Today is the 16th anniversary of the assassination of Pat Finucane. For 16 years, from the very night that Pat was murdered in 1989, his family has called for and campaigned for a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his murder.
Why did the campaign start immediately? Because we knew right away that there was collusion in his murder. For months before his murder, Pat was getting death threats from the RUC at Castlereagh interrogation centre.
Three weeks before his murder, Douglas Hogg, the British government Home Office minister, stated in the House of Commons that some solicitors were ‘unduly sympathetic’ to the IRA. We knew he meant the solicitors who represented people accused in the Castlereagh interrogation centre of being members of the IRA.
Verbal and physical abuse from the RUC was a fact of life in those days. It had been going on for years. It was honed to perfection in Castlereagh, where people were abused in isolation for up to seven days without charge or release. There were no witnesses. There were cases of people being taken from Castlereagh for hospitalisation.
For months before his death, Pat recorded the threats to his life. I kept the record of these threats in a drawer in a filing cabinet in my office. I still have an image in my mind of Pat returning from Castlereagh, coming into my office when I was on the phone, nodding to me and pointed to the filing cabinet as he brought yet another recorded threat against him. I remember at the time that we both wondered what was going on, which was why we decided to collate these threats separately. These threats were also in our minds when Douglas Hogg made his infamous and still unsubstantiated statement. We now know that Hogg had been briefed by the RUC. Police commissioner John Stevens said that Hogg “was compromised”. He didn’t elaborate.
The family was joined in its call for a public inquiry by senior political and church figures. Hogg’s resignation was demanded.
Of course, Hogg didn’t resign and, for 16 years, the British government has resisted the call for a public inquiry.
After 16 years of government delaying tactics accompanied by lobbying by the family and numerous legal proceedings, the British government has at long last announced that a public inquiry will be established.
But before a public inquiry will be established, the law will be changed so that the government will have total control of the information and of the inquiry itself. This is in stark contrast to the current law, where a tribunal controls all issues, including publication of material and private sittings.
The new law, The Inquiries Bill, which is currently going through the legislative process, will allow the government to prevent an inquiry panel from publishing material or ordering public sittings even if that panel wishes to do so.
However, even if the new law is passed, the British government is not off the hook as far as Pat’s case is concerned because the government agreed in Weston Park to comply with the recommendations of the Canadian Supreme Court judge Peter Cory. The judge was appointed by the British and Irish governments to examine and report on a number of cases, including Pat’s case.
At Weston Park, the British government agreed “that in the event that a public inquiry is recommended [by Cory] in any case, the relevant Government will implement that recommendation.”
Judge Cory recommended a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Pat’s murder and identified the “basic requirements” for a public inquiry. One of these requirements was stated to be that “the Tribunal should have full power to subpoena witnesses and documents together with all the powers usually exercised by a Commissioner in a public inquiry”.
The proposed new law does not comply with the recommendations of Judge Cory.
Clause 17 of the bill is a wholesale departure from the Weston Park agreement and the Cory recommendation is that an inquiry established under this draft legislation will not have all the powers usually exercised by a commissioner in a public inquiry because the minister would be given the power to determine when the inquiry would sit in private and what material would be withheld. These are self-evidently among the most important powers exercised by inquiries, which are the very powers the government intends to emasculate.
The Irish government has supported the Finucane family along with the nationalist political parties. Mitchell Reiss, the US government representative, is on record as calling on the British government to implement Judge Cory’s recommendations.
The family has made clear that any public inquiry established has to be Cory Compliant. In other words, the family is calling on both governments to fulfil the terms of the Weston Park agreement as far as Pat’s case is concerned and to ensure that the inquiry panel has control of its own inquiry.
The new legislation is not Cory Compliant. The British government is therefore in breach of the terms of the Weston Park agreement. We would expect the Irish government to require the British government to fulfil its obligations in that regard.
The British government will have to come up with some formula within the context of the proposed new law to make Pat’s inquiry Cory Compliant.
The Finucane family cannot take part in an inquiry controlled by the British government because it was directly involved in Pat’s murder.
In his summary report, Judge Cory said that papers relating to Pat Finucane were examined by the British cabinet.
Finally, as we told Tony Blair at a recent meeting with him, the inquiry panel, in order to be truly independent, has to be composed of reputable international legal figures of the same standing as Judge Cory himself.
We have to be satisfied that they will have the power to control the proceedings and not the British government.
We will have no chance of getting near the truth until these requirements are satisfied.