The peace process was rocked this week by the sudden British declaration that a public inquiry will not now be held into the assassination of Pat Finucane.

The British government had been negotiating with the family of the prominent nationalist defence lawyer for months about a public inquiry into his killing, before this week’s sudden announcement that it was off.

The decision by David Cameron to renege on a long-standing commitment to an inquiry has led to questions about who had changed his mind at the last moment.

Mr Finucane was shot dead by a unionist death squad in front of his family in 1989, shortly after a member of Margaret Thatcher’s notorious war cabinet complained that some lawyers working in the North of Ireland were “unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA”.

After a series of investigations and cover-ups, it eventually emerged that most of the unit which killed him were working for, or under the control of, the British military or RUC police.

However, 22 years later, hopes of a proper inquiry into the killing now appear to have been dashed. After walking out of the Downing Street meeting on Wednesday, the Finucane family said they were “insulted” by the sudden reversal, after months of hope that progress was finally being made.

Mr Finucane’s son John said up until a matter of weeks ago, the family were still engaged in negotiations with British Direct Ruler Owen Paterson to finalise the terms of reference for a full public inquiry into the killing.

Senior political and security figures had already been informed that they could be called to give evidence at the inquiry.

But Cameron offered only a review of the existing papers in the case by a senior barrister.

“What is on offer is not something that we are even willing to consider,” Mr Finucane said.

“Over the past 12 months we have been in talks with the British government about a public inquiry and what form that might take. Not once during that time was this review process even mentioned.

“So this is a total shock, frankly we are insulted at the proposal put forward by the prime minister.”

After the family walked out of a meeting with Mr Cameron, Mr Finucane’s widow Geraldine said she felt so angry she could hardly speak.

“I am so angry and so insulted by being brought to Downing Street to hear what the prime minister had on offer,” she said.

Mrs Finucane said the family would “not be involved at all” with the review.

“The QC will tell us everything and we are to accept that as a means of getting to the truth,” she said.

The family will continue their campaign for a full inquiry.

Yesterday’s announcement came despite 12 years of assurances from previous governments that a full inquiry would be set up. The sudden about-turn has prompted speculation as to what caused the change.

Mr Finucane’s son Michael accused the British PM of “reneging on a commitment that the previous government made to hold a public inquiry”.

Cameron’s explanation that public inquiries had not worked in similar cases was “feeble”, Mr Finucane said.

“He seemed oblivious to the fact that the absence of participation by our family would mean we simply couldn’t support what he proposed,” he said.

“We came here and had a so-called solution presented to us as a fait accompli.”

Mr Finucane was shot 14 times by the UFF -- a cover name for the UDA -- in front of his wife and three children as they ate dinner at their north Belfast home in February 1989.

The Crown forces are believed to have provided direct encouragement to the killers and using agents to carry out the murder, before covering their tracks.

Following a previous review retired Canadian judge Peter Cory recommended an inquiry. Prior to that, London police chief John Stevens found that there was collusion in the killing.

The planned review by a leading barrister amounts to the third such review of the case. Nationalist politicians reacted angrily to the news.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the 26-County government wished to meet Mr Finucane’s widow Geraldine next week to discuss her meeting with David Cameron.

He said that if Mrs Finucane is unhappy with the review proposed “t hen clearly we would not be happy either”.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams told parliament in Dublin hat the British government had broken its agreement at Weston Park in 2001 to hold the full inquiry as suggested by Canadian judge Peter Cory.

He said the family had been “devastated and hugely upset” by what they were told at the meeting.

“No enquiry. No legal redress for the family. No access to papers or witnesses, or an opportunity to cross examine,” he said.

“If flies in the face of the huge support given to the family by the government here, by the UN, by Amnesty International and a host of international agencies and political leaders, including in Washington.

“The Irish government needs to make it clear to the British government that it supports the family and that nothing less than the inquiry they are demanding is acceptable to the Irish government.”

Mr Adams said the the reluctance to hold the inquiry was due to the fact that the Pat Finucane case illustrates the extent to which collusion went on between British State forces and loyalist death squads.

“This British government had no part in that collusion and thus Mr Cameron should be liberated to do what was promised at Weston Park and to the family. He has failed.

“The Irish government needs to press the British government and to do so with all urgency, to hold the full inquiry promised ten years ago at Weston Park.”

Sinn Fein Policing Spokesperson Gerry Kelly said the review plan was “an extreme act of bad faith”.

“It is in the interest of everyone in our society, including all who seek to engender public confidence in the new beginning to policing and justice, that an effective, independent inquiry is held into the killing of Pat Finucane by agents of the State.”

“The Finucane family command respect and goodwill for the dignity and determination which they have shown during the last 22 years. Their campaign for an inquiry has won support across the world because of the way in which it has been conducted and the concerns it raises.”

Mr Kelly said the “remnants” of the system of collusion are still around today.

“In fact, there are cases before the courts even now which show how the system of Special Branch controllers, handlers and agents has had a septic effect on policing and justice, even in recent times.

“Throughout negotiations with the British government, Sinn Fein has supported the demands of the Finucane family as we have the demands of many other families, not as concessions but as entitlements and we will continue to do so.”

Human rights group the Pat Finucane Centre confirmed Mr Finucane’s family would not cooperate with the review.

“At the meeting they were told that this was the ‘best way forward’,” they said.

“This may be true for the security forces and agencies who wish to conceal the truth. It is certainly not the best way forward for the family.”

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© 2011 Irish Republican News