Do you take plastic..?

AFTER 80 PSNI officers were injured at the intense Ardoyne riot on the 12th, (best pic by AFP?!) the Police Federation said officers’ lives were being placed in danger because they could not fire plastic bullets soon enough. Red tape has been blamed for the delay in obtaining permission to fire. Continuity IRA later admitted to the blast bomb attacks on the police that prompted the first plastic bullets to be fired in three years. But despite two SDLP politicians feeling the brunt of a republican bomb attack at the riot, the party continues to call for AEPs (Attenuated Energy Projectiles – the posh name for the sponge-tipped plastic bullets) to be banned…

SDLP policing spokesman Alex Attwood, who ducked and covered from attack with a brave Margaret Walsh, praised police for their “restraint and compliance with minimum force required” and also said the police “generally behaved properly and proportionately, faced with blast bombs falling among the media, local representatives and people, and the police themselves. This needs to be faced up to, rather than trying to misrepresent the full nature of the police response and the true facts of what transpired after an unwelcome and offensive Orange parade had passed through.”

But later he said:

No plastic bullets should ever be fired. It is a lethal weapon. Unlike Sinn Fein and Ulster Unionists however, the SDLP judges the police on minimum force standards and acknowledges the PSNI when it acts with restraint. Unionism is full wrong on the issue of plastic bullets and Sinn Fein is fully wrong on its failure to ever acknowledge better policing.

This is a somwhat ‘foot in both camps’ position by the SDLP, is it not? To say on one hand that AEPs to be banned, and on the other that they represent restraint and minimum force in the violent circumstances – circumstances in which the politician himself found his own safety at much risk – must mean the SDLP have practical ideas about alternatives. Whatever you think of them, riot officers are not allowed to cower behind garden walls, even if they do have enough body armour to make Robocop dribble.

The SDLP must know that, as a Polcing Board member, when all else fails – particularly politics, where it must share part of the blame – it is as responsible for the safety of PSNI officers as is it for its constituents. Some clarification is needed. The SDLP has a political obligation to resolve disputed parades, but it now has another responsibility to the police. The current position appears duplicitous.

  • Nathan

    Plastic bullets represent unreasonable force and a disproportionate response, even in riot situations. The penalty for rioting should never be death.

    When you think about it, there are remarkably few deaths actually caused in rioting. More deaths are caused in riot situations by plastic bullets than in any other way.

  • Gonzo

    What’s your alternative?

  • Dick Doggins

    The sdlp are a funny little mixed up grouping of people who make me laugh….They tried to play the anti-DUP card and lost out, tried the anti-SF card and where humilated now they are trying to play the middle of the road card again….
    Again it is backfiring, with Republicans accusing Attwood and his 2 followers of hiding behind police lines at Ardoyne and with Unionists accusing them of being hypocrites on the issue of the firing of plastic bullets……
    A party of contradictions….rumour has it, that there where some very irate high ranking North Belfast members who were furious with Attwood actually going onto someones elses turf uninvited…
    Now who could those be….?

  • slug

    “The penalty for rioting should never be death.”

    Neither should the reward for policing a riot be death. If the policemans life is in danger then he has to protect himself somehow. THAT is the bottom line.

  • martin

    Anyone see the guy dancing o the car bonnet during the riot while the water cannon was trying to get him off—he sure has talent, I found it funny .

  • Alan

    *When you think about it, there are remarkably few deaths actually caused in rioting.*

    You’d think some people saw rioting as a recreational activity!

    There certainly would be deaths at riot situations if the two sides were allowed to get at one another. If the police were not properly equiped there would also be deaths.

    Rioting is no response to any situation. It is barbaric and equates to self-harm. To lift a stone is to lose the argument and soil your own hands.

    It seems that we need to move to a position of zero tolerance on rioting, just as we need to adopt a similar approach to loyalist paramilitarism. All of the lax and careless thinking with regard to violence that has grown up over the last decade or so needs to be challenged. No more excuses, no more self deception!

