DERRY – Last week saw the first conviction for the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, one of Northern Ireland’s most notorious political assassinations.
Now, the British government has promised a judicial inquiry to discover the truth behind the killing, which has been one of a few murders tainted by allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries — regarded by many as terrorists fighting to maintain British control of Northern Ireland — and the British state security forces.
On 16 September, Ken Barrett, a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), a loyalist paramilitary group, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in the murder of Finucane in February 1989.
Northern Ireland’s three decades of civil conflict up to 1998 saw over 3,600 people killed as mostly Catholic Irish nationalists and republicans, who want Northern Ireland to merge with the Republic of Ireland to the south, faced off against mostly Protestant unionists or loyalists who want to remain part of the United Kingdom. British soldiers flooded Northern Ireland but were viewed by many nationalists as a hostile occupation force.
Speaking at the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast on Thursday, British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Paul Murphy announced that new legislation would allow the inquiry to probe alleged collusion with loyalist paramilitaries by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army intelligence.
However, skepticism remains about how thorough any inquiry would be. Michael Finucane, son of the murdered solicitor and, along with other family members, a prominent and vocal campaigner for a full public inquiry into his father’s death, expressed doubts about the inquiry, suggesting it would be controlled and restricted by the British government.
Finucane’s family members have not confirmed whether they plan to cooperate with the inquiry. The full terms of reference for the inquiry and its mandate have not yet been published, but it is anticipated that much of the inquiry would be held in private, due to issues of British national security involved in public hearings detailing military and intelligence operations.
A full public inquiry into the Finucane case, as well as five other cases carrying allegations of security force-terrorist collusion, was recommended by Canadian judge Peter Cory, who was commissioned by the British government to gather information and publish a report on a number of such cases from Northern Ireland’s 30-year conflict.
Nationalist political parties’ reaction was mixed. The Social, Democratic, and Labour Party (SDLP) said that the announcement fell short of what they had expected, echoing the Finucane family statements. However, Sinn Féin – believed to be the political wing of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) – remained cautious, citing the need to wait for the full terms of reference for the inquiry to be published.
Speaking at UN headquarters in New York, Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen said that the Irish government’s position remained in line with the findings of the Cory Report that the British government should hold a full public inquiry.Show