Police Will Soon Carry Electroshock Weapons

police car

Police in Iceland will be armed with electroshock weapons by the end of this summer. 464 officers are now completing their training in the use of the weapons, RÚV reports.

Minister sidestepped procedure

Icelandic police officers do not generally carry firearms, unlike in many other countries, although police vehicles are equipped with a gun. Last year, a change in regulation allowed officers to carry electroshock weapons. The Parliamentary Ombudsman subsequently found that Jón Gunnarsson, Minister of Justice at the time, should have consulted the cabinet before amending the regulation to arm the police. The decision was found to have not been in accordance with good governance.

Police feel unsafe at work

A quarter of police officers feel unsafe at work, according to the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police. 90% of officers are in favour of carrying electroshock weapons. The police responded to more arms-related incidents last year than in the years prior. “This tool is an important addition to our tool belt and is the step between clubs and gas before we get to firearms,” said Guðmundur Ásgeirsson with the police’s education division. “In certain situations, this weapon can make a difference, because we won’t have to resort to using firearms.”

The police have acquired 160 weapons and will double that amount in the next five years. The police claim that the weapons will be strictly monitored and officers have received training, including sessions in a virtual reality simulator.

No Whaling This Summer

Hvalur, whaling company,

Update April 17: At the time of writing, the whaling license is still pending. Kristján Loftsson’s statement to the effect that whaling will not take place this summer is not to be perceived as their lack of intent to whale. Rather, his statements are a critique of government action. It is currently still undecided whether Iceland will resume whaling this summer. Iceland Review apologises for the misleading headline, but presents the original article below, unaltered.

Whales will not be hunted in Icelandic waters this summer, according to Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf., Iceland’s only whaling operation. “As it stands right now, we have no hope of whaling this summer,” he told Morgunblaðið.

Opposition from the Left-Greens

The company applied to the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries for a whaling license on January 30. The ministry has not responded and a new minister was appointed last week, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir of the Left-Green Movement. Her fellow party member, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, had been the previous minister and was set to face a vote of no confidence in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, for temporarily stopping whaling last summer. The Parliamentary Ombudsman had found that her decision to stop whaling on animal welfare grounds had not been in accordance with the law.

“It’s clear in my mind that the ministry under the leadership of the Left-Greens is disregarding the conclusion of the Parliamentary Ombudsman and continues methodically on its mission of destroying this industry, even though it’s operating on legal grounds,” Kristján said. “When we don’t know if a license will be issued we can’t start hiring people and buying supplies, which is a necessary prerequisite for whaling.”

Controversial practice

Kristján added that the ministry had only been willing to issue a license for one year at a time and was asking the company to clarify if and how it adhered to certain stipulations in laws and regulations. The company has requested damages for the shortened whaling season of last summer.

Whaling remains a controversial practice in Iceland and is protested both domestically and abroad.

Bjarni Returns as Prime Minister

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson

Bjarni Benediktsson, current minister of foreign affairs and leader of the centre-right Independence Party, will become prime minister in the reshuffled coalition government following the departure of Katrín Jakobsdóttir from the office, RÚV reports.

Katrín announced last week that she would resign as prime minister and leader of the Left-Green Movement to campaign for the office of president, with presidential elections scheduled for June 1. This threw the future of her party’s coalition with the Independence Party and the centrist Progressive Party into uncertainty. A parliamentary election is scheduled for September next year, but the opposition has called for a snap election in light of these developments.

Bjarni’s return following privatisation scandal

At a press conference in Harpa concert and conference hall today, Bjarni announced that he would become prime minister. Bjarni was previously prime minister during a short-lived coalition in 2017 and finance minister for most of the period from 2013 to 2023. He resigned as finance minister in October of last year after the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that his role in the privatisation process of Íslandsbanki bank, which had been nationalised after the 2008 banking collapse, had not confirmed to guidelines.

He became minister for foreign affairs instead, with fellow party member Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir becoming finance minister in his stead. Þórdís will now move back to the ministry for foreign affairs, where she served previously.

Embattled Svandís switches ministries

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, leader of the Progressive Party, will now become finance minister. Embattled Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir, who was set to face a motion of no confidence in Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, this week, will become minister of infrastructure. In January, the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that she had not acted in accordance with law when she temporarily banned whale hunting last summer.

Her fellow Left-Green Movement MP, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, will take her place in the ministry of food, agriculture and fisheries.

The changes will be formalised at a meeting of the cabinet with President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson at 7 PM tonight.

