It’s hard to comment on a situation when the only information you have is from BBC reports, but the riots that took place in nationalist / republican areas of Belfast after the 12th July Orange Order parades should probably get at least some mention here, and particularly the continued use of plastic bullets.
According to BBC sources, 51 plastic bullets were fired on nationalist youth in the Ardoyne area, who were battling the police with bricks, sticks and petrol bombs. The size of these crowds has been estimated at between 150-200 mainly young people between the ages of 15-20.
Plastic bullets, otherwise known as baton rounds, are large, heavy and potentially fatal. Over the last thirty years seventeen people have been killed by them in the north of Ireland, many of those teenagers, and many more have been left seriously and sometimes permanently injured. Many organisations have called for an end to their use, and even the Northern Ireland Policing Board says they should not be used in public order situations.
Local people have also said that the deployment of police weapons was done ‘too early’, and have criticised police for a disproportionate response.
Predictably, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) claimed that ‘there was nothing political’ about the violence that occurred, preferring to label the demonstrators as ‘mindless thugs’. This is a line that clearly suits a police force that still has a reputation as a brutal and sectarian police force. It also ignores the fact that the violence was clearly sparked by the insistence of the loyalist Orange Order to march though Catholic areas, which is a political act whichever way you cut it.
While plastic bullets are frequently used in Ireland, their use in Britain is much more limited, and again, they are not supposed to be used in public order situations. They were however authorised for crowd control during the G8 summit in Scotland in 2005, although they were never used.