Relatives of plastic bullet victims in Northern Ireland are to launch a legal challenge to the introduction of a new version of the weapon, it emerged today.
A High Court application will be lodged in the name Jim McCabe, whose wife Nora was killed by a plastic bullet at the height of the hunger strikes in July 1981, seeking a judicial review into the use of the baton rounds.
The new version of the riot control weapon, which was introduced in the UK in the past fortnight, has been condemned by Sinn Fein and the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets.
The campaign’s chairwoman Clara Reilly said legal action is also being considered against the manufacturers and suppliers of the bullets.
Her group claim the baton rounds travel at a speed of 164mph and are more lethal than the previous plastic bullets.
However the Government believes the bullets are safer and more accurate.
Ms Reilly, whose group held a public meeting on the weapon in west Belfast last night, said: ‘‘According to the Ministry of Defence’s own report, if a person is hit head-on at 30 metres with the new bullet the projectile could lodge in the skull and cause more serious damage than would be the case with the old bullets.
‘‘A plastic bullet measuring 122 joules of kinetic energy is considered a lethal weapon by the United States’ own military scientists. The new bullet has a measurement of 244 joules. It is a lethal weapon by every measurement.’’
Kathleen Duffy, whose son was killed in 1989, said that as someone who had lost a child because of plastic bullets she was anxious that no other child was killed.
‘‘I am at a loss for words that at a time like this in the peace process the British Government is bringing out another weapon and all we are listening to is 'decommissioning, decommissioning' and yet the British Government brings out another weapon,’’ she said.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and his party said during the General Election the withdrawal of the weapon is essential if republicans are to endorse the new police service.