Tuesday, Feb. 12, marked the 13th anniversary of the murder of Patrick Finucane, the noted Belfast lawyer and human rights activist. The intervening years have brought little solace to those, including his family, who have been endeavoring to uncover the truth about what happened that Sunday evening in North Belfast. If anything, the information that has emerged since then — and almost every year brings another revelation — has only deepened the sense of disquiet among lawyers, human rights activists, and other investigators who have been determined not to let this case disappear from view.
Just this week, the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights published a 70-page report covering what has so far been revealed that can be made public. The report calls for a public inquiry as being the only way to get at the truth.
Disquiet stems from the facts of the case. Consider the number of informers — working for the army and the police — who were involved in the murder, either as intelligence providers or as weapons procurers. Consider, too the presence of informers in the highest echelons of the Ulster Defense Association (which carried out the killing).
Clearly, the agencies of the state had access to vital information about the Finucane murder before it was carried out and in its immediate aftermath. The overriding question is what did they do with that information? Why was it not acted on? And what has been preventing action since Feb. 12, 1989?
The authorities might say that the information they possess does not allow them to bring to trial those who are suspected of being involved in the murder. That is one reason then that a public inquiry is needed. The inquiry is not out to convict anyone, but to deal with matters that are of vital public interest.
The New York lawyers committee is right to reject the Weston Park deal, done last July between the participants at negotiations meant to preserve the Good Friday agreement from collapse. That deal envisions an international judge looking into the Finucane case, along with five other controversial cases, with a view to recommending a public inquiry or not, as he or she decides.
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One of these cases, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974, has already by itself generated a library of material. How could one judge review so many complex cases within any reasonable amount of time and be expected to come to a definitive conclusion?
It is patently absurd. In the meantime, of course, the years will go by, witnesses will die or disappear, and memories will fade. The only thing that will be left will be the stench of wrongdoing surrounding this murder. And that will be sure to grow as time passes.