Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Government must finally grant public inquiry into Pat Finucane murder

Collusion meant that the state attempted to undermine the rule of law, says Alban Maginness

Pat Finucane was shot dead in front of his family in 1989
Pat Finucane was shot dead in front of his family in 1989
Alban Maginness

By Alban Maginness

The annual release of British secret state papers relating to Northern Ireland is a fascinating read for both politicians and historians. And if current revelations do not throw up any shocking surprises, they at least act as a reminder of what we came through 30 years ago.

A brief summary of what was happening here in 1989 is a grim reminder of the appalling events of the late Eighties. That year saw the outrageous murder of Belfast criminal defence solicitor Pat Finucane in front of his wife and children as they were having their Sunday lunch. There was also the murders of RUC senior officers Harry Breen and Ken Buchanan as they crossed the border in an IRA ambush and Garda were suspected of collusion. In October the Guildford Four were freed by the Court of Appeal in London after having spent 14 years in jail for terrorist murders because police had fabricated their confessions.

Those who rightly complain about the current state of affairs here should appreciate just how bad things were in those tragic and turbulent days. We should be thankful for the peace we now enjoy.

The sinister murder of Pat Finucane is, however, an issue that has still not been properly addressed and remains a canker in the our public life. Despite various approaches to this issue by the British Government, they have consistently failed to sort it out.

The Desmond de Silva review initiated by Prime Minister David Cameron into this egregious murder and published in 2012 confirmed that there was high level collusion by the RUC and the intelligence services in the carrying out of this appalling act. Cameron fully accepted the findings of the report, that there were agents of the state involved in Pat Finucane's killing. He accepted the report's finding that RUC officers proposed that Finucane be killed, passed on information to his killers, and failed to stop the attack.

It was also accepted that investigation of this crime was obstructed from within the RUC itself. Furthermore, the secret Army unit the Force Research Unit ( FRU ) bore a degree of blame as one of their agents, Brian Nelson, was involved in selecting targets for assassination. Along with Prime Minister Cameron, the then Chief Constable of the PSNI Matt Baggott, accepted that the police had "abjectly failed".

While David Cameron, to his credit, apologised to the Finucane family for the criminal and unlawful misbehaviour of the state and its agents, he also accepted the de Silva report's dubious conclusion that there was: "no overarching state conspiracy".

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But this murder was not just an extremely brutal attack on a family in north Belfast, it also represented an attack on lawyers involved in defending paramilitaries, especially the IRA, in our courts. It was thereby an attack on the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland by state agents. There was a very clear threat by loyalist paramilitaries that defence solicitors, if they continued to defend suspected IRA members, their lives would be at serious risk.

The fact - long suspected - that the state had colluded in this murder meant that the state had attempted to undermine the rule of law. This was a shocking and unacceptable state of affairs. The fact that nobody has been made accountable is a scandal. While the agents involved in carrying out this grotesque killing are known, we are still unaware of the invisible political plumbing that lay behind it. It is simply not credible that individual state agents carried out such a high profile murder unilaterally and without some high ranking political approval.

Without doubt the de Silva report was an honest investigation by an eminent lawyer into this hugely damaging web of deceit and criminal behaviour by agents of the British Government itself. It was a good report coming to shocking conclusions, that were both critical and highly damaging of the Government.

Yet this was not the public inquiry solemnly promised by the British Government as far back as Tony Blair. David Cameron, for political reasons and from pressure within the security forces, abandoned that commitment and ordered an investigation that fell short of a public inquiry and thereby reneged on a binding governmental commitment.

In February 2019 the Supreme Court, in judicially reviewing this matter, decided that the Da Silva report fell short of a proper Article 2 inquiry under the European Convention of Human Rights. While the Supreme Court did not actually order the Government to establish a full public inquiry, its decision strongly implied that the Government should do so. To date they have not done so and have left this troubling matter still in abeyance. The best way forward is for the British Government to meet its legal obligations and establish a full public inquiry.

Happy new year.

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