by Democrat reporter
HUMAN-RIGHTS campaigners have condemned the decision by the now defunct Northern Ireland Police Authority to authorise the purchase of a further 50,000 deadly plastic bullets at a cost of £300,000.
The decision, made at the authority's final meeting before its replacement by the new police board, is being seen by campaigners as an deliberate affront to all those working for human rights in the six counties. The dangers posed by the deadly weapon are well known and documented. These were reinforced in mid-November when two children, aged 14 and 11, were hospitalised after being struck by plastic bullets in north Belfast.
It has since emerged that the potentially-lethal weapons were fired by the British army. Campaigners have expressed concern that this is a cynical move to evade public scrutiny of their use -- the police ombudsman has no authority to scrutinise their use or injuries sustained when fired by the army.
"This runs contrary to everything John Reid said when he announced the introduction of the new plastic bullet,"said Clara Reilly of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets.
Commenting on the decision of the old police authority to purchase 50,000 plastic bullets just prior to its replacement, Ms Reilly said that the campaign would be seeking legal advice about the possibility of overturning the move on the basis that it contravened the Patten recommendation on finding a safer and non-lethal alternative to plastic bullets.
The campaign is also to explore whether the new police board has the authority and will to overturn this decision and to refuse payment for the plastic-bullet consignment.
The Derry-based Pat Finucane Centre points out that the purchase represents a commitment to use plastic bullets for at least the next decade.
In a reference to the controversy which continues to surround the creation of a new police board, the spokesperson for the centre said that the move represented a fundamental challenge for those parties and individuals who believed that change can best achieved by working 'from the inside'. "It is now incumbent on those on the police board who are opposed to the use of plastic bullets to use every administrative, legal and political mechanism at their disposal to block this purchase, even at this late stage. There can be no ëbusiness as usualí while this lethal weapon remains in the policing armoury." Plastic-bullet victim Richard Moore, who was blinded by the weapon at the age of 10, appealed to members of the new board to demand a total ban as a precondition of their co-operation on other issues. "Without such a ban members of the board will be responsible for a weapon which is a proven child killer," he said.
December 2001/January 2002
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