PJ McGrory Memorial Lecture – Féile an Phobail West Belfast

“LONG ROAD TO THE TRUTH”

“Thank you Mrs. McGrory for that very kind introduction. Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am honoured to be delivering the annual Paddy McGrory memorial lecture this afternoon.

I have adopted the title, “Long Road to the Truth” for this speech because I think it is an apt one; the road has indeed been long. It is fifteen years since my husband was killed and yet it seems that his name and his memory are more alive now, long after his death, than they have ever been. It might seem that this is a lot to achieve, but there is much more to be done. My family and I will not stop travelling the road we have embarked upon until a fully independent, public judicial inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane is established.

It seems, however, that the closer we get to the establishment of that public inquiry, the further away it is. It is a strange situation to be in, where something you have worked for becomes more difficult to achieve the closer you get to it. I would compare the journey to being like climbing a mountain. The progress you make at the bottom of the mountain is quick because the ground is well-trodden and the climb is not so steep. But as you progress up the slope and you get further away from familiar ground, the going gets tougher and the terrain becomes much steeper. The air is thinner and easy paths are more difficult to find. When you close in on the summit, progress can slow to a near halt, as each step requires more and more effort.

The journey toward the establishment of a public inquiry into Pat’s murder is the mountain we have had to climb. The difficulty of the terrain is the resistance from the State. Our summit, of course, is the truth.

We were able to make progress quite quickly at the start because of what we already knew before Pat died. We knew that the RUC had threatened his life. We knew that Douglas Hogg had deliberately slurred the reputations of solicitors working here in order to elevate their profiles and put their lives at risk. We knew that security documentation had been deliberately leaked to Loyalists. We knew that something was wrong, although at that stage it did not have the name and definition it does today.

As time went on, we came to know much more. We came to know about a man called Brian Nelson, the British Army spy within the UDA. We began to understand how the intelligence system worked, how information was collected through meetings and on the telephone and recorded on Contact Forms to be pooled later into more substantive documents called Military Intelligence Source Reports. We learned that Nelson’s job was to feed information to Loyalists from the British Army so that they could be more effective in targeting people for assassination. We learned also that he had been reporting the activities of Loyalists back to his Army handlers, who would decide which killings would happen and which would not.

We have learned that Brian Nelson’s Commanding Officer, Brigadier Gordon Kerr, was in charge of a secret military unit called the Force Research Unit. Brigadier Kerr, under the pseudonym “Colonel J”, gave evidence at Brian Nelson’s trial in order to help mitigate the sentence imposed upon him. This appearance by Kerr was approved at high levels within the British political and army establishments, just as the activities of the FRU were sanctioned and approved. Like FRU, the testimony given by Colonel Kerr, as he then was, was not all it appeared to be.

In January 1992, at Brian Nelsons’ trial, Kerr testified that Nelson had saved over 200 lives through the work that he did. We now know, as a result of the report prepared by former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory that:

“[H]is testimony was based upon a report prepared and given to him by a soldier. When the report is reviewed, it can be seen that it is a very frail structure that can give little or no support to the testimony of the Commanding Officer of FRU.”[1]

Judge Cory continues:

“Some might think that the testimony of the CO of FRU … was, at the very least, misleading. In fact, on further scrutiny, it becomes even more questionable. During a chance meeting shortly after his testimony, Soldier J told … the Stevens Inquiry team that he had made a script of his evidence and it was approved by others in authority. He later denied making such a comment.”[2]

We also know now what the view of the establishment was toward Brigadier Kerr, his unit, and the agents they ran. After Kerr gave his evidence, he received a letter from General Sir John Wilsey, General Officer Commanding, Headquarters Northern Ireland.

“I cannot let your most sensible and effective contribution on 29 January go without congratulating you most warmly. Not only did you more than honour your commitment to Nelson, but you also served the Army’s and I judge national interests, extremely well.”[3]

The “national interests” being served extremely well are also now clear to us. We know it and recognise it on many levels: because of what we know of the State and the existence of FRU, and because of what we know about the work of Brian Nelson and other informants within the UDA.

