Finucane inquiry under threat
Finucane inquiry under threat

The family of murdered Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane have warned that the British government has suggested that it could abandon a proposed public inquiry into his murder.

It is 20 years since Mr Finucane was shot dead in front of his wife and children on February 12 1989.

It later emerged that at least of three of the killer gang were Crown force agents.

In 2003 Britain’s most senior policeman, John Stevens, publicly confirmed Crown force collusion in Mr Finucane’s murder. A year later former Canadian Supreme Court judge Peter Cory recommended a public inquiry into his murder.

However, legislation was rushed through the House of Commons to establish the Inquiries Act 2005, giving British government ministers power to withhold evidence.

The restrictions were opposed by leading members of the judiciary, including Judge Cory and the chairman of the Bloody Sunday tribunal Lord Saville.

The Finucane family argued that the Inquiries Act made it impossible to hold an independent hearing into the solicitor’s murder.

However, on the 20th anniversary of Mr Finucane’s murder the British government has warned his family that it may now refuse to hold any inquiry.

In a letter to the Finucane family last week from the office of British Direct Ruler Shaun, it was suggested a promise to hold an inquiry is being reconsidered.

“I would like to assure you that no decision has yet been taken by government in relation to any of the group’s recommendations, including their recommendations in relation to any Finucane inquiry,” he said.

The senior civil servant said the government would welcome the Finucane family’s views on the recent publication of the Eames/Bradley group, the British-appointed panel on dealing with the ‘legacy’ of the conflict. It has called for a ban on further public inquiries.


However, in what is being seen as an indication that the British government could now abandon an inquiry into the Finucane murder, Mr Marsh wrote: “All these matters, like the outcome of discussions with the Finucane family or their legal representatives about the form of any inquiry, will, of course, be relevant factors for ministers in deciding whether it remains in the public interest to proceed with an inquiry.”

Responding to concerns that the government may be about to ban a public inquiry into his father’s murder, John Finucane said: “We are very concerned about this implied threat not to allow any inquiry into my father’s murder.

“We received this letter on the anniversary of my father’s murder.

“The British government appears to be preparing to break promises that they made, not only to ourselves but also to the Irish government and others.

“The question needs to be asked just whose interest would it be not to have a public inquiry into my father’s murder.”

Peter Madden, who worked in the same law firm as Mr Finucane, told a conference on The life of Mr Finucane at Trinity College last weekend that the letter from the British government also stated that it was working on a “draft restriction notice” for use in an inquiry under the 2005 Inquires Act, set up for this purpose.

This would enable restrictions to be placed on the inquiry, so that some of it would not be in public.

“Now the whole question of a public inquiry is up in the air,” Mr Madden said.

He pointed out that the kind of “legacy commission” proposed would have no provision for the cross-examination of people by legal representatives of those affected, and would avoid circulating documents.


Speaking to the BBC this week, Sinn Féin Minister Gerry Kelly said that the proposal by the Eames/Bradley body to pay 12,000 pounds compensation to each family who had lost a loved one during the conflict was “a mistake”.

“It’s easy in hindsight to say that, but clearly it was a mistake because it caused so much controversy,” he said. “The real issue is that there has to be truth.”

A public inquiry enabled people to be told what had gone wrong and make recommendations to ensure it did not happen again, Mr Justice Peter Cory told the conference at Trinity College.

It was the report of the former Canadian Supreme Court judge which led to an announcement that there would be an inquiry.

Dato Param Curaraswamy, former UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers who visited Ireland in 1995, told the conference that he was convinced during that visit that defence lawyers were systematically harassed by the RUC police in the North.

Referring to a statement from former chief constable Ronnie Flanagan that he was unaware of any complaints, he said: “In the face of statements from local and international NGOs this statement is unsustainable. There was a lack of protection for defence lawyers.

“Pat Finucane was targeted by enemies of the rule of law. His murder had a chilling effect on the profession. It undermined the rule of law. People thought of giving up criminal practice. It undermined the rule of law in Northern Ireland.”

He said it was a matter of concern that there was no judicial inquiry despite assurances given to him by then prime minister Tony Blair.

Leading English barrister Michael Mansfield told the conference that the experience of the families of Stephen Lawrence and Jean Charles de Menezes showed that the authorities could be forced to respond to the need for the truth about what happened to their sons.


But the residue of Ireland’s unresolved past continues to cast a shadow over our society, said Mr Finucane’s widow, Geraldine.

“I believe that the inquiry we seek, which is the only mechanism capable of getting to the truth in this case, will help society understand its past, learn from it and eventually move beyond it with confidence and free from fear.”

She recalled meeting her future husband when both were students in Trinity 40 years ago, she as a middle-class Presbyterian girl from east Belfast and he a working-class Catholic boy from west Belfast. They married in 1972.

“Our perspectives had been shaped by very different experiences, even at that early stage of our lives,” she said. “When I finished my first year in Trinity, I went travelling in Europe with friends. Pat went home to Belfast, to help family, friends and neighbours pack whatever they could carry into whatever they could push, pull or wheel away from the hordes of people burning houses and attacking the occupants, as violence exploded all over Belfast, and especially so on the Falls Road.” She described his setting up a legal practice with his friend Peter Madden, and finding innovative ways to fight for his clients through the courts.

“He used the making of wills to allow him to see persons in custody. He brought civil claims for compensation on behalf of people subject to arbitrary arrest and detention. He challenged norms of practice in areas such as policing and inquests by way of judicial review and developed the application of the mechanism beyond anything that had been tried before,” she said.

“In his short life, Pat was not prepared to sit by and do nothing. He wanted to participate in the world he lived, to be in it, and not merely on it. He was curious and he was imaginative and he was brave. It is for these reasons that we come here today, 20 years on, to remember him and to celebrate his most remarkable life,” she said.

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