Minister to Face Vote of No Confidence

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Svandís Svarsdóttir, minister of food, agriculture and fisheries, will face a vote of no confidence next week when Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, reconvenes after Easter break. Chairperson of the People’s Party, Inga Sæland, has announced that she will file the motion, Vísir reports.

Svandís returns from sick leave tomorrow. She announced on her Facebook page that she is feeling good following treatment for breast cancer that she was diagnosed with in January.

Previous motion withdrawn

Svandís was set to face a motion of no confidence when she went on sick leave in January, but Inga withdrew the motion in light of the circumstances. The Alþingi Ombudsman had concluded that Svandís’ decision last summer to temporarily stop whaling had not been in accordance with law. The CEO of Hvalur, Iceland’s only whale hunting company, had threatened to sue for damages due to last year’s shortened whaling season. She’s also faced criticism from MPs of the Independence Party, a government coalition partner of her party, the Left-Green Movement.

Controversial whaling decision

“The vote of no confidence is still pending, we’re just waiting for her to be present to defend it,” Inga said. She’s said that her motion is a result of Svandís breaking the law and has nothing to do with whaling as a practice, adding that Svandís had overreached when she temporarily stopped whaling.

The hunting of whales in Iceland remains a controversial practice and is the subject of protest both domestically and abroad.

Embattled Minister on Medical Leave

Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Svandís Svavarsdóttir, minister of food, agriculture, and fisheries, announced yesterday that she is on medical leave. In a Facebook post, she divulged that yesterday morning she received a diagnosis of breast cancer and will undergo surgery and treatment in the coming weeks.

“I face this challenge upright, serene, and optimistic,” she wrote. “All my efforts will go towards this with my people by my side.”

Vote of no confidence withdrawn

As Alþingi reconvened today, Svandís was set to face a vote of no confidence. The Alþingi Ombudsman concluded earlier this month that the decision made by Svandís last summer to temporarily stop whaling was not in accordance with the law. She had announced her decision in June due to an “unequivocal” opinion on animal welfare produced by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). She argued that in light of the opinion, she would have no choice but to postpone the start of whaling season.

Svandís, a member of the Left-Green Movement, has faced heavy criticism from MPs of the Independence Party, her coalition partners. The CEO of Iceland’s only whale hunting operation had threatened to sue for damages caused by the shorter whaling season. The hunting of whales remains a controversial practice in Iceland and has been protested by several local and international animal rights groups.

Inga Sæland, chairperson of the People’s Party, had only just submitted the motion of no confidence when Svandís announced her diagnosis. Her party started the process of withdrawing the motion right away. “This is shocking,” Inga told Vísir. “Terrible news. It wouldn’t be in good taste to vote on a person who’s not present in Alþingi to defend herself. She’s a hard working woman. I wish her the very best. She’ll battle this with serenity.”

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir will act as minister in Svandís’ stead during her medical leave.

No Active Whaling Licenses in Iceland

Whaling ships

No Icelandic company has an active whaling license and no applications for one have been submitted to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Heimildin reports. The only active whaling company in recent years, Hvalur hf., saw their five-year license expire at the start of the year.

The hunting of whales remains a controversial practice in Iceland and has been protested by several local and international animal rights groups. The Alþingi Ombudsman concluded last week that Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir did not act in accordance with the law when she temporarily stopped whaling last summer. Svandís announced in June that she would postpone the start of whaling season due to an “unequivocal” opinion on animal welfare produced by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST).

Vote of no confidence expected

Svandís, a prominent member of the Left-Green Movement, has come under fire by coalition partners and the opposition because of the Ombudsman’s conclusion. She has said that she has not considered resigning as minister. In the RÚV political panel show Silfrið last night, MPs from coalition members the Independence Party and the Progressive Party did not say if they would support her if a motion of no confidence is introduced in Alþingi. Opposition MPs from the People’s Party and the Social Democratic Alliance said that it would not be in their interest to back Svandís up if such a vote comes to pass when Alþingi reconvenes. Centre Party Leader, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, has announced that his party will introduce such a motion, Morgunblaðið reports.

The last whaling license was granted to Hvalur hf. in 2019 when a minister from the Independence Party was in charge of the issue. When the shortened whaling season eventually began in August last year, Hvalur went on to catch 24 fin whales. Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf., has said that he will sue for damages for the delay.

Future of whaling unclear

Andrés Ingi Jónsson, MP for the Pirate Party, introduced a bill in Alþingi last year to ban whaling. It has not come to a vote, but has received 3,500 reviews from the public and advocacy groups, 2,000 more than have ever been submitted on any other policy issue. It is unclear whether the ministry would grant a new whaling license with Svandís in charge. She has said that the legislation on the issue needs updating and that the Ombudsman’s conclusion will help guide future policy-making on whaling.