We have seen it chronicled and explained, in reports such as the one I have just quoted from, by Judge Peter Cory and also – to a lesser extent – in the summary report published by the Stevens III Investigation. My family and I have not co-operated with Sir John Stevens, but I think part of his report is worth quoting here, if only because it is so forceful in its simplicity:

“My Enquiries have highlighted collusion, the willful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, and the extreme of agents being involved in murder. These serious acts and omissions have meant that people have been killed or seriously injured.”[4]

When Sir John Stevens quoted this statement aloud in Belfast on 17th April 2003, he set the case of Pat Finucane apart from all others and changed fundamentally something about the fabric of the place in which we live. This happened not just because of what he actually said, but also because of what his statement represented. In delivering even the briefest of summaries of his full report, the Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, the highest-ranking Police Officer in Britain was saying, in plain and unmistakable language, that collusion happened. That it was real. That it is real. Sir John Stevens – a British Police officer, their foremost police officer – confirmed that collusion with paramilitaries was institutionalised, that it was entrenched, that all of the rumours and accusations, claims and counter-claims made over the years were absolutely true. That it was part of British State policy in Ireland and may even have prolonged the conflict.

If there was ever any doubt whatsoever in the eyes of the world about whether the accusations made against the British State could be true, then that doubt was erased forever by the delivery of Stevens’ report. It revealed something to the world about the British State in a way that it had never been revealed before. It forced the British to face up to something they had never had to face before. This report wasn’t just about Pat Finucane. It was about us, our home and our lives. And it was about them and how they sought to control us, and when they couldn’t control us anymore, how they sought to get rid of us.

We have come to know all of this because many people, including my family, kept asking questions throughout the years since Pat was killed. And those questions led to more questions, which led to more questions, until, finally, the veneer that the State used to sugar-coat life in this part of Ireland, cracked. The screen they threw up to make everyone believe that everything was normal apart from the odd “incident”, the screen that concealed the true activities of the State here, cracked. Once it had cracked, we were able to prise it open and then there was no going back because, once it was open, we could look and see what was behind the screen. As we all of us now know beyond doubt, a truly horrifying truth was being concealed. It was not the fact that the State was responsible for murdering its citizens that was so shocking; it was the extent to which they had been doing it that caught the breath in your throat, allied to the precision, – the cold, clinical precision – with which it was carried out.

What we had suspected, what we had feared, what we had perhaps hoped could not be true, was absolutely so.

The murder of Pat Finucane is not just about the killing of one man: it is a documented example of a British Government policy in action: state-sponsored murder. It is a prominent example, perhaps the most prominent we have yet witnessed, of collusion, the State’s policy of murder by proxy, using Loyalist assassins as the killers. Pat’s case is the very definition of an everyman crime because his murder was something that could have happened to any of us if the whim or ‘interest’ of the State decreed it.

The importance, therefore, of a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Pat’s murder is something that has been clear for many years. Every domestic and international NGO that concerns itself with human rights in Ireland has called for a public inquiry into my husband’s case. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Irish Human Rights Commission have also done so. Every Law Society and Bar Council in England & Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has done the same, as have a number of international bar associations. The former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Dato Param Cumaraswamy, has called for a public inquiry on four occasions. His successor, Mr. Leandro Despouy, has continued this call. The UN Special Representative on human rights defenders, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and the UN Human Rights Committee have all supported my family’s call for a public inquiry. On the tenth anniversary of Pat’s murder, over one thousand lawyers around the world signed a petition supporting the call for a public inquiry. The US House of Representatives has called for an inquiry. The Government of Ireland has repeatedly called for an inquiry through the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen. The Irish Government recently repeated this in a statement on the floor of the United Nations.

All of these, be they distinguished individuals or respected institutions, have recognised the important role that such an inquiry could play in advancing the peace process. In 1997, the United States House of Representatives’ Sub-Committee on International Operations and Human Rights held its first public hearing on human rights in Northern Ireland. During that hearing, one of the speakers, Mike Posner, the Director of the US-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights[5] identified one of the problems that existed in trying to resolve a post-conflict situation such as Northern Ireland: the sheer number and volume of human rights abuses that fell to be considered. However, Mike Posner suggested that a small number of cases, properly examined, could have a cathartic effect for many others. He highlighted two such cases that were, in his view, capable of providing such a catharsis: Bloody Sunday and Pat Finucane.

