Fianna Fáil minister ignored serious industry concerns when appointing party diehard to state board

Fianna Fáil junior minister James Browne appointed a party loyalist and constituency ally to a €400-a-meeting state firearms board despite serious concerns raised by the man’s industry colleagues.

The Ditch previously reported that Browne appointed Paul Walsh, a Wexford Fianna Fáil member, to the Department of Justice’s Firearms Expert Committee without interview.

Documents released to The Ditch under freedom of information show that Browne’s office received an email that included allegations of cronyism regarding Walsh’s appointment, as well as questions about the Gorey man’s suitability for the role.

‘A pure 100 percent coincidence that he is a member of your constituency in Wexford’

Almost a year after justice department junior minister James Browne featured on Pat Kenny’s Newstalk show in September 2021, speaking about the establishment of the Firearms Expert Committee, his office received an email.

One of the people Browne would later appoint to the committee was Paul Walsh, a Fianna Fáil diehard from Browne’s home county of Wexford.

Announcing the committee, Browne had said it would “examine the existing firearms licensing regime. The safety of the public is paramount to this, adding that the department would “welcome applications from all suitably qualified candidates and look forward to seeing this important work progress”.

The email Browne’s office received, which is understood to have been sent by a member of the Irish firearms community, called into question whether Paul Walsh was a suitable candidate for the committee.

“For some reason minister,” reads the 27 June, 2021 email, “you have chosen a certain Mr Paul Walsh for your committee.”

The email drew attention to Walsh’s history with gun owners' lobby group Sports Coalition, which participated in a previous state firearms board before ultimately boycotting it, with Walsh accusing fellow board members of covering up criminality.    

“In other words he is a known ‘gun lobby’ figure to your department,” reads the mail.

The mail referred to Walsh sharing a constituency with Browne. “Also I'm sure that it is a pure 100 percent coincidence that he is a member of your constituency in Wexford?”

Browne had appointed Walsh to the board without an interview, having received a list of nominations from which to choose. The email asked Browne to explain the process.

“Also minister, could you inform us on how these candidates were chosen for these positions? Were they interviewed by you or anyone in the department and what was the methodology used to choose them, apart from their CV looking good?  In other words to avoid a situation similar to the Coveney-Zappone affair, could you… shed some light on the process used to decide on these candidates?”

A member of staff in the department forwarded the mail to a colleague, telling this colleague that it wouldn’t be necessary to address the specific claims made in the mail.

“I would think that an outline of the process would suffice as a response,” reads the mail. The recipient agreed and asked for a reply to be drafted.

Committee members are paid €5,985 a year, which works out at roughly €400 a meeting, along with expenses.

Walsh declined to comment but when previously asked by The Ditch about his appointment said, ““Okay. I don’t think you’re being very nice with your tone of questions, okay?”

A Department of Justice spokesperson said, "While we do not intend to comment on individuals, we wish to make it clear that neither the Minister nor the Department have any concerns with the FEC appointment process or the persons appointed."

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors