Tuhoe activist Tame Iti was arrested yesterday and charged with firearms offences relating to the firing of a shotgun before a Waitangi Tribunal hearing at Ruatoki three weeks ago.

Iti was interviewed at Taneatua police station yesterday afternoon after two days of political pressure in Parliament over apparent police inaction - although the Bay of Plenty district commander, Superintendent Gary Smith, insisted the interview was planned days earlier.

The Herald has also learned that the police investigated an incident two years ago in which Iti fired a weapon at a tangi in the presence of Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright and Prime Minister Helen Clark, but decided not to prosecute.

Iti was filmed by a news crew on January 16 firing a double-barrel shotgun into the New Zealand flag on the ground in Ruatoki as the Waitangi Tribunal arrived for hearings into the Tuhoe claim. He said it was part of a re-enactment of the invasion and land confiscation in the Ureweras in the 1860s.

After his police interview yesterday, Iti was arrested and charged with recklessly discharging a fire-arm and possessing a firearm without a licence. He was released on bail to appear in the Whakatane District Court next Thursday.

Police Minister Mr Hawkins yesterday attempted to deflect heat from himself by taking the unusual course of advising the police, through a press statement, to issue their own press release on the progress of the investigation.

It didn't work. In question time in the House he was worked over even more thoroughly and by more Opposition parties than the day before for alleged inaction by the police.

National MP Tony Ryall accused the Labour Government of operating two standards of citizenship in New Zealand "where it allows the Maori hikoi to cross the Auckland Harbour Bridge in protest, but non-Maori protest groups are denied".

Act MP Stephen Franks, who first raised the matter in Parliament, hand-delivered to Mr Hawkins across the floor of the House a written complaint addressed to Police Commissioner Rob Robinson.

Mr Franks asked that Iti be charged not just with firearms offences but with dishonouring the New Zealand flag, an offence under the Flags, Emblems and Names Protection Act.

Meanwhile, staff of the Governor-General and the Prime Minister confirmed yesterday that they had been present when shots were fired at the tangi of eminent Tuhoe elder Sir John Turei two years ago.

A prime ministerial spokesman said Helen Clark had nothing to do with Iti's not being prosecuted then.

"At the time it was decided on balance that it was unlikely the weapon was being fired at her," her spokesman said. "No action was taken. It was entirely up to the police what, if any, action was taken and she certainly did not direct them at all."

The head of the diplomatic protection squad (DPS), Inspector Bruce Blayney, said two of his staff had been present and had been "concerned" at what had happened and filed a report to Mr Smith.

The superintendent told the Herald last night that the DPS had been rightly concerned because its members had been unaware of what was going to occur.

After an inquiry, he was satisfied that the firing of the gun was "the protocol on that particular marae".

"My understanding of it was that this practice was to do with summonsing and advising their community that there was an important event on the marae."

He had attended the same tangi on a different day to Helen Clark and the same thing had happened when he went on to the marae.

After meeting the marae committee, the police were satisfied that only blanks had been fired. It was resolved that in future the person firing the gun would be licensed.