An absence of decency

It was the absence of human decency at its most basic level. A lack of appreciation of what loss means to children, to a partner, the absence of being connected to the grief of others, a lack of feeling about the devastation that death -- violent and unexpected death -- can visit on a family. A young family carrying the void for more than 20 years of fatherly love, guidance and advice.

The Finucane family were entitled to expect that the horror of what happened to them when their husband and father, Pat, was shot dead before their eyes would find a measure of understanding from the British prime minister David Cameron.

Instead Cameron and Owen Paterson, British secretary of state for the north, displayed the most callous and uncaring sentiments when they faced the Finucane family and their lawyer, Peter Madden across a Downing Street table last week.

The message delivered across that table by Cameron shocked the family, many people in the US and human rights organisations and individuals worldwide.

Twenty-two years ago across another table -- a family table resplendent with joy and food, in the Finucane family home off the Antrim Road -- a message of a more deadly kind was delivered to the family by intruders -- agents of a British Tory government (Cameron’s predecessors) -- when they shot Pat Finucane dead.

At the very least you would have expected Cameron to reflect in his attitude and demeanour the reality that in front of him was a grieving family whose father and husband was killed by those in the British government’s pay.

He said so himself when he admitted to the Finucane family that there was state collusion in Pat’s killing.

But the weight and import of his words, in the immediacy of the fraught occasion, were lost in the chasm between the Finucane family and those sitting opposite them on the British side.

How did this happen? After 22 years of climbing a mountain of grief, despair and expectation how could a family’s hopes be dashed in such a cruel and cavalier manner in a foreign land in a strange room in an alien house whose occupants and shameful history has brought so much pain to the people of Ireland.

What was it on the British side that prevented officials from telling their prime minister to withdraw the invitation to the Finucane family rather than cause them further hurt?

A year-long engagement between lawyers on both sides had established the parameters and agenda for last week’s meeting.

So detailed were these engagements that particular types of inquiries were examined and set to one side because they were non-statutory with no powers such as the Hillsborough inquiry into the stadium disaster and the Gibson inquiry.

The British government suggested an inquiry similar to the Baha Mousa inquiry which investigated the torture by British soldiers of Iraqi detainees.

This was an inquiry under the Inquiries Act which the British government had agreed not to use the controversial restriction notice. This was important to the Finucane family because their concerns about the Inquiries Act was the use of the restriction notice.

The year-long engagement was deliberately constructed to ensure the outcome -- an inquiry, deliberately set-up to avoid misunderstandings on both sides, to prepare the remit of an inquiry which would expeditiously proceed.

At the very last minute someone interjected and the British prime minister collapsed in disarray.

The possibility of securing the precise truth through full disclosure about the circumstances surrounding the killing of Pat Finucane proved too heavy a burden for this prime minister and those in the military and political establishment.

They know the truth already. It is keeping it from the Finucane family and the rest of the world that preoccupies them.

A review of the case behind closed doors is prone to pressure from the British political and military establishment.

They harried and blocked the Bloody Sunday public inquiry. Lord Stevens’s findings into collusion were emasculated by them.

The Finucane family are right to insist on having a public independent inquiry.

It is the only route that has a chance of getting the truth.

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© 2011 Irish Republican News