The Brehons wrote Sheinwald expressing disquiet at what they said was the continued British government effort to “frustrate” the desire of the U.S. Congress to see a full independent inquiry take place into the Finucane murder.
In the letter to Ambassador Sheinwald, the Brehons stated that members of the society, as well as signatories to the letter who represented other Irish-American organizations, had attended February’s conference in Dublin dedicated to the life and legacy of Finucane.
“Our delegates were disturbed to learn that the British government continues to frustrate the will of the United States Congress as expressed in U.S. Joint House Resolution (H.CON.RES.20), supporting a full, public, independent, international inquiry into the murder of Belfast human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane,” the letter to Sheinwald stated.
It asked Sheinwald to take note that the joint resolution expressly rejected “any idea” that an inquiry be conducted “under the limited authority” of the British government’s Inquiries Act of 2005.
“We need not remind Your Excellency that this resolution, one of many similarly worded instruments, was passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of the 110th Congress, whose members included former senators Barack Obama and Joseph Biden,” the letter continued.
“You are no doubt also familiar with President Obama’s campaign pledge supporting Judge Cory’s recommendation for a full, public, independent, international inquiry, and of the long-standing public support for the Finucane family’s campaign on the parts of both Vice-President Biden and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton,” the letter to Sheinwald continued.
In that light, the signatories stated, delegates at the conference had been particularly concerned to read a letter from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to the legal representatives of the Finucane family which suggested that the very idea of proceeding with a full, public, independent, international inquiry might be re-examined by the British government “in the public interest.”
The public interest, as reflected in the joint resolution, was, the letter added, “crystal clear” and required no re-examination.
“The undersigned are fully confident that neither Congress, nor the Obama administration, will tolerate any further obfuscation regarding the British government’s obligations, namely its commitment to hold an international, independent inquiry.
“This commitment has the imprimatur of international law, having been recommended by Judge Peter Cory, specifically under the terms of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act of 1921, and agreed to by both Irish and British governments at Weston Park in 2003 in furtherance of the U.S. brokered Good Friday agreement.”
The signatories followed with a direct request: “kindly advise if you do not concur with any of the foregoing.”
The letter was signed by Brehon founding member General James Cullen; Kate McCabe, national president of the Irish American Unity Conference; Robert Dunne, president of the New York Brehon Law Society; Seamus Boyle, national president of the AOH;
Sean Riordan, president of the Nassau County Brehons; Melissa Kennedy, president of the Irish Law Students Association at CUNY School of Law; Brian O’Keefe, president of the Suffolk County Brehons; Paul Doris of Irish Northern Aid; Gerard McCabe of the Irish American Building Society, and Michael Glass, who serves on the U.S. State Department advisory committee on Irish affairs.
In his response, Ambassador Sheinwald stated that the Finucane murder was a crime that the British government condemned absolutely.
But he indicated that the British government was not prepared to mount an inquiry outside the parameters of the Inquiries Act.
“You ask when government will ‘allow an independent inquiry to proceed unhindered.’ The government’s position remains that if there is to be a statutory inquiry into the death of Patrick Finucane, the only way it can take place is under the Inquiries Act 2005. The Inquiries Act is the only statutory basis for any such inquiry; all the old legislation has been repealed,” Sheinwald stated in his response.
The government was clear, he said, that the Inquiries Act provided for fully independent and effective inquiries. The judges chairing two of the other inquiries recommended by Judge Cory – the Billy Wright and Robert Hamill Inquiries – had asked the government to apply the Inquiries Act to their own inquiries because they felt it would enable them to carry out their work more effectively.
“A Finucane inquiry under the Inquiries Act would have full statutory powers to compel evidence and witnesses and would be public to the extent possible. The independent chairman would have full access to all the evidence; he or she would see every witness and read every document,” Sheinwald stated.
“You may be aware that over the last 12 months the government has been in correspondence with the Finucane family’s legal representatives about the basis on which any inquiry would be established. Only once discussions with the Finucane family and their legal representatives have concluded will we be in a position to take a decision about the way forward,” he concluded.