Continuing demands for a “full independent international inquiry” into the murder of Pat Finucane are unlikely to be stilled to allow police and prosecuting authorities to consider what to. From their reactions yesterday we can be certain that unionist politicians will characterise the prominence given to the case as “one sided justice” and will heighten their demands for more aggressive action over IRA murders. Political division over the Finucane case has surfaced as we knew it would, further complicating any faint hope on agreement over dealing with the past more comprehensively Try this from Ian Paisley jnr after eight nights of trouble on Belfast streets.
My constituents are sick and tired of a one-sided narrative of revisionism that says that the Provisional IRA were actually quite good and the troops and police were quite bad. That, in the current circumstances in Northern Ireland, is bloody stupid—and I mean literally bloody. It will send a signal to my constituents that people have to push, kick, throw and petrol bomb to get what they want, and not abide by the law. We are trying to tell them all to abide by the law.
The rival demands are unlikely to satisfied quickly if ever. Prosecutions may be a different matter. Decisions either way will be controversial. What would be the impact on the de facto amnesty? Ironically one of the decision takers may be Barra McGrory now the new Northern Ireland director of public prosecutions and son of the late Paddy, like Pat Finucane a solicitor who had a big IRA portfolio but who I’m entirely certain was respected across the divide and yet was also subject to loyalist threats, as David McKittrick reports. Barra is commended for his explanations of contemporary prosecutorial procedures in hard cases to the Assembly.
It’s too early to expect a comprehensive critique of the de Silva report but here are some of the edgier reactions to emerge so far.
- Who was Pat Finucane? “thorn in the flesh” of the security forces and like other solicitors Oliver Kelly and Paddy McGrory deliberately left vulnerable to loyalist murder?. Or “IRA godfather”, the allegation given public voice by Ken Maginnis, refuted by de Silva and furiously denied as a smear by his family?
- Did they want him dead or were they protecting sources? MI5’s role was crucial, says BBC investigative reporter John Ware and he reports that Cameron told the family that “there are people all around here who won’t let ( an inquiry) happen”.
- Tom King Secretary of State at the time denied any role in collusion and insisted existing precise agent handing rules were breached
- Nuala O’Loan former police ombudsman claims the new regulatory roles were still not strong enough in 2003
Pat Finucane’s role
“Thorn in the flesh” David McKittrick reports
He successfully defended former hungerstriker Pat McGeown, another leading republican figure, unexpectedly securing his release after he was charged with the IRA killings of two army corporals in 1988.
Mr Finucane had been regarded with suspicion from much earlier since his brother John, who died in a car accident in 1972, was claimed by the IRA as one of its members.
After the solicitor’s death loyalist sources claimed that several members of their organisation, the Ulster Defence Association, which shot Mr Finucane, had been encouraged to target him by police. The loyalists said police had described him and two other solicitors who often represented republicans, Paddy McGrory and Oliver Kelly, as “the brains behind the IRA.”
Both the other lawyers have since died of natural causes. Mr McGrory’s son Barra was last year appointed Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.
Finucane Statement House of Lords
My Lords, as somebody who has been fortunate to survive 10 murder attempts by the Provisional IRA, I find this isolated apology quite ridiculous. The reality is that the Finucane family were an IRA family. I illustrate this by saying that when I made that allegation publicly and was being sued for libel, the family retracted and paid my legal expenses. Let us not therefore fool ourselves about the “Godfather” Finucane who was killed. If there was connivance, let me say that all of us who served through the heart of the Troubles in Northern Ireland served in such a way that it was impossible to have a secret. Why were there 10 attempts on my life? Why was the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, shot? It was because there was conspiracy.
I point out that less than 1% of all terrorist suspects involved in proactive security force operations were killed by the security forces, and that 99% of cases ended in arrest. There were no incidents of unlawful killing in a Special Branch-led operation in Northern Ireland, and the security-force response was totally human-rights compliant. Let us not forget all those years of terrorism and become compelled by a single incident which may in fact-and I will not deny it-have involved conspiracy. If one sought justification-and I do not justify it-it was not without a godfather. Godfathers were responsible for so many murders in Northern Ireland, it should not be forgotten.
