Death of Emma Groves

2nd April 2007

Death of Emma Groves

It is with great sadness that the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets, and Relatives for Justice, have learned of the death of our friend and founder member Emma Groves following a brief illness.

Emma Groves, the mother of 11 children, was struck by a rubber bullet in the face in 1971 by the British Army while standing in her living room. She lost her two eyes immediately. Mother Theresa of Calcutta was at her bedside when she awoke and told her of the loss of her eyes.

Following this terrible tragedy, which impacted on the lives of her entire family, she dedicated her life to the banning of rubber and plastic bullets.

With her great friend Clara Reilly they founded the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets following the killing of John Downes in August 1984. This campaign brought together the families’ bereaved and many of those injured by rubber and plastic bullets. This gave international focus to the issue and highlighted not only the terrible injuries and deaths caused but also the lack of police investigation and lack of recourse through the courts.

Despite her disability, Emma Groves, along with Clara Reilly, and other bereaved family members, travelled the world highlighting the impact of plastic bullets and the carnage they caused. She addressed the European Parliament and travelled to Moscow and across the United States demanding that the international community bring Britain to account for their unaccountable use of this weapon against civilians. She brought families to Scotland where the plastic bullets were made and stood outside the factory to inform the workers of what these weapons caused in Ireland. She addressed the shareholders of the production company in America, which decided immediately to discontinue their role in the production of plastic bullets. She spoke wherever people would listen telling her own story and demanding that plastic bullets be banned.

Emma campaigned right into her 80s, bringing her call for an end to the use of plastic bullets to the all-party negotiations and to Secretaries of State and even to An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who knew her well enough to call her Emma.

Every Wednesday night of the West Belfast Festival, right up until last year, she stood with the families in remembrance of those who died, and were injured, and as a reminder to the rest of us that plastic bullets must be banned in order to have acceptable policing.

Recent developments with the Chief Constable declaring that those killed including the children by the use of plastic and rubber bullets were innocent is a direct result of the work of Emma Groves vindicating the innocence of the men women and children – all civilians killed by rubber and plastic bullets.

Emma was one of the founding members of Relatives for Justice, which works with families bereaved by the conflict. The work carried out across the North is based on her values that every family deserves compassion and support and that the authorities must be held accountable to ensure that it is received. She lived a life that was dedicated to her family, and to her community, providing inspiration to all of us involved in the pursuit of human rights, truth and justice.

Emma Groves was a formidable figure whose dignity, integrity and humanity touched all who came into contact with her.  She was undoubtedly a great woman and was often referred to as West Belfast’s First Lady. This is not only a great loss to our organisations, and the families who knew and loved her, but also the entire community who have lost a human rights champion. There are many who believe that had she lived somewhere else, and had she not been from West Belfast, she would have at least been nominated for the noble Peace Prize.

Emma was robbed of the sight of her eyes but not her vision. She knew that our entire community could be policed better without these weapons of death and human carnage. She knew that the law should hold everyone to account and especially those charged with upholding the law. She had faith that a peace process based on equality and justice for all would deliver a better future. We who knew her were blessed.

Recognition must also be given to her family who supported her throughout her campaigning and more recently through her illness. We grieve with them and extend our heartfelt condolences. She will be deeply missed.

Ní bheidh a leithéid ar ais airís.