A proposal by Attorney-General John Larkin that there be an end to prosecutions for the conflict up to 1998, has drawn a sharply negative response from almost all sides. Clearly the political will is not there and all of the important players are not at the table. The mentored politicians are not prepared to make personal sacrifices and are afraid of the truth. Irish Republican News
1. THE MURDER AND REPRESSION FORCE
2. Death of a peacemaker
3. Justice campaigns make progress
4. Wave of anger greets call to end prosecutions
5. Talks face deadline as issues bear down
6. Alerts and hoaxes continue
7. Feature: 'Britain's Secret Terror Force'
8. Feature: Address to 32 County Sovereignty Movement Ard Fheis
A BBC Panorama documentary in which former plain-clothes British
soldiers admitted carrying out undercover gun attacks in nationalist
west Belfast has led to a public outcry and demands for an inquiry.
The details revealed in the broadcast have recalled traumatic and
appalling events which have always been refuted by the British
Dozens of innocent civilians were injured or killed in attacks carried
out by the 'Military Reaction Force' (MRF), usually in machine-gun
blasts from an unmarked vehicle, and always the full sanction and
support of their British military bosses.
Reconstructions of events dating from 1971 onwards have hone a new light
on the actions of the secretive unit. The BBC's John Ware interviewed
members of the MRF, who wore disguise but still spoke of their pride in
their murderous campaign.
The documentary recounted incidents when machine gun fire raked through
knots of people standing on street corners or heading home to the pub.
Others were chased through streets.
Those targeted were often standing in the vicinity of road barricades
erected by nationalist communities for their own safety 40 years ago.
All of the victims were forensically tested by the then RUC, but none
were found to have been in contact with firearms. No evidence was ever
presented that those who were shot were anything other than innocent
It was argued in the broadcast that the unit was a prototype
counter-insurgency operation based on experiences in colonial conflicts,
and that military regulations or civil laws "did not apply".
The unit included 40 hand-picked men from across the British Army who
always wore plain clothes. When the men arrived at the specialised
enclosure in Palace Barracks, County Down, which still operates today,
the men dispensed with ranks, identification tags and surnames.
Some soldiers told the broadcaster they would drive by the barricades
and open fire, even if they did not see anybody brandishing a gun.
One said anyone standing in the vicinity of a barricade was potentially
an armed member of the IRA, and therefore a justifiable target. Another
said it was part of his mission to "draw out" the IRA in west Belfast.
"If they needed shooting they'd be shot," he said.
Most admitted that they would shoot unarmed targets. One said: "We were
not there to act like an Army unit, we were there to act like a terror
MRF member Simon Cursey - not his real name - told a newspaper at the
weekend that originally they were told to shoot at anyone carrying a
weapon, but that the rules changed so that "groups manning barricades or
vigilantes patrolling late at night" were targets.
He admitted involvement in the attack in which father-of-six Patrick
McVeigh died. That attack, and another six weeks later, were both
carried out from an unmarked car using a privately-owned Thompson
Key information was withheld from courts in the north of Ireland about
this unit's activities, according to Panorama. Mr McVeigh's daughter
Patricia said of the broadcast: "We want the truth. We don't want to
stop until we get the truth."
The MRF was ultimately replaced by the Force Research Unit, an equally
clandestine division of the British Army which operated in concert with
loyalist paramilitary death squads.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the programme had shed light on one
aspect of Britain's 'Dirty War' in Ireland, and said victims of the MRF
would be "disturbed" by the new information.
He called on the Dublin government to press the British to establish "a
truth recovery process that can provide support and closure for
"Sinn Fein has proposed that there be an international, independent
truth recovery process," he said. "Others have different ideas and that
is fair enough, but we need to take this opportunity to move the process
forward in a way that looks after the victims but also builds the future
for the survivors."
Fr Alec Reid, who was a significant figure during the initial peace
process in Ireland, died this [Friday] morning, aged 82.
A native of County Tipperary, he died peacefully in a Dublin hospital,
his Redemptorist Order said.
The influence of Fr Reid and his Catholic teachings are often credited
with encouraging Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams towards peace at what was
then a very difficult time in the conflict.
Fr Reid also facilitated talks in the late 1980s between the SDLP leader
John Hume and Mr Adams which created the conditions for the first
ceasefire by the Provisional IRA in 1994. His Redemptorist monastery in
Clonard in west Belfast was the venue for much of the Hume-Adams talks
and for other secret peace process negotiations.
Fr Reid was present in 1988 when mourners were attacked and killed in
Milltown Cemetery at the funeral of three IRA Volunteers who had been
ambushed by the SAS. He was famously pictured administering the last
rites to two British soldiers captured and killed by the IRA after they
were found spying on a subsequent republican funeral.
British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers said: "We all owe a debt of
gratitude to him for the role he played in the peace and reconciliation
process in Northern Ireland. "
Former SDLP leader John Hume said he was deeply saddened by the death of
In a statement, Mr Hume said: "Fr Reid was a pillar of the peace
process. Without his courage, determination and utter selflessness, the
road to peace in our region would have been much longer and much more
difficult to traverse. A man of faith and deep conviction, his
commitment to our people was a key part of the foundation on which our
early, fragile peace was built.
"Fr Alec was not simply a 'go between' in the early days of negotiating
for peace. He was an active player in fighting for an end to violence.
"While we mourn the loss of a great man, we must also celebrate the
legacy of peace and an opportunity to reconcile our people that he gave
to us. It is an opportunity we cannot afford to waste."
Mr Adams said Fr Reid's base in west Belfast during the height of the
conflict, Clonard, had been the cradle of the peace process.
"I feel deeply saddened. I have not absorbed it yet. I knew him for the
last 40 years," he said.
