DERRY — The saga around one of Northern Ireland’s most controversial political assassinations reached a conclusion of sorts on Thursday with the jailing of a former loyalist paramilitary.
Ken Barrett, 41, admitted to being one a group of masked gunmen who in February 1989 shot prominent Catholic solicitor Pat Finucane 14 times as he ate a Sunday meal with his family. Finucane was a high-profile lawyer who represented republican clients – but also worked with Protestants. Barrett, then a member the loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), was given a minimum 22 year sentence.
However, he could be released within just a few months as part of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland’s landmark 1998 peace deal. The peace deal included an amnesty for politically-motivated crimes committed during Northern Ireland’s 30-year civil conflict.
Northern Ireland’s three decades of civil conflict up to 1998 saw over 3,600 people killed, most of them civilians, as mostly Catholic Irish nationalists and republican paramilitaries, who want Northern Ireland to merge with the Republic of Ireland to the south, faced off against mostly Protestant unionists or loyalist counterparts who want to remain part of the United Kingdom. British soldiers flooded into Northern Ireland but were viewed by many nationalists as a hostile occupation force and were regularly targeted by the IRA.
Finucane’s assassination prompted allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and British state security forces — claims backed by an investigation by Sir John Stevens, the UK Metropolitan Police Commissioner, as well as a more recent inquiry by Peter Cory, a Canadian judge.
Cory went on to recommend a full public inquiry into the Finucane case, as well as five other terrorist assassinations tainted by allegations of security force collusion with paramilitaries. However, the British government decided that any public inquiry would have to wait until criminal proceedings were over.
The Finucane family and nationalist parties are now seeking a full public inquiry into state collusion with loyalist paramilitaries. Martin Finucane, brother of the murdered solicitor, told local media: “We demand a public inquiry, nothing else will satisfy us. It is now up to Tony Blair to take action.”
Finucane’s widow, Geraldine, has already launched a legal challenge to the government’s decision to delay a public inquiry.
Sinn Féin has accused the British government of using the Barrett trial and criminal investigations as an excuse for a cover-up of the “murky underbelly” of state collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.
Gerry Adams, the party’s leader, said: “The British government has made a commitment to have a public inquiry and they have since broken that commitment.
The sentencing takes place against the backdrop of major talks on Northern Ireland’s political future in Kent, England. The talks, facilitated by the British and Irish governments, involve all the main political parties in Northern Ireland and are aimed at restoring the province’s devolved institutions of government, which were suspended in October 2002 due to allegations of Irish Republican Army (IRA) intelligence gathering at the UK Northern Ireland Office in Belfast.Show