The perennial issue of the "attenuating energy projectile"

Gerry Moriarty, in the Irish Times, reports on the decision by the “Policing Board, despite SDLP opposition, [to agree] in principle to allow the PSNI use a new less lethal plastic bullet.” He notes that, despite not having been used by the PSNI since 2002, it’s an issue that can still cause a row between competing political parties.

First, the decision itself –

At a special meeting of the board on Thursday night a “substantial majority” of members accepted the PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde’s advice to endorse use of the “attenuating energy projectile”.

This is subject to Mr Orde consulting with all relevant bodies, including the North’s children’s commissioner. The SDLP opposed the proposal.

Sir Desmond Rea, chairman of the board, said use of the new plastic bullets would be restricted. “Each firing of a baton round must be proved to be both measured and proportionate and every single firing is individually investigated and reported on by the Police ombudsman,” he said.

Plastic and rubber bullets have proved controversial throughout the Troubles and since the ceasefires. Sixteen people died after being struck by such bullets although the PSNI has not fired one since September 2002.

And then the row –

The board decision triggered a row involving the DUP, the SDLP and Sinn Féin. DUP board member Ian Paisley jnr said the SDLP was left “reeling” by the decision and that it was isolated on the board. “Effectively the SDLP are in the ludicrous position of supporting the old style more dangerous baton round and want to remove the right to use the new baton round that is scientifically proven to be less lethal. They would place the board by their actions in a position of negligence with the public if they had their way,” Mr Paisley said.

Sinn Féin’s policing spokes- man Gerry Kelly said the SDLP “made noise but were ultimately powerless to prevent this and will without doubt go along with the decision of the board. The SDLP have once again acquiesced to the continuing use of plastic bullets by the PSNI.”

SDLP policing board member Alex Attwood accused Sinn Féin of issuing “empty slogans” around policing.