23 March 2006 Edition
Finucane Inquiry: Taoiseach challenged on NIO statement
Disgraceful NIO statement "an insult to all parties"
Sinn Féin has once again raised the issue of comments by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) regarding a Dáil all-party motion calling for an independent inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.
In a highly unusual development two weeks ago, the main party leaders in the Dáil signed a joint motion backing the inquiry. But just before he rose to speak on the motion, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin was handed the text of an NIO statement issued describing the Dáil debate as "flawed and misleading. Ó Caoláin described the development as "an insult to the Dáil, to all its members and to all parties".
Last Tuesday Sinn Féin's Martin Ferris TD again brought up the issue of the NIO statement, asking Taoiseach Bertie Ahern whether he had raised the matter with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "The Northern Ireland statement claimed the motion was both flawed and misleading. Is the Taoiseach aware this statement was issued before the debate took place in this House? If the Taoiseach has not already done so, will he protest, in the strongest possible terms, to the British Prime Minister in this regard? Has the Dáil motion been formally conveyed to the British Prime Minister by letter or by the Minister for Foreign Affairs? If so, can Members have a reply?", Ferris asked.
On the wider issue of collusion the Kerry North TD appointed out that Ahern had always expressed pessimism regarding the prospects of progress on the issue of collusion. "There are powerful forces within the British political and military establishment who are blocking this and many other inquiries. Does the Taoiseach agree they must be faced down on the issue of collusion and if they are not confronted by Prime Minister Blair on this issue, they will also continue to block the wider peace process? Finally, as my party leader has asked in the past, will the Taoiseach call a special, specific summit with the British Prime Minister solely devoted to the issue of collusion?"
In reply Ahern said the answer to Ferris's first question was "Yes" but the response from the British Prime Minister, if any, was unclear. He said he was in 10 Downing Street on the day of the motion. "Admittedly it was before the debate, but I conveyed the motion and the reason behind it. Since then, I have conveyed it to the Secretary of State, Mr. Hain, who has written to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, regarding this issue. The Minister will reply to it", he said.
He said the response of the British to the Finucane case was "not in line with the strategy on which we worked for five years, starting with the Weston Park talks and followed by the great work performed by Judge Cory".
He said that in 2004 the British decided to change the law and that the form of the inquiry now proposed has been rejected as being inadequate by Judge Cory, the Finucane family, the Government, the Dáil and human rights groups. "On the basic issue I have noted, namely, that the inquiry under the new law will not be regarded as being fully independent, as we do not believe that the collusion issue will be properly addressed under this system."
Ahern claimed there was no necessity for a separate summit. "While Prime Minister Blair is probably fed up with listening to me raising this issue, I have an obligation to make him even more so. That is what I intend to do", said Ahern.
A resolution from the US Congress demanding an independent inquiry into the Finucane murder is expected in the near future.