Northern Ireland news

Concerns raised about the use of plastic bullets

Water cannon is deployed on the SPringfield Road in west Belfast on Thursday. Picture by Mal McCann.
Connla Young

THE use of plastic bullets and water cannon by police during street violence this week has been described as "an alarming development".

Police have confirmed that six plastic bullets were fired during serious rioting in west Belfast on Wednesday.

Trouble flared between nationalist and loyalist youths at the Lanark Way peaceline with both factions also turning on PSNI officers on the same night.

The following evening police also used water cannon and deployed dogs against nationalist youths who attacked them in the Springfield Road area of west Belfast.

It has been reported that many of those taking part in the disorder were children.

During the Troubles 17 people, including children, were killed by plastic bullets fired by the security forces.

Relatives for Justice chief executive Mark Thompson, who has campaigned on the issue, said "plastic bullets have no role whatsoever as part of a modern police service".

“The forms of plastic bullets in the armoury of the PSNI have not been tested for their impact on children.

"It has been widely reported that the area where they were fired was filled with children."

Mr Thompson said plastic bullets are "not suitable for crowd control".

“Plastic bullets are not used on the island of Britain or any other part of the jurisdiction," he said.

He added that they should be "removed and banned from the PSNI forthwith" and that RFJ will "continue to monitor their use by the PSNI and will engage with domestic and international oversight bodies to this end".

Amnesty international has also raised concerns.

Northern Ireland Programme Director Patrick Corrigan, said "police using water cannons and plastic bullets is an extremely alarming development, particularly if deployed against children".

“The public disorder of the last week has brought serious risks to life and limb, and the police must be able to carry out their duty to protect the public," he said.

"It is an unenviable task, and it is distressing to hear so many officers have already been injured in the line of duty."

He added that the use of plastic bullets presents risks.

"With so many children on the streets, and the risk of serious injury via direct hit or ricochet, there is a significant risk in their use in current circumstances," he said.

“Water cannons are inherently indiscriminate and have the potential of causing serious injury and even death."

He added that "all such uses of force will require investigation by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.”

The PSNI did not respond at the time of going to print.

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