Teen battles bullet injury

A Catholic teenager is in a serious condition in hospital after being hit by a plastic bullet fired by the PSNI in west Belfast at the weekend.

The sixteen-year-old from the Clonard area is currently in the Royal Victoria Hospital and is being treated for a ruptured liver. 

Another boy of fifteen years was also injured by a plastic bullet during the same disturbances, but has been released from hospital.

The violence broke out after a loyalist mob attacked the nationalist St James area, provoking residents to defend the area. The situation escalated over the course of the weekend, with crowds gathering in the area.

The PSNI said petrol bombs, stones and fireworks were thrown at them. Land rovers also came under physical attack, with loyalists firing paint bombs at the armoured vehicles. The PSNI said that an iron bar and an axe were also used against their vehicles.

SInce the previous weekend, gangs of around 30 to 40 loyalist youths had been gathering at the Broadway roundabout flashpoint nightly.

Tensions finally erupted at the weekend when the St James Republican memorial garden appeared to be targeted by the loyalists. The worst violence took place on Saturday night, with smaller crowds involved in clashes on Friday and Sunday nights.

The Police Ombudsman’s office said the number of plastic bullets fired over the weekend was unknown. Republicans in the area accused the PSNI of lending cover to the loyalist incursions.

Local Sinn Fein Councillor Briege Brownlee said the defence of the area began with “noble intent” but had resulted in “criminal behaviour”.

“Last night some people in the area claimed they were down protecting the community basically against what they saw as a loyalist threat,” she said.

“Unfortunately this culminated then in criminal behaviour, which resulted in Kentucky Fried Chicken being damaged, cars being burnt and residents being abused.

“So what might have started off with noble intent ended up basically criminals gathering here from Divis, Ballymurphy and different places.”

There has been escalated tension across the North as a result of the Protestant marching season, which reaches its climax next weekend. There were clashes in north Armagh on Thursday night and further trouble is considered likely at the Ardyone interface in north Belfast, where a loyalist parade has been given the go ahead to march through a republican area.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams strongly condemned those involved in the most recent violence, and on Monday visited the scene where the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet was damaged.

He described the violence as “unacceptable” and blamed hardline republican groups for inflaming the situation. In one of his strongest attacks on ‘dissidents’ to date, he described those involved as “sectarian career criminals”.

“The people of St James want an end to this behaviour,” he said.

“And they are demanding that those from outside of the district, including those representing so-called dissident groups, stay out. And I want to echo that as strongly as I can.

“While some of what happened on Friday night had a sectarian element to it most of the violence over the weekend was orchestrated by anti-social and criminal elements -- many of them not from the St. James’ area.

“There was drink and drugs involved and a small number of people belonging to so-called dissident groups tried to encourage the violence and were involved in bringing outsiders into the St James area on Saturday and Sunday nights.

“They attacked the PSNI and attempted to set up barriers across the Donegal Road. They also smashed their way into two local businesses and onto a building site. There was looting.

“Those involved are sectarian, career criminals who have no interest in politics.”

He said Sinn Féin agents removed the barriers from the road and returned cash tills that had been taken from the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.

“They also confronted and challenged the orchestrators of the violence and will continue to do so.”

Commenting on concerns around ‘the Twelfth’, the height of the Protestant marching season, the Sinn Féin President said:

“Sinn Féin will use our influence to try and keep the 12th calm. I have also, as is now my tradition, written to the leaders of the marching orders asking them to meet with me.”

Mr Adams also mentioned the use of plastic bullets by the PSNI at the weekend, saying they were “lethal force weapons” which “should not be used”.

Jim McCabe of Relatives for Justice and the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets said that the inevitable result of their use is “critical injury and death”.  

“Again and again we have been assured by chief and assistant chief constables and secretaries of state that plastic bullets will not be used in riot or civic disturbance situation,” he said.

“But yet again we see that as soon as a disturbance emerges they are the PSNI’s  weapon of first resort – just as they were last year in Ardoyne.

“This is wholly unacceptable in any society with purports to promote human rights based policing. Plastic bullets are incompatible with the very notion of human rights, they must be removed immediately from the armoury before this summer with all of its tensions continues.  

“We are calling on the Chief Constable and the Minster for Justice to pay heed to this dire situation, and immediately withdraw plastic bullets.

“This family is now in the thoughts and prayers of all victims of plastic bullets, those bereaved and injured who know exactly what they are going through and had hoped that these days were over.”  

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