Regular readers of An Sionnach Fionn will know how many times we have examined in detail the activities of Britain’s various official and unofficial forces participating in its thirty year long counter-insurgency war against the Irish Republican Army and others in Ireland. Of the official forces perhaps the most infamous have been the covert units of the Military Reaction Force (MRF) and the Force Research Unit (FRU), collectively forming the heart of Britain’s “death squad culture” that permeated its campaign in the north-east of the country during the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
In typically hesitant style the more liberal and open-minded parts of the British news media have finally caught up with everyone else in publicising the uncomfortable aspects of their nation’s Dirty War in this nation. From the Guardian newspaper:
“Claims that members of an undercover army unit shot unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland during the 1970s have been referred to the police, according to the Ministry of Defence.
The allegations against the Military Reaction Force (MRF) are contained in a BBC Panorama programme, Britain’s Secret Terror Force, to be broadcast on Thursday evening.
Seven former members of the plain-clothes detachment – which carried out surveillance and, allegedly, unprovoked attacks – have spoken to the programme. The existence of the MRF is well known but its unorthodox methods and the scope of its activities have been the source of continuing speculation.
Their weaponry was not always standard issue. On one occasion, the programme reports, a Thompson sub-machine gun was used. The men drove Hillmans and Ford Cortinas with microphones built into the sun visors; some were cars that had been stolen and recovered.
All the soldiers, however, denied that they were part of a “death” or “assassination squad”.
After 18 months’ duty, the MRF was dissolved in late 1972 following army concerns about the adequacy of its command and control structures.”
The Irish Times also reports on the revelations albeit in a more blunt fashion than their British counterparts:
“The British army ran an undercover unit that operated a sanctioned shoot-to-kill policy in Belfast during the Troubles, it has been claimed.
Former members of the Military Reaction Force (MRF) said that they killed an unspecified number of IRA members and shot them regardless of whether or not they were armed.
The force killed at least two men in drive-by shootings who had no paramilitary connections and injured more than 10 other civilians…
Panorama reports that there were several drive-by shootings carried out by MRF soldiers in which people were killed and wounded – even though there is no independent evidence that any of them were armed or were members of the IRA.
The force comprised about 40 men hand-picked from across the British army who operated in west Belfast for an 18-month period between 1971 and 1973, including all through 1972.
The MRF was the forerunner to other similar plainclothes undercover British army units that operated in Northern Ireland. Panorama said the overall commander was an army brigadier.”
The replacement unit for the out-of-control MRF was the soon to be equally uncontrollable FRU, the killers behind the 1989 murder of the Irish civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane, an assassination for which the British prime minister David Cameron publicly apologised in 2012. I described the rise and fall of the MRF last year:
“In the early 1970s this band of out-of-uniform soldiers terrorised Irish Nationalist communities in the north-east of Ireland, in particular the city of Belfast, carrying out or organising random drive-by shootings of civilians, murders, kidnappings and bombings.
In its most infamous operation the MRF arranged for terrorists from the British UVF to attack McGurk’s Bar in Belfast on the 4th of December 1971 with a parcel bomb that demolished the building killing fifteen, including 12 year old Maria McGurk, and wounding seventeen others. In the aftermath of the atrocity the British Forces used the excuse of “follow-up operations” to swamp local neighbourhoods with troops and paramilitary police who carried out destructive house-raids and multiple arrests or detentions.
In other words the MRF was a British military death squad. Its purpose was simply to cause murder and mayhem in the Irish communities of the north-east that continued to live under the British Occupation by killing innocent and “guilty” alike. However the MRF’s reckless nature eventually brought about its own downfall and its operations were uncovered by the Intelligence Unit of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army in mid-to-late 1972. After extensive surveillance units of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Belfast Brigade attacked soldiers of the MRF at two different locations in the city on the 2nd of October 1972, killing or wounding several and causing panic in the British Army as intelligence operations over the following weeks effectively collapsed.
By early 1973 the now discredited MRF was disbanded but its tactics, techniques and most of its personnel went on to become part of the Special Reconnaissance Unit (or the SRU though it was also known by the cover name of the 14th Intelligence Company) and the Force Research Unit (FRU). All of them contributed to the evolving culture of Death Squad Britain.”
The latest news on the murder squads comes just hours after a senior advisor under the British legal administration in the North of Ireland publicly suggested that all investigations by paramilitary police relating to events before the signing of the Belfast Agreement of 1998 should be stopped. And this a few weeks after revelations that those self-same police were examining the possibility of prosecuting British soldiers for the murders of fourteen Irish citizens in the city of Derry during the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1972. Not unrelated to this are the detailed accounts of the activities of the British Terror Factions in parts of the north-east of the country publicised in recent days where soldiers and policemen by day acted as gunmen and bombers by night (or as one British ex-police officer / terrorist memorably put it last weekend: “It had nothing to do with the UVF – it was only a bunch of policemen involved!“).
From 1969 to 2001 over 51% of all those killed by the British Occupation Forces in Ireland, military and paramilitary, were non-combatant civilians. In the same period over 85% of all those killed by the British Terror Factions in Ireland, the proxy forces of Britain’s counter-insurgency campaign, were non-combatant civilians.
Which begs the question: in the so-called “Troubles” in the north of Ireland who exactly were the “terrorists”?
(With thanks to An Lorcánach and others)