"He was also a very good friend of mine, of my wife, of my family. What
Alec Reid did was he lived the gospel message. He developed a view which
was contrary to the official view, that there had to be dialogue, and he
was tenacious -- I remember quite a few times saying he was like a
He said that Fr Reid had "worked tirelessly" for all the people of
Belfast and was "unstinting" in his efforts for peace.
"In the 1970's along with Fr. Des Wilson he acted as a facilitator to
end inter republican conflicts. They also started a dialogue with
"Alec was a friend to the republican prisoners and especially those
involved in the H Block and Armagh prison protests and hunger strikes
and their families."
"He and I had many discussions about the conflict, its causes and how it
might be ended. Out of those conversations emerged a commitment to
dialogue as the first necessary step along that process and a
commencement of a process in the early 1980s to commence a process of
dialogue with the Catholic Hierarchy, SDLP leader John Hume and the
Irish and British governments.
"Fr Reid was tenacious in his pursuit of peace. He wrote copious letters
to political leaders here and in Britain and engaged in countless
meetings with politicians and government's seeking to persuade them to
start the process of talking. He saw good in everyone and lived the
gospel message. His was the gospel of the streets."
Fr Reid's remains will repose at Marianella Chapel, 75 Orwell Road,
Dublin 6 tomorrow from 2pm - 8pm and on Sunday from 1pm - 8pm. Mass will
be held in the chapel at 11 am on Monday after which his remains will be
taken to Clonard. An ecumenical Service of Gratitude for Fr Reid's life
and ministry will take place at 7.30 pm in Clonard Church. His funeral
Mass will be at 12 noon in Clonard Church on Wednesday.
An edited version of a report into the McGurk's Bar massacre is to be
disclosed to the victims' families within two weeks, the PSNI has told
the High Court in Belfast.
Counsel for PSNI Baggott confirmed that a version of the Historical
Enquiries Team (HET) review of the McGurk's Bar massacre is to be handed
It is not yet clear to what extent the report will be redacted or
censored, but the announcement was strongly welcomed by the families of
Fifteen people were murdered when the north Belfast pub was blown up by
the loyalist UVF in December 1971. The attack was described as an 'IRA
own goal' by the Crown forces, a claim which was soon exposed as a lie.
One of those bereaved had sought a judicial review against the PSNI
stance, arguing that it had a public law duty to disclose the report
The legal challenge, brought by Bridget Irvine, whose mother Kitty was
among those killed, contended that the failure to hand the dossier over
was irrational, unlawful and breaches human rights.
Lawyers for the PSNI had sought more time to consider whether to release
a redacted form of the report. But in court this week, barrister Peter
Coll for the PSNI said that "a finalised version" of the HET review
summary report would be released within two weeks.
In other news, families of 20 people killed by a gang that contained
members of the Crown forces and loyalist paramilitaries are set to take
legal action against the British government and the PSNI.
The authorities knew about the activities of the UVF/RUC/UDR gang based
at a farm in Glenanne, south Armagh, which carried out 120 murders on
both sides of the border during the early 1970s, but failed to prevent
The families say the evidence of collusion between the Crown forces and
paramilitaries is overwhelming. They are suing for damages, alleging a
failure by the British government, its Ministry of Defence and the RUC
(now PSNI) police to fulfill their legal duties to protect life and take
action against those involved.
Their lawyer, Peter Corrigan, said: "These cases are taken against a
background of a continued failure by the state to front up on its role
in facilitating collusion in mid-Ulster in one of the darkest periods of
the conflict here."
Meanwhile, the sister of a man murdered by the UVF yesterday cleared the
first stage in her High Court battle to secure disclosure of a full
report on the shooting.
Bobby Moffett was gunned down in front of shoppers on west Belfast's
Shankill Road in May 2010.
The now defunct 'Independent Monitoring Commission' (IMC), the body set
up to scrutinise loyalist and IRA activity, found that the UVF's
leadership had sanctioned the 43-year-old's killing.
In its report the international body described the killing as a public
execution ordered to stop him from flouting UVF authority -- and to send
a message to the community that this authority was not to be challenged.
Mr Moffett's sister, Irene Owens, was this week granted leave to seek a
judicial review which would compel the British government to release the
dossier to the coroner in full.
But in other news, a former member of the RUC Special Branch has said he
has destroyed his police journals and diaries in order "to stop them
falling into the wrong hands".
The man, who was granted anonymity and is known only as 'P3', was
testifying at the inquest into the murder of pensioner Roseann Mallon.
Ms Mallon's house was under blanket British Army surveillance when it
was raked with gunfire, in an attack blamed on loyalist paramilitaries.
The inquest has already heard overwhelming evidence of Crown force
collusion in the killing.
'P3' was the most senior figure in the special RUC 'intelligence'
division in Dungannon, County Tyrone, at the time of Ms Mallon's murder.
He said he "never considered" the police journals might be used for
trials or inquest hearings.
"There was no requirement - I never even thought about it," he said. The
inquest, now in its third week, will continue on Monday.
>>>>>> Wave of anger greets call to end prosecutions
A proposal by Six-County Attorney-General John Larkin that there should
be an end to prosecutions for the conflict up to 1998, the signing of
the Good Friday Agreement, has drawn a sharply negative response from
almost all sides.
Despite an overwhelmingly negative response from politicians and
victims' groups, Larkin has remained defiant, saying the call has
fueled a debate on how the issue of the past should be dealt with.
"No minister, no MLA is engaged in what I said," he said later. "It's
entirely my contribution, independent, to the public debate."
He added: "I have put it out there and it's being discussed."
Later in the week he held talks with US mediator Richard Haass as part
of a series of high-level political discussions focussing on the issues
of dealing with the past, sectarian parades, and flags and symbols.
Mr Larkin was speaking as documents were being received by his office
detailing the illegal and highly controversial actions of the MRF
British Army death squad in the early 1970s.
But his remarks drew an immediate and near-hysterical response from
unionists. Nationalists noted with concern that his comments avoided
reference to the need for a truth recovery process.