  • Nathan

    Is water cannon a plausible alternative. If so, the water must be well heated. We wouldn’t want the motley collection of attention seekers to catch a cold now, would we Gonzo 😉

    Seriously though, hasn’t HMG been urged to propose an alternative crowd-control method to plastic bullets – Patten??

  • Misunderstood of Ardoyne

    Nathan
    I was just strolling around, came across this crowd quite unexpectedly. Fortunately, I just happened to have a few blast bombs with me. Just chucked them in for the fun of it. Didn’t mean to harm anybody. Just did it for the laugh and how we laughed. It was sooooooo funny.

    Anyway thanks Nathan, will think of you at the next riot, if I happen to find one by accident again.

  • Nathan

    “Neither should the reward for policing a riot be death. If the policemans life is in danger then he has to protect himself somehow. THAT is the bottom line.”

    Not for one second would I expect the PSNI to act like sitting ducks in that sort of life-threatening situation, slug. Some form of riot control weapon is essential, I appreciate that. But why does unionism prefer such a weapon to be necessarily lethal? Why is there a lack of appetite on their part to encourage an alternative?

  • fair_deal

    How do you shift the focus of the debate from the preplanned and co-ordinated violation of Parade Commission determinations at Ardoyne, Dunloy, Kilrea and republican violence (of all shades) in Londonderry, Belfast and other sectarian attacks?

    Pretend to get knickers in a twist about the new baton round and let the bigger picture fade away to save republican face.

  • jiggy

    fair deal

    You failed to mention the loyalist violence(off all shades)which manifests itself at this time of year.

    Rapes, shows of strength, homes bombed, murders and paramilitary bands

  • blinkers

    “preplanned and co-ordinated violation of Parade Commission determinations at Ardoyne, determinations”

    I seem to recall illegal parades taking place in East Belfast in the not to distant past.

    Is it only a problem when protesters break determinations.?

    Very selective, me thinks

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    “When you think about it, there are remarkably few deaths actually caused in rioting. More deaths are caused in riot situations by plastic bullets than in any other way.”

    I haven’t been able to find out how many people have died by other causes but between 1981 and 2001 11 people were killed by Plastic bullets before 1981 it was 5. The total is 16 and possibly 17 according to one account in the Patten Report. These 11 deaths occurred out of 56,644 plastic bullet rounds being fired. Its still a tragedy for those 11 people but as far as less lethal technology goes it’s a pretty good record. The last death I am aware of was in 1989. The new rounds are even better and the likelihood of a fatal incident is further reduced.

    It is right that it is hard for the police to get permission to fire them and right that great care and accountability is attached to the firing of these weapons. But it is equally essential to give the police the capacity to use them. They are not fired at any one in a riot only at those who present a direct threat by using improvised weapons such as Molotov cocktails and blast or pipe bombs. These weapons are potentially fatal to the police. I am always impressed at the resolve, bravery and self control of those officers involved in these disorder situations. People should count themselves lucky that the PSNI is a world leader in crowd control techniques. As someone who has been in a riot and seen at first hand the flare from a Molotov cocktail exploding on your riot shield, you try having 2 inches of fire retardant plastic between you and a ball of flame!, I was always and remain utterly convinced of the necessity of the availability and use of plastic bullet rounds. People should get some perspective and realize how lucky they are at the restraint offered by the PSNI. If the Boston Police faced a riot like that in Ardoyne they would have reverted to live rounds at the sound of the first blast bomb, as would any other police force in any other US city. The fact that someone can throw a potentially lethal blast bomb at a police officer, and try looking at the torn flesh of a mans legs when one of those things goes off behind you peppering people with fast moving nails and bolts, and the worst they can hope for is to be hit by a large soft tipped rubber baton is an astounding level of tolerance in my book.

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    And in case people think I am being overly callous about the 17 people I offer some additional perspective. From 1989(the last death by baton round) to 2002 in Northern Ireland 561 people died by way of fall in their domestic residences.(Stats courtesy of ROSPA).

