Dáil debates

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

Inquiry into the murder of Mr. Patrick Finucane: Motion.


6:00 pm

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I move:

"That Dáil Éireann,

—recalling the brutal murder of solicitor, Patrick Finucane, at his home in Belfast on 12 February 1989;

—noting the on-going allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and British security forces in the murder of Mr. Finucane;

—recalling the commitments made at the Weston Park talks in July 2001 by the British Government to hold a public inquiry into the Finucane case, if so recommended by the Honourable Judge Peter Cory, it being clearly understood that such an inquiry would be held under the UK Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921;

—noting that Judge Cory found sufficient evidence of collusion to warrant a public inquiry into the case and recommended that such an inquiry take place without delay;

—recalling that in his conclusions, Judge Cory set out the necessity and importance of a public inquiry into this case and that the failure to hold a public inquiry as quickly as reasonably possible could be seen as a denial of the agreement at Weston Park;

—noting that the limited form of inquiry under the UK Inquiries Act 2005, proposed by the British Government has been rejected as inadequate by Judge Cory, the Finucane family, the Government and human rights groups;

—commends the Finucane family for their courageous campaign to seek the truth in this case of collusion;

—deeply regrets the British Government's failure to honour its commitment to implement Judge Cory's recommendation in full;

—welcomes the sustained support of successive Governments and all parties for the Finucane family over the past decade in their efforts to find the truth behind the murder;

—acknowledges the work of the sub-Committee on Human Rights in highlighting this case;

—welcomes the Taoiseach's commitment and efforts in pursuing the case with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair;

—endorses the Government's international efforts at highlighting the case in at the United Nations and at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg;

—calls on the British Government to reconsider its position on the Finucane case to take full account of the family's objections and amend the UK Inquiries Act 2005; and

—calls for the immediate establishment of a full, independent, public judicial inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, as recommended by Judge Cory, which would enjoy the full co-operation of the family and the wider community throughout Ireland and abroad."

I welcome the opportunity to introduce this all-party motion calling for an independent public inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane. On behalf of the Government, I welcome Mrs. Geraldine Finucane and members of the family, who are in the Public Gallery.

The House is aware of the consistent, strong support the Government has given the Finucane family in its quest for an independent inquiry into this murder. The Government continues to meet regularly with the family and the Taoiseach met Mrs. Finucane most recently on 27 February and will meet her again next week in Washington.

The Finucane family has been campaigning for over 17 years to obtain the full truth behind the brutal murder that took place in their home. Many of the facts surrounding the murder are well known because of the three investigations undertaken by the former head of the metropolitan police, Lord John Stevens. He was asked by the British Government to look at allegations of collusion on three separate occasions, and his reports have led to one prosecution, that of Ken Barrett, and over 20 recommendations that are being considered by the public prosecution service of Northern Ireland.

The Government has consistently supported the Finucane family in their efforts to ascertain the full extent of the collusion behind Mr. Finucane's murder, to learn who was behind the perpetrators, and to reveal the involvement of the British security forces in this case. Judge Peter Cory was appointed by both Governments following intensive negotiations at Weston Park in the summer of 2001 to examine six cases where collusion was suspected. Although heavily redacted, the Cory collusion inquiry report on the Pat Finucane case was published by the British Government on 1 April 2004. I remind the House of Judge Cory's concluding paragraph:

Some of the acts summarized above are, in and of themselves, capable of constituting acts of collusion. Further, the documents and statements I have referred to in this review have a cumulative effect. Considered together, they clearly indicate to me that there is strong evidence that collusive acts were committed by the Army (FRU), the RUC SB and the Security Service. I am satisfied that there is a need for a public inquiry.

Judge Cory found sufficient evidence of collusion to warrant a public inquiry into Pat Finucane's murder. He further recommended that a public inquiry should take place without delay. He also set out the type of public inquiry required, namely, that provided for in the Tribunal of Inquiries Act 1921.

