17 killed during `Troubles' by plastic or rubber bullets


DURING the period of the "Troubles", 17 people, eight of them children or young teenagers, have been killed by plastic or rubber bullets.

Nationalist politicians and human rights groups have called on a regular basis for a ban on the bullets, although the RUC has consistently argued they are necessary in difficult riot situations and to defend property. Some unionist politicians have expressed concern about their use.

Changes in the type of baton rounds, and modifications and alterations to the anti-riot guns used to fire the bullets, have occurred. Nonetheless, throughout their use there have been complaints about their unreliability and inaccuracy.

The bullets were designed to bounce off the ground and strike at about knee level. However, in addition to the deaths caused by them, many people have suffered serious injuries, including partial paralysis, fractured skulls, blindness and eye loss.

The first person to die after being struck by a rubber bullet was Francis Rowntree (11) in Belfast in April 1972. The last fatality was that of Seamus Duffy (15), who died in August 1989. About 120,000 rubber and plastic bullets have been fired since 1970.

In 1991, following constant criticism, a study was undertaken which found that the gun used to fire the plastic bullets was inaccurate by a margin of about to feet at a range of less than 30 yards. The weapon was replaced but the criticism continued.

During the Drumcree standoff last year, more than 6,000 plastic bullets were fired over a period of to days, marking the greatest use of the bullets since the hunger-strike period in 1981.

After rioting in Derry in July last year, more than 100 people were treated in hospital in Derry and Letterkenny, most with plastic bullet injuries. Many of those injuries were to the head.