Minister of Finance, Bjarni Benediktsson, Resigns from Office

bjarni benediktsson

Now-former Minister of Finance, Bjarni Benediktsson, has resigned from office following critique of his role in the March 2022 sale of Íslandsbanki shares.

Report on Íslandsbanki Sale Highlights Lack of Transparency

The Ministry of Finance issued a notice this morning of a press briefing at 10:30. Earlier this morning, the opinion of the parliamentary ombudsman had been published on the government website where it is stated that the Minister of Finance’s preparation for the privatization process of Íslandsbanki did not conform to government guidelines.

Following the 2008 banking collapse, several major banks were taken into state ownership, to later be sold off in a privatization process. The sale of shares in Íslandsbanki was criticized for a lack of transparency at the time, with special attention given to Hafsilfur ehf., a company owned by Benedikt Sveinsson, the father of the Minister of Finance. Hafsilfur was among those who purchased shares in Íslandsbanki when a 22.5 per cent stake in the bank was sold in an auction. Bjarni, now-former Minister of Finance, has stated in the past that he first learned about the company’s purchases when the ministry received a list of buyers from the State Financial Supervisory Authority after the auction had concluded.

FME Believes Íslandsbanki Broke the Law During March Sale

Skúli Magnússon, the parliamentary ombudsman has indicated that there was a lack of clarity in the preparatory documents regarding conflicts of interest. In his official opinion, the parliamentary ombudsman concluded that the Minister of Finance was not qualified to approve the sale. According to the ombudsman, it must be assumed that he had “significant and real interests in the sale.” The ombudsman also stressed that nothing has come to light that would cast doubt on the Minister’s claim of ignorance regarding Hafsilfur’s participation in the auction.

In his response to the ombudsman’s findings, Bjarni expressed his disagreement with some of the conclusions but emphasized the importance of respecting the opinion. He mentioned that the next steps would be determined in consultation with fellow Independence Party members.

Bjarni also reiterated that he had not been aware of his father’s involvement in the auction and defended his actions throughout the auction process. The sale of Íslandsbanki’s stake has had several important consequences, including one of the largest-ever fines levied on an Icelandic financial institution,  and the resignation of Íslandsbanki CEO, Birna Einarsdóttir.

Agreement Reached Between Central Bank and Íslandsbanki

During his press briefing, Bjarni stated that, given the recent opinion given by the ombudsman, he found it impossible to continue working in the Ministry of Finance. He stated that he wanted to bring peace to the ministry and that he would step down as the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs. Bjarni stated further that he wanted to demonstrate that “responsibility came with positions of power.”

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Minister Sidestepped Procedure in Arming Police

Dómsmálaráðherra Ríkisstjórn Alþingi Jón Gunarsson

Iceland’s Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson should have consulted the cabinet on the decision to arm police with stun guns, according to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, RÚV reports. The change is a major political issue and should have been brought before the cabinet. Jón only announced the new regulation publicly after it had been passed.

Contrary to many other countries, ordinary police officers in Iceland do not carry firearms on their person. Police vehicles are, however, equipped with a gun. At the end of last year, the Minister of Justice signed an amendment to regulations, authorising Icelandic police to carry electroshock weapons. He announced the decision in a column submitted to local newspaper Morgunblaðið once it had already been implemented. The regulatory change was never discussed in the cabinet before it was made.

See Also: Icelandic Bar Association Concerned About Increased Police Surveillance Powers

In a letter sent to the Prime Minister two days ago, the Parliamentary Ombudsman stated that he believes Jón Gunnarsson was guilty of a lack of consultation when he changed the regulations. The Prime Minister’s reply to the letter stated that the decision to arm police with stun guns constituted a change in focus and that she had therefore specifically requested that the Minister of Justice explain the decision to the cabinet. The Minister of Justice did not comply with that request.

In a legal opinion published yesterday morning, the Parliamentary Ombudsman stated that Jón’s decision was not in accordance with good governance. Violations of formal rules not only serve to undermine trust, the ombudsman wrote, but also circumvent political consultation required by law and by the constitution.

Unclear whether Jón will continue as Minister of Justice

In an interview with RÚV, Jón Gunnarsson stated he disagreed with the ombudsman’s opinion and that he would not step down as Minister of Justice due to the issue. However, when the current government took power, Jón was only to hold the position of Minister of Justice for the first 18 months of the term, and was set to be replaced by fellow Independence Party MP Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir.

In January, Guðrún told reporters she expected to take over the role this month, but Jón Gunnarson stated today that no one has yet asked him to step down from the position.