It is hard to see how the deadlock over holding a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane can ever be broken. Amnesty Internationals renewed call for one on the 20th anniversary of the Belfast solicitors murder in terms that well-qualified legal family would accept is I guess, unlikely to be heeded by the British Government. Ministers were privately dismayed by the decision of the retired Canadian judge Peter Cory to recommend PIs in all four collusion cases on the northern side of the border. They had expected only one full inquiry to be recommended Finucane not the full house.
The deadlock is a conspiracy theorists dream. The government rushed in the Inquiries Act 2005 to allow ministers to limit the scope and cost of all PIs, not just NI ones a move duly denounced by Lord Saville, as Amnesty reminded us .
“As a Judge, I must tell you that I would not be prepared to be appointed as a member of an inquiry that was subject to a provision of this kind.”
The stated reason for the Act was to avoid a repetition of the uncontrolled costs and length of Saville and the Heathrow Terminal 5 inquiry which lasted a mere four years.This is a far from implausible argument. But the justice for Finucane lobby and all nationalist parties north and south among many others inevitably smelt a rat.
On the other hand, the other Cory inquiries are proceeding. Indeed the Billy Wright inquiry was upgraded to one under the Inquiries Act. They will be acid tests of independence. If these are concluded fairly, how strong will remain the grounds for maintaining the Finucane family boycott? It seems to me that no minister would dare interfere with them and that the Finucanes are overbidding in what has become a power struggle with the British government. It may be that no existing inquiry however fair will get to the bottom of the collusion allegations in the absence of investigations as deep and thorough as Lord Stevens’s. In which case, if that’s what you believe, why persist in demanding an inquiry under different rules? Time may be running out anyway. Hard to see a inquiry being agreed under the devolution of J&P or the matter being dealt privately by an Eames/Bradley legacy commission. Incidentally, note that Shaun Woodward has announced that the Bill to transfer justice and policing powers to the Assembly will pass through Parliament in one of their notorious one day processes next Wednesday. A harbinger of a local agreement at last or just the obscure workings of the parliamentary timetable? The latter, I daresay.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London