Larkin's office is tasked with advising the Six-County administration on
legal matters and to supervise the rule of law in the North of Ireland,
and his political interventions have previously raised eyebrows at
The Alliance Party said the proposals were an attempt to "sweep the past
under the carpet", while Jim Allister, leader of the hardline unionist
TUV, said he was "appalled and angered".
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said the proposal would set an "extremely
dangerous precedent not just in the UK but across the free world".
Alban Maginness of the SDLP said the remarks were a "cause of real
concern" and victims and survivors were "entitled to justice
irrespective of the lapse of time".
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said he couldn't believe he didn't
understand the "hurt and pain" he would cause amongst victims".
A spokesperson for Relatives for Justice, which represents victims of
state killings, said the proposal was "repugnant, incompatible and
Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams did not condemn Mr Larkin's suggestions but
insisted a wider debate on the past was needed. He said the voices of
the victims' "must be heard and respected".
His party colleague Gerry Kelly added that "if what John Larkin is doing
is drawing a line in the sand and closing down the ability to bring out
truth, then I would fundamentally disagree."
British prime minister David Cameron also quickly moved to distance
himself from Mr Larkin's remarks, saying such a move would be "rather
"I do think it's important to allow Richard Haass to do his work about
parades, about flags, and about dealing with the past," he told the
House of Commons.
With tensions again rising in the north of Ireland, US mediator Richard
Haass held a round-table meeting of the five main Stormont parties today
[Friday] on the three key issues of sectarian parades, flags and
symbols, and the legacy of the past.
Mr Haass returned to the United States after the meeting, but will
return to Ireland in December for possibly the final phase of talks.
Today's talks were the third round of discussions between Haass and the
Stormont parties. The US diplomat described them as "serious,
thoughtful and creative". He said he still believed they could find a
consensus before the end of the year.
Mr Haass said he had been "affected" by his meetings with groups of
victims. "Speaking if you will, personally rather than professionally,
it is impossible to come away from these meetings with victim and
survivor groups and not be affected," he said.
Over the past two months the former special envoy and his team have met
between 50 and 60 interest groups and have received around 500
submissions to an online consultation.
On this visit, the diplomat also met the Bloody Sunday relatives and
other groups in Derry, while his team held talks with the Protestant
Orange Order and nationalist residents groups in Portadown and Belfast.
And despite a definitive statement by the Police Federation (which
represents members of the PSNI) that the UVF has "come off ceasefire", a
colleague of Mr Haass met with senior members of that organisation.
Meghan Sullivan held talks at a loyalist protest camp at Twaddell
Avenue. The camp has continued since the Parades Commission banned a
sectarian parade from passing through republican Ardoyne on the evening
of the Twelfth of July.
Although illegal, an encampment of loyalists still demanding to march
through Ardoyne has been allowed to remain in place for over five months
now. Loyalists are again feared to be orchestrating large-scale
disturbances in the run-up to Christmas.
Leading flag protester Jamie Bryson insisted that demonstrations planned
for Tuesday December 3 -- the first anniversary of the decision by
Belfast City Council to limit the flying of the flag to designated days
-- would be "peaceful civil rights protests"
However, the demonstrations are expected to be held at 6pm, which will
coincide with rush-hour traffic. Last year, similar flag-protest
demonstrations served as roadblocks which brought Belfast to a virtual
A loyalist march through Belfast city centre on Saturday November 30 --
with up to 10,000 participants and 40 bands -- has also been organised
to mark the first anniversary of the Belfast City Council decision. The
Parades Commission and the PSNI have give permission to the parade, but
have been unwilling to reveal the identity of the organiser. Permission
has also been sought by loyalists for another flag protest on Saturday
Belfast Sinn Fein councillor JJ Magee slammed the plans. "Political
unionism needs to put a stop to these idiotic attempts to bring Belfast
city centre to a standstill in the lead-up to Christmas," he said.
"What egotists like Bryson hope to gain by this type of action is
baffling. A democratic decision was taken around the flag and no amount
of protests is going to change that."
Sinn Fein also caused some controversy earlier this week when it chose
to reveal its written submissions. At the outset of the process in
September, Mr Haass asked the talks participants not to make their
Sinn Fein said that the decision to publish had been taken unilaterally
in effort to foster debate. "We felt it was important to kick-start
discussions in relation to these key issues," said negotiator Sean
"We believe there should be a public dimension to the discussions
because after all they are societal problems and not just down to the
Other members of Sinn Fein delegation to the Haass Talks are Gerry
Kelly, Jennifer McCann, and Mitchel McLaughlin.
An apparent attempt to set fire to the offices of the Alliance Party
offices in east Belfast was the most serious of a number of unclaimed
alerts and incidents in Derry, Belfast and Armagh this week.
The petrol-bomb attack on the office building at Upper Newtownards Road
took place on Saturday night. Only one of the bombs ignited on the
street, and it was quickly extinguished.
The party has been targeted repeatedly by loyalists in the wake of a
Belfast city council decision last year to put the flying of the British
Union Jack at the city hall in line with other civic buildings under
Alliance East Belfast MP Naomi Long, who has been subjected to death
threats by loyalists, said the attempted firebomb attack on her party
premises was an attack on democracy.
"This is not an attack on an individual party or office. It is an attack
on democracy," she said.
A spate of pipe-shaped devices also caused alerts and evacuations across
A member of the public was reported to have picked up a device that was
thrown at a PSNI patrol in Strabane, County Tyrone on Sunday. British
army bomb-disposal experts officers later destroyed the object in a
The British army were also called to Andersonstown in west Belfast
shortly before 9am on Tuesday after a suspicious device was discovered.