  • Gonzo

    As far as fatalities in riots goes, the ones that sprung immediately to mind were the deaths of Frankie O’Reilly (police officer), killed by a loyalist pipe or blast bomb at a Drumcree-related riot a few years ago, and Glen Branagh, killed when his own pipe bomb went off in his hand.

    Maybe it’s the rioters that should take ‘less lethal alternatives’ into consideration…

  • Wichser

    Duncan

    You wouldn’t think that if one of them came screaming at you at head height.

  • Gonzo

    I doubt if the thought crossed his mind when the petrol bomb hit his riot shield either. Are petrol bombs the rioter’s preferred ‘less lethal’ weapon – ie, they only kill sometimes?

    Sponge-tipped baton rounds and a water cannon on a ‘rinse’ setting, or blast and petrol bombs and half-bricks bouncing off a transparent plastic shield; which would you rather face?

  • Wichser

    Gonzo

    So we’re placing weapons on some form of acceptability continuum here are we ? Can some of you not grow up a bit here ? Isn’t anyone here capable of saying anything other than they could be expected to say ?

  • martin

    I got it—– we cancell all marches of whatever hue until we get thick snow falls— that will be the new agreed cross community spirit initiative marching season—one big free for all snowball fight no one gets hurt and any one who is found to be lacing his snowballs with glass,stones etc—everyone, both sides pelt the shit out of him or if unionists insist on keeping it in July then it can be water pistols and balloons only–same conditions apply—in really heated times flour and eggs could be permitted .—-i think it would actually be great fun.

  • bertie

    I did hear of one occasion when a difficult situation was defused because someone broke out a very powerful weapon – prayer. This completely disorientated the opposing side and they stopped shouting abuse.

    I can just imagine someone establishing quidelines and protocols and there being an enquiry into gratuitous and unecessary use of prayer.

  • Mal One

    Fast forward a few years to the time when the old bailey bomber hisself is the Minister in charge of Policing and Justice. Difficult I know but stay with me.
    His officers are being attacked with blast bombs, petrol bombs, missiles etc. What would his learned advice to them be?

  • Mal One

    Fast forward a few years to the time when the old bailey bomber hisself is the Minister in charge of Policing and Justice. Difficult I know but stay with me.
    His officers are being attacked with blast bombs, petrol bombs, missiles etc. What would his learned advice to them be?

  • belvoir

    Sammy Wilson could well be that minister for policing, in the future.

    How would he deal with loyalist rioters in East Belfast?

    How could he explain his strong arm tactics to his buddies in the uvf.

    Sammy may not be welcome at future uvf gatherings where he to use force against his own people

  • willowfield

    wichser

    You wouldn’t think that if one of them came screaming at you at head height.

    They don’t get fired at head height.

    If someone is concerned about being hit by a plastic bullet, perhaps they should choose not to riot? That way there will be no risk to him or her.

  • fair_deal

    Jiggy and blinkers

    This thread is about Ardoyne and the police resposnse to the republican violence hence the focus on republicanism of my comments. The issue of loyalist violence is being directly addressed in another thread put up today. Therefore, shove your whataboutery and denial about republican irrendentism.

    Blinkers

    Your information is out of date, the Parades Commission got its interpretation of the law wrong (AGAIN) and the parades were legal.

  • port

    I remember a young protestant man called Keith White who was killed by a plastic bullet during disturbances surrounding the protests over the anglo irish agreement in 1985.

    The young man had no criminal record and got caught up in a situation in which he had never found himself before.

    The Lurgan man was hit by a plastic bullet fired from a range of 22 metres which was in contravention of ruc regulations governing the use of plastic bullets.

    willowfield

    Can your above comment be applied to Kieth and his family, in the same way it is applied to all rioters.

  • suffolk_west_belfast

    Perhaps if the orangemen and band memebrs had thrown blast bombs, stones, ballons of urine and used abuse language they could have maybe got a full parade next year??

    This seems to be the sort of behaviour the parades comm like.

    Very strange…

  • fred

    suffolk west belfast

    It was called Drumcree !!

