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3 February 2005 Edition

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Exposing Britain's 'illusion of neutrality'


Four years after the last Bloody Sunday Memorial Lecture and the day after the very last witness had given evidence to the Saville Inquiry from Derry's Guildhall, Geraldine Finucane took to the stage in the newly vacated hall of the same building to deliver a stinging rebuke to the British Government over its repeated failure to hold an independent public inquiry into the murder of her husband, Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

In a carefully crafted speech, Geraldine Finucane also highlighted the dangers of the new Inquiries Bill, currently making its way through the British Parliament, and the threat it represents to the truth of her husband's murder ever being made public. This legislation, introduced as a direct result of the Saville Inquiry, has been specifically designed to severely limit public scrutiny of the British state and its directing of loyalist death squads in the north of Ireland. She said that her family would refuse to cooperate with any inquiry if the legislation is passed in its present state.

She began, however, by telling the audience she hoped that, if her campaign achieved nothing else, it would at least expose once and for all the line ceaselessly promoted by the British state that it is "present in the midst of conflict but not actually participating in it or being responsible for it" for what it was; "a sham and a lie".

Maintaining that illusion of neutrality, she said, was of the utmost importance to all those involved with the British state in the North of Ireland. "It is the most important task any minister, any official, any servant of the Crown can have... maintain the fiction; protect the illusion; do not allow the truth to be exposed. If it is exposed, you see the truth: the reality that exists behind events like Bloody Sunday, or the murder of my husband."

Even now, she continued, the British Government is seeking to prolong the illusion "just long enough to write its own role into history as the saviour of us all. We must counteract their lies with the most obvious but potent weapon of all: the truth. The truth will be their undoing. I will not stop until I have succeeded in bringing the truth to light."

She acknowledged the tireless work of the Bloody Sunday families, many of whom were in the audience and wondered whether she, like them, would find herself, 33 years after the murder of her husband, "without answers and with the weight of a flawed inquiry bearing down upon me".

Her worries, she explained, arose from the repeal of the 1921 Tribunals of Inquiry Act and its replacement with the new Inquiries Bill. The former represented an independent mechanism of control on government, whereas the latter will grant government ministers the power to limit the ability of future inquiries to uncover government wrongdoing through a whole raft of measures, including excessively restrictive terms of reference, limits on funding, the censoring or even withholding of final reports and even control of what evidence any inquiry would be allowed to consider.

"How could any inquiry be reasonably expected to get to the truth under the weight of such a law?" asked Finucane. "It would appear that in fact the last thing Tony Blair wants is a law which makes inquiries effective, for Pat Finucane's case or any other."

Under this new law, she said, any inquiry would be "little more than a government-controlled charade. It is not a public inquiry. It is established by government, regulated by government and controlled by government throughout".

In October last year, Geraldine Finucane and her family met with Tony Blair in Downing Street to discuss the case. She told the audience that "the assurances offered by Mr Blair did nothing to reassure me or my family". In fact, she continued, "Mr Blair tried to persuade us in the manner least likely to succeed, by assuring us that we could trust him to do the right thing.

"Then the Inquiries Bill was published and with it came the confirmation of what we had feared for some time; that the government was not interested in openness and accountability as much as it was in maintaining control. The truth had to be controlled. The mask could not be allowed to slip.

"I didn't believe Tony Blair in London," she concluded. "I don't believe him now. If an inquiry of the sort contemplated by the Inquiries Bill is established to investigate my husband's murder, I will not participate".

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