By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)
So according to Sir Desmond de Silva’s report into the murder of a leading human rights lawyer in February 1989, there was “no overarching state conspiracy in the murder of Pat Finucane”.
Having read Sir Desmond’s detailed executive summary report, let me offer him my interpretation of it.
At a minimum he confirms what others discovered.
There were several, simultaneous, overlapping and complementary conspiracies going on which taken together inescapably amount to ‘an overarching state conspiracy in the murder of citizens through collusion between state agencies and loyalist paramilitaries’, one of whom was Pat Finucane.
To prove my interpretation I will use Sir Desmond’s own words.
Let us begin firstly with what most people believe is the state - the government of the day - that is, those ministers who sit around the cabinet table in 10 Downing Street.
According to Sir Desmond there were repeated efforts made to successive British governments by Britain’s intelligence agencies, the RUC Special Branch and British army for “a proper legal framework for agent handling”.
The reason why they sought this was self-serving and self-preservation because the agents they had needed to, and did, engage, in Sir Desmond’s words, in “criminal conspiracies with their terrorist associates”. In other words agents broke the law. And when they did so did their handlers, because they led and protected them. Breaking the law meant killing people.
Successive British governments knew that agents were being run by their intelligence and state security services but they blatantly refused to give them “any effective guidance or a legal framework”.
This at least amounted to a conspiracy of silence based on knowledge, however vague, that the law was being broken. It could also be interpreted as encouragement.
The British government refused to introduce “legal guidance” because this could have led to restrictions on the actions of agents and their handlers.
For Sir Desmond this was “wilful” on the government’s part and in the dictionary wilful means ‘done intentionally’. On that basis I think we could safely put the main state institution - the government - in the conspiracy.
The purported rationale for agent infiltration into armed organisations was to use their information to save people’s lives.
This is what Sir Desmond had to say about saving people’s lives: “Taken as a whole an extraordinary state of affairs was created in which both the army and the RUC SB [Special Branch] had prior notice of a series of planned UDA assassinations, yet nothing was done by the RUC to prevent these attacks.”
And of the intelligence used in these attacks Sir Desmond said: “85 per cent of the UDA’s intelligence originated from sources within the security services.”
On three occasions, 1981, 1985 and 1989, when the UDA assassinated Pat Finucane, the RUC and MI5 had prior intelligence of the attacks, yet Sir Desmond states “there is no evidence that any action was taken to warn or otherwise seek to protect him”.
Indeed Sir Desmond accepts what others found - “that an RUC officer or officers did propose Patrick Finucane as a UDA target when speaking to a loyalist paramilitary” and that “the UDA received ‘intelligence’ about Patrick Finucane from a police source”.
Pat Finucane was the subject of what Sir Desmond describes as a “security service propaganda initiative”. No less a person than the chief constable of the RUC, Sir John Hermon and senior officers briefed Douglas Hogg that some solicitors were “effectively in the pockets of terrorists”. In the British House of Commons Hogg said there were a number of solicitors “unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA”. Four weeks later Pat Finucane was shot dead.
Ten UDA loyalists were involved in killing Pat Finucane, Terrence McDaid and Gerard Slane. Three were the agents Nelson, Stobie and Barrett. All three were involved in killing Pat Finucane. None of the killers were intercepted or arrested.
It is entirely understandable why Geraldine Finucane, Pat’s wife, described Sir Desmond’s conclusions as a “sham” and a “whitewash”, as are her son Michael’s comments that Sir Desmond’s report is part of the “jigsaw that can be used to further our case for a public inquiry”.
However sincere Mr Cameron’s apology is to the Finucane family, it is wholly insufficient. A public inquiry is the only credible response to Sir Desmond.