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File image of Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill. PA
Public Inquiry

Four Stormont parties urge British government to reconsider Pat Finucane decision

The government said yesterday it would not order an immediate public inquiry into the 1989 murder.

FOUR STORMONT PARTIES have called on the British government to reconsider its decision not to hold a public inquiry into the 1989 murder of Pat Finucane.

The ruling out of an immediate inquiry has been branded an insult by the family of the late Belfast solicitor, who was gunned down by loyalist paramilitaries colluding with the state.

Yesterday, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said he was not taking a public inquiry off the table but said further examinations of the case by police and a police watchdog should conclude first.

Finucane (39) who represented republican and loyalist paramilitaries during the conflict, was shot dead in his family home in north Belfast in February 1989 by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in an attack found to have involved collusion with the state.

The four parties wrote to Lewis as Finucane’s son John signalled an intent to enlist the support of President-elect Joe Biden.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin, who has criticised the failure to order an inquiry, also indicated that he would raise the issue with Biden.

The letter signed by Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, the SDLP’s Colum Eastwood, Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry and the Green Party’s Clare Bailey urged a rethink.

They said the British government’s decision was “neither a credible nor tenable position”.

“It was an insult to the Finucane family,” the senior party figures added.

Your approach to this matter is now a matter of serious public concern.

“To avoid a public inquiry, you have clearly made a calculated decision to embark on a high-risk distraction strategy that now places both the Office of the Police Ombudsman and the PSNI in the midst of a historic murder investigation at a time when the intent is to take legacy out of policing.

“Your suggested approach potentially risks wider confidence in the rule of law and the administration of justice.”

Divided opinions

The issue has divided political opinion in Northern Ireland and several unionist politicians have welcomed the government’s decision, arguing that a public inquiry is not justifiable when so many other bereaved families remain waiting for answers.

DUP MLA Paul Givan today told the Stormont Assembly that the pain felt by the Finucane family was also felt by many other families.

“Of course the murder of Pat Finucane was wrong,” he said.

I acknowledge the barbaric nature of it as he was murdered in front of his family. One can only imagine the trauma that that has caused and it is clearly evident to this day – 31 years later.

“That pain is felt by thousands of people right across Northern Ireland. I think of La Mon. I think of Bloody Friday. I think of Enniskillen and Narrow Water (all IRA atrocities). The list goes on of thousands of people who suffer as a result of the terrorist campaign of over 30 years in this country.

“Many of those families have had but a mere desktop exercise carried out by the Historical Enquiries Team.”

Givan said there had been multiple investigations into the circumstances of Mr Finucane’s murder.

“Thousands of victims of terrorism could only wish for the same level of interrogation to have taken place into the murder of their loved ones,” he said.

“Victims have heard loudly the special status being afforded to the Finucane family by a range of political parties in this House and, indeed, by other international political figures.”

Michelle O’Neill said yesterday that the British government’s decision is a “shameful denial of truth for the family and a bad day for justice”. 

Family anger

Finucane’s widow Geraldine and the couple’s three children were left furious after the government said no to an immediate inquiry.

John Finucane, a solicitor and Sinn Fein MP for north Belfast, said Biden had previously voiced support for his family’s campaign.

“I appreciate he’s going to be in arguably the busiest role on the planet, so we aren’t blind to that, but President-elect Biden has already shown a clear interest in Irish affairs, he has history in supporting our campaign,” he told the BBC.

The Taoiseach told the Dáil today that sustaining international support for an inquiry was important.

“We can continue to work at an international level and European level and also in terms of international opinion, and indeed the support that we have in the United States from people like (Democratic Congressman) Richie Neal and others,” he said.

And of course enlist the engagement of President-elect Joe Biden.

Explaining why the British government had decided against a public inquiry at this stage, Brandon Lewis told Parliament on Monday that outstanding issues before the Police Ombudsman’s office concerning original police investigations should be addressed first.

He said there could also be a review of the case by police officers at the start of next year, potentially carried out by a force from outside Northern Ireland.

Following Monday’s announcement, the chief constable of the PSNI, Simon Byrne, made clear there were no new lines of inquiry in the case.

The Police Ombudsman has said the Finucane case is not currently central to its workload and resources would dictate when it could shift focus on to that investigation.

Last year, the Supreme Court said all previous examinations of the death had not been compliant with human rights standards.

The Supreme Court acknowledged that Geraldine Finucane had been given an “unequivocal undertaking” by the British government following the 2001 Weston Park agreement with the Irish government that there would be a public inquiry into the murder.

But the judges found that the British government had been justified in later deciding against holding one.

The court said it was up to the government to decide what form of investigation was now required, if one was feasible.

Amid an almost two-year government delay in responding to the judgment, Geraldine Finucane took fresh judicial review proceedings against the state.

Monday’s announcement by Lewis represented the government’s formal response to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

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