  • Wichser

    willowfield

    That’s the official position in aiming but it happens, also they bounce off the road and other surfaces and come at people at waist and head height.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Given that 80 cops ended up in hospital and that 16 years have passed since the last PBR fatality it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the dangers have been slightly exaggerated. Of course, if it gets to the point where fear of such injuries causes attendances at riots to suffer, perhaps their use could be revisited then, In the interim, perhaps the citizens of Ardoyne who choose to amuse themselves in this way may have to accept the theoretical possibility as an occupational hazard of their chosen hobby.

  • Wichser

    Jimmy

    Bear with me on this but within certain limits isn’t there a reasonable case for the cops standing off and letting the protagonists just get on and do what comes naturally, battering the bejaysus out of each other ?

  • Jimmy Sands

    Wichser,

    I have previously floated the idea that the Maze site could be developed as a playground for precisely this purpose. The police, nevertheless, retain a residual responsibility for those who have not chosen to participate in the festivities.

  • Wichser

    Jimmy

    I like it man and would pay to watch it. They could be searched upon entrance (thus assisting the decommissioning ‘push’) and be limited to knuckle fights with no non-combatants next nor near them, it’d be a giggle altogether.

    Lovely hurling.

  • brian

    “Carickfergus” seems there is a serious lack of unionist condemnation again?

    people in glass houses etc…….ad nauseum

  • willowfield

    Port

    Can your above comment be applied to Kieth and his family, in the same way it is applied to all rioters.

    Was he rioting? If so, then obviously, yes! If not, then obviously no.

    Wichser

    That’s the official position in aiming but it happens, also they bounce off the road and other surfaces and come at people at waist and head height.

    In that case, all the more reason not to riot.

  • suffolk_west_belfast

    Fred,

    The Portadown havn’t got their traditional parade again this year.

    Didn’t you know that….

  • fred

    “Perhaps if the orangemen and band memebrs had thrown blast bombs, stones, ballons of urine and used abuse language”

    The orange order did all that at drumcree

  • Wichser

    Willowfield

    And/or march, pressumably.

  • Nathan

    “You’d think some people saw rioting as a recreational activity!”

    I would never in a million years window dress the events of the past week as ‘recreational activity’, Alan. My sympathy does not go out to the brats responsible for this riot, far from it.

    “There certainly would be deaths at riot situations if the two sides were allowed to get at one another. If the police were not properly equiped there would also be deaths.”

    A lot of truth in that, Alan. The fact that the police service are being used in the middle to try and keep the two sides apart, shows that the PSNI alone cannot bring these sort of riots to an end long term. After all, there are situational aspects, and social aspects as well which is why everyone concerned needs to play their part and try to come to some sort of long term solution.

    “Rioting is no response to any situation. It is barbaric and equates to self-harm. To lift a stone is to lose the argument and soil your own hands.”

    Well, as far as I’m concerned, any human being who attacks others with a blast bomb is not engaged in anything that can be remotely called legitimate protest. I see little point looking for political or sociological explanations, with regard to the events of the past week.

    Duncan,

    First of all, I don’t think that you have been overly callous – you acknowledge that these bullets have resulted in multiple deaths, which is something I suppose. Sadly, there has been no shortage of people who have gone to record to say that these bullets are safe, that they don’t kill or maim. It is this sort of behaviour that reeks of callous insensitivity, particularly when you consider the multiplicity of families who have suffered immensely from the death (mostly accidental) of loved ones because of a plastic bullet being fired.

    ‘The new rounds are even better and the likelihood of a fatal incident is further reduced.’

    I’m not so sure about that, Duncan. The latest study by Prof Brice Dickson and his gang of researchers at the HRC, has shown that the baton rounds that were introduced in NI, sometime shortly after the new Millenium, were potentially more deadly than the weapons they replaced.

    In particular, it was found that the bullets fired by police and soldiers to try and quell rioters were faster, hit harder than previous rounds and have injured children, something which I found disturbing. Moreover, it was found that nearly 10 times more of the new round discharged had inflicted wounds than the injury rate caused by its predecessor. For that reason, it is ridiculous to describe this upgraded weapon as less lethal. Either it is potentially lethal or it is not. It cannot possibly be both.

