From Fri Oct 1 10:15:13 2004
Date: Thu, 30 Sep 2004 09:16:19 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: [NYTr] The 20-Year Campaign Against Plastic Bulletsy Article: 191915
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20 Years on the Fight Continues… and Plastic Bullets Remain

Opinion, Ireland Click, 30 September 2004

As a profile in courage, the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets twenty years old this month cannot be bettered.

But there are other words that equally touch on the calibre of the organisation: determination; tenacity; foresight; and, of course, truth.

Two decades after its formation, the group is still leading the charge and setting the agenda in relation to banning the use of lethal weapons as so-called ‘crowd-control mechanisms’.

And it is a testimony to the deep humanity and unwavering dignity of those linked with the United Campaign that their letters still force civil servants to swallow hard before answering, and that their phone calls still leave a withering knot in the stomachs of certain politicians.

In short, the United Campaign makes the government, the security services and their lackeys in wider society feel very nervous a subversive organisation if ever there was one.

Speaking with Brenda Downes, Jim McCabe, Clara Reilly and Emma Groves this week however, it cannot be forgotten that the reason the United Campaign is still active is because tens of thousands of plastic bullets still rest in the armoury of the PSNI and British Army.

The facts are frightening.

Yet 120,000 plastic bullets have been purchased at almost #7 each in the past two and a half years.

A new plastic bullet with a small sponge on the end will be introduced next year the same dimensions, the same gun, the same velocity.

Civil servants refuse to say that the new version would not kill a child.

Certain commentators point to the fact that the PSNI has not fired a plastic bullet in two years, as evidence of progress.

But the United Campaign's ongoing activity suggests a lot more work needs to be done.

The group first came together following the shooting of Sean Downes at a range of three feet by RUC man Nigel Hegarty on August 12, 1984.

Des Wilson and others organised public tribunal into the incident.

A few weeks later, a large public meeting was held at Conway Mill and those most closely affected by plastic and rubber bullets came together for the first time.

Meetings were held in different locations such as Clara Reilly's house.

But before it kicked in as a campaigning force, Jim McCabe says that the United Campaign was more of a support group than anything else.

I found it hard to even leave the house after my wife Nora was killed in 1981, and then I got invited up to a meeting in Clara's house.

At the time of Nora's death there were lots of people dying and I felt isolated. I didn’t feel able to talk about Nora's death and the United Campaign gave me the comfort and support to talk with people in the same situation as me about our shared experiences.

It was only after that I became interested in the campaigning side of things.

The United Campaign have never raised their expectations about what to expect from the British government.

One key recollection that people share is the comment by the late Pat Finucane that “if there was no justice in Nora McCabe's case, there never would be”.

Among the stalwarts of the United Campaign were Archie and Bernie Livingstone, whose 14 year-old daughter Julie was killed by a plastic bullet, and Kathleen Stewart, the mother of 13 year-old Brian who was killed in similar circumstances.

“I feel they and others should be given great credit for pursuing the campaign in very, very difficult circumstances,” said Jim.

“They did it at a time when you were at serious risk from arrest and harassment even going on a plane or carrying a plastic bullet to a meeting,” added Clara.

Everyone agreed that in the early days it was the humour of Archie, in particular, which kept spirits up, whether he was blessing onlookers from an open window in the Vatican or serenading young ladies who turned up at political meetings expecting a gung-ho Rambo from the heart of the Irish conflict.

Emma Groves was particularly critical of the role played by both the media and the Irish government down the years.

“The media always got the government version out first, that people who were shot had got what they deserved and it always took you an awful long time to put that right.

“As for the Irish government, they never wanted to know. They tried to be very nice but weren’t interested. They were always polite, but they were never really cared.

“They could talk all day about the Gaza Strip or South Africa, but they weren’t interested in what was happening 100 miles up the road,” said Emma.

“Plastic bullets didn’t just steal the lives of children or husbands or wives. They also stole the truth,” added Clara.

Brenda recalls in particular the occasion after the Warrington bomb when relatives travelled to Dublin to take part in a peace protest only to be verbally and physically abused.

“Julie Livingstone's picture was spat upon. On another occasion a man came up to me during a picket in Dublin and asked where all these killings had happened and then told us we should keep it all in the North,” she said.

Such was the impact of the United Campaign that activists have regularly had their houses raided and family members arrested.

The late Kathleen Stewart even had teeth knocked out by a British Army patrol that attacked her on one occasion.

But it is the irony of Labour Party members in government now supporting the use of plastic bullets after years of promises to the contrary that really rankles.

“I remember Peter Hain even accompanying me to hand in a petition to Downing Street calling for the ban on plastic bullets, yet look where he is now,” recalled Jim.

Clara says that the friendships forged out of the campaign have been a driving force over the last twenty years.

But whether it was picketing the company in Scotland who made plastic bullets twenty years ago, or picketing the Policing Board for purchasing more plastic bullets in Belfast two weeks ago, it is clear that the United Campaign is still a force to be reckoned with.

The frequency with which her comrades complimented Brenda's temper (good and bad), bears out the fact that whatever else happens the message of the United Campaign will always be heard.

Those murdered by plastic and rubber bullets can never be replaced, but there is a little girl called Nora McCabe who was two years old yesterday (Wednesday).

The legacy of the United Campaign is that the murder of her grandmother by the RUC in 1981 will not be forgotten.

Through the ongoing commitment, truth and courage of Brenda, Jim, Clara, Emma and many other campaigners, the United Campaign could easily keep going for another twenty years.

But all are agreed that hopefully that won’t be necessary

SDLP Double Standards On Plastic Bullets

Sinn Fein, 30 September 2004

Sinn Fiin spokesperson on Human Rights Caitriona Ruane has said that people will be amazed by the hypocrisy of the SDLP in meeting with Hugh Orde today to demand an end of the use of plastic bullets given their role in purchasing these lethal devices on the Policing Board.

Ms Ruane said: