By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The British government’s response to the BBC “Panorama” program on collusion has been to emphasize that all families who have been victims of violence would like to know the truth about how and why their loved ones died.
The Northern Ireland secretary, John Reid, managed to duck a full response by citing the continuing work of the Stevens Inquiry into collusion, headed by the Commission of the Metropolitan Police in London, Sir John Stevens.
Reid has also used the existence of an inquiry under Canadian judge Peter Cory as a reason for waiting before answering demands from relatives for a full public judicial inquiry.
More than 100 people attended a press conference Monday organized by the Relatives for Justice group. Among them was Theresa Slane, whose husband, Gerry, was shot dead by the UDA in September 1988 and who was left to bring up three young children, the oldest aged 6, on her own.
In the “Panorama” program, a British detective in the Stevens team described how he had been moved by a report of how the youngest of Slane’s children, Sean-Paul, had responded to his father’s murder.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
The child, it said, had been jumping up and down in grief outside the house, in his nightclothes, not realizing he was cutting his feet on glass broken by the murderers as they gained access to the house to shoot his father.
At the press conference, the panel was asked how the murders had affected their lives and Slane broke down, explaining how her life had changed after the death of her husband and how her children had suffered. “We need the truth for the sake of our children,” she said, tears streaming.
Members of the Finucane family are refusing to cooperate with the Stevens Inquiry and are hoping to meet Judge Cory to explain why they have called his inquiry a “delaying tactic” (it could take up to two years before concluding).
The Finucanes, along with many other families who believe they were the victims of collusion, say that Stevens has no power to demand confidential documents, cannot subpoena witnesses for cross-examination, is held in private and is limited in scope.
The Cory Inquiry was set up to decide whether a public inquiry was justified. It was announced after multiparty talks last summer, held to resolve the decommissioning impasse, even though none of the parties to the talks had demanded such an investigation.
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness said the implications were “massive” and could confirm Blair’s worst fears. “This may be even bigger than Bloody Sunday, with wide-ranging implications for the British establishment,” he said.
Mark Durkan, the SDLP leader, said “the stench of collusion is now overwhelming.”
Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey, whom Nelson has admitted he tried to kill, said that collusion was a British policy sanctioned at the highest level. “The murder of Pat Finucane is a high-profile example of collusion,” he said.
The DUP’s Sammy Wilson dismissed the documentary as “tittle-tattle” from a paramilitary double agent. His party leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley, asked if there would have been such a fuss if a Protestant solicitor had been murdered.
The UUP leader, David Trimble, said the program had not suggested that the RUC, as an organization, had been involved in collusion.
Michael, John and Katherine Finucane called a news conference at their father’s former law firm in Belfast to issue their response. The state’s own forces were “clearly involved” in the killing, Michael Finucane said, adding that an inquiry is needed to establish whether those at the top of the “pyramid of power” knew what was happening.
He also said he did not expect an inquiry to call former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to give evidence. “She is involved, she was the Prime Minister of the day, obviously she has a strong connection to all of this,” he said.