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By Col. Barry S. Turner (Retr)

One thing strikes me forcibly: the increasingly casual references to "Marksmen" that have come to be accepted virtually without comment or reassurances to the public at large.

Mindful of the Dunblane school massacre a few years ago, I seem to remember that severe restrictions were placed on gun ownership, gun clubs and so on. One must remember also the public concern about the use of firearms by the police, accidental shootings, and the strict rules for the use of, including training in the use of, firearms.

No one, but no one, least of all, of course, the NFU as the one body that claims a national public profile, has to my knowledge emitted as much as a single squeak on this count. Just WHO are these marksmen who seem to have materialised out of the woodwork so opportunely, and where do they come from to be allowed or "licensed" to run around, reportedly like some wild-west show?

Some questions need to be asked:

1. Who are these marksmen, what are their qualifications, where do they come from? Are they registered members of gun clubs, trained policemen, servicemen, contract slaughtermen handed weapons temporarily? How is it possible to locate, recruit and organise "marksmen" in the numbers required?

2. Exactly what are these weapons, what types, are they suitable for the task, where do they come from, in what quantities, and held for legitimate use by whom? Are they on police registers? If so, under what justification? Licensed to individuals, to gun clubs, to competitive, (eg Olympic) sportsmen? Are they police-owned weapons?

3. How are these weapons secured during the extermination programme, in locked cabinets, in hotel or B&B accommodations used by these "marksmen" and MAFF officials, centrally in police custody between shootings? How are they transported to extermination sites? Moving in public places, by car, van, coach etc? Are they issued daily by the police? On site?

4. How is ammunition stored and accounted for? That 2,000 rounds may be issued to individuals at one time seems incredible. Can we assume that ALL "marksmen" are suitably qualified and accredited to hold ammunition in ANY quantity? What preliminary checks have been carried out to guarantee this? What action is taken to check unspent ammunition after shooting, to check and clear weapons, to check the area for lost ammunition?

5. What precautions are in force to protect members of the public? What warning signs/flags are displayed, what safety distances, cordons, are laid down AND enforced? What precautions exist, for example, to guard against undisciplined behaviour by "marksmen", against possible ricochets injuring members of the public, farmers and their employees/families, even other "marksmen"? Who supervises the extermination with the use of these weapons? Qualified policemen, army weapons instructors, who?

It may be that all these points have been covered. Regulations in the Armed Forces both on operations and training are unequivocal and very specific. If this situation occurred in Northern Ireland, the media and politicians, would be going berserk. The heads of senior police officers and army commanders would have been rolling by now. Yet I have seen absolutely no public information, assurances, or challenges from individuals or representative bodies. This seems to imply that the Law has simply been thrown to the wind.

Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps somebody does know the answers.

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