The Journal of History     Winter 2004    TABLE OF CONTENTS

Call for Plastic Bullets Ban;  RUC Investigated

Author unknown
Originally published between July 16-18, 2001

The North's Human Rights Commission has called for an end to the firing of plastic bullets in the North of Ireland after several were injured by the RUC's use of the lethal weapons last week.

Plastic bullets have killed 14 people and injured hundreds in the North of Ireland since their introduction at the height of the conflict.

The HRC's call came after considering again the information in its possession concerning the new plastic baton bullets available to the RUC as from 1 June 2001. Basing itself on the report prepared for Government by the Defence Scientific Advisory Council, the Commission reiterated its view that the new weapon appeared to be even more dangerous than the weapon it replaced. The Commission believed that using plastic bullets as a method of crowd control was "a disproportionate use of force."

Professor Brice Dickson, chief commissioner of the human rights body set up under the Good Friday Agreement, noted that disturbances in England had not led to their use. "In crowd control situations in Northern Ireland the police should not resort to them any more than the police in England appear to do," he said.

The RUC fired up more than 50 plastic bullets during clashes in the Ardoyne area last week. One woman experienced them being fired into her living room.

Professor Dickson stressed that the use of the plastic bullets in riot situations "simply made matters worse."

RUC chief Ronnie Flanagan complained about a "lack of rigour" in the HRC statement. "We direct baton rounds at individuals who are identified as behaving in a way that brings about a risk to life. We would never use them for crowd control," he said.

But he made no reference to the injuries sustained last week by innocents such as 16-year-old Ciara Moss, who was struck on the forehead and knocked to the ground in north Belfast on July 12th. She had been making her way to a friend's house when she was struck by a plastic bullet which ricocheted off a wall.

Miss Moss, a striker for the Northern Ireland girls' soccer team, had been due to play in an international fixture in Holland this week. She has received six stitches to the wound and is now unable to play.

Clara Reilly, a campaigner for the banning of plastic bullets, said the commission was moving in the right direction, but she was disappointed it had not advocated a complete ban.

Ms. Reilly said recent events were grim reminders of past fatalities, and it was sheer luck no one had been killed.

Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey has welcomed the statement by Professor Dickson as "important and significant."

"Plastic bullets are lethal weapons which are designed to kill," said Maskey. "It is a disgrace that in the wake of Patten the RUC took it upon themselves to introduce an even more lethal plastic bullet.

"Traditionally the RUC have used plastic bullets almost entirely against the nationalist community."


The police ombudsman Nuala O'Loan is to investigate the shooting of Ciara Moss as well as other RUC actions in Ardoyne last week. The most clear-cut incident was an attempted hit-and-run by an RUC vehicle on Friday, when an RUC armoured vehicle mounted a pavement and was driven at speed at a group of small children.

The incident was captured by a television cameraman who filmed as the children narrowly dodged the vehcicle and fled in terror. A number of victims of RUC assault are also making formal complaints.

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