The British Government has failed to set up the type of public inquiry recommended by Judge Cory. Instead the UK Inquiries Act 2005 was passed by the British Parliament last April. The British Government insists that the Finucane inquiry will be held under this Act and is preparing arrangements accordingly. This is not acceptable to the family, to this Government, to the Committee of Ministers in Strasbourg, nor to the many international human rights groups which support the Finucane case. Rarely has a case received such widespread domestic and international support. Mrs. Finucane will appear again next week before US congressional hearings in Washington, and my Department is privileged to be able to assist her in arranging meetings on Capitol Hill.

The UK Inquiries Act does not meet the standard set by Judge Cory, nor the understanding reached at Weston Park. Many difficulties exist with the new legislation. An inquiry held under it will not be regarded as sufficiently independent or transparent, given the potential use of restriction notices and the potential degree of ministerial control. Judge Cory repeated these concerns two weeks ago in Belfast. In the sole case in this jurisdiction where Judge Cory recommended a public inquiry, it is being held under the 1921 Act. This case is the Breen and Buchanan inquiry chaired by Mr. Justice Peter Smithwick.

The Government has made clear our opposition to the British proposals, both bilaterally and through international fora. We will continue to do so in London, Washington, Belfast and elsewhere. I have consistently raised this case with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Peter Hain, who met with the Finucane family last month. I regret to say that in his recent reply to the family the Secretary of State failed to address the family's fundamental concerns.

The Government wishes the British Government to establish a full, independent and public judicial inquiry into the murder of Mr. Finucane, and nothing less. I commend this motion to the House.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I met Mrs. Geraldine Finucane and members of her family some weeks ago. I agreed to pursue an all-party motion in favour of a full public inquiry into Mr. Finucane's brutal murder. I am pleased all party leaders have approved this initiative because it is vital the elected representatives of the Irish people send a clear message to the British Government on the issue of a murder that shocked Northern Ireland.

While Mr. Finucane's clients lost an exemplary defender of legal and human rights and Belfast lost one of its most high profile practitioners, I remind Members that the family in the Public Gallery lost a loving husband and adoring father in the most savage circumstances. I welcome Mrs. Finucane to the House and pay tribute to the Finucane family for its stellar efforts in highlighting the murder in this country, Britain and numerous political and human rights fora. Mr. Finucane's name has become synonymous with standing up for victims and defending and upholding human rights. It is also a stark reminder of what can happen when one does so.

Clear evidence exists that the British security forces colluded with the loyalist death squad that assassinated Mr. Finucane. Despite this evidence, the passing of 17 years, British Government commitments at Weston Park and the Cory report, we have yet to see a public inquiry into the brutal murder of Mr. Finucane in controversial and disturbing circumstances.

At the time of his investigation Judge Cory was told his recommendations would be implemented by the British and Irish Governments. The Irish Government has honoured its commitment in this regard and the inquiry into murdered RUC officers Breen and Buchanan has already begun. In the investigation into the Finucane case, Judge Cory found sufficient evidence of collusion to warrant a public inquiry and also noted that failure to establish such an inquiry as soon as possible could constitute a denial of the agreement reached at Weston Park in 2001.

I share the Finucane family's deep regret and reservations at the repeated failure of the British Government to honour its commitment and implement Judge Cory's recommendations. The limited form of inquiry proposed under the UK Inquiries Act 2005 is flawed. It contradicts the clear understanding that any inquiry recommended by Judge Cory would take place under the aegis of the UK Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. Its seriously limited provisions favour optics over substance, a case of being seen to do something rather than doing what is right.