    “How do you shift the focus of the debate from the preplanned and co-ordinated violation of Parade Commission determinations at Ardoyne, Dunloy, Kilrea and republican violence (of all shades) in Londonderry, Belfast and other sectarian attacks?

    Pretend to get knickers in a twist about the new baton round and let the bigger picture fade away to save republican face.”

    So-called plastic bullets have long been a bone of contention across the EU, fair deal – its not just republicans who create a big who-har about these things – the European Parliament has called on three occasions for all European countries not to use them. For that reason, I’m rather curious to note your over-reaction, with regard to the very existence of this thread.

    Yes, a great deal of northern nationalists do get their ‘knickers in a twist’ about plastic bullets, but only because these things are associated with a catalogue of carnage, grief and brutal sectarian oppression.

    My beef with this sort of technology is that it is regarded by some sections of the unionist community as some sort of non-lethal miracle cure-all. That sort of prevailing attitude, I feel, is a short-sighted substitute for developing methods of policing with the consent of those who are being policed.

    In a nutshell then, whatever way you look at it, plastic bullets will remain an emotive and divisive issue, for as long as they are used. The continued use of plastic bullets is therefore a perfectly legitimate subject for debate. Being a Provisional movement supporter is not a necessary pre-requisite when it comes to recognising the importance of a full and wide-ranging debate on this issue, with views expressed by all those who have an interest in this subject.

  • willowfield

    Wichser

    And/or march, pressumably.

    ????

    Marching does not involve attacking police officers and does not necessitate the use of plastic bullets. So you presume wrong.

    Nathan

    The fact that the police service are being used in the middle to try and keep the two sides apart, shows that the PSNI alone cannot bring these sort of riots to an end long term.

    Your words imply that there were two sets of opposing rioters at Ardoyne. That was not the case. THere was a parade which came under attack from the sectarian hate protest. The paraders were protected by the police, who as a result bore the brunt of the vicious assault.

  • Wichser

    Willowfield

    Where an organization marched in defiance of legal rulings allowing them to do so would it be appropriate to give them due warning and then let loose with plastic bullets ?

  • barnshee

    “Where an organization marched in defiance of legal rulings allowing them to do so would it be appropriate to give them due warning and then let loose with plastic bullets ?”

    No use lead ones

  • Wichser

    barnshee

    Thanks for your contribution, remains to be seen if willowfield disagrees.

  • willowfield

    Wichser

    Of course not. Do you think so?

  • DavidH

    Wichser: Where an organization marched in defiance of legal rulings allowing them to do so would it be appropriate to give them due warning and then let loose with plastic bullets ?

    Are you suggesting the use of plastic bullets on any illegal assembly or protest even before it turns violent? Or just on the loyal orders?

  • Wichser

    David H

    I’m not advocating it at all, I’m asking if it would be unreasonable, the same would apply to any gathering/march/demonstration.

  • fair_deal

    Nathan

    “So-called plastic bullets have long been a bone of contention across the EU, fair deal – its not just republicans who create a big who-har about these things – the European Parliament has called on three occasions for all European countries not to use them. For that reason, I’m rather curious to note your over-reaction, with regard to the very existence of this thread.”

    There has been action on the criticisms of PBRs. The PSNI undertook extensive research to find alternatives and could not find one except a new safer design used at Ardoyne. The rules for use of PBR were tightened from threat to property and life to threat to life. The introduction of water cannons are an example of the PSNI trying to find other means of riot control than resorting to PBRs. The fact it took nine requests and serious injuries before the PBRs were issued demonstrates the PSNI were by no means in a dirty rush to use them. The PSNI has been criticised by Nuala O’Loan for being over-reluctant to use them. They haven’t been used in over three years even during the life-threatening violence last year at Ardoyne. This is not a situation of a police force being bloody minded about the use of PBRs.