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry has already been established and is approaching the end of its work. The Pat Finucane Inquiry has yet to take place. Since Mike Posner first made his comments in 1997, his organisation has continued to publish reports on Pat’s case and on the issue of collusion between the British Government and Loyalists. They published their first report on the case in 1993 and given the information available today, it now seems a little subdued. At the time the report was published, however, it caused a huge uproar, particularly within the RUC.

The report found, from an investigation carried out as far back as 1992, that there was “credible evidence that Finucane’s effective legal advocacy in politically sensitive cases resulted in his harassment and ultimately led to his killing. We also found credible evidence suggesting collusion between elements within the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in Finucane’s murder.”[6]

The report continued:

“There is also evidence pointing to the involvement of the RUC in the form of knowing acquiescence or perhaps even instigation. Two independent sources told us that the RUC had a double agent in the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). According to these sources, the double agent informed the RUC that Finucane was a target, assuming they would prevent the murder from taking place.”[7]

This was an outrageous thing to say and the RUC were not pleased. The Deputy Chief Constable at the time, Michael McAtamney, wrote to the Lawyers Committee complaining about the report.

In a letter dated 25 January 1993, he said:

“The shortcomings of the … report are such as to lead me to the conclusion that it does not merit detailed comment and in its present form is not capable of being constructively amended. Among its many defects, there is a repetition of unsubstantiated allegations, as if these constituted evidence of Security Forces or official misconduct. One is left with the distinct impression of a mass of allegations resting on a limited, unrepresentative base of sources.”[8]

The Northern Ireland Office said similar things in its letter of reply from January 1993. In particular, it rejected any allegation made about the possible involvement of the RUC:

“We particularly believe that the report, especially in the section on Mr. Finucane’s murder, is unfair to the security forces, and especially the Royal Ulster Constabulary…. Unsubstantiated allegations are no substitute for evidence, particularly in view of the very serious charges you lay at the RUC’s door.”[9]

Reading the information that was collated by the Lawyers Committee in 1993 in light of what we know today has a rather surreal, ‘through the looking-glass’ feel about it. The Lawyers Committee continued to investigate and on the 13th anniversary of Pat’s death, 12th February 2002 (nine years after they released the first report) an up to date document was published, bearing the very pertinent title, “Beyond Collusion.” In the introduction to this report, the following is stated:

“Over the last ten years, the Lawyers Committee has conducted a series of missions to Northern Ireland to investigate reports of official collusion in the murder. The evidence that has emerged over this period extends far beyond isolated acts of collusion by individual members of the security forces and implicates the very foundations of the government’s security policy in Northern Ireland. There are many allegations that units within both the British Army and the RUC were involved at an institutional level in the murder and subsequent cover-up.”[10]

The allegations being made in 2002 are virtually the same as those made in 1993. Not surprisingly, this report contains no letters of complaint from the NIO or the RUC; not that the RUC is around any more to complain. It comprehensively analyses all available information, considerably more than has been to hand in previous years. However, the element of reminiscence remains the same. The final paragraph of the report reads as follows:

“The Lawyers Committee believes that in order to demonstrate its commitment to truth and accountability and restore public confidence in the criminal justice system, the UK must immediately establish a full, independent public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane. No other avenue is legitimate, given the many credible allegations of deep-seated security force involvement in the case… Indeed, we believe that a public inquiry in Finucane’s case is an important part of the peace process in Northern Ireland. The government must confront its past and reveal the full scope of security force involvement in the murder and subsequent cover-up. Genuine peace can only be built upon the foundations of democratic accountability.”[11]

What I am saying this afternoon is thus very different to what I would really like to be talking about. I have to continue to speak about the work toward gaining a public inquiry, as opposed to discussing the basis of an inquiry that is going to happen. I would much rather be talking about procedures that are to be adopted, witnesses who will be called, evidence that is to be considered and the panel that will be considering it. I cannot discuss any of these things because the British Government still refuse to establish a public inquiry, saying that it must wait for the time being. This is not a new tactic by the British Government, simply the one that they have most employed most consistently and to best effect over the years. It started with the Thatcher administration in 1989 after Pat was murdered. It continued throughout the administration of John Major 1992-1997, and persists to this day under the leadership of Tony Blair.

