The news this week announcing the confirmation of the appointment of an international judge to review six controversial cases alleging collusion between paramilitaries and the security forces comes not a moment too soon. Former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory, who was to have been confirmed on Wednesday, will have his work cut out for him as he peruses the material relating to the murders of Patrick Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, Billy Wright, Robert Hamill, Justice Maurice Gibson and his wife, Cecily, Robert Buchanan and Harry Breen.
This six have been selected because the Irish and British governments judged there were sufficient grounds in each of them for a closer look at the role that collusion between their killers and members of the security forces may have played in their deaths. The judge has the power, if he sees fit, to recommend that a public inquiry be held in any of the cases where he believes the evidence, and the public good, warrant it.
At first glance, the judge’s task may seem like an impossible one if it is to be carried out in any reasonable amount of time. Some of the cases are indeed complex But closer consideration, we think, will sort out those whose cases deserve serious consideration from those who do not. It must be remembered that the six were selected not only on evidentiary grounds but also on political criteria. The deal was struck between the British and Irish governments last July in Weston Hall during heated negotiations meant to restore the devolved government in Belfast. Three of the six cases were included as a sop to Unionist sentiment, aggrieved as it is by the impression that a Nationalist agenda dominates what one observer has called “the culture of public inquiries.”
These are the murders of loyalist leader Billy Wright (nicknamed King Rat), Justice Gibson and his wife, and the two police officers, Breen and Buchanan. Only in the case of Wright has there even been any pressure from Unionist community or the families of the dead for such an inquiry.
Of the remaining three, there is no doubt which one should command the judge’s greatest scrutiny — that of Patrick Finucane. It is around his murder that the most serious allegations of collusion have clustered, almost from the beginning. The allegations have gone far beyond the realm of speculation or insinuation. Indisputable facts have been established that agents of the intelligence services were members of the organization that was involved in the planning and the carrying out of the murder. It is definitely in the public interest to further inquire as what role their bosses in the security forces might have played in this brutal killing. Too many questions remain unanswered. The issue of public confidence in the justice system is definitely at stake in this case more than any other. The judge will have to decide whether this will be best addressed through the medium of a public inquiry. If so, the British are pledged to deliver it.
The real task will be to combine diligence with speed at coming to a conclusion on this most contentious matter.