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.