They carried out an evacuation before it was removed "for further
inspection". The PSNI said the object was another pipe device, but
denied reports it had been thrown at one of their patrols
Also on Tuesday, residents at Wall Street in north Belfast were also
forced from their homes at around 3am following an alert. It was later
declared a hoax. An alert at Musgrave Park in south Belfast was found to
be an old wartime-type shell.
And also on Tuesday, bomb-disposal experts were called to an alert and
evacuation in Armagh, where they said a "viable explosive type device"
had been made safe.
On Thursday, an elaborate incident saw a bus driver ordered to take an
object to Strand Road PSNI base in Derry. An oblong device was later
recovered, although the PSNI did not say if it was viable. The driver
was hailed as a hero by the PSNI after she drove the bus away from a
A number of security alerts also took place in Derry today [Friday] at
the Gobnascale Road area of the city.
Following evacuations, British Army bomb disposal experts attended all
of the alerts at around 1am. Each was declared to be "an elaborate
hoax". Another object was then spotted at a business premises on the
Strabane Old Road, which also described as a hoax.
An account by BBC investigative journalist John Ware on what he learned
about "Britain's secret terror force", the Military Reaction Force.
10 pm, May 7 1972, Belfast: a 16-year-old youth emerges from a school
disco with his girlfriend.
Like many other youths in this part of Catholic, nationalist west
Belfast, he had previously thrown stones at the British army.
Suddenly there is a burst of machine gun fire from a car. As it speeds
off, the boy writhes in agony from bullets in the stomach and arm. A few
weeks later a car cruises into view of a bus stop. The driver is said to
have waved a friendly wave, only for a machine gun to flame into life
from a rear window, cutting down three men chatting to each other.
Between May and September 1972 -- the most violent year of the conflict
-- there were several similar 'drive by' attacks, which nationalists
assumed were by loyalist gunmen.
In fact the gunmen were soldiers in civilian cars, dressed up as locals,
and sometimes armed like the local IRA -- with the IRA's favourite
weapon, the 'Chicago grinder', a Thompson sub-machine gun also favoured
by the 1920s gangster al Capone.
In each case the soldiers claimed they were fired on. Yet there was no
independent evidence to show that any of the dead or wounded were armed,
or that they provoked the attacks, or even that they were members of the
These soldiers belonged to an experimental undercover British army unit
called the Military Reaction Force (MRF) whose mysterious activities
have been the subject of lurid speculation in Belfast for 40 years.
Ex-MRF members have generally shunned the limelight. So controversial
were their activities that the force was soon disbanded.
The closest former MRF soldiers have come to breaking cover is as the
pseudonymous authors of two semi-fictionalised paperbacks, one of whom
has referred to the MRF as a "legalised death squad".
The factual account of the MRF may not be quite as colourful.
Nonetheless, the evidence gleaned from seven former members,
declassified files and witnesses does point to a central truth: that MRF
tactics did sometimes mirror the IRA's.
Co-located with the Parachute Regiment in Palace Barracks just outside
Belfast, the MRF was shielded even from the view of their uniformed
comrades by corrugated sheeting.
Within the MRF compound were prefabricated units housing an operations
and briefing room, an armoury and space for cars, typically Hillmans and
Ford Cortinas with microphones built into their sun visors. Some were
stolen. MRF members were selected from all regiments, including the SAS
and Special Boat Service. They had to be single, and able to work
unsupervised using their own initiative.
Their main role was surveillance by melting into the background of
nationalist west Belfast. To help them live this role, members were
'demilitarised' on joining. First names were used instead of ranks.
These soldiers did not lack for cold courage. By adopting a variety of
disguises -- drunks, road sweepers, dockers and press photographers with
fake press cards -- they ventured into IRA strongholds.
Soldier E recounted how he posed as a merchant seaman in Ardoyne, a near
suicidal act of courage in this IRA lion's den.
Had he been banged up against a wall and his underarm Walther pistol
discovered, torture and execution would have followed. "It was a hairy
job and we used to get the shakes after it, but it had to be done," he
The soldiers we spoke to also said the MRF had a "hard-hitting
anti-terrorist" role. "We were not there to act like an army unit,"
explained Soldier F. "We were there to act like a terror group."
One tactic was to deliberately act as bait, to entice the IRA to come
out to fight. "It was like dangling a red flag to a bull," said Soldier
E, "to get them to engage you rather than their covert operations,
laying ambushes and bombs etc."
The bait -- typically -- was an unmarked vehicle with two soldiers in
the front armed with pistols, and a third in the back seat with a
"You'd have one [car] standing off and we'd put one as a decoy in such a
place as they would come up to you," explained Soldier G. And if they
did? "If they had weapons on them they were f***ing going down. That's
the beginning and end of it."
These baiting tactics were outside the rules governing the use of lethal
force known as the Yellow Card, which required a soldier to challenge a
gunman, offering him the chance to put down his weapon before opening
fire -- unless the soldier felt his life was in imminent danger.
In the real world of Belfast 1972, one man with a gun confronted by
another was only ever going to end one way. All of the MRF soldiers we
spoke to say they often ignored the Yellow Card. "If we didn't do what
we did, nothing was going to get done," said soldier H, a grizzled SaS
And in 1972, according to Anthony Le Tissiet, then a major in the Royal
military police, the prevailing attitude was that "you could just about
do anything you wanted".
In this piratical climate, releasing a few enthusiasts on to the street
and spontaneous events were bound to occur.
"It was a time when we enjoyed the challenge of going out and having a
fight," said Soldier H.
"We had to break the rules in many cases but not so badly that, you
know, there was murder done, or anything like that," said Soldier G.
That depends how "murder" is defined, and for Soldier G shooting someone
found with a weapon in a car -- even if it wasn't actually on him --
doesn't seem to have qualified: "The rule of thumb was to take him in
and get some information out of him, but we were sick of that sh*t, you
What about "assassination" in its conventional meaning: a cold-blooded
plan to identify, track down and execute a target?