Lord (Tom) King, Secretary of State at the time. Was there co-ordination at the top? (col 1076)
I take exception to one element of the Statement repeated by my noble friend: namely, the phrase “state involvement”, which is now current. I understand why it has arisen. It gives the impression that somehow the Government planned the murder of Patrick Finucane. It is an appalling concept that I as Secretary of State somehow authorised it. Of course, that is totally untrue. In my time I committed myself to trying to save every life that I possibly could on both sides of the community, however people were involved.
What is also clear is that there were incidents in which people were in clear breach of their orders or instructions. The Statement claims that there was no co-ordinated legal basis for the employment of agents. I draw the attention of the House to something in Sir Desmond de Silva’s report which states that agents were being handled at that time under the strict instruction of the Commander Land Forces Northern Ireland, Tony Jeapes, that it was unlawful for any person to authorise any illegal act, and that if there was any possibility of an agent becoming involved in criminality, the assistant chief of staff was to be informed through the commanding officer of the FRU so that preventive measures could be taken. Mr Nelson’s handler was acting in total breach of that instruction at the time. I should say that some of the agents, informers or touts-they go under different names in Northern Ireland-were incredibly brave people who saved an enormous number of lives. The difficulty of handling them should not be underestimated.
Baroness (Nuala) O’Loan former police ombudsman. Agents’ regulation still not strong enough after RIPA (col 1077-78)
But this was not an isolated situation. Investigation has shown that this pattern of activity was not unique to the UDA in west Belfast. The Prime Minister has stated, and the noble Lord has repeated, that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act has established a framework for the authorisation and conduct of agents. However, as Police Ombudsman I found as recently as 2003 that the Surveillance Commissioner was not being properly informed about UVF agents who were engaged in murders, attempted murders and other very serious crimes. Given the very small office of the Surveillance Commissioner, the pattern and nature of the investigations and inspections which are carried out by the Surveillance Commissioner, and particularly the resources available to the Surveillance Commissioner, is the Minister satisfied that there is adequate funding to enable the identification of any police failures in the handling and management of state agents?
Role of MI5 – why not a public inquiry?
In refusing a public inquiry, Mr Cameron cited costs as one reason.
But when he met the Finucanes at Downing Street in October 2011, he is also reported to have said that there “are people in buildings all around here (meaning 10 Downing Street) who won’t let it happen”.
Which rather begs the question: who runs the country?
MI5 and SB – wanted Finucane dead or protecting sources?
My understanding is that at about the time of Mr Finucane’s murder, the UDA was penetrated at a senior level by three MI5 agents.
According to Justice Cory, MI5 was warned three times that Mr Finucane was being targeted for assassination, the latest being seven weeks before he was shot.
However, MI5 appear not to have informed Special Branch, though it is by no means clear that had they done so, the Branch would have done anything about this since they too had heard from one of their own informants that a “hit on a top IRA man ” was imminent and did nothing to stop it. Nor did the Branch help the CID catch the killers.
A key question for the de Silva review is this: was no action taken to warn Mr Finucane because elements in the police, military intelligence and MI5 wanted him dead; or, did agent security take precedence over the need to warn him that his life was in danger?
Limitations of de Silva review
The review was promised full access to all files held by MI5 and the Stevens Inquiry – all 13.5 tons of them. All government departments including MI5 were also ordered to “comply fully with the review”.
In practice, I gather it has not been that simple.
The review is said to have limited resources, and access to the Stevens files, now under control of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, has not been straightforward. Also MI5 has occasionally required Sir Desmond to justify why he wanted to publish certain documents.
Sir Desmond has been able to question witnesses but he has not had the power to conduct oral hearings and all this has taken place behind closed doors.
Was agreement about to be reached with the last Labour government on a public inquiry? News to me
Ed Miliband Finucane Statement House of Commons 12/12 (col 300)
The last Government could not reach consensus with the Finucane family on arrangements for such an inquiry, but towards the end of our time in office the Finucane family indicated that they would support a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, and a way forward had begun to be discussed
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