War of words after plastic bullet vigil

(**Mural photo by CRAZYFENIAN--click for larger view)

A war of words has broken out between a leading justice campaigner and the PSNI after officers in riot gear turned up at an anti-plastic bullet vigil last week.

And Clara Reilly of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets has revealed that she has sent a letter to the Chief Constable Hugh Orde branding the PSNI actions as “menacing and provocative”.

In a letter to the PSNI Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, Clara Reilly, chair of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets, hit out at the PSNI actions, as over 120 people held a peaceful protest outside Andersonstown Barracks. The annual protest is now in its nineteenth year, but according to the veteran campaigner this is the first time the PSNI or their forerunners, the RUC, have ever turned up.

Out of the 17 people killed by plastic or rubber bullets, five were killed by members of the RUC.

“On Wednesday 4 August 2004, the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets held its 19th annual vigil in memory of all those killed and injured as a result of the use of plastic and rubber bullets,” reads Clara Reilly’s letter to the Chief Constable. “This event has been held with dignity every year and is attended by members of the families of the victims of plastic bullets as well as survivors of some of the horrific injuries inflicted. One of those who has attended every year is Mrs Emma Groves, blinded by a rubber bullet in 1971. She is now in her eighties and would never dream of missing this event despite her advanced years.”

In her letter Ms Reilly states that others in attendance included Brenda Downes, whose husband Seán Downes was killed by an RUC member firing a plastic bullet at point blank range 20 years ago this month; and Jim McCabe whose wife Norah was killed by the RUC in July 1981.

“In respect of the above it was with dismay and outrage that our vigil was last week accompanied for the very first time by a presence of the RUC/PSNI.

Two Land Rovers parked at each end of the vigil and your officers in riot fatigues stood directing traffic. Aside from being menacing this was an attempt to control and contain the vigil.

“Norah McCabe’s daughter, who was three-months-old when Norah was killed, was pushing her newly born baby in a pram to join the vigil. One of the officers attempted to direct her passage and freedom of movement, she rightly refused to engage in this exercise, her look and demeanour expressed her revulsion.

“Her anger was only suppressed by her dignity and respect for her mother’s memory at the vigil. She had no doubt that the Land Rovers they were driving contained plastic bullet guns.

“Not once during its 19-year history has this vigil ever witnessed such a presence. This totally peaceful act of remembrance was this year subjected to such intimidation that could only be interpreted as insensitive and provocative given the event’s significant background. It was an act of triumphalism directed at the relatives of people killed by the RUC and British army using plastic bullets.”

However, Ms Reilly says that the PSNI “bullyboy tactics” were not successful.

“Over 120 people joined the vigil. Neither intimidation, nor indeed the murder of their loved ones will diminish these families’ sense of purpose and only strengthens the determination to see human rights and justice win the day.”

Last night a spokesperson for the PSNI told the Andersonstown News: “The Land Rovers were on traffic duty, facilitating the flow of traffic past protestors.”

However, an angry Clara Reilly last night pointed out that the PSNI presence was insensitive given that the organisation are currently using the deadly weapon.

“They weren’t needed, and have never been needed during the past 18 years,” said Clara. “The presence was insenstive and menacing, particularly as many children were attending the vigil.”

Journalist:: Anthony Neeson

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