We support this motion for an immediate inquiry that would have the support of the Finucane family, the wider community and of those wherever democracy is practised. We call upon the British Government to reconsider its flawed, untenable position on the Finucane case. We urge the British Government to take full account of the Finucane family's objections and to amend the UK Inquiries Act 2005. I urge the Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, David Cameron MP and Sir Menzies Campbell, to support this motion and to deal with the full public inquiry. I commend the Taoiseach and the Government for their highlighting of this case in the US, at the United Nations and at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. The Taoiseach in particular has made considerable efforts to pursue this case with the British Prime Minister and he has been able to rely on the support of all parties in the House in his bid to find out the truth about this heinous crime. Allegations and evidence of collusion between loyalism and the security forces in the North are viler aspects of an already vile era in the history of all the peoples of this island. At this time of new and fragile peace, it behoves the British Government to confront unequivocally what is a major disquiet for people North and South. The inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane must be forensic, independent and public, in terms of both justice and human decency. It is long overdue and is needed now. The very least the Finucane family requires is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in order to bring closure to this long-standing and tragic incident and the murder of a decent man.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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On behalf of the Labour Party I welcome this all-party motion. I join with other speakers in welcoming members of the Finucane family who are in the Visitors Gallery. It is important that all parties are joining in support of the family in their long campaign for an independent, open, public inquiry. I emphasise the importance of the words, independent, open and public. The case for such an inquiry hardly needs to be restated. Suffice it to say that the agreement at Weston Park in 2001 between the British and Irish Governments and political parties in Northern Ireland, the recommendations of Judge Peter Cory in 2003, the raising of the matter at the United Nations General Assembly and the repeated calls of human rights groups, have together made the need for as open an inquiry as possible absolutely compelling.

It is unfortunate that the ongoing demeanour of the British Government suggests that the Finucane family will not be given the open inquiry they deserve. As recently as this February the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, repeated his government's intention to hold the inquiry under the new Inquiries Act which is a serious mitigation of the human rights guarantees of the previous legislation upon which the inquiry was recommended to have been held.

This legislation completely waters down the type of open inquiry the Finucane family deserves. It would see vital evidence and testimony blocked and prevented from being made public in the interests of what is termed national security. One can only conclude that the British want to indulge in a major cover-up in order to prevent the true nature of the collusion between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the loyalist paramilitaries who murdered Pat Finucane ever being made public. It suggests that a strategic decision has been taken by Downing Street to withhold the truth about the circumstances surrounding Pat Finucane's murder and the consequences of the murder of the human rights defender are not lost on any of us.

Today in London, the Taoiseach has had an ideal opportunity to press the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on the case for a full public independent inquiry. I suspect the Taoiseach may not have done so but I hope he has. In the recent past he has merely expressed his belief that the British Government will not back down. I suggest we must get beyond this attitude. I do not understand how the British Government can commit to a public inquiry in Weston Park in 2001 and yet fail to deliver for the Finucane family when the time comes to establish the investigation promised. It is a necessary function of our Government to ensure that its British counterparts comply with their commitments under an international agreement between both states.

I refer to the British Government's behaviour since Weston Park regarding this inquiry. Initially the British delayed Judge Cory's investigation and the placing in the public domain of their input to his reports. This was followed by an effective order of the High Court in Belfast that British authorities set a date for publication of outstanding chapters of the Cory report dealing with the Finucane murder. This led to an extraordinary situation whereby a judge of international standing felt compelled to go public and speak of his frustration regarding inaction on his report. It led to the unlikely alliance of the families of Pat Finucane and Billy Wright applying to the High Court in Belfast to quash the British Government's delay in publishing Judge Cory's findings. The British Government subsequently reneged on its commitment for a full public inquiry and insisted on dealing with it under the new inquiries legislation referred to by previous speakers.

The case for a public inquiry has been established at European level with the Court of Human Rights ruling that the British Government had failed adequately to investigate the collusion allegations surrounding the murder. When the court made this ruling it certainly did not have in mind the type of government-appointed, controlled and spancelled inquiry that would conduct most of its work in private that the British are offering. As Judge Peter Cory said in his report in 2003, without public scrutiny, doubts based solely on myth and suspicion will linger long, fester and spread their malignant infection throughout the Republic and the Northern Ireland community.

I welcome the fact this House is uniting to make the case on behalf of the Finucane family. I welcome the fact that together we are joining with Judge Cory, republican and Nationalist parties in the North, senior members of the British Judiciary, international human rights groups, the Bush Administration and senior American politicians, in calling for a proper inquiry. The British Government must rethink its position and live up to the commitments it made at Weston Park.