None of the MRF soldiers we spoke to say that they were given
instructions to hunt down a named member of the IRA for execution.
On the other hand, the MRF had an effective way of identifying known
players. Attached to the MRF was the British army's first agent-running
unit in Northern Ireland where captured members of the IRA were turned.
Known as 'Freds', they were housed in married quarters on the base. They
were taken out in armoured personnel carriers, and through its slit
windows they identified members of the IRA who were then photographed.
MRF patrols were sometimes tasked on the basis of intelligence provided
by the Freds.
Was there within the MRF, an understanding as to what would be
permissible if some of these more active IRA players were spotted in
circumstances where they could be dispatched?
Soldier D sometimes patrolled with a silenced weapon. "We had to use our
own initiative," he said. "That's why I was selected for this operation
-- to use my own initiative."
If he came across a "well-known shooter" who'd carried out
assassinations and if the opportunity arose, he would be "taken out".
By the start of 1972, according to the army, soldiers were "killing or
wounding about 15 terrorists a week".
It's impossible to say whether the MRF's contribution to that was
disproportionately high in relation to its size of about 40 men.
Many MRF soldiers are now dead, there were daily multiple shootings of
unknown origin and the MRF's day-to-day records have been destroyed.
However, some MRF soldiers do seem to have taken a trigger-happy
approach to vigilantes manning barricades -- often amateurish affairs
erected to protect nationalist enclaves from attacks by marauding
As potent symbols of insurrection, it fell to the army to discourage
Soldier G admitted he and other MRF soldiers engaged in a "fair bit of"
drive-by shootings -- provided he saw a weapon. "You just ease up, slow
-- and spray a few."
Some soldiers said they operated on the assumption that there would
always be a weapon at a barricade --whether it could be seen or not.
"We'd give 'em a blast anyway," said Soldier F, with the insouciance of
someone blow-drying his hair.
On the night of May 12 1972, an MRF patrol gave a few blasts of
automatic and pistol fire to half a dozen men dismantling a barricade
close to a loyalist area in south Belfast.
Patrick McVeigh, a father of six children, died on the spot.
The MRF soldiers told the Royal Military Police they'd been confronted
by up to half a dozen gunmen who opened fire.
Yet forensic tests on McVeigh and his friends were negative, nor were
any of them in the IRA.
A uniformed soldier quickly on the scene said: "We were under the
impression we were dealing with ordinary guys trying to prevent trouble
who weren't gunmen."
Covering up the MRF's role, an army statement said the attack was a
"motiveless crime" -- code for loyalist murder gang.
Ten minutes earlier, the same MRF patrol car that had killed McVeigh had
been in convoy with another MRF patrol car which had also opened fire on
another barricade, wounding 19-year-old Eugene Devlin who was walking
Devlin was not a member of the IRA and he too tested negative for
firearms. Again the MRF soldiers told the military police they came
under fire. Devlin insists the only gunfire came from the MRF car.
"We operated initially with them thinking that we were the UVF," said
Soldier H. But to what end? "We wanted to cause confusion," said Soldier
"My take on that was 'Great, no problem'," said Soldier H, who was
"quite happy" for the IRA to think the UVF was responsible.
Did some MRF soldiers also seek to exacerbate the murderous internal
tensions amongst republicans by mimicking the Official IRA from whom the
Provisional IRA had split in December 1969?
Stored in the MRF's own armoury were two Thompson sub-machine guns, then
a weapon popular with both IRA factions.
One of the two Tommy guns was privately owned by Captain Hamish
McGregor, one of the MRF's commanders, who had won a Military Cross in
The other had been captured from the IRA by the police and then loaned
with ammunition to the MRF by the Special Branch. The MRF had told the
Branch that they needed the guns for training to familiarise their
soldiers with the sound and characteristics of a standard enemy weapon.
However, the Tommy guns appear to have had another use as well.
We found a major who had told the Royal Military Police that, when
patrolling his area, one of Captain McGregor's section leaders had
sometimes been armed with a Thompson.
His name was Sgt Williams, a Royal Military Policeman on attachment to
the MRF and he had also been the commander of the MRF patrol that shot
dead Patrick McVeigh.
Soldier H told us that he too sometimes took out a Thompson on patrol
because it had "hitting power and it felt better... it had a bloody big
Shortly after noon on June 22 1972 a volley of "bloody big slugs" from a
Thompson hit three young men standing at a bus terminus on the Glen
Road, west Belfast, and a fourth man whose bedroom was in the line of
According to one witness, a car slowed to a halt 20 yards away on the
main road and the driver gave a friendly wave -- only for the black
barrel of a Tommy gun to flame into life from the back seat.
Once again, the gunman was Sergeant Williams.
Soon word reached detectives that a plain-clothes army unit was
operating in west Belfast with its own rules.
"I thought there was some great master plan behind these guys driving
about in plain-clothes cars, shooting at civilians," says Alan Johnson,
then a detective constable. "If there was, it certainly escaped me. I
couldn't quite grasp it, nor could any of my colleagues."
Detective Inspector Bill Mooney couldn't grasp it either. The MRF
patrol's version was that Williams had been armed that day with the
army's standard issue machine gun, the 9mm Sterling. Yet surgeons had
removed 0.45 calibre bullets from the victims.
Eventually, the bullets were forensically matched to one of the two
Thompson sub-machine guns in the MRF's armoury -- the one owned by MRF's
last commanding officer Captain McGregor. Only then did Williams admit
the truth -- that he had taken McGregor's Thompson from the armoury with
him on patrol.
Eventually Williams and McGregor were charged with illegal possession of
a firearm and ammunition. Williams was also charged with three counts of
That day the attorney-general, Sir Peter Rawlinson QC, is recorded as
saying that McGregor's revelation that a Thompson sub-machine gun had
been loaned by the Special Branch "might not be helpful" -- which was
something of an under-statement.