    As to my reaction to this thread the scenes of xenophobic violence at Ardoyne were a disgrace and THE important issue. It is part of a wider debate everyone needs to have of how we tackle the deeply ingrained intolerance in our society(by the way the sectarian attacks perpetrated elsewhere show this is not the preserve of one community).

    The lines they ‘used the water cannon too quick’ and they ‘used plastic bullets’ should be seen for what they are, bull, to try and avoid blame at the very least or to justify the violence at the very worst. To engage in such bull is a failure of leadership.

  • willowfield

    Spot on, fair deal.

    The naked sectarian hatred that was visible among the Ardoyne hate mob was truly frightening. And these vicious sectarian attacks are now a regular occurrence. The nationalist community – or at least that particular nationalist community – clearly has a problem in coming to terms with sharing society with other people. This has to be addressed. Apart from the fact that these attitudes are dangerous in themselves, from nationalists’ own political perspective, if they want a “united” Ireland (in any sense other than a purely constitutional one), I don’t see how the demonisation and physical assault of other traditions is going to achieve it. So it is a political problem for nationalists too.

  • willowfield

    Following on from that, I would say that the Orange Institution really should make the effort to educate nationalists about its true nature and purpose. If it doesn’t, then the propaganda, the negative stereotypes, and the hate will persist.

    Segregated education and living also ensure that communities like Ardoyne can exist without ever having to engage or even associate with other communities. They never have the chance to learn or understand about the attitudes, beliefs, culture, etc., of the Protestant/unionist community. (Obviously, this applies vice versa.)

  • sean h

    The SDLP must know that, as a Polcing Board member, when all else fails – particularly politics, where it must share part of the blame

    Explain this one to me Gonzo. How do this work exactly? The SDLP are the ONLY party in the North with a history to be proud of. Noone has died because of them and their beliefs. They represent the views in an open and honest manner. Some don’t agree with them and they can say so freely. Not just because that’s democracy but because they know that if they do disagree with them they won’t be visited by the bhoys! Gonzo – you’re talking about BLAME! Do me and everyone else a favour and let’s have some quality debate. This drivel has to be some of the worst ‘whataboutry’ I have had the misfortune to read for some time.

    If you wish to discuss BLAME…,

    Let’s turn our thoughts to a party who, through their own actions, have set their own cause back by decades!

    Let’s think of a party who are seen by many of their fellow countrymen as as treasonous.

    Let’s think of a party that has the audacity to try and justify the killing of innocent people by those who have taken it on them selves to be judge, jury and executioner!

    Thank heavens above that Irish Nationalism has the sound reasoned voice of the SDLP!

  • harry

    Perhaps the Orange order could use the link below in an effort at educating nationalists about its true nature.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/823511.stm

    Negative stereotypes eh !!

  • con club

    willow

    The link below might be a good starting point in the education process

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/bh/1420446.stm

  • Duncan Shipley Dalton

    Nathan,

    “For that reason, it is ridiculous to describe this upgraded weapon as less lethal. Either it is potentially lethal or it is not. It cannot possibly be both.”

    Less lethal is the proper description for weapons of this type. It is wrong and inaccurate to describe it as non-lethal as under certain circumstances it can be lethal. It differs from the kind of lethality you would associate with a normal full metal jacket bullet and this is why it is termed less-lethal. It is a matter of degree i.e. in how many cases would this projectile be likely to cause death? Obviously less lethal implies a far lower statistical probability but it is not a 0 value. This is also to stop people assuming that the weapon can be fired willy nilly as it reminds people of its ‘potentially’ lethal character. There are no projectile weapons that I am aware of that are completely non-lethal. Everything from the bean bag rounds to the rubber or plastic baton to the taser to the FN303, which is quite similar to a paint ball gun and had some problems in Boston last year, have the potential to cause death and they all have at some time in field use as far as I am aware.

    Maybe one day someone will invent a weapon that succeeds in progressing the continuum of force without ever causing death but so far no one has managed this and the term less lethal is therefore the most appropriate.