the Explosives Act 1875, the Gardaí have the power to make arrests in relation to possession of unlicensed fireworks.
The law gives a very technical definition of a firework. A firework includes all those devices which burn and explode to give a loud noise and a visual effect – basically a typical, traditional firework. Bangers are now defined as fireworks. Since 4 April 2010, under European Communities (Placing on the Market of Pyrotechnic Articles) Regulations 2010 (SI 1/2010) low hazard fireworks which are designed for indoor use and include items such as party-poppers, strips of bangers or caps for toy guns, it is also an offence to sell these types of products to anyone under 16 years of age.
Part 6 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 amended the Explosives Act to give the Gardaí the power of arrest and detention in relation to possession of unlicensed fireworks.
It is now a criminal offence to:
- ignite a firework in any place, whether in a public or private area, including your own property.
- throw or propel an ignited firework at anyone or their property.
- possess fireworks with the intention of selling or supplying them.
Anyone found guilty of any of these offences is liable on summary conviction in the District Court to fine of €2,500 or to imprisonment for six months or both. However, if the offence is regarded as serious enough to be put forward to the Circuit Court, the maximum penalties are a fine of €10,000 and five years imprisonment, or both. The Gardaí have significant powers to arrest without warrant if they reasonably suspect someone has committed a fireworks offence. The suspect may even be detained in a Garda station for questioning for up to 12 hours before being charged with an offence. The Gardaí also have powers to search premises and vehicles where they suspect fireworks are being hidden.
These penalties and powers may seem very draconian if applied to children and teenagers setting off a few small bangers at Halloween. Thankfully, however the Gardaí and our judiciary use their judgement in such matters. In practise, the more severe penalties are only likely to be applied in respect of the large-scale operations which import fireworks and which do not have a licence from the Department of Justice.
If you want to organise a fireworks display at a special event such as a party, you must apply for a licence or get a professional fireworks operator to apply, on your behalf, to the Department of Justice, and consult with your local Gardaí and Fire Officer.