He also told the then secretary of state, Willie Whitelaw, that "the
whole case was extremely embarrassing and might become more so" because
the "blue Cortina car alleged to have been used" by the MRF in the Glen
Road shooting" had figured in other alleged crimes."
Sergeant Williams had indeed been involved in other controversial
shootings, including the fatal shooting of Patrick McVeigh.
Officials then came under attack from ministers for not having been
forewarned of "potential stinkers" like the Williams case which had
"burst upon the Ministry of De-fence".
Why, ministers asked, had not "someone... pick(ed) up the potential
dynamite in this particular case much earlier and warn us that it might
be a particularly tricky one?"
But army HQ Northern Ireland had -- they just hadn't known how to defuse
it which presumably explains why HQNI had not been "particularly
helpful" and why the MoD in London was anxiously awaiting "what position
would be adopted by the defence".
Particular concern was expressed about something in one of McGregor's
formal statements described by the army deputy under-secretary as
"horrific", warning of its "possible implications".
We can't say what so "horrified" him -- our Freedom of Information
request for the statements was refused.
The firearms charges against McGregor and Williams were dropped.
Williams alone now faced trial charged on three counts of attempted
murder. In London, the MoD scrambled around for "any legitimate
diversionary tactic that might help" distract the press from identifying
There was "considerable advantage in maintaining as much confusion as
In the event, at his trial Williams did admit to the MRF's existence,
but the damage to the army was significantly limited because the illegal
firearms charges against him and McGregor had been dropped.
As a result of that, whatever explanation there might have been as to
why Williams had a Tommy gun on patrol never emerged in court.
Williams told the court the only reason he had the Thompson with him was
that he'd been on a firing range demonstrating it to new MRF recruits --
not an explanation we understand he offered the police.
Nor did the jury hear evidence from the major who'd spoken about knowing
that Williams had been armed with a Thompson on previous patrols.
After a brief trial, Williams was acquitted on all counts by a majority
Both Williams and McGregor were eventually promoted -- McGregor ending
his army career in 1998 as a brigadier, and Williams as a captain.
On September 27 1972, three months after the Glen Road shooting, another
MRF patrol shot dead 18-year-old Daniel Rooney, telling the police he
was armed with a rifle.
His friend Brendan Brennan, who the MRF said was armed with a pistol,
Declassified papers show that the army briefed the secretary of state
Willie Whitelaw that Rooney was a "volunteer in D Company, 1st Btn IRA"
and that Brennan belonged "to the same gang as Rooney".
These claims are no more credible than the MRF soldiers' claims that
their targets were armed.
As before, the swabbed hands and clothes of both youths showed no sign
of having been in contact with firearms, consistent with eyewitness
accounts that neither was armed.
Rooney does not appear on any IRA roll of honour, he is not buried in
the republican plot in Milltown. There were no IRA death notices and his
family and friends insist to this day he was not in the IRA; nor is
there any evidence that Brennan was either.
When I called at the home of the soldier who shot Rooney he said that if
I set foot on his "property again I'll punch you... and I can punch
In November 1972, a review of the MRF ordered by the army top brass
found there was "no provision for detailed command and control" and said
it should be replaced by a better-trained unit, which eventually morphed
into 14 Intelligence Company.
Prime Minister Edward Heath sent a message to the army emphasising that
"special care should be taken" to ensure that the new unit should
"operate within the law".
An implicit recognition, perhaps, that some MRF soldiers' activities had
The head of the army, General Sir Michael Carver, said the new training
arrangements would "automatically reduce the risk of nonsenses".
Yet what had been the military logic behind those "nonsenses"? And why
exactly had MRF soldiers sometimes been armed with IRA-style weapons?
In 1993, the RUC began a lengthy inquiry into the MRF's shooting of
Interviewed at his retirement home in Spain was the MRF's first officer
commanding, a Parachute Regiment captain, Arthur Watchus, who had also
served in the SAS:
POLICE: Did you have knowledge of what weapons were
being used in the car by patrols? How disciplined a unit was it?
WATCHUS: It was a disciplined unit but what they (his soldiers) did away
from me, who can say?
Watchus is now dead. So I asked his successor Captain Hamish McGregor if
he had authorised Williams to take his privately owned Tommy gun on the
day when Williams fired it at three men the police believed were
McGregor declined to say but insisted the only reason that the MRF had
Tommy guns in its armoury was for training, describing Williams as one
of "our very experienced and respected operators" and pointing out that
he answered to 39 Brigade, Belfast.
Commanding 39 Brigade for most of 1972 was Brigadier 'Sandy' Boswell,
who ended his career as Lt Gen Sir Alexander Boswell, General Officer
Commanding, Scotland. Did the MoD's verdict that there had been "no
provision for detailed command and control" mean that lethal MRF
operations were not under proper control? Boswell declined to respond.
Williams emigrated to Australia where we caught up with him. Opening his
door, a burly, vested figure barked "I'm not interested" and then
promptly closed it when I began to ask questions.
Meanwhile, McGregor wrote to say he ran "a pretty tight ship" with
proper control over his men. He also complained that by publicising the
claims of some of his former soldiers we were dignifying
"unsubstantiated and fanciful theories".
Hunting down IRA members to shoot them would have been against the law
and his soldiers had abided by the Yellow Card. He "remained very proud
of the pioneering work we carried out in what was a very hazardous
The MRF's work was indeed hazardous and pioneering. It was the prototype
for more sophisticated army undercover units that penetrated and
disrupted IRA active service units, reconciling the IRA leadership to
the reality that an "armed struggle" would never force a British
withdrawal from Northern Ireland.
As to 'death squads' -- a label paradoxically shared by nationalists
with long memories and one of the two former MRF soldiers turned author
-- Soldier D said: "I totally reject 'death squad'," only to pause and
add: "Put yourself in my situation: we've got a dirty war, a war that
was out of control. We knew who the operators were, we knew who the
shooters were. So what are you going to do about it, John?"