Throughout all of that time, perhaps surprisingly, they have never actually denied that they colluded with Loyalist paramilitaries in Pat’s murder. They have simply frustrated and delayed the implementation of a solution to the problem. The strategy has proved very successful. At least two key witnesses, Brian Nelson and William Stobie, have died in the last fifteen years. Vital documentary evidence is missing. The offices of the Stevens Investigation team were sabotaged in an arson attack. As time goes on and recollections fade, it becomes more difficult for a public inquiry to properly resolve all of the issues. This is what the British Government seeks to achieve and what I in turn must fight to prevent.

A public inquiry was supposed to have been established following the completion and publication of the report by Judge Peter Cory, the former Canadian Supreme Court judge. He reviewed all relevant State documentation about the circumstances surrounding the murder of my husband. His brief was clear: he was to examine the documentation to see if there was any evidence that, if proven or accepted by a public tribunal of inquiry, could constitute evidence of collusion. If he found such material, he was to recommend a public inquiry to examine the evidence. It sounds simple. It is simple. Except when the British get hold of it.

When Judge Cory finished his work in October 2003, he delivered his reports to the British Government for publication, a commitment that had been made at Weston Park by both the British and Irish Governments. They both agreed that, “[t]he relevant Government will publish the final reports (but not the documents on which they are based) subject only to any necessary adjustments to ensure that the privacy and right to life of individuals is protected…”

This did not happen. The reports presented to the British Government were not published for six months after they were submitted. In fact, I ended up having to take the Government to court to try to force them to publish the report on my husband’s case. The Government claimed in an affidavit that, “[t]here are complex legal and human rights considerations that must be resolved before publication to prevent the risk of a successful challenge that would stop publication.”[12]

What was actually happening behind the scenes was an intense process of consultation and discussion about what could be published and what was to be withheld, “in the public interest.” These discussions were taking place with, among others, Army Intelligence, MI5, and the Stevens Inquiry team. None of the families involved were consulted at all. We were simply left waiting, while those in charge made the decisions about what we would be permitted to see for ourselves. When the reports were eventually published on 1st April this year, the version of the report by Judge Cory on Pat’s case was the most heavily censored of them all.

On 1st April 2004, Paul Murphy MP, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, made a statement in the House of Commons to accompany the release of the four reports. This statement represented much more than an announcement of Government policy or action. It represented the culmination of many years hard work by a great many people. The inquiry we all expected to be announced that day had been bought and paid for, with dedication, sacrifice, and many years of long, thankless toil. It was going to be an examination of one of the darkest and most sinister aspects of all our lives: British State collusion in the deliberate murder of citizens. It was not just about the murder of one man or the grief of one family. It would be about how all of us had actually been living our lives for so many years without being aware of it.

The Secretary of State confirmed that Judge Cory had recommended inquiries in all four cases that he had investigated in Northern Ireland. He said that the Government proposed to establish inquiries in three of the cases immediately. In the cases of Robert Hamill and Rosemary Nelson, these would be established under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. In the case of Billy Wright, the inquiry would be held under the authority of the Prisons (Northern Ireland) Act 1953.

In the case of my husband, the Secretary of State said the following:

“In the Finucane case, an individual is currently being prosecuted for the murder. The police investigation by Sir John Stevens and his team continues. It is not possible to say whether further prosecutions may follow. The conclusion of the criminal justice process in this case is thus some way in the future. For that reason, we will set out the way ahead at the conclusion of prosecutions.”

No commitment to a public inquiry was given, nor has one been offered since. In fact, there is only one prosecution in train at the moment, that of Ken Barrett, who is alleged to have been one of the gunmen. The Director of Public Prosecutions has been thinking for many months about whether to prosecute in some 20 other cases, none of which, according to Sir John Stevens, would be likely to impinge on a public inquiry. It is a matter of considerable concern to me that these cases may be drip-fed into the system in order to add to the 15 years’ delay we have already suffered. That the British Government has much to hide is very clear for all to see; if nothing else, Judge Cory’s report in the case of Pat Finucane was the most heavily redacted of all. It is clear to me beyond any doubt that Tony Blair and his government would rather be part of the problem than part of the solution. By their actions they condone state killings and impunity for state actors.

