‘Justice Minister’ refuses to act on plastic bullets

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The United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets has hit out at the inaction of Alliance Party leader Naomi Long over the issue of the use of deadly plastic bullets by the PSNI.

Minister Long, the Six County Justice Minister, has consistently refused to engage with controversial justice issues, insisting on the ‘operational independence’ of British forces in the north of Ireland.

This week, she pointedly ignored a question by West Belfast Assembly member Gerry Carroll, who asked “what representations she, or her officials, have made to the PSNI (formerly RUC) police in relation to the use of plastic bullets and attenuating energy projectiles”.

A written response from Long stated that she had not consulted the PSNI regarding the use of plastic bullets, and that the matter was entirely for PSNI Chief Simon Byrne and the North’s Policing Board.

A total of 17 people were killed and an estimated one thousand victims have been injured since 1981 from plastic and rubber bullets. Despite those shocking statistics, the PSNI (formerly RUC) is still holding a stockpile of around 50,000 plastic bullets.

Seven of the 17 deaths occurred during 1981, a year in which the British Army and RUC fired a total of some 30,000 deadly plastic bullets.

Mark Kelly’s sister Carol Ann Kelly was killed in Belfast by the British Army on 22 May 1981 after being hit with a plastic bullet. Mark Kelly also represents the victims campaign group United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets.

Speaking about Naomi Long’s reply Mr Kelly said: “The Justice Minister not standing up for justice is pretty pathetic. Naomi Long is hiding behind “operational” responsibilities and it is simply not good enough. As victims and relatives of victims we deserve far better.

“These lethal weapons have absolutely no place in our society – they’ve brought nothing but pain, misery and trauma, death and injury.

“They contravene the spirit of the Patten recommendations on finding new safer alternatives, which has never happened. We want these weapons banned.

“We’d expect a Justice Minister interested in human rights, to tackle this problem but instead we see the Justice Minister abdicating responsibility.

“We want the budget, that is controlled by her department, to stop providing money to purchase these weapons, as they have a shelf life of two years, so are continually being restocked.

“It’s the least we expect.”

In July, a new mural featuring victims of plastic bullets was unveiled in west Belfast as part of the campaign to ban their use in the north.

Plastic bullets travel at devastating speed and can have life-altering and fatal results, particularly for young people. Yet the PSNI fired plastic bullets at nationalist youths during disturbances at a West Belfast interface last year.

Gerry Carroll of People before Profit, who put the question to Naomi Long said plastic bullets have “proven deadly in the hands of the British army and police”.

“These bullets, re-designed and rebranded as Attenuating Energy Projectiles, can kill and must be completely banned. By the PSNI’s own definition, these bullets are simply a less lethal option to firing live rounds...

“Human rights organisations, victims, and medical professionals are united in their opposition to plastic bullets. They should be banned once and for all.”

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