18 January 2007 Edition
Plastic Bullets should never be used again
BY LAURA FRIEL
Campaign and support groups have welcomed a commitment by PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde not to use plastic bullets for the purposes of public order or crowd control. Although Orde’s comments fell short of an all out ban, campaigners view it as a significant development. The PSNI Chief said deployment of plastic bullets would be restricted in line with rules that currently apply in England and Wales.
The plastic bullet “will not be used for the purposes of public order/crowd control but only in response to an individual or individuals threatening violence where the only alternative would be the use of live rounds, following the same rules as in England and Wales,” said Orde.
The PSNI Chief admitted that this hadn’t always been the case and “a number of innocent people including children have been killed and injured by plastic and rubber bullets.”
Orde acknowledged that for the families of those killed and the injured this would “always be a burning issue”. “I cannot change the past but we all need to work to ensure that such situations are never again repeated,” said Orde.
The PSNI Chief said the British government was committed to the full implementation of the Patten recommendations regarding plastic bullets and the PSNI had “no desire” to deploy these weapons.
In a joint statement the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets and Relatives for Justice described the PSNI Chief Constable’s comments as “very welcome and a significant development.”
A spokesperson for the groups, Clara Reilly described Orde’s comments as only the first step and said it was “highly regrettable that the Chief Constable did not take this opportunity to completely end the use of baton rounds.”
Reilly called for further clarification in light of the current guidelines, which are already supposed to be adhered to in the deployment of plastic bullets but often ignored.
Reilly pointed out that while the innocence of victims has been recognised in some courts, this was the first time anyone from the PSNI had acknowledge it.
“No one in the RUC, British army or British government has acknowledged the hurt and pain caused by these weapons. This lack of acknowledgement has compounded the pain of these families who have bravely and relentlessly campaigned for truth and justice. We now need the full truth about all of these killings,” said Reilly.
Kathleen Duffy, whose 15-year-old son Séamus was the last person to be killed by a plastic bullet, said the campaign against the use of these weapons would continue until they were totally banned and called for investigations into the deaths.
“Hugh Orde has admitted innocent people were killed. No one was ever brought to justice for the killing of my son,” said Kathleen.
Séamus Duffy died in August 1989 after being shot with a plastic bullet by a member of the RUC. In direct breach of the rules governing the use of plastic bullets Séamus was shot at close range, so close in fact that the projectile’s protective cap did not have time to fall off.
The inquest jury dismissed allegations that Séamus had been rioting at the time of the shooting. In other words the RUC officer who carried out the shooting deployed the weapon in such a way that rendered it inevitably lethal and in circumstances where use of the weapon could not be justified. The DPP refused to prosecute the case.
Jim McCabe, whose wife Nora (30) was killed by a plastic bullet in 1981 welcomed Orde’s comments and called for the cases to be reopened and reinvestigated.
Brenda Downes, whose husband Sean was killed by a plastic bullet in 1984, described Orde’s comments as “only a beginning”.
Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin reiterated Sinn Féin’s party’s call for a total ban on plastic bullets. “Sinn Féin has recently held a number of meetings with PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde specifically on the issue of plastic bullets. We welcome the commitment not to use these weapons in crowd control and public order situations. Hugh Orde’s acknowledgement of the hurt resulting from injuries and deaths of innocent people including children is also welcome. These weapons should never be used again,” said McLaughlin.