Northern Ireland news

Bertie Ahern embarrassed by plastic bullet order

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair (right) former US Senator George Mitchell (centre) and former taoiseach Bertie Ahern (left) smiling after they signed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998
By Cate McCurry, PA


Bertie Ahern called for the use of rubber bullets to be discontinued in the Republic, saying he hoped it would put pressure on the British Government to reduce their use in Northern Ireland, records show.

The revelations emerged in a series of communiques between the then taoiseach and the Department of Defence in 1997.

Mr Ahern expressed his frustration that thousands of plastic baton rounds had been ordered by the department.

It emerged that a junior staff member at the Department of Defence placed an order to buy 2,000 practice baton rounds with a British company on June 19, 1997 to replace dwindling stocks for the continuation of training.

Records show that Mr Ahern wrote a letter to the Minister for Defence, David Andrews, after news of the order emerged at a dinner with the UK's Northern Ireland Office minister, Adam Ingram.

Mr Ahern said that a comment was made during a discussion about plastic bullets, and that as the Irish side "were completely unaware of the fact, it was a source of some embarrassment".

"I also would have to inquire what was the purpose of the purchase, as such ammunition has, as far as I am aware, never been authorised for use in this jurisdiction," Mr Ahern wrote.

Mr Ahern suggested that those involved in the purchase of the plastic bullets should be identified and reprimanded, as it would "represent a serious circumvention of democratic accountability".

He added: "I would like to hear from you any good reason why such weapons or ammunition should be kept at all by the Defence Forces, as it only serves to blunt and hamper any efforts to persuade the British authorities to find alternative, more acceptable and less lethal methods of countering riot situations."

In a letter dated September 1997, Mr Andrews replied to Mr Ahern to confirm that 2,000 practice baton rounds had been ordered.

He said the matter was dealt with at a junior level and the "antennae of the staff concerned were not attuned to the wider implications", stating that it should have been cleared by senior authority.

Following discussions with the chief of staff and the Department of Foreign Affairs, the order was cancelled.


Northern Ireland news