Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Pat Finucane killing: Why murder of lawyer is a death that never went away

Some Troubles-era murders were so notorious their memory never fades. Jean McConville's was one. And this week marks the 25th anniversary of another. Brian Rowan reports

Pat Finucane's family

A little over a year ago, the hundreds of pages of a report by Sir Desmond de Silva into one of the 'headline' killings of the conflict years was intended as a full stop. Certainly, that was the Government's hope and intention.

But the loyalist targeting and shooting of solicitor Pat Finucane is one of those 'war' chapters that is incomplete both in terms of the telling and writing of the story.

It is one of those dark moments, a killing like the IRA execution and disappearance of Jean McConville, that has not been forgotten, or lost in the passage of time.

But, still, there is no structured process to properly address the unanswered questions of the past.

The latest proposals to emerge out of the Haass/O'Sullivan initiative for an historical investigations unit and independent commission for information retrieval have become part of a political stand-off.

We are watching another tug-of-war, with some trying to pull the process towards immediate implementation and others holding their ground in an argument for further negotiation.

Separate from Haass, the Finucane family continues to press for a public inquiry.

"There's an acceptance that the whole truth has yet to be revealed," John Finucane, a son of the murdered solicitor, said. "De Silva should be seen as a stepping-stone to a full inquiry.

"When they [the Government] realised they had to do something, they gave us a behind-closed-doors review. They have tried to control and limit what has been exposed."

This Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of the Finucane killing; the Belfast solicitor was shot 14 times in front of his family at Sunday dinner on February 12, 1989.

The UDA, a still-legal organisation at the time, was behind the murder, but the question has always been, who else wanted him dead?

"There are questions that remain to be answered," John Finucane said. "It's why the case still has so much traction."

We know the involvement in the plot of agents operating inside the UDA, among them William Stobie and Brian Nelson.

We read also what de Silva wrote about Tommy Lytttle, the most senior of the paramilitary organisation's leaders on the Shankill Road at the time of the killing:

"The nature of Lyttle's contact with some RUC officers provided him with an entirely improper degree of protection and assistance in his role as UDA chairman and the so-called brigadier for west Belfast UDA."

He is not identified in the report as an agent, but loyalists believe he was. Indeed, in the early 1990s, they were openly discussing his codename.

Stobie, Nelson and Lyttle are dead, not able to speak from their graves to the still-unanswered questions in this case.

But there are others still living and still in significant positions of leadership within the Shankill UDA who know the story in its finest detail. Some of them were also agents.

Pat Finucane was a high-profile lawyer involved in many headline cases, including the 'shoot-to-kill' controversies. He was also from a staunch republican family and it is clear that there were those who viewed him not as a solicitor, but as part of the enemy.

In other words, there were those who could not – or would not – distinguish between his professional duties as a solicitor and the clients he represented.

We know from reading the de Silva review of the case that Finucane was included in MI5 propaganda initiatives. And, long before that latest study of the case, collusion in the murder had been established and accepted.

De Silva found that a series of actions by employees of the state "actively furthered and facilitated his murder". But he also reported: "However, despite the different strands of involvement by elements of the State, I am satisfied that they were not linked to an over-arching state conspiracy to murder Patrick Finucane."

Is it possible others could come to another conclusion; that the jigsaw of information could be arranged to make another picture? That question is still out there. And this is why the push for an inquiry continues; because there is a view that there has not yet been a proper opportunity to interrogate the information.

"This family have shown remarkable resilience in keeping this case at the forefront of public consciousness despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles along the way," Queen's University law professor Kieran McEvoy said.

"The key gap is that de Silva is a review of papers.

"A public inquiry includes the ability to compel witnesses to attend, to cross-examine them and to explore any inconsistencies in their evidence.

"So, if a lie is committed to paper there's a greater chance of truth being uncovered when that witness is properly cross-examined in a public inquiry."

But we still don't know if that inquiry will be achieved, or whether it will eventually become part of some wider exploration of the past. As part of the Haass/O'Sullivan proposals there was to be an examination of themes and patterns in the conflict period including collusion – both British and Irish.

But dark secrets will always be guarded – and not just in the Finucane case. But in many other cases, the search for truth is seen as trespassing in those places of national security.

There is information that will never be revealed by every side and all sides.