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Pat Finucane murder: Minister's comments about solicitors being 'sympathetic to IRA' were backed by No 10

Douglas Hogg was criticised for remarks he made in the House of Commons three weeks before Finucane was killed in 1989.

Solicitor Pat Finucane
Solicitor Pat Finucane
Image: PA Images

A SENIOR BRITISH politician who stated in 1989 that some solicitors in Northern Ireland were “unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA” was reflecting “a precise official briefing” and was not making “spontaneous outburst”, newly released State papers show.

Douglas Hogg, then a Home Office minister, was criticised for remarks he made in the House of Commons in January 1989.

Three weeks later, on 12 February, human rights solicitor Pat Finucane was shot dead by loyalists, who acted in collusion with British security forces, in front of his wife and three children at his home in Belfast.

Hogg’s comments were seen by some as an incitement to violence. State papers from that time confirm that the Home Office and “senior people in No 10″ at the time gave “a fairly clear indication that there will be no retraction and no public censure of Hogg”.

An official Irish government document notes: “While (like his father) Hogg wins few marks for political judgement and sensitivity, he is reckoned to be ‘safe’ in this instance because he acted on official advice. He prefaced his remarks to the Select Committee on 17 January with an indication to this effect.”

The document adds that Hogg had privately said “he had carefully repeated his claim in the same terms several times in order to indicate that this was not a spontaneous outburst on his part but reflected, rather, a precise official briefing”.

He also stated that he “had contemplated ‘naming names’ (which had been provided to him) but had decided not to do so as this would be an abuse of parliamentary privilege”. 

douglas-hoggnational-farmers Douglas Hogg, then-Agriculture Minister, pictured in February 1997. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

The document notes that the Irish government believed Hogg’s advice had come from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office.

There is reportedly a list which names three nationalist solicitors (Pat Finucane, Oliver Kelly and Paddy McGrory) and two solicitors with Loyalist sympathies (Jonathan Taylor, believed to have UDA connections, and one other).

The Finucane family has always maintained that he was not a member of the IRA, something which authorities and the government also believe. 

The document states that Hogg indicated on 17 January 1989 that “he had to intervene as he did in order to dispose of an amendment sought by Labour (and also Bill Cash) which aimed to protect the confidential relationship between solicitor and client”.

However, the document adds: “Hogg had been under fire from Seamus Mallon and Labour on earlier matters (notably house searches) and, being naturally combative, had been looking out for an issue on which he could ‘fight back’.”

sol Source: State papers 1989

A separate official document tells Brian Lenihan Senior, who was the Tanáiste at the time, that he “might like to say in the tete-a-tete that he is concerned about the recent remarks of the Home Office Minister, Douglas Hogg, in the House of Commons that some Northern solicitors are ‘unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA’”.

“This was all the more unfortunate because of rumours circulating that Mr Paddy McCrory and certain other solicitors may be targeted by loyalist paramilitaries. We could repeat (very privately) our view that Mr Paddy McGrory is certainly not a solicitor we would regard as being “unduly sympathetic” towards the IRA. We see his relationship with IRA clients as entirely professional.” 

McGrory represented the families of the Gibraltar Three – three unarmed IRA members were shot dead by British SAS officers on Gibraltar on 6 March 1988.

Finucane’s best-known client was the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. 

‘Compromised’

In 2001, Hogg was interviewed by detectives who were investigating claims that the British Army colluded with loyalist paramilitary assassins to murder Finucane.

In 2003, a major report into collaboration between security forces and loyalist paramilitaries found that Hogg was “compromised” by information fed to him by RUC officers. Sir John Stevens, the report’s author, said at the time that Hogg’s comments had not been justified.

A separate report which was released in 2012 concluded that British army agent handlers “deliberately” helped loyalist gunmen select their targets in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. However, the De Silva report said British ministers may have been unaware that Finucane was being lined up for assassination.

Launching the report in London seven years ago, then-British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed that there were “shocking levels of collusion” between the State, police officers and soldiers and the UDA members who killed Finucane.

Addressing the British parliament, Cameron apologised and said that “on the balance of probability”, an officer or officers from the RUC did propose Finucane as a target to loyalist terrorists.

Finucane’s widow, Geraldine, at the time described the report as “a sham”, “a whitewash” and “not the truth”. In October of this year, a BBC Spotlight programme reported that MI5 destroyed secret information from computer hard drives being held by an inquiry examining Finucane’s murder.

pat-finucane-review The family of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane, including his widow Geraldine and son John (right) stand with their solicitor Peter Madden outside 10 Downing Street in October 2011. Source: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/PA Images

Geraldine told the programme: “I was told that papers marked ‘cabinet eyes only’ involved the collusion and the killing of my husband. There is something there that needs to be exposed.”

In February of this year, the UK Supreme Court ruled there has been no valid inquiry into the killing. At the time, the Finucane family’s solicitor said the decision “vindicated” their “relentless campaign” for justice.

Finucane’s son John was elected a Sinn Féin MP for North Belfast, unseating DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, earlier this month

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Órla Ryan

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