5 February 2004 Edition
Brits renege on plastic bullet pledge
Sinn Féin has reiterated its demand that plastic bullets be immediately removed from operational use in the wake of an NIO-commissioned report into possible alternatives to the lethal projectiles.
The publication of the fourth report by an NIO-led steering group follows an announcement by Direct Rule Minister Jane Kennedy that plastic bullets will remain in use until at least 2005. Kennedy's declaration breaks the British Government's pledge — made in April of last year — that the plastic bullet would be phased out by Christmas 2003.
In the interim, many of the so-called alternatives suggested by the NIO report are just as alarming. One option is a new plastic bullet that emits a cloud of toxic gas on impact and is intended to stun its target.
Tentatively named the Discriminating Irritant Projectile (or DIP), the new canister is designed to be fired at single targets, but anyone standing within one metre of the intended victim is also likely to be affected. Tests have further revealed that the fragments dispersed from its exploding gas capsule have the potential to cause additional injury to the eyes of anyone standing nearby.
The burst of vapour the DIP emits is so damaging that any British soldiers or PSNI members firing the rounds must wear protective clothing and use respirators when discharging the weapon.
The substitute projectile has renewed memories of the infamous CR gas canisters used against republican prisoners in Long Kesh during the burning of the prison in October 1974. CR gas has since been the subject of complaints by ex-prisoner groups, after those exposed to the vapour developed serious health problems in later life.
Other NIO suggestions for replacement weapons include an electronic taser and a 12-gauge shock round that also stuns its target.
Anti-plastic bullet campaigners are outraged by the suggestions and point out that the use of a chemical weapon could lead to widespread and long lasting side effects.
Clara Reilly, of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets, says that the British are once more playing with words and that the group would oppose the new weapon.
"When you consider that people are still dying from the effects of CR gas when it was used in Long Kesh, it is unbelievable to think that the British are even considering using this weapon in Ireland," says Reilly angrily. "It's simply another plastic bullet — it's out of the frying pan and into the fire.
"The British have reneged on their promises to get rid of the weapon. When they first introduced rubber bullets in the 1970s they said they were non-lethal. They were lying.
"When they introduced plastic bullets, they said they were safer. They were lying. When they introduced the new plastic bullet in 2001, they said that it was safer again. Again they were lying. And they are lying about this new bullet.
"Plastic bullets were supposed to be phased out by Christmas last year, yet it seems that the British are only interested in bringing in new and deadlier variations."
Sinn Féin's spokesperson on policing and justice, Gerry Kelly, says plastic bullets should be removed from operational use immediately.
"The British Government committed themselves to the removal of plastic bullets from operational use. These are lethal weapons. They should not be in use. The consideration of alternatives is no excuse to delay any further the removal of lethal plastic bullets.
"The PSNI and British Army have used and misused plastic bullets to kill and maim men, women and children. Any alternatives must be non-lethal."
Plastic bullets have killed 17 Irish people in the last three decades, including seven children, and have been condemned by human rights groups worldwide.