From .............. Daily News Miner

August 3, 1996 A-6

The Associated Press BELFAST, Northern Ireland Patrick Gormley spoke through a haze of morphine about the moment that riot police shattered his shin with a plastic bullet.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary says its records show its forces fired 6,002 plastic bullets between 6 a.m. on July 7 and 6 a.m. on July 16, during the worst street violence in Northern Ireland since 1981.

About 660 bullets were fired during four days of riots by Protestants angry at police for blocking their march through a Catholic area. The rest were fired at Catholics, who rioted after police let the march take place.

New accusations that the predominantly Protestant police cracked down harder on Catholics have revived one of the most divisive issues in Northern Ireland: whether the police are, or can ever be, impartial.

The 4-inch-long, hard plastic bullets that police fired to control the crowds figure prominently in the accusations. Catholics say the police sometimes fired the bullets indiscriminately and did not always aim low, as regulations require.

Police commanders say they videotaped their operatiolls and expect to be vindicated when scores of Catholics and Protestants injured in the riots appear in court charged with attacking police. Police arrested 293 peuple and recorded 1,279 attacks on police in which 149 officers were injured. At least 192 civilians, the majority of them Catholic, were wounded.

Police say plastic bullets, which leave the barrel of a singleshot riot gun at 160 mph, are a more selective way to control rioters than tear gas and water cannon. Since they were introduced in 1975, plastic bullets have killed 13 Catholics and one Protestant. The last death was in 1989.

Police are forbidden from firing plastic bullets at the chest or head, at a range under 20 yards.