14 July 2005

Politicians raise questions over use of plastic bullets


By Francesca Ryan

The July 12 rioting in North Belfast saw the police fire plastic bullets into the crowd for the first time in almost three years.

The PSNI fired the latest plastic bullets, known as attenuated energy projectiles (AEPs) and which were introduced last month, following the return leg of a contentious Orange Order parade along the Crumlin Road on Tuesday evening.

Speaking yesterday, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said, “The fundamental problem is the unionists’ and loyalists’ continuing demand to walk through Catholic areas," before adding that only dialogue can solve what he referred to as an “untenable and unacceptable situation" in the North of the city.

“To take a position as a political leader not to speak, and for the Orange Order to take a position not to speak to residents or indeed to political representatives, is one way of going absolutely nowhere, the Parades Commission rewarding this refusal to talk is a fundamental problem," he said.

Mr Kelly, who himself was on the wrong end of a PSNI water cannon on Tuesday alongside party leader Gerry Adams, was quick to praise community activists, members of the local clergy and the Ardoyne residents for their “courage and restraint" but was more reserved, however, when asked whether he thought the PSNI's behaviour had improved compared with recent years.

“That's difficult to say, there were a number of plastic bullets fired as well. The first thing to hit me was actually the baton charge and then the water cannon but I suppose the whole process has moved forward somewhat."

Minor stone throwing and an exchange of insults between youths and marchers would have been easily managed had the PSNI not intervened with the baton charge and water cannon, said the Sinn Féin MLA.

“This action disempowered the local residents and stewards and for a time control was lost. This is not what we wanted to see happen, nor was it what the residents of that area wanted to see happen."

Meanwhile, SDLP policing spokesman, Alex Attwood, said the PSNI did show restraint and that needed to be acknowledged.

“It has been a number of years since I have seen such vicious and ferocious rioting. This was an organised riot and nationalists are responsible for what went on that night, it wasn't anybody else, the Orangemen had long since passed when the rioting erupted.

“Of course, the SDLP condemn the use of plastic bullets, both old and new, that is crystal clear. We have never agreed to their use but I challenge other people to accept our analysis that the PSNI's behaviour was restrained.
“Indeed, the restraint shown by all throughout the day was significant and nobody should take away from that."

Journalist:: Francesca Ryan

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