Liz O'Donnell (Dublin South, Progressive Democrats)
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On behalf of the Progressive Democrats I welcome the Finucane family this evening. As other Members have said, it is deeply regrettable that 17 years after the murder of Mr. Finucane, the Dáil is calling for the long overdue public and independent inquiry into his case. This motion reminds me of a meeting with Mrs. Finucane on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of her husband's death, in my capacity as the then Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs. That meeting made a lasting impression on me as did the reading of the confidential report which was given to the Government by the non-governmental organisation, British Irish Rights Watch, into the allegations of collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane. The report, entitled, Deadly Intelligence — State Involvement in Loyalist Murder in Northern Ireland, was based on a body of material from confidential contacts and sources. It examined collusion allegations concerning the Finucane murder. That report concluded there was a case for an inquiry which was of urgent public interest. The report asserted that machinery within the British system targeted people for murder. It raised issues of the most fundamental concern to all who uphold human rights and the rule of law. One month later at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, as Minister of State I urged that the British Government give a full response to the British Irish Rights Watch report. Sadly by that time I also had to urge it to have a full and transparent investigation into the murder of Rosemary Nelson, another murdered lawyer.

Shortly following that UN visit in April 1999, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the late Mo Mowlam, enclosing the Government's assessment of the British Irish Rights Watch report:

As the assessment argues, the Finucane case and the associated allegations of collusion fulfil the fundamental requirement of a public inquiry, i.e. that the matter under consideration is of urgent public interest.

My letter continued:

While it is invidious to select one victim as more deserving than another, I believe that the murder of a lawyer is different in symbolic terms. To blur the lines between client and lawyer by targeting the lawyer is a fundamental attack on the rule of law and the concept of equality before the law.

One year later in February 2000, Mrs. Finucane urged the Taoiseach to support the family's bid for an independent public inquiry which has continued to this day. In the interim, the family has had to wait until the Weston Park negotiations to agree the appointment of Judge Peter Cory and for his report to be finally published by the British Government in April 2004. Judge Cory's excellent report reaffirmed that collusion had taken place and also set out clearly the type of public inquiry needed in the case. Lord John Stevens completed three lengthy investigations into this matter but only 17 pages of the third Stevens report were published. He concluded that the British security services were complicit in the murder. As part of the Government we approach the Finucane case as a reckoning with the past to signal that the new dispensation of the Good Friday Agreement represented a new reality and the promise of a new future. My letter to Ms Mo Mowlam was written during a period of increased co-operation and collegiality in relations between the two countries. That relationship has deepened over time with a common approach on many issues between the Governments of Britain and Ireland. It is all the more imperative in light of that understanding and ongoing good relationship between the two Governments that the British Government responds to this motion. The British Government's delay in establishing a public inquiry has become a critical issue. As time passes the credibility of the British position has been eroded. Since the British Irish Rights Watch report was written, two of the key suspects in the case, Mr. William Stobie and Mr. Brian Nelson, have died.

It is difficult for any modern state to face up to the appalling vista of past state collusion in murder. However, these allegations can be answered only by a full public inquiry that is independent and has the support of the Finucane family and the Irish Government. With the recent passing into law of the UK Inquiries Act the goalposts have been moved, as Judge Cory has described it. In 1999 the Irish Government concluded that there was a compelling case for a public inquiry into this matter and that case is no less compelling today.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Tááthas orm go bhfuil an rún uile-pháirtí seo os ár gcomhair. Like other Deputies, my colleague Deputy Boyle and I have met Mrs. Geraldine Finucane and her family and sought such a cross-party motion. As we have reached this point it is important that we move on. Judge Cory has been clear that he is becoming more and more disillusioned. As a respected international judge that must send worrying signals to the British Government and anybody concerned with justice, not least justice in this case and others such as those of Mr. Billy Wright and Ms Rosemary Nelson with which Judge Cory has dealt. It is important we recognise and state the British Government undertook an international agreement at Weston Park and that the Secretary of State and the UK Government have, by their actions, decided to set aside that agreement. The Inquiries Act 2003 introduced an element of vetting evidence, which is a recipe for a sham inquiry. As the family has said, the British Government stands alone worldwide in upholding its position.

This House debated the Lourdes hospital report a few minutes ago. What happened when the consultants were asked to examine a fellow consultant is analogous to what is happening with the British Government. We hear about the difficulties of the internal inquiry in Fianna Fáil. An inquiry that involves people close to those giving evidence will inevitably be flawed. The basic principles of justice require a full, independent, public inquