Published in An Phoblacht on 19 February 2009
THE British Government has signalled it may avoid holding even a controlled inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, an international conference in honour of the Belfast solicitor at Dublin’s Trinity College was told on Saturday.
The conference paid tribute to the life, work and legacy of Pat Finucane on the 20th anniversary of his murder. Delegates heard from an impressive international panel of leading human rights activists and legal figures including Pat’s wife, Geraldine Finucane; Canadian former Supreme Court judge Peter Cory; leading British human rights laywer Michael Mansfield QC; and the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy.
Addressing the conference, Belfast solicitor Peter Madden, who shared a legal practice with Pat, read from a letter the Finucane family had received from the British Government on the anniversary of Pat’s death.
British Secretary of State to the North Shaun Woodward’s Principal Under-Secretary, Simon Marsh, wrote that the Government was considering the report of the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group on the Past and 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”.
The letter went on to say: “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.” Speaking after the conference, Pat’s son, John Finucane, said that 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”. He added: “The question needs to be asked: just in whose interest would it be not to have a public inquiry into my father’s murder?”
Geraldine Finucane said the family firmly rejects the idea that the past could be swept under the carpet.
“Recent efforts to find mechanisms to address the past underline how important it is that we build our future on solid foundations. The society that forgets its past, or worse, tries to pretend it never existed, is doomed to repeat it.”
Jane Winter from British Irish Rights Watch also voiced her concerns.
“In my opinion, the Eames/Bradley report puts too little emphasis on transparency, too little focus on the truth and too much emphasis on putting the past in the past.”
Madden said that while there while the aspirations towards reconciliation in the Eames/Bradley report are positive, “the way to achieve reconciliation is not through burying the truth”.
Michael Mansfield said he is appalled at the suggestion that holding an open inquiry into Pat’s death would not be in the public interest. “The only ones who should decide what’s in the public interest are the public,” he said.
“The British Government sending this letter on Pat’s anniversary is no coincidence. Well, we will send the British Government a clear message back from this conference: we will not settle for anything less than the full truth because Pat was just the tip of an iceberg of a British policy of systemic collusion – and some of the operative that would be revealed are still operative.
“It’s not just because Pat’s family deserves to know the extent of collusion – as do so many other families – but because there will be no genuine, lasting peace in Ireland until there is justice. And justice must be built upon the full disclosure of the truth.”
Mansfield outlined the drive by the British Government to keep inquests out of the public eye.
The Inquiries Act 2005, which allows the home secretary to issue ‘restriction orders’ on an inquest enabling the withholding of evidence from the coroner, is the “only possible” means for investigating the Finucane case, the British Government insists. It is a transparent attempt to conceal the role of Government security agencies and the political establishment’s role in “controversial” killings.
“Now the new Coroners’ Bill, going before the parliament this year would, if passed, allow for the Secretary of State to decide that inquests should be held in secret if it is in ‘the national interest’,” the QC explained.
“The bill is attempting to resurrect the legislation that was defeated last year in the House of Lords contained in the ‘anti-terror’ 42-day detention proposals. The result would be that, in certain cases, there may possibly be no inquest, or if there is one it will be controlled. There would be no jury, the coroner will be appointed by the Government, the whole thing could be held in camera, with no publication of the findings.”
As she was opening the conference, Geraldine Finucane said: “Pat may have been taken from us far too soon but what he achieved in his short life, professionally and personally, cannot be measured through a mere sum of years.”
Belfast High Court judge Séamus Treacy spoke about the advances in human rights law that Pat’s work, together with Peter Madden, achieved in 10 years of practice.
“In bringing about change in a rotten system, Pat advanced fair trial rights and the right of prisoners to legal recourse against prison governors and the right of access to solicitors.”
Judge Peter Cory paid tribute to the Finucane family: “Geraldine has become an international symbol of courage and dedication to the cause of her husband.”
Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Param Cumaraswamy said: “Along with everyone else in this room, I deeply admire the courage and determination of the Finucane family.
“I was given an assurance by Tony Blair in April 2001 that there would be an independent inquiry into Pat’s murder – which, eight years on, has not eventuated,” he said.
“Perhaps it is time to refer the case back to the European Court of Human Rights in order to bring pressure to bear on the British Government.”
Param Cumaraswamy also discussed the failure of the British Government, RUC and Law Society in the North to provide protection for Rosemary Nelson, who was murdered in a loyalist car-bomb in March 1999.