Stop the plastic bullet killings

Robert Eaves, East Belfast Labour and Trade Union Group
Militant, September 1989

In the early hours of Wednesday, 9th August, Seamus Duffy, a 15-year-old schoolboy from North Belfast, was shot and killed by a plastic bullet. His death brought the total number killed by rubber and plastic bullets since the early 1970s to 17. It was the first death of its kind for three years.

Bullet fired

Seamus Duffy had been visiting bonfires to commemorate the introduction of internment 18 years ago and was walking home with his friends. As they returned into Dawson Street in the New Lodge area they noticed a crowd of youth at the other end of the street.

They decided to turn round and of home. As they did so an RUC land rover turned the corner and a plastic bullet was fired from the moving vehicle. Seamus was hit and died before he reached the hospital. His father said: “Seamus had only been out of the house for half an hour – we were very bitter. He was small and thin – his whole chest just caved in where he was hit. He wasn’t doing anything, but even if he was they could have just reached out and pulled him in.”


He is not the youngest to be killed by plastic bullets. In August 1975 Steve Geddis was hit on the head by a plastic bullet fired by the British Army. Steve was only 10. He also had not been involved in stone throwing. Of the 17 deaths, eight of the victims have been under the age of 15. Three have been women.

The plastic bullet is a lethal weapon. It is a PVC cylinder four inches long and one-and-a-half inches in diameter. It has a muzzle velocity of 150 miles per hour. Apart from the deaths over 300 people have received serious injuries from plastic bullets.

Their use has been widespread in Northern Ireland since they replaced the also deadly rubber bullets in 1975. There have been 200,000 plastic and rubber bullets fired since 1970. It was recently disclosed that plastic bullets may be issued to the UDR. Up to now the sectarian UDR have not been used in riot situations or in sensitive areas like West Belfast. Their acquisition of these weapons is a frightening prospect.

The August period in Northern Ireland is traditionally a period of heightened tension. This year, marking the 20th Anniversary of the introduction of troops, has seen rioting and hijacking in a number of areas, particularly in North and West Belfast and Derry.

Scores of plastic bullets have been fired and two people are still in hospital after being hit and the condition of one 23-year old is described as ‘serious’. On 14 August, one young man, who had been hospitalised after being hit by a plastic bullet, was taken to court on crutches and had to face charges connected with the rioting.


It is the duty of the labour movement, in campaigning against repression, to demand an end to the use of plastic bullets.

Victims of Plastic and Rubber Bullets

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