Commencement of Fireworks Public Awareness Campaign

The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr Michael McDowell, T.D., announced the commencement today of a fireworks public awareness campaign which will run up to Halloween.  The campaign is designed to generate knowledge among the public that it is illegal to possess fireworks without a licence, to improve awareness of the danger of fireworks and of the new offences and penalties for the illegal possession and use of fireworks which have been introduced under the Criminal Justice Act, 2006.

The campaign will comprise print, radio and outdoor advertisements and its message is simple:

"No Licence - No Fireworks.
You could lose more than your fingers...."

Announcing the campaign, the Tánaiste said, "I am very conscious of the difficulties which the illegal use of fireworks present each autumn, the dangers which they pose to the public and the distress they cause to people and also to animals. 

In recent days we have been reminded of the serious danger which fireworks pose with the injury of a young girl in Finglas.  I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sympathy to the young girl and her family and wish her a speedy and full recovery. 

Because of my concerns, I decided to introduce new offences and strong new deterrents to the illegal use of fireworks in the Criminal Justice Act, 2006.  These new provisions make it an offence to misuse fireworks in public places and to illegally possess fireworks with intent to supply. 

I am confident that this year, with the introduction of these new offences and penalties, An Garda Siochana will have at their disposal the necessary powers and sanctions to more effectively combat the illegal importation, sale and use of fireworks."

The new offences and penalties which have been introduced are as follows:

  • It is now an offence for any person to possess a firework with intent to sell or supply, without a licence,
  • It is an offence to throw an ignited firework at any person or property, and 
  • It is an offence to light unlicensed fireworks

The penalty for these offences is a fine of up to 10,000 Euro or 5 years imprisonment or both.

Furthermore, the simple possession of fireworks without a licence is also an offence for which a person may be liable to a fine of up to 10,000 Euro.

Current policy in relation to the licensing of fireworks is not to licence the importation of any category of fireworks for the purpose of sale directly to the general public. Licences are only issued for organised events, such as the Dublin Skyfest celebrations, which are undertaken by technically competent professional operators.

Last year the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform commissioned research which showed that 48% of the public believed current policy to be 'about right' while 31% thought it to be 'too lax' and 20% thought it to be 'too strict'.  While the research shows that the public is not opposed to making such items as sparklers and party poppers available the majority is opposed to the availability more powerful fireworks. The general conclusion of the research is that the public are generally in favour of current policy of prohibiting the importation of fireworks for sale.

This year an intelligence led special Garda operation, 'Operation Tombola', which aims to prevent and detect the organised importation, for sale, of fireworks, has been put in place by the Garda Commissioner. Chief Superintendents throughout the country have been instructed to introduce measures appropriate to their respective areas of responsibility, with particular emphasis on Garda Divisions in the Dublin Metropolitan Region and in border regions. The operation, while being intelligence driven, is also coupled with high visibility policing activities.  'Operation Tombola' commenced on 25th September, 2006 and in the last week there have been 15 seizures of fireworks with an estimated value of 87,000 Euro.  Over the last five years such operations have resulted in significant seizures of illegally imported fireworks with an estimated value of over 2 million Euro.  All fireworks seized are forfeited by the person importing them and destroyed in accordance with the provisions of the Explosives Act 1875.
9 October, 2006

Notes for Editors

Previous Penalties
Prior to the introduction of the new Criminal Justice Act 2006, the penalties for fireworks offences were those set by the Explosives Act 1875.  The penalties included:
A fine not exceeding 5 pounds for throwing a firework;
A fine not exceeding 100 pounds for importing fireworks without a licence. 

Licensing Fireworks
The Explosives Act, 1875 Act provides for the control of the importation, manufacture, storage and sale of fireworks. The Act provides that fireworks may only be imported into Ireland on foot of an importation licence granted by the Minister and it is current policy to only issue licenses for the importation of fireworks used in organised displays, conducted by 'professional/ competent operators'. 

In effect, this policy means that the only fireworks imported into the State and 'legally held' are those used in professional displays.  All other fireworks imported, held, sold or used in this country are illegal and any person in possession of fireworks without a valid licence is liable to prosecution.

Classification of Fireworks

European Standard
Fireworks are classified into four categories based on their intended use, purpose and level of hazard.

Category 1 are very low hazard fireworks suitable for use inside domestic buildings;
Category 2 are low hazard fireworks which are intended for outdoor-use in confined areas;
Category 3 are medium hazard fireworks which are intended for outdoor use in large open areas and
Category 4 are high hazard fireworks which are intended for use by persons with specialist knowledge.

British Standard
Fireworks are categorised in the UK by the Health & Safety Laboratory, (HSL) following tests and assessment.  Under the 'British Standard of Fireworks Classification' (BS 7114) fireworks are also classified into four categories based on their intended use, purpose and level of hazard.

Category 1: Fireworks which are intended for indoor use in confined areas.
Category 2: Fireworks which are intended for outdoor use in confined areas.
Category 3: Fireworks which are intended for outdoor use in large open areas.
Category 4: Fireworks which are not intended for sale to the public but are intended for use by professional operators.

The explanatory notes to the British Standards state that:
"When used according to instructions Category 1 fireworks should not cause injury to people standing 1 meter or more away and should not cause damage to property.  In the case of hand-held fireworks the person holding them should not be injured.  Category 2 fireworks should not cause injury to people standing 5 meters or more away. In the case of hand held sparklers, the person holding them should not be injured by the dropping of hot slag or the ejection of sparks. The fuse fitted to the fireworks should enable the person lighting the firework to retire to a safe distance of at least 5 meters.
Category 3 fireworks should not cause injury to people standing 25 meters or more away.  People firing these fireworks would be expected to wear suitable personal protection."

What is important to note in relation to the classification of fireworks is that they are classified by reference to their use and hazard and not according to their general type and description.  Certain firework types can appear in more than one category, depending on their calibre/size, explosive content or hazard. Thus, for example, a small roman candle or banger could be Category 2, but a larger or more powerful one might be classified as Category 3 or even 4.