Tributes to plastic bullet campaigner

Emma Groves, a west Belfast woman who became a major factor in the campaign against plastic bullets after being blinded 35 years ago, has died.

Mrs Groves was standing inside her west Belfast home at the height of the conflict when a British army rubber bullet came through the window.

The bullet struck Mrs Groves in the face, leaving her permanently blinded.

She spent the rest of her life prolifically campaigning against the use of rubber and plastic bullets by British police and soldiers in the north.

Mrs Groves, who passed away on Monday aged 86, won the respect of the West Belfast community for her tireless work for the banning of the lethal weapon.

Along with her great friend, Clara Reilly, she helped found the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets following the killing of John Downes in August 1984.

This campaign brought together the families bereaved and many of those injured by rubber and plastic bullets and highlighted the lack of police investigation and lack of recourse through the courts.

In addition to addressing the European Parliament, she brought families to Scotland where the plastic bullets were made and stood outside the factory to inform the workers of the damage the weapons caused in Ireland.

She also addressed the shareholders of the production company in America, which decided immediately to discontinue their role in the production of plastic bullets.

Speaking on behalf of Relatives for Justice, a campaign group which Emma helped to found, Andree Murphy attributed the Chief Constable’s declaration that those killed by the use of plastic and rubber bullets were innocent to a direct result of the veteran campaigner.

“Emma Groves was a formidable figure whose dignity, integrity and humanity touched all who came into contact with her. She was undoubtedly a great woman and was often referred to as West Belfast’s First Lady.

“This is not only a great loss to our organisation, and the families who knew and loved her, but also the entire community who have lost a human rights champion.

“There are many who believe that had she lived somewhere else, and had she not been from West Belfast, she would have at least been nominated for the Noble Peace Prize.

“Emma was robbed of the sight of her eyes but not her vision. She knew that our entire community could be policed better without these weapons of death and human carnage.”

Sinn Fein West Belfast MP Gerry Adams has also extended his condolences to the Groves family. He said Emma was “an energetic and committed champion in the fight to eliminate the use of rubber and plastic bullets.”

“I knew Emma Groves well. She was a warm, kind, gifted and articulate spokesperson for the campaign against plastic bullets.

“Mrs Groves had a large family who will mourn her passing.

“But she also will be mourned by the many thousands of people who came to know her over the years and who respected and admired her determination and courage.”

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