Irish homeowners can now legally use guns to defend themselves if their homes are attacked under new legislation.

The new home defense bill has moved the balance of rights back to the house owner if his home is broken into "where it should always have been", say top Irish police.

The police association of superintendents and inspectors, the AGSI, stated that “the current situation, which legally demands a house owner retreat from an intruder, was intolerable".

The new bill was published by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern yesterday. Under the bill homeowners will be allowed to use "reasonable" force against intruders to defend themselves, others or their property. This includes lethal force, depending on the circumstances.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern stated that house owners could use guns in self-defense, especially if the intruders were armed but said it would ultimately be a matter for the courts to resolve.

The bill also clarifies that a house owner will not be required to retreat from an intruder. and that intruders injured as a result of reasonable force won’t be able to sue the house owner.

"The bill is welcomed because it aims to clarify the entitlements of a homeowner when faced with the situation where an uninvited intruder has entered the home," AGSI vice-president Dan Hanley told the Irish Examiner.

"The bill aims to shift the balance of rights back to the homeowner where it should always have been. It is intolerable a homeowner should be compelled to retreat in front of an intruder who has entered the home and who may have malign intentions towards the homeowner, the family or the home owner’s property."

Hanley added: "It is ridiculous to suggest the bill, which attempts to redress a serious legal imbalance, would provide a license to kill or a ‘have-a-go’ charter for homeowners, the vast majority of whom will continue to act with good sense and in a peaceful way."

Minister Ahern also dismissed the suggestion the bill was a "license to kill". He stated it merely allowed for lethal force provided it was justifiable.

Rural Link, the national network of community groups in rural Ireland welcomed the bill, saying it was "sensible legislation giving much needed clarity to homeowners on their rights when confronted by intruders".

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties however, stated it would inspect the bill to establish that it was "human-rights compliant".

The need for new legislation became evident after an intruder, John Ward, was shot dead while on the land and dwelling area of Mayo farmer, Pádraig Nally.

Nally was convicted of manslaughter, but his conviction was later overturned after a public outcry.

Burglaries in Ireland increased from 23,600 in 2007 to 26,800 in 2009. Violent burglaries rose from 255 to 363 in the same period.