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BULLET BAN SHOCK FOR NEW POLICE; Recruits won't be trained to fire anti-riot gun.

Byline: RYAN PARRY

NEW police recruits will not be allowed to fire plastic bullets, it was learned last night.

The ban is part of the British and Irish governments' joint proposals to save the peace process.

But the move was attacked by campaigners who are calling for an immediate ban on the controversial weapon.

Last week RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan reacted furiously after the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission condemned police officers for firing plastic bullets during riots.

Seventeen people have been killed and hundreds seriously injured by plastic and rubber bullets during the Troubles.

An RUC spokesman confirmed last night that the first batch of recruits to begin training this autumn will not be instructed in using the riot-control weapon.

He said: "They will receive firearms training but they will not receive baton round training."

He insisted only "seasoned officers" would be deployed in serious civil disorder, adding: "The people who would be trained would be members of the Mobile Support Unit who are front line in riot situations."

DUP security spokesman Ian Paisley Jnr said it was a clear signal to rioters that the police will be a soft-touch.

He said: "If these proposals are intended to increase nationalist recruitment to the new police force, then they will fail. Rioters don't care about the persuasion of the officers, they are rioting thugs who want to clash with law and order.

"And I'm sure young nationalists joining the force will want something to defend themselves with in a riot situation.

"Rubber bullets acts as an adequate defence against violent thugs."

Victims' group Relatives for Justice claimed the proposal was a ploy to encourage nationalists to join the force.

Claire Riley said: "It doesn't go far enough, there is no debate about it, if John Reid thinks that he can encourage young people from the nationalist community to join the new police force, then he is making a mistake.

"It will backfire on him, both sides of the community have been on the receiving end of these weapnos for 30 years they have left a catologue of horrific injuries and 17 people have died.

"Unless they are totally banned John Reid is only prolonging the agony of people in the community."

Sinn Fein policing spokesman Gerry Kelly shunned the plans.

He said: "The difficulty is that if this is true it obviously doesn't mean plastic bullets are not going to be used.

"What they need is an alternative to plastic bullets."

Human rights groups hit out last month when a new plastic bullet was introduced.

CAPTION(S):

ROW: Sir Ronnie Flanagan and below, police fire plastic bullets
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 24, 2001
Words:439
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