By Ray O’Hanlon
Pressure is mounting for a full-scale independent inquiry into the 1989 murder of Belfast attorney Pat Finucane following the revelation of a confidential document revealing the government’s strong suspicions that elements of British intelligence and the RUC were involved in the killing as well as those of a number of republicans.
The 11-page document, the existence of which was reported in the London-published Independent newspaper, outlines more than a dozen reasons why there is now a need for a public inquiry into Finucane’s death.
A copy of the document was delivered to British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam a month ago, the Independent report says.
Mowlam is on record as not ruling out an inquiry. However, Northern Ireland Minister of State Adam Ingram recently stated that it would be “wrong to embark on any inquiry that may impede the current criminal investigation.”
No individual has ever been convicted for Finucane’s murder, but the investigation was recently reopened and is being headed by John Stevens, deputy commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police.
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However, the timing of the Irish government document’s coming to light suggests that the government does not share Ingram’s caution, or necessarily has much confidence in the renewed criminal investigation.
In a recent statement, delivered at a Fianna F_il gathering in Dublin, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern referred to allegations by both Finucane, and the recently murdered lawyer Rosemary Nelson, that they had been threatened by members of the RUC.
“This is a situation which we regard as extremely serious, and which must be independently investigated,” Ahern said.
The Irish government document points to what is described as “new evidence,” specifically copies of what appear to be papers “originating within the British security and intelligence establishment.”
According to the Independent report, the document’s new evidence includes allegations that named RUC officers “procured the murder of Pat Finucane and that RUC Special Branch had detailed advance knowledge of the murder plot.”
The document speaks of patterns “which tend to confirm widespread suspicions that elements in the security forces were used, at the expense of the rule of law, to prosecute a campaign against those deemed enemies of the state and to conceal what that entailed and who was culpable.”
The Independent report states that the Irish government document “was clearly intended to remain private” but that a copy had been seen by the paper.
According to the report, written by veteran Northern Ireland journalist David McKittrick, “The Irish government has already publicly called for the setting up of a public inquiry into the Finucane case, but this document reveals the extent of Dublin’s suspicions. In addition to the speculation that elements of military intelligence and RUC Special Branch colluded in the Finucane murder, the document voices suspicions of intelligence involvement in many other killings.
“It cites evidence from military intelligence files and from the diaries of Brian Nelson, an army double agent who had infiltrated the Ulster Defense Association, suggesting that Nelson was involved in 15 murders, 15 attempted murders and 62 conspiracies to murder.”
Pressure on Patten Commission
In an initial reaction to the allegations in the Irish government document, Rep. Peter King said that the document underlined the need for abolition or total reform of the RUC.
“It certainly shifts emphasis from David Trimble talking about decommissioning to the nationalist community and its fears. And it either puts a lot of pressure on the Patten Commission or presents it with an opportunity,” King said, referring to the commission headed by the former British governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten that is examining the future of the RUC.
Much of the material in the Irish government document is similar in tone and content to a 60-page dossier compiled by the human rights group British-Irish Rights Watch, copies of which were presented to both the British and Irish governments in February.
The Rights Watch document itself concluded that material gathered “strongly suggests that agents of the state have been involved, directly and indirectly, in the murder of its citizens.”
The Irish government’s assessment is that a public inquiry is needed because of what it sees as a marked change in the pattern of loyalist assassinations between 1988 and 1994.
The Dublin document points to what the Independent reported as “countless cases” of security force activity immediately before the arrival of loyalist gunmen. Added to this is what is described as a consistent failure to apprehend, over a six-year period, any of the limited number of loyalist gunmen involved in a number of murders.
The document states that the authorities in the North had failed to account satisfactorily for the activities of military intelligence and had failed to prosecute a single RUC officer on grounds of collusion.
The chilling effect of the Finucane killing was compounded because it came only three weeks after a British Conservative Party government minister, Douglas Hogg, referred in the House of Commons to solicitors in Northern Ireland who were “unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA.”
Hogg’s words were echoed in recent days by Ulster Unionist Party security spokesman Ken Maginnis, who stated, in part, that “it was an open secret that Pat Finucane was inextricably linked to the IRA and committed to its objectives.”
Maginnis’s comments were immediately condemned by Liz O’Donnell, minister of state at the department of foreign affairs in Dublin.
“I am appalled and saddened that Ken Maginnis should make such irresponsible and ill-founded allegations. To blur the lines between a solicitor and his clients is to willfully misrepresent the indispensable role played by solicitors in law,” O’Donnell said.
According to an Irish government spokesman, O’Donnell is expected to meet with North Secretary Mowlam later this week to discuss the Finucane and Nelson cases and to further express the Irish government’s deep concern.