Soldiers are not policemen. They are required to close on the enemy and,
if necessary, to kill them, even if innocent bystanders are in their
Some in the MRF seem to have had particular difficulty in distinguishing
one from the other, inflicting grave damage to the reputation of the
British army which could otherwise take credit for having fought -- and
won -- an asymmetric war against terrorists.
Asked about the allegations that unprovoked, MRF soldiers shot unarmed
civilians, the Ministry of Defence said it had referred them to the
police in Northern Ireland.
>>>>>> Feature: Address to 32 County Sovereignty Movement Ard Fheis
The following address was delivered to the annual conference of the 32
County Sovereignty Movement by National Chairman Francis Mackey
The two great challenges that face Irish republicanism today are
relevance and our ability to deliver it. These represent challenges
because they involve change and reorganisation. This is the theme I wish
to address to you for the forthcoming year.
I want this years Chairman's Address to take the form of a series of
challenges; basic challenges as to where we are, where we need to go and
how we are to get there. I want you to understand that republican policy
is sometimes best served by robust examination and sometimes least
served by blind pursuit.
Each year this annual address follows a given format, revolutionary
greetings to comrades and friends, solidarity greetings to families of
the fallen and the imprisoned and an expression of gratitude to our
members and supporters for their diligent and selfless work throughout
I want to depart somewhat from that format by injecting a dose of
realism and directness to all the above categories by paying them the
pragmatic respect of involving them in addressing the challenges I will
Before I outline these challenges I want you to consider two guiding
principles within which your considerations of these challenges should
The first of these principles is this: Every generation of Irish people
has the right to fight for the ending of the violation of their national
sovereignty according to their own ingenuities and in the political
contexts they find themselves. That means us here today.
The second of these principles is that our right to national
self-determination is not predicated on our people determining that our
analysis and vision of a United Ireland must have their prior agreement.
The right to choose involves the right to reject. That means their right
to accept or reject us.
The key point here in both principles is relevance: our relevance as a
force to end the violation of our national sovereignty today and our
relevance as an argument to ensure that an expression of national self
determination can determine a more just future for our people tomorrow.
Either way we are key players on this stage because we have chosen to be
here but only if we recognise that being right is simply not enough,
that being historically true is simply not enough and that being
ideologically pure is simply not enough. We must be relevant before we
can influence and we must be influential in order to secure change.
Where republicanism stands today is not where republicanism ought to be.
We are in the shadow of yet another partitionist agreement which is
floundering every day and yet republicanism is not positioned to fill
the ever increasing vacuum left in its wake.
Our people had the honest expectation that peace and justice would flow
from Good Friday. They are entitled to this, but yet republicanism finds
itself cast as the enemy of their peace and no matter how astute our
political analysis was in predicting the failure of that process what we
have to offer in providing that peace is still viewed as a violent
This is largely due to republicans being seen as perpetual critics,
obstructionists to any efforts that fail to satisfy the ghosts of
republican history. In our people's minds our definition of progress is
a simple homage to historic events as opposed to a dynamic to shape
events yet to come.
The answer to this negativity cannot be found in the past. The very act
of seeking it there reinforces the people's belief in this negativity.
The simple truth is that our vision and proposals for a sovereign united
Ireland are deemed irrelevant by the very people we hold this vision
This goes to the heart of the challenges I alluded to earlier. The
seminal republican document outlining a republican blueprint for a
United Ireland is Eire Nua and its subsequent addendum Saol Nua. And
though both are visions of great merit the basic truth remains that both
are more associated with a republican split in the mid eighties than
they are with what they intended to be.
Can we honestly say that any debate on Eire Nua will not inevitably lead
back to a debate on that split? Isn't it a fundamental truth that
republican debates on a United Ireland lead back to a century ago as
opposed to a moment yet to dawn? And this epitomises the problem:
republicans believing that all our debates must have a retrospective
trajectory, that atoning for the past is more important than planning
for the future. It's a disastrous failure. And the people have every
right to reject us for that alone.
Good Friday is in very real danger of collapsing. Republicanism as it
stands does not represent a political force to be reckoned with in the
event of this collapse. We are seen as fragmented, reactionary, poised
to say 'we told you so' but offering no realistic prospect of delivering
We have made our objections to Good Friday. We have done so on the
proper grounds and in the proper forum. We have no need to anchor
ourselves to a perpetual rehashing of these objections. Our task now is
to formulate our alternatives in the positive context in which they
belong, our inalienable right to self determination.
We have spoken much on republican unity. We have drafted discussion and
position papers to assist this project. We have outlined the logic of it
and the necessity of it. We have convened public meetings so that our
support base could take part in this debate. We have done so in the
absence of any reasoned or presented counter argument against such
The greatest obstacle to the necessity of republican unity is our
obsession with the past. And for anyone who voices opposition to it,
irrespective as to their reasons why, we issue this challenge to them;
give us an argument that looks forward? Do not tell us that political
inertia is a principled position. Do not confuse sticking to principles
with principles that are stuck. Do not argue the spurious notion that
the reasons for our existence are rooted in the past. Do not try and
tell us that mere existence is a political activity.
We cannot claim to act on behalf of the sovereignty of the Irish people
knowing full well that such acts are not the best we can offer. How can
we promote with any sincerity our political vision knowing full well
that our actions in their pursuit are not in themselves sincere because
we know them to be less that one hundred percent?
If we are rightly to be judged by our actions then we are doing a grave
disservice to our objectives. The challenge ahead is to end this
Before we seek to influence political change we must first examine our
own organisational abilities to do so. What we aspire to and what we can
do are not one and the same.
And before we address organisational abilities we must first address the
abilities and expectations of the individual republican. This is
possibly the greatest challenge of all.
Challenge yourselves today; what am I doing that I can do better? What
more can I do? What do I need to learn before I can advance?
