16 March 2005 Edition
The use of plastic bullets has proved to be one of the most controversial aspects of policing in the North, writes An Phoblacht's JENNIFER WILLIAMS, who spoke to Clara Reilly of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets (UCAPB) about some of the deaths and horrific injuries inflicted on people by the crown forces using the lethal projectiles.
"This weapon has been responsible for the deaths of 17 people, seven of whom were children between the ages of ten to 18 and although few reliable statistics exist in relation to injuries, the number is believed to be in the thousands," said Reilly.
"Despite ongoing protests from anti-plastic bullet campaigners and the EU's call for a complete ban on their use, the British Government have continued to deploy the weapon."
In moving terms,Reilly outlined the circumstances surrounding the deaths of some of those killed by the RUC and British Army and explained how in 1981, at the height of the hunger strikes, up to 50,000 plastic bullets were used in nationalist areas of the North to suppress street protests in support of the Long Kesh prisoners and the disturbances which erupted with news of the deaths of the hunger strikers.
In May, 14-year-old Julie Livingstone was walking towards her Lenadoon home when she was hit in the head by a plastic bullet fired from a British Army jeep. Two weeks later, Carol Ann Kelly, from Twinbrook in West Belfast, was also shot dead by a British soldier as she walked home from a shop carrying a carton of milk. Coroners' courts found that both children were innocent victims.
The previous month, on 15 April, Paul Whitters from Derry, aged 15, had been fatally wounded when the RUC shot him in the head at point blank range with a plastic bullet. He died ten days later. An independent investigation into his death conducted in 1982 by Lord Gifford concluded that there was "no possible defence" for the boy's killing.
However, the killing of Nora McCabe in July 1981, remains one of the most moving and controversial of the 17 plastic bullet killings.
The details of her death graphically illustrate the deep injustice caused to the bereaved families by the British authorities.
Nora, the mother of three young children aged seven, two, and three months, had left her home in the Clonard area to go to the shop when she was shot in the back of the head by a plastic bullet fired by the RUC.
The RUC denied any involvement in the shooting; indeed, they denied being in the vicinity of Linden Street that morning when the shooting occurred.
At the inquest into Nora's killing, which opened on 19 November 1982, James Critchley, one of the most senior RUC members in West Belfast, denied that the RUC were in Linden Street at the time and claimed the patrol, which he was with, had fired two plastic bullets to disperse a crowd of rioters who had set up barricades and that they fired only when petrol bombs had been thrown.
However, film shot by a Canadian TV documentary filmmaker contradicted the RUC version of events and showed that there had been no rioting in the area at the time the RUC shot Nora McCabe.
Jim McCabe, Nora's husband, demanded that each officer be charged with perjury and murder, yet there was no prosecution, on the grounds that no identification could be made from the video
The late Pat Finucane, who was representing the McCabe family, said at the time that if anti-plastic bullet campaigners "can't get justice for Nora McCabe they'll not get it for anyone". Finucane himself was assassinated in 1989 by a unionist death squad acting on behalf of the British state.
"Hundreds and perhaps thousands of people have been seriously injured by this weapon," said Reilly. "Recorded injuries include partial paralysis, fractured skulls, personality disorders, fractures to facial bones, brain damage, blindness and loss of eyes.
"Since its introduction, the plastic bullet has been the subject of constant and intense criticism. They must not let them back on our streets and we must work until we achieve a complete ban on their usage."