20 Years on – Tiananmen Square and State Violence

It is only right that the world remembers the student led Pro- Democracy Movement and the struggle for social and human rights in China two decades ago this week. It is particularly important and fitting that we also remember those killed at Tiananmen Square.
The Chinese regime was visibly brutal in its crushing of the protesters and was rightly condemned internationally. In several news reports this week I watched as the relatives of those killed attempted to visit graves, remember their loved ones and where the media were restricted from reporting from what is obviously still a repressive regime.
Just before the events in Tiananmen Square loyalist paramilitaries in the North of Ireland had embarked on an unprecedented campaign of sectarian murder and political assassination. Having acquired a deadly arsenal of weapons imported from the South African apartheid regime under the direction of British Military Intelligence loyalists killers were then directed to carryout some of the most heinous murders of the conflict.
From the period 1988 to September 1994 Relatives for Justice documented 229 loyalist killings in which collusion was either evidenced or alleged due to a combination of factors from threats by State forces during detentions at special interrogation centres, the weapons used in murders provided by the State, State held intelligence files on those murdered being passed on to loyalist death squads.
I often think of the murder of Kathleen O’Hagan in Tyrone shot in her home when she was seven months pregnant, her husband Paddy finding his five children huddled around their mother’s dead body on returning home. I think of pensioners Tommy and Teresa Fox murdered in their home in the Moy, of student Sean Lavery at his North Belfast home, of Teresa Clinton in her own living room in South Belfast. And of Tyrone pensioner Roseanne Mallon murdered while a covert British army unit observed the murder yet were ordered not to intervene. There are countless examples of official British State collusion through the strategic control of scores of agents largely within loyalism by the Force Research Unit of British Military Intelligence and the RUC’s Special Branch.
More recently we have witnessed how the poison of collusion turned in on its own community with loyalists directing murder and involved in murder given immunity as they increasingly focused their attentions to drugs and criminality as they were wound down. Most notable among the scores of agents were UFF boss John White and UVF multiple killer Mark Haddock.
Britain’s Kitsonian dirty war in Ireland formed a central part of its political and military policy; the strategic objective focusing almost exclusively on defeating republicans at any cost that included countless lives throughout the conflict. Oftentimes it was hidden with counter insurgency, pseudo gangs, and infiltration of paramilitary organisations and with the exception of those on the receiving end, mostly within nationalist and republican communities throughout the North, this tactic went largely unnoticed. Censorship, propaganda, prejudice and ignorance prevailed and in truth facilitated its continued pace and growth. The combined legacy of British State violence and the abandonment of Northern nationalists by the 26-County State let is a particular source of unresolved hurt that must be acknowledged as a central part of conflict resolution throughout Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.
Like the recent Ryan Report into institutionalised abuse this issue too requires a similar independent focus on British State sanctioned murder that affected citizen’s right across our country.
From the period of 1988 until the main cessation of political violence loyalists were responsible for more deaths than any other combatant group. On February 12th 1989 loyalists were directed to assassinate one of the few legal advocates that victims of Britain’s dirty war had. Human rights lawyer Pat Finucane was arguably one of the most prolific human rights defenders in the North at the time of his murder which was precisely why he was targeted. Two decades on from his death this one act more than any other murder of the conflict defines the systemic nature of collusion from the corridors of power in London to the streets of Ireland.
Unlike the very overt nature of the Chinese actions at Tiananmen Square the British operated a much more covert, subtle and sophisticated machine in which it too conducted brutal State repression and sanctioned murder under the veneer of democracy in the North. And whilst the bereaved families of Pro-Democracy Movement protesters are forced to conduct their remembrance largely under the cover of secrecy, families throughout Ireland from Dublin/Monaghan to Loughlinisland and Castlerock massacres share a particular solidarity and understanding. They too have suffered and have the truth about the British State’s collusive role in the murders of their loved ones kept secret by equally sinister forces that in reality are, when the surface is scratched, no different from their visible counterparts in Beijing.
However, our message is one of hope in which real and meaningful democracy will prevail and that the truth about injustice and human rights violations by governments will be told, acknowledged and recognised globally. In Ireland we need an independent international truth commission to achieve this.
Mark Thompson
Relatives for Justice