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British Government rejects Finucane inquiry

When the relatives of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane were invited to a meeting with the British prime minister in October the family expected, after recent briefings from British officials, that they would be told that the long awaited inquiry into his killing was going to proceed.   Such expectations were dashed when David Cameron ruled out an independent public inquiry. He conceded that there had been state involvement in the murder and offered an apology, but further examination of the case would be limited to a review of documents.   In substance this will be no different to the previous case reviews carried out by former Met Police Commissioner John Stevens and retired Canadian judge Peter Cory.  The Cory review, which concluded in 2004, recommended an independent public inquiry.  During negotiations at Weston Park in 2001 Tony Blair committed the British government to an inquiry.

Nationalist commentators have suggested is that the inquiry was aborted at the last minute.  However, the British have manoeuvred over the past ten years to avoid this outcome.  It is doubtful that any British government would subject the state to the type of scrutiny required.  The commitment on holding an inquiry an empty gesture towards nationalists and republicans to win support for the political settlement.   Even if the British Government were to concede an inquiry in form, in practice it would have no substance.   Not long after the Cory recommendations Tony Blair's government introduced new legislation on public inquiries that would have allowed for the withholding of crucial evidence.  In response judge Cory accused the British government of `moving the goalposts'.

The Finucane killing has presented such difficulties for successive British Governments because it is a collusion case that reaches into the highest echelons of the state.   We know this from the material that is already in the public domain.   In January 1989 Conservative MP Douglas Hogg had told the House of Commons that certain solicitors in Northern Ireland were "unduly sympathetic" to the IRA.  Around the same time an RUC officer was reported to have told a client: "You will not be having Mr Finucane as a solicitor much longer."   Three weeks later Pat Finucane was dead.  A UFF gang smashed its way into his north Belfast home before killing him in front of his family.  It has been subsequently revealed  that many of the gang were state agents.   It was UDA intelligence officer Brian Nelson, recruited by the British Army's Force Research Unit (FRU) a couple of years earlier, who supplied the information for the attack.   It was UDA quartermaster and RUC Special Branch agent William Stobie who supplied the weapons.  Another Special Branch agent Ken Barrett was one of the gunmen.  He made a taped admission to the killing in 1991 but was not prosecuted at the time.   He later told the BBC Panorama programme he had carried out ten loyalist murders, and had been incited by police officers to kill Pat Finucane.  Barrett is the only person to be convicted of the murder after being prosecuted in the wake of the third and final inquiry by John Stevens in 2003.

Responsibility for the killing of Pat Finucane goes right to the top of the British political and security establishment.  The activities of agents such as  Brian Nelson were reported to the British Joint Intelligence Committee, which at the time would have been chaired by then Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher.  The security officials connected to the Finucane case are still around; they have occupied and continue to occupy senior positions within the British state. For example, Gordon Kerr, the head of the FRU at the time of the killing, was promoted to brigadier in 1998 and was later appointed Britain's military attaché in Beijing. In 2003 Kerr was sent to direct intelligence operations in Iraq and appointed head of a re-branded FRU called the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) and the Joint Support Group (JSG). The SRR unit was involved in the killing of Jean Charles De Menezes on the London Underground in 2005.  In 2009 it was announced that the SRR was being deployed in the North of Ireland.

Any detailed public investigation would severely damage the reputation of  the  British state.   It would expose the extent of state involvement in violence and explode the myth that Britain was (is) holding  the  line  in a divided community.  The acceptance of British neutrality, which is one of the foundations of the current settlement, also serves to explain the muted political reaction to Cameron's dismissal of an inquiry.   Sinn Fein bemoans the reneging on a commitment but doesn't press the issue.   The unionists are dismissive  at  best  or  hostile  at  worst.  During the recent Assembly debate on a motion calling for an inquiry the DUP health minister took the opportunity to repeat the smears that preceded the Finucane murder.  All this demonstrates that the Finucane case is not part of history but hangs over the present.  The unpalatable truth is that the forces responsible for the killing (armed loyalism and the British security state) and the policy of using any means necessary to continue British control in the North, are still in place. 

The enthusiasm of Sinn Fein, of middle class nationalists  and of the Dublin government for the sectarian settlement in the North  means that they must act to smother the outrage that many feel and convert it to apathy.  The Finucane family are offered the protests and indignation of the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, as a consolation prize and he in turn waves the weapons of Irish America and the UN at the British purest pantomime from a government that has never been able to fully investigate the Dublin and Monaghan attacks inside the 26 county state by the same forces that assassinated Pat Finucaine, the same forces that remain at the heart of British rule.


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