I am now engaged in another court case against the British Government to compel them to commence a public inquiry into the murder of my husband, as recommended by Judge Cory. I should not have to do this. The British Government made a commitment to implement the recommendations of Judge Cory and they are breaking that commitment by refusing to commence an inquiry. It is not difficult to understand why: the British Government is trying to postpone the day when it will be exposed to the world as having engaged in the murder of its own citizens.

I also intend to travel to Downing Street once again to bring my concerns directly to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. I have already asked for a meeting with him because I believe the situation to be very serious. I have not yet received a response.

We are supposed to be entering a new age of peace, reason and understanding here in Ireland. Am I not therefore entitled to ask – to demand – that the British Government lives up to its obligation to reveal the truth? Are we not, as a community, entitled to the catharsis that was suggested so many years ago? Are the many that have gone ahead of us not entitled to the truth, those who have paid so dearly because of what the British State did? I believe that I am so entitled. I believe that we are all of us so entitled. I believe that we have earned it.

I welcome the inquiries that have been established very much and I am pleased for the Hamill, Nelson and Wright families. I hope that the process proves fruitful for them and that they will get to the truth behind the murders of their relatives. It remains to be seen how much control the State will seek to exercise over the manner in which the inquiries are conducted. It is vitally important that the families are consulted about the terms of reference for their inquiries and that they should have confidence in whoever presides over them. If that happens then the truth stands a chance of emerging and as a citizen who is concerned about the truth, I would like to know what happened in the cases of Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright. There are many citizens like me, except they have a fourth inquiry to be interested in, that has not yet been established and that is still being fought and resisted by the British Government.

I have spent the last fifteen years fighting to expose the truth behind the murder of my husband. I believe that the truth will remain hidden until a fully independent public judicial inquiry is established to investigate all of the circumstances. It will not be easy to achieve such an inquiry, not least because it will have to be fought for every inch of the way. I can see delay and obstruction ahead as the British Government continues its policy of postponement, but I will not stop until I get what I set out to achieve. They may have taken Pat’s life, but they did not stop him. Having taken that life, his family will ensure that they never do. So will his friends, his colleagues, his admirers and supporters, in Ireland and right across the world. They will not stop any of us who believe that it is right to stand up to be counted in the quest for the truth behind the murder of Pat Finucane. If justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere[13], then the millions who have watched the attempts to deny justice to Pat Finucane and his family by the British Government will not allow themselves to be diminished without responding.

The legacy of Pat Finucane will not be diminished for as long as one person demands the truth. It is this the continuation of this work, this vocation, this ideal, that brings us together this afternoon in memory of Pat Finucane, under the memorial of Paddy McGrory.

Thank you very much.”
[1] Cory Collusion Inquiry Report: Patrick Finucane (HMSO, London) 1 April 2004, para. 1.165.

[2] Ibid., at para. 1.166.

[3] Ibid, at para. 1.169.

[4] Stevens Enquiry: Overview & Recommendations, 17 April 2003, para. 1.3

[5] Re-named as ‘Human Rights First’.

[6] “Human Rights and Legal Defense” Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (New York, February 1993) at pages 2-3.

[7] Ibid., page 3.

[8] RUC HQ, Brooklyn, Knock Rd., Belfast, 25th January 1993. Reprinted, ibid., Appendix B.

[9] Northern Ireland Office, January 1993. Reprinted ibid., Appendix A.

[10] “Beyond Collusion: The UK Security Forces and the Murder of Patrick Finucane”, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (New York, February 12, 2002) at p. (iv).

[11] Ibid., at page 68.

[12] Affidavit of Sir Joseph Pilling, 16 February 2004. Filed on behalf of the Respondent in, In the Matter of an Application by Geraldine Finucane for Judicial Review, Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast, February 2004.

[13] Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

Geraldine Finucane