The Irish Government has decided to make a formal complaint to the UK Government over its decision to hold a QC-led review rather than a full public inquiry into the murder of the catholic solicitor, Pat Finucane, at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries in 1989.
Whilst in office, as part of the Western Park Agreement in 2001, Tony Blair pledged that a full scale inquiry would take place. However, last Tuesday, the Finucane family were invited to meet with David Cameron in Downing Street to be told that contrary to previous undertakings by the Blair government, a full public inquiry would instead be replaced by a smaller scale, less wide ranging review into the murder to be led by Sir Desmond de Silva QC.
The decision not to hold a full inquiry prompted the family to walk out of the meeting, with Pat Finucane’s widow, Geraldine, to declaring outside 10 Downing Street:
“Not only were my family and I forced to listen to the prime minister of Britain renege on a promise made by the British government, we had to hear him tell us, over and over, what it was that we really wanted, how we wanted to achieve it and what our ultimate response would be.
“It was clear within minutes that we had been lured to Downing Street under false pretences by a disreputable government led by a dishonourable man.“
It has now been announced that the Irish government is also to formally raise its concerns over the decision with the UK government.
Speaking shortly after a meeting yesterday between the Finucanes and ministers in Dublin, the Irish foreign minister Eamon Gilmore explained:
“What I asked the family to do was to have their legal representatives meet with officials of my department to put together the detail of the contacts that have taken place over the past number of months which led to last Tuesday’s meeting.
“That will form the basis of the formal response which the Irish government will give to the British government. There are sometimes occasions when frank disagreements arise between states. This is one, on this occasion.”
The response from the Irish Government came as concerns were expressed also over the decision at Stormont.
During a debate which saw party’s divide broadly down sectarian lines, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly argued:
“The state thought that Pat Finucane was expendable. This issue, in my opinion, should unite victims we represent right across the assembly. The family deserves the truth and, frankly, so do we all.“
The SDLP’s Alban Maginness, meanwhile, spoke of the UK government’s decision having been tantamount to an “abuse of the Finucane family”.
Speaking for many unionists within the Assembly Chamber however, Paul Givan, of the DUP, whilst sympathising with the Finucane family for all they had been through, concluded that a full public inquiry would not be suitable, arguing:
“There is a very clear concern from this side of the house that public inquiries have been used to wage a vendetta against the RUC, as opposed to seeking to establish closure for the family. What is important is that we do not elevate certain crimes above others.“
While for the Alliance party leader David Ford, who holds the post of justice minister, Stewart Dickson sought to broaden the problem that the Finucane decision highlighted, namely the lack of any coherent system of mechanism to address grievances from the past.
He told MLAs present:
“Our thoughts today are not only with all victims and survivors but with the Finucane family, whose expectations were raised by the British Government. Clearly, the issue could have been dealt with more sensitively: after all, a promise is a promise.
“The situation yet again raises the issue of the lack of a coherent way to deal with the past. Piecemeal approaches and isolated inquiries risk focusing almost entirely on the failings and injustices of the state and risk rewriting history, which compounds the hurt of others who feel ignored or forgotten. Quite simply, the cases of many victims will never be reviewed by an eminent QC.
“The talks for which the Assembly has called need to be convened urgently between the parties and between the British and Irish Governments so that we can find a coherent way to deal with the legacy of the past.
“We need a comprehensive process so that there is a clear way forward for dealing with the past. It is crucial that we agree that overarching strategy instead of having a fragmented approach so that we can address the needs of victims and survivors and build what we all want: a shared future.”
The developments follow the accusation by Michael Mansfield QC that the government’s decision represented a “flagrant breach of trust”, whilst shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker, expressing regret the previous Labour government didn’t get round to establishing an inquiry, has dubbed the review being proposed “inadequate”, calling on the Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson to “honour commitments that have been made” to the Finucane family.
• Government rules out full inquiry into Finucane’s death – Week Outside Westminster, October 14th 2011
• Robinson calls for list of decommissioned weapons to be published – Ed Jacobs, July 6th 2011
• “There will always be questions about Rosemary Nelson, about Pat Finucane and about hundreds of other killings” – Week Outside Westminster, May 28th 2011
• Rosemary Nelson’s murder is still “shrouded in controversy” – Kevin Meagher, May 24th 2011
• Warning that dissidents are raising tensions in Northern Ireland – Ed Jacobs, August 4th 2010