Irish homeowners can now legally shoot anyone who enters their property – a move that has been slammed by civil liberties campaigners in a row with Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

Legislation has now  come into effect that allows homeowners to use "reasonable force" to defend themselves, their families and their property.

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 before the bill became law, that “the current situation, which legally demands a house owner retreat from an intruder, was intolerable."


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The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, however, is highly critical of the change in the law but Justice Minister Alax Shatter has denied it is a "license to kill."

Council director Mark Kelly has labeled the new law "lax" on home defense and is highly critical of the legislation.

Kelly said: “These are lax proposals, which contain insufficiently robust legal safeguards to protect the right to life of householders or intruders.

“The law encourages people to use lethal force to defend their property and is at odds with Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights which obliges the state to ensure that lethal force can only be used if absolutely necessary and strictly proportionate in all the circumstances.”

In response, Minister Shatter has countered the claims that the law now serves as a freehand to kill an intruder.

Shatter said that previously the law lacked clarity in relation to the rights of householders who discovered a burglar in their home.

“This has now been resolved by the legislation which concerns the use of reasonable force, force that’s in proportion to the threat someone perceives they are under,” said the Minister.

“The level of force would depend on the individual circumstances. It’s not a license to kill anyone.”

The change in law follows major national debate in the case of traveller John Ward, who was shot dead while trespassing on the Mayo property of farmer Padraig Nally in October 2004.

Convicted of manslaughter, Nally was sentenced to six years in jail, but his conviction was overturned on appeal after the court accepted he had not been permitted to use self-defense as an argument at his trial.