Four of Northern Ireland’s political parties (Sinn Fein, the equally nationalist but anti-violence SDLP, the Greens and the liberal Alliance) have sent a letter to Secretary of State Brandon Lewis calling for a public inquiry into the 1989 murder by the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association of Pat Finucane – an anti-state solicitor who defended mostly Republican paramilitaries and was posthumously rebranded as a human rights lawyer.
Finucane’s son John, a Sinn Fein MP, has written to every member of parliament saying: “It is a matter of public interest, not just in Ireland, but in Britain and internationally too, that answers are provided to the questions around the full circumstances which led to the deliberate targeting and murder of a human rights solicitor and subsequent cover-up.”
In Washington, twenty-four members of Congress have today called for a public inquiry into Pat Finucane’s murder. They have signed a letter to Boris Johnson calling for an investigation, in the hope that the Prime Minister will order Lewis to give the go ahead.
Lewis would be off his head to agree.
“In death,” wrote Sean O’Callaghan, the repentant IRA terrorist who became an informer, in 2003, “Pat Finucane has been wrapped in a halo. He inhabits a superior moral place, a finely honed weapon to wage war by other means against the British state and the Unionist people of Northern Ireland.”
Over three decades, with the energetic backing of Sinn Fein, doggedly litigious members of the Finucane family have done a superb job in extracting concessions from successive British governments and winning support for a public inquiry from badly-informed politicians in Dublin, Brussels and Washington.
Republicans claim that when in 1989 Home Office minister Douglas Hogg said in the Commons that some Northern Irish solicitors were “unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA,” he was writing Finucane’s death warrant by tipping off Protestant paramilitaries, who killed him three weeks later.
They appear to believe that Protestant terrorists are so thick that none ever killed a Catholic without having his target and his weapon provided by the security forces, and they shout collusion at every turn. Finucane’s widow Geraldine believes that Margaret Thatcher “knew exactly what was going on” between “security forces, loyalist paramilitaries and the State.”
Over the past three decades various British governments have tried to placate Mrs Finucane by holding investigations and reviews, but the only time a public inquiry was offered, it was rejected by the family because its parameters were too narrow.
The Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings in Derry cost £200 million and there are many Republicans who are still disgruntled that Saville didn’t conclude that Edward Heath had ordered the killings.
The inquiry the Finucanes want would be astronomically expensive, and why would you expect the family to believe any conclusions that didn’t point at Thatcher?
Since the IRA practise omertà, unsurprisingly no investigation has found unassailable proof that Pat Finucane was in the IRA even though there is plenty of circumstantial evidence. He was close to his brothers, John, killed on active service as an IRA volunteer, and Seamus and Dermot, who were imprisoned for terrorist offences. Sean O’Callaghan first met him in 1980 at an IRA meeting. Sir John Hermon, after he had retired as Chief Constable, said, “Pat Finucane was associated with the IRA and he used his position as a lawyer to act as a contact between suspects in custody and republicans on the outside.”
Much is made of Finucane being a lawyer, as if that made him sacrosanct, but to the best of my knowledge no Finucane has condemned the IRA murders of lawyers, including Catholic judges William Staunton and Rory Conaghan, each shot in front of his daughter, magistrate Judge William Doyle, whose elderly passenger was grievously injured in the shooting, Judge Maurice Gibson and his wife Cecily, who were blown up by a car bomb, or that of Mary Travers, killed as the IRA failed to finish off her judge father, Tom.
Like all those who died during those terrible decades in Northern Ireland, Pat Finucane shouldn’t have been murdered, but he deserves no special treatment. There are many much better people lying in their graves with little attention being paid to finding out how they died.
As Norman Baxter, once in charge of counter-terrorism intelligence in the PSNI, put it: “The Finucane family are entitled to justice, as every citizen is. But the granting of a public inquiry creates a hierarchy of victims, which is in itself an injustice.”
It doesn’t matter if Sinn Fein manages to get Joe Biden to demand a public inquiry. The only moral and prudent course of action is for Brandon Lewis to explain politely to Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the Greens and Alliance that if they want this inquiry, they need to persuade the Northern Irish Executive to find the money.