BBC Spotlight has highlighted the fact that the British The Army and RUC have been covering-up in the deaths of children killed by rubber and plastic bullets during the Troubles. The programme investigators examined declassified material that revealed the Army knew it was too dangerous to fire the bullets at children, but it continued to do so. Documents also show the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was firing a plastic bullet gun never fully cleared for use against people. But this was kept quiet.
The Celtic League As part of its campaign to monitor military activity opposed the use of first rubber then plastic bullets by British Forces in Ireland. It was the subject of discussion at several AGMs of the League and at the AGM at Plomeur, Breizh in August 1996 the following resolution was adopted.
“This AGM – rejects as ineffectual the recently announced enquiry into the use by the RUC and British Army of plastic baton rounds during riots sparked by the British governments decision to allow Orange marches, previously banned, to be routed via Nationalist areas.
“Noting, that the use of plastic baton rounds and rubber bullets have to date been the cause of 17 deaths (eight children and nine adults) in N. Ireland when used by the security forces, calls for an end to the deployment of these weapons.”
The League campaign received influential support when the US ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith responded positively. She ensured our concerns were forwarded to the Washington (see correspondence below – May 1997):
“Dear Mr. Moffatt,
On behalf of Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, this is to thank you for your letter of April 26 concerning the use of plastic bullets in Northern Ireland.
The 1996 Human Rights report on the UK prepared by the U.S. Department of State notes that “Police continue to use plastic bullets in crowd control situations, a practice restricted to Northern Ireland. The number of plastic rounds fired this year surpasses all but one prior year. This practice has been widely criticized by human rights monitors and the UN Committee Against Torture. The European Parliament has called for a ban on their use. According to RUC rules, plastic bullets should only be aimed at the lower half of the body; numerous head and upper body injuries nevertheless have resulted from their use.”
I can assure you that your concerns are being forwarded to the appropriate officials in Washington. Thank you for sharing your views with the Ambassador on this important human rights.
Richard B. Norland
First Secretary (Political)”
About 120,000 rubber and plastic bullets were fired in Northern Ireland (between 1970-90) and a number of the fatalities caused were children.
Although the RUC and later PSNI continues to use the weapon (and later the AEP) its deployment and use dropped markedly after Kennedy Smith’s involvement and the international focus that brought.
Correspondence in relation to the Celtic League campaign is lodged in the National Library of Wales and the Manx Museum Library.
Image: Jean Kennedy Smith with President Bill Clinton.
Assistant General Secretary
Celtic League (14th March 2023)