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THURSDAY 29/01/2004 12:56:29 UTV
Two options considered to replace plastic bullets

Two alternatives are being considered to replace plastic bullets in Northern Ireland, the British government confirmed today.
By:Press Association

One is based on technology currently being used by police forces in western Europe and America and the second could be ready for distribution before the summer of 2005.

Northern Ireland Office minister Jane Kennedy made the announcement following the release of the fourth report by a government-led steering group set up to identify alternative riot control weapons.

However, the minister said plastic bullets would remain in Northern Ireland until an alternative is produced.

One of the weapons which is being developed exposes its target to an irritant to the upper body and is fired from a distance.

The ``Discriminating Irritant Projectile`` draws on the experience of similar weapons used in the United States and Europe.

The British government believes it will take about a year to develop.

The other weapon is known as the ``Attenuating Energy Projectile`` and has a similar effect to a plastic bullet but is designed to reduce the peak force.

The minister said subject to testing, this alternative could be available by the end of 2004 and deployed by the summer of next year.

Ms Kennedy also confirmed the government steering group had examined the use of other equipment such as water cannons to control hostile crowds.

Seventeen people have died in Northern Ireland after being hit by plastic and rubber bullets.

Nationalists have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the weapons, with both Sinn Fein and the SDLP demanding their removal.

In 1999 the Patten Commission on police reform also urged the Government to find a less lethal alternative.

Last April, the government said plastic bullets would disappear by the end of 2003 if an ``acceptable, effective and less lethal alternative`` was identified.

The minister said today both alternatives had ``real potential``.

``Very good progress has been made in developing these two alternative projectiles in line with the Patten Commission`s criteria and these are currently in the prototype stage.``

Ms Kennedy also noted no plastic bullet had been fired in Northern Ireland by the security forces since 1992.

``I would be delighted if the public order situation further improved, removing the need to resort to baton rounds,`` she said.

``The community as a whole has a contribution to make to achieve that aim but we are not there yet.``

Northern Ireland Policing Board chairman Professor Desmond Rea said his members would give ``careful consideration`` to the steering group`s latest report.

``It is essential that the public has confidence in how the police deal with public disorder and that the police have access to a wide range of public order equipment for dealing with various public order situations,`` he said.

``Policing public disorder in a way that protects the human rights of members of the public and of police officers is a difficult task and the board would much prefer that police officers did not have to resort to using such measures at all.

``There is a duty of care to police officers, as well as members of the public.``

Prof Rea noted the report also considered how police should manage conflict situations and examined how the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and community representatives were able to achieve a peaceful summer last year.

``There is no doubt that PSNI officers and community representatives spent a substantial amount of time and energy in meetings last summer discussing and resolving difficult issues,`` he said.

``They are to be congratulated.

``This was a valuable investment and demonstrates what can be achieved when there is a real desire to find solutions to problems. This must continue to be built on.``

Sinn Fein policing spokesman Gerry Kelly criticised the government for failing to withdraw plastic bullets immediately.

The North Belfast MLA said: ``The British government committed themselves to the removal of plastic bullets from operational use.

``These are lethal weapons that have killed 17 people. They should not be in use.

``The consideration of alternatives is no excuse to delay any further the removal of lethal plastic bullets. The PSNI and British Army have used and misused plastic bullets to kill and maim men, women and children.

``Any alternatives must be non-lethal.``

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