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Wednesday, 18 July, 2001, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
Dispute over plastic bullets use
Plastic bullet use is controversial in Northern Ireland
Plastic bullet use is controversial in Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has called on the RUC to stop using plastic bullets as a method of crowd control.

Chief Commissioner Professor Brice Dickson has said RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan should follow the example of his counterparts in England who have resisted the use of plastic bullets during recent disturbances.

His call came on Wednesday after the commission again considered the new plastic bullet round made available to the RUC on 1 June.

The baton round was fired by police during serious rioting by both nationalists and loyalists in Belfast in recent days.

Brice Dickson:
Brice Dickson: "RUC chief constable must follow English forces' example"
Mr Dickson said the commission had reiterated its view that the new weapon "appears to be even more dangerous than the weapon it replaced".

However, speaking on BBC Radio Ulster on Wednesday morning, he conceded that the police needed some means of protection when, as in the trouble in Belfast, shots were fired at them during riots.

The commission's view is based on a report prepared for the government by the Defence Scientific Advisory Council.

It said it believed that "using plastic bullets as a method of crowd control is a disproportionate use of force".

"The commission recognises the intense pressure and difficulties which police officers in Northern Ireland face when confronting rioters," he added.

"We nevertheless note that even though there have been serious riots in England in recent weeks, various police forces there, including the Metropolitan Police, have indicated that it was not necessary to resort to the use of plastic bullets."

"We feel that now is the time for the RUC chief constable to adopt the same policy.

Criticism

However, speaking on BBC Radio Ulster on Wednesday, the RUC chief constable was sharply critical of Mr Dickson's comments, accusing him of not being fully aware of the policies of the UK forces he referred to.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan:
Sir Ronnie Flanagan: "RUC needs recourse to plastic bullets"
Sir Ronnie added: "The lack of rigour in this statement quite frankly astounded me. We do not use baton rounds for crowd control, nor would we.

"We direct baton rounds at individuals who are identified as behaving in a way that brings about a risk to life.

"I am absolutely committed to human rights and the most fundamental human right is surely the right to life.

"I have no doubt that if my officers had not had recourse to plastic baton rounds then someone would have been killed in recent days."

Senior Ulster Unionist Dermot Nesbitt said the RUC needed to have plastic bullets at their disposal as a method of controlling violent situations.

However, Sinn Fein assembly member Gerry Kelly said the bullets, which he alleged were mainly used against nationalists, should be banned altogether.

Sinn Fein is to meet the commission on Wednesday to discuss plastic bullets.

The bullets have killed 17 people in Northern Ireland
The bullets have killed 17 people in Northern Ireland
Meanwhile, the Relatives for Justice group has said they will apply for a judicial review of the decision to introduce the new baton rounds in the province.

Seventeen people have been killed by plastic bullets in Northern Ireland.

Nine of those who died were children under the age of 18 - the youngest aged 10.

Since 1997 the government has paid out 2.5m in settlements of claims for injury by plastic bullets, the organisation said.

The last death was in August 1989, but injuries have continued - with several hundred in the past decade.

The Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman is currently investigating a report that a 16-year-old girl was hit on the forehead with a plastic bullet in Ardoyne in north Belfast on 12 July.

The NIHRC was established as a result of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The second of its reports on plastic bullet use is due to be published in the autumn.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
NI Human Rights Commission's Brice Dickson
"We think it is a disproportionate use of force"
RUC chief constable Ronnie Flanagan
"Commission chose to issue its statement without contacting me"
See also:

31 May 01 | Northern Ireland
Derry protest over plastic bullets
22 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
Huge response to recruitment drive
08 Sep 99 | Northern Ireland
Sweeping reforms for RUC
16 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Curbs likely on plastic bullet use
01 Aug 99 | Northern Ireland
New plastic bullet rules in force
01 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
NI plastic bullet records 'inadequate'
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