19 February 2009 Edition
PAT FINUCANE MURDER, 1989: The quest for the truth
Campaign for international inquiry relaunched
BY LAURA FRIEL
“EVERYONE knows the Eames/Bradley recommendations are nonsense,” Peter Madden told an audience at St Mary’s College in Belfast last week. The solicitor was speaking at a relaunch of the campaign for an international, independent public inquiry into the killing of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.
“For 20 years,” Peter Madden continued, “the family has campaigned to establish the truth about what happened and for 20 years the British Government has introduced stalling devices to prevent the truth getting out, to prevent the establishment of a structure that could actually enquire into all the circumstances surrounding Pat’s murder.”
Peter Madden shared a law practice with Pat Finucane and worked with him for a number of years before Pat was shot dead in February 1989. Last Thursday, he joined members of the Finucane family, Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey, Clara Reilly of Relatives for Justice, and Jim McCabe, whose wife Nora was murdered by the RUC, to pay tribute to Pat Finucane and his work as a human rights lawyer.
Pat was challenging more than the judicial system – he was challenging a British military strategy
– Peter Madden, Pat Finucane’s colleague
Identifying the Eames/ Bradley initiative as the latest in a long series of British delaying tactics, Madden highlighted the inadequacy of the Consultative Group’s ‘truth recovery’ process, “a process that excludes all lawyers except for those working for the British Government,” said Peter.
“In other words, Eames and Bradley are asking us to leave the case of Pat Finucane, and other similar cases, in the hands of the British Government! Just stick it in there with the Legacy Commission and bury it along with all the other cases.
“A short time ago, the British Government introduced the Inquiries Act, another device to prevent the truth coming out. Section 19 of the Inquiries Act allows a British Government minister to withhold material from the public. The Stevens Inquiry was set up to delay a public inquiry and the information Stevens gathered has yet to be examined in public.
“The Finucane family has campaigned for 20 years; other families, like the family of Nora McCabe, have campaigned for even longer. No matter what barriers the British Government puts up – Eames/Bradley, the Inquiries Act or Stevens – it’s not going to work. Eventually, the truth will be acknowledged.”
Reflecting on the years he worked with Pat Finucane, Peter Madden said it was clear at the time that Pat was having an impact on the judicial system.
“The judiciary were pro-Establishment, pro-unionist and pro-British, and they didn’t want to hear anything challenging, but over time Pat was gradually changing that. Judges began taking on board his arguments. I could see very clearly that Pat was making changes within the judicial system.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but Pat was challenging more than the judicial system – he was challenging a British military strategy.
“Criminalisation relied on the compliance of the judiciary. And when they saw someone like Pat coming along and knocking it down, they decided to take him out.
“And because of the work of investigative journalists, we now know the mechanisms used to murder Pat, the covert British Army units, their collusion with loyalists, the role of Special Branch agents, high-ranking British Army officers with access to members of the British Cabinet. That’s why the British Government is so afraid of divulging the truth about what happened to Pat.”
Section 19 of the Inquiries Act allows a British Government minister to withhold material from the public
– Peter Madden
Addressing the public meeting, Pat Finucane’s brother, Seamus, reiterated Peter Madden’s criticisms of Eames/Bradley.
“In the course of these last 12 months, there has been an unprecedented attack on public inquiries. There is no doubt in my mind this is linked to the recent report by the Consultative Group on the Past.
“There is an ongoing battle for hearts and minds. I appeal to all families who have lost loved ones at the hands of the British state and British state death squads to remain vigilant.
“What is clear is that the public view remains that there must be a fully independent public inquiry into Pat’s murder. Pat was murdered because he was good at his job but the British Government are even more afraid of him now, 20 years after his death, because they fear exposure. They fear the truth.”
Belfast MLA Alex Maskey urged families of those who died at the hands of the British state to examine Eames/Bradley, explore all the options and make up their own minds. “But speaking for myself, I think Eames/Bradley is a joke,” he said.
Recalling the murder of Alan Lundy, Alex said:
“I feel personally driven by that death, because Alan died at my house while trying to secure my home. Like the family of Pat Finucane, Nora McCabe and others, I’m determined to make sure Alan Lundy’s death doesn’t count for nothing.”
Commending the Finucane and other families “who have battled for the truth”, Maskey said the dignity and courage they have shown is in contrast to the behaviour of the British state.
“The Finucane family have campaigned tirelessly and have won significant international support, including from the new US President Barack Obama.”
The British Government are even more afraid of him now, 20 years after his death because they fear exposure. They fear the truth’
– Seamus Finucane, Pat’s brother
Maskey added that, 20 years after his death, Pat remains an iconic figure whose image is recognised internationally, “in sharp contrast to the Brian Nelsons and Gordon Kerrs of this world,” the British Army figures at the centre of the case, said Alex.
In a moving testimony, Jim McCabe recalled the devastating impact of his wife’s murder upon his family and the kindness of Pat Finucane as well as his effectiveness as a lawyer.
“Pat was instrumental in bringing Nora’s case to the attention of a wider audience and the making of a documentary by Yorkshire television about her murder,” said Jim.
“But Pat was more than a lawyer to those who sought his help, he was a friend. I used to ring him up for advice at any time, day or night. Pat Finucane still has a lot to do with how I deal with my issues. After Nora’s death I became very despondent but Pat showed me how, with determination and honesty, you can fight to change the system no matter how rotten it is.”
Clara Reilly recalled being arrested in 1981 and “my first thought was to ring Pat Finucane”. She explained what had happened.
