‘MEMBERS of the “Military Reaction Force”, who murdered unarmed Irish nationalists, must be identified and prosecuted for murder,’ WRP general secretary Frank Sweeney told News Line yesterday.
He added, about the 1972 murders that took place in the same year as the Derry Bloody Sunday killings by paratroops: ‘Their chain of command must also be identified and charged with murder, along with their political masters.’
Sweeney was referring to the revelations of Thursday night’s Panorama programme that a 40-strong paramilitary death squad had admitted to assassinating ‘unarmed civilians in Belfast’ during the early 1970s.
The Military Reaction Force (MRF) was exposed by the aptly named programme: ‘Britain’s Secret Terror Force’.
The ex-members of the MRF, which was disbanded in 1973, said they had been tasked with ‘hunting down’ IRA members in Belfast.
In 1972 there were more than 10,600 shootings in northern Ireland. It is not possible to say how many the unit was involved in because the MRF’s operational records have been destroyed and its former members have refused to incriminate themselves or their fellow operatives, while leading army chiefs and politicians keep their mouths shut.
The representatives of the 40 freely admitted that they practiced ‘terror’ and the killing of unarmed civilians.
The programme was screened a day after northern Ireland’s attorney general, John Larkin, suggested ending any prosecutions over ‘Troubles-related killings’. His proposal has caused outrage from groups representing the relatives of victims.
Three former members of the MRF death squad agreed to be interviewed by Panorama on condition their identities were disguised.
They said that they had posed as Belfast City Council road sweepers, dustmen and even ‘meths drinkers’, carrying out surveillance from street gutters.
One of the soldiers said their mission was ‘to draw out the IRA and to minimise their activities …if they needed shooting, they’d be shot’.
Another former member of the unit said: ‘We never wore uniform, very few people knew what rank anyone was anyway.’
A third former MRF soldier said: ‘If you had a player who was a well-known shooter who carried out quite a lot of assassinations …then he had to be taken out.’
Patricia McVeigh told the Panorama programme that her father Patrick was shot in the back as he stopped to talk to men at a checkpoint.
She said: ‘He was an innocent man, he had every right to be on the street walking home.
‘He didn’t deserve to die like this.’
She added: ‘We want the truth. We don’t want to stop until we get the truth.
‘We as a family were never happy with that. My father was killed unlawfully, there’s a slur on his name which we want lifted.
‘We want to get the truth, an apology and a new inquest to discover exactly what happened and for the soldiers to explain why.’