In today's environment the individual republican holds more
responsibility than their counterpart twenty years ago. Every republican
with a mobile phone can speak to the world in an instant. It is an
awesome power, the true dread of which lies in not understanding it.
This demands of all republicans an acute awareness that a real
discipline is required when it comes to membership of a republican
organisation. It's not enough to know who the Hunger Strikers were, or
who signed the Proclamation or who died in such an operation.
Each republican needs to be well versed in current republican policy,
both in its content and in the various strategies employed to advance
them. You need to know your role in this organisation and you need to
understand how this organisation can only function because of that role.
You are the most important cog in this machine: ALL your actions and
pronouncements impact on the organisation as a whole.
The recruitment bar needs to be set high, the continuing membership bar
set even higher.
How should we organise ourselves? What sort of movement should we be?
How should our organisation function?
The party political model for Irish republicanism has failed. The
political party known as Sinn Fein is the only political party in
Ireland to have negotiated and signed two partitionist treaties with the
occupying power. Out of that political party has evolved further
partitionist groupings such as Fianna Fail and Provisional Sinn Fein. It
is the nature of a party based political organisation to conform to the
party political system which defines it.
Party politics is parochial politics. Parochial politics is the death
knell for a national movement. It is a universal error to believe that
abstentionism from such a political system is the antidote to this
conformity or that practicing such abstentionism preserves revolutionary
identity. It does neither because abstentionism needs to be a
revolutionary activity and not a negative political position.
Becoming a political party negates abstention from a party political
system. Adopting such a position merely reinforces the fact that the
very system you claim to reject is the same system you have allowed to
Republicans need to move away from the negative connotations of
abstentionism and begin to promote the positive alternative of a
distinct and revolutionary engagement within our communities. The
challenge that faces us is not to stay outside of their system but to
build the system that will replace it. This is not an exercise in
resurrecting ghosts nor does it need ghostly approval. We are here, this
is now and our communities deserve our full attention just as we require
This will not be achieved with an abstract argument or a historical
homily. It will require functioning structures that know how to
cooperate and communicate. We need to demonstrate to our communities
that political change is not the preserve of the establishment nor
dependant on being part of that establishment. And if we can guide our
communities to achieve change for themselves we will have made the most
powerful argument for their ability to secure national change.
That is the essence of the idea of republican relevance.
There is no social utopia nor utopian method of achieving one. A
political programme is not a list of aspirations but a plan of action
based upon our abilities to pursue and implement them. And this is the
key point; the effectiveness of our political programme is wholly
dependent upon the willingness of our members to make themselves more
A political programme does not originate from the nameless and faceless
in a backroom but from the abilities of our members acting in an
organised way. The less you are effective the lesser effective our
political programme will be. There is no escaping the logic of this
Our message to our communities is that sovereignty matters. The
objectives of our political programme are to demonstrate that by acting
in a sovereign capacity, individuals and communities can effect change
for the better. As republicans we want to see this action translated
into national change. We want our community activism deeply rooted in
our pursuit for the restoration of our national sovereignty.
The current economic and financial crisis has taught us some very
telling lessons. To squander these lessons with a rant against
capitalism is to miss the lessons it is teaching us. Where was socialism
when capitalism was in crisis? Is this a mirror image of where is
republicanism when Good Friday is in crisis?
And just as we are perceived as being negative so too is socialism.
Socialism is indelibly linked with failure. It is linked to
dictatorship, censorship, social enslavement and economic deprivation.
We may not like to hear these truths; we may prefer our rants against
capitalism but the absence of any meaningful expression of socialist
discontent on the streets in the midst of this crisis speaks volumes.
And we can immerse ourselves in abstract debates on the history of
socialism and pat ourselves on the back when we invent a new ism as a
comfort blanket but we do so at the cost of even further isolation.
We cannot build a political programme predicated on having to explain
failure. We cannot go into our communities offering change on the back
of outdated slogans. We cannot resurrect past conflicts as a means to
make our solutions look more relevant than what they actually are for
today's problems. We either take our objectives and policies into
modernity or we go home. No more glorious defeats. No more keeping the
flame aglow. No more workers utopia. No more populist electoralism.
I want to draw your attention to our initiative on drug abuse entitled
Addressing the Drugs Crisis, A Paradigm Shift in the Republican
Approach. I'm not using the chairman's address to argue its merits or
not, that is properly the function of the delegates to debate openly at
this Ard Fheis. I want to draw your attention to its structure.
There is no doubt that drug abuse is a huge problem in every community
in Ireland. It is a problem republicans cannot ignore nor approach in an
ill thought through capacity. It's far too serious an issue for that.
Republicans have always taken a stern line on drug dealing. The death of
Volunteer Alan Ryan is testimony to this. But his death is also a wake
up call that republicans must take a realistic approach to policy making
that reflects both a basic logic and a pragmatic appraisal of abilities
The initiative begins with an impartial and critical look at the nature
and extent of the problem. It does not present the problem so it
dovetails into a pre-existing solution. It examines current approaches
to dealing with it and outlines the conclusions of those approaches. In
similar vein it scrutinises republican efforts and thinking and applies
a critical review of those also. It examines experiences in other
countries and outlines the initiatives they have taken and details the
From this detailed analysis it proceeds to formulate a working policy
which republicans can carry into their communities as part of a national
Irrespective of whether you agree with the conclusions or not the
salient point is that the drafting of a policy in such a format allows
us to make a more informed decision either way.
This is the mechanism that republicans must employ when formulating
policy on any matter. Policing, organisation, finance, elections,
republican unity all deserve our full and critical attention if we are
to be effective in dealing with these crucial matters.
In conclusion I want to reiterate that the year ahead must be about
grasping these challenges and moving republicanism forward. They are
challenges for individual members and our movement as a whole. Each
requires the other. Each needs to play their part.