“I was held about four hours and questioned about my work and after my release Pat took a case against the British Government to challenge the process of interrogation known as ‘screening’. The High Court ruled it illegal. I remember Pat and I punching the air with delight. From then onwards, the RUC would have to show reasonable grounds to arrest anyone.”
Legal figures add weight to Finucane inquiry call
BY EMMA CLANCY
THE British Government has signalled it may avoid holding even a controlled inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, an international conference in honour of the Belfast solicitor at Dublin’s Trinity College was told on Saturday.
The conference paid tribute to the life, work and legacy of Pat Finucane on the 20th anniversary of his murder. Delegates heard from an impressive international panel of leading human rights activists and legal figures including Pat’s wife, Geraldine Finucane; Canadian former Supreme Court judge Peter Cory; leading British human rights laywer Michael Mansfield QC; and the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy.
Addressing the conference, Belfast solicitor Peter Madden, who shared a legal practice with Pat, read from a letter the Finucane family had received from the British Government on the anniversary of Pat’s death.
All these matters... are relevant factors for ministers in deciding whether it remains in the public interest to proceed with an inquiry
– NIO Secretary of State Shaun Woodward’s Under-Secretary
British Secretary of State to the North Shaun Woodward’s Principal Under-Secretary, Simon Marsh, wrote that the Government was considering the report of the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group on the Past and that “no decision has yet been taken by Government in relation to any of the group’s recommendations, including their recommendations in relation to any Finucane inquiry”.
The letter went on to say:
“All these matters, like the outcome of discussions with the Finucane family, or their legal representatives about the form of any inquiry, will, of course, be relevant factors for ministers in deciding whether it remains in the public interest to proceed with an inquiry.” Speaking after the conference, Pat’s son, John Finucane, said that the British Government “appears to be preparing to break promises that they made, not only to ourselves but also to the Irish Government and others”. He added: “The question needs to be asked: just in whose interest would it be not to have a public inquiry into my father’s murder?”
Geraldine Finucane said the family firmly rejects the idea that the past could be swept under the carpet.
“Recent efforts to find mechanisms to address the past underline how important it is that we build our future on solid foundations. The society that forgets its past, or worse, tries to pretend it never existed, is doomed to repeat it.”
Jane Winter from British Irish Rights Watch also voiced her concerns.
“In my opinion, the Eames/Bradley report puts too little emphasis on transparency, too little focus on the truth and too much emphasis on putting the past in the past.”
Madden said that while there while the aspirations towards reconciliation in the Eames/Bradley report are positive, “the way to achieve reconciliation is not through burying the truth”.
Michael Mansfield said he is appalled at the suggestion that holding an open inquiry into Pat’s death would not be in the public interest. “The only ones who should decide what’s in the public interest are the public,” he said.
“The British Government sending this letter on Pat’s anniversary is no coincidence. Well, we will send the British Government a clear message back from this conference: we will not settle for anything less than the full truth because Pat was just the tip of an iceberg of a British policy of systemic collusion – and some of the operative that would be revealed are still operative.
“It’s not just because Pat’s family deserves to know the extent of collusion – as do so many other families – but because there will be no genuine, lasting peace in Ireland until there is justice. And justice must be built upon the full disclosure of the truth.”
The question needs to be asked: just in whose interest would it be not to have a public inquiry into my father’s murder?
– Pat Finucane’s son, John
Mansfield outlined the drive by the British Government to keep inquests out of the public eye.
The Inquiries Act 2005, which allows the home secretary to issue ‘restriction orders’ on an inquest enabling the withholding of evidence from the coroner, is the “only possible” means for investigating the Finucane case, the British Government insists. It is a transparent attempt to conceal the role of Government security agencies and the political establishment’s role in “controversial” killings.
“Now the new Coroners’ Bill, going before the parliament this year would, if passed, allow for the Secretary of State to decide that inquests should be held in secret if it is in ‘the national interest’,” the QC explained.
“The bill is attempting to resurrect the legislation that was defeated last year in the House of Lords contained in the ‘anti-terror’ 42-day detention proposals. The result would be that, in certain cases, there may possibly be no inquest, or if there is one it will be controlled. There would be no jury, the coroner will be appointed by the Government, the whole thing could be held in camera, with no publication of the findings.”
As she was opening the conference, Geraldine Finucane said:
“Pat may have been taken from us far too soon but what he achieved in his short life, professionally and personally, cannot be measured through a mere sum of years.”
Belfast High Court judge Séamus Treacy spoke about the advances in human rights law that Pat’s work, together with Peter Madden, achieved in 10 years of practice.
“In bringing about change in a rotten system, Pat advanced fair trial rights and the right of prisoners to legal recourse against prison governors and the right of access to solicitors.”
Judge Peter Cory paid tribute to the Finucane family:
“Geraldine has become an international symbol of courage and dedication to the cause of her husband.”
Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Param Cumaraswamy said:
“Along with everyone else in this room, I deeply admire the courage and determination of the Finucane family.
“I was given an assurance by Tony Blair in April 2001 that there would be an independent inquiry into Pat’s murder – which, eight years on, has not eventuated,” he said.
I was given an assurance by Tony Blair in April 2001 that there would be an independent inquiry into Pat’s murder
– Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Param Cumaraswamy
“Perhaps it is time to refer the case back to the European Court of Human Rights in order to bring pressure to bear on the British Government.”
Param Cumaraswamy also discussed the failure of the British Government, RUC and Law Society in the North to provide protection for Rosemary Nelson, who was murdered in a loyalist car-bomb in March 1999.