Minister's claims on Finucane case spark fury among nationalist politicians in Assembly
Stormont MLAs have clashed furiously during a motion calling on the Government to order a public inquiry into the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane.
During the heated debate, DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots said it had been alleged that Mr Finucane was at IRA meetings in a capacity other than as a lawyer.
The comments sparked anger among Sinn Fein and SDLP politicians who described the allegation as “outrageous”.
The clash came as MLAs discussed a ‘petition of concern’ in the Assembly, put down by the SDLP, which said David Cameron’s Government was back-tracking on promises made to the Finucane family.
In remarks thought to be referring to claims made by former IRA member Sean O’Callaghan, Mr Poots said: “Former members of the IRA have made particular statements about their interaction with Pat Finucane and interactions with him while they were being cross-examined and while they were being questioned.
“The very clear premise of what is being said is that Pat Finucane was not acting purely as a solicitor representing individuals, but as a solicitor who was acting for an organisation.”
Sinn Fein MLA Jennifer McCann and SDLP representative Conall McDevitt strongly objected to Mr Poots' remarks.
“To make those statements in the House today is outrageous,” Ms McCann said.
“He has no evidence to back up what he says. My party objects strongly to his comments.”
Mr Poots replied by saying: “Members want to get real about the issue.”
He said: “Others are clear that when they had meetings with their defence lawyer, Pat Finucane, they did not just discuss their case, but what information had been passed to the police.”
He also said the Finucane family were “not shy of controversy”, referring to Mr Finucane’s brother, Dermot, who was one of 38 IRA men to escape from the Maze prison in 1983, saying “the name Finucane was very well known in the period of the Troubles”.
The comments are likely to anger the Finucane family who have always maintained the Belfast solicitor was not in the IRA.
The Finucane family have campaigned for decades for a public inquiry to investigate claims of collusion in the solicitor’s murder.
Last month, they stormed out of a Downing Street meeting with the Prime Minister after he told them he would not approve of a full public inquiry.
Instead he has asked Sir Desmond de Silva to review the papers in the case.
Contributing to the debate in the Assembly yesterday, Alliance Party leader and Justice Minister David Ford said the Finucane family “have every right to feel they were treated shabbily by the current Government”.
But speaking afterwards, Ulster Unionist victims spokesperson Mike Nesbitt argued that the Government had been “right to end the long and expensive stand-off” by bringing Mr de Silva on board.
The petition of concern has been amended by Sinn Fein to call for an inquiry to start within three months.
A vote on the motion will be taken as the first item of business this morning.
In January 1989 Home Office minister Douglas Hogg told the House of Commons that some solicitors in Northern Ireland were “unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA”. He said his statement was based on information he had been given during a briefing by the RUC. Pat Finucane was murdered just weeks later. He was gunned down by loyalist paramilitaries in front of his wife and children as he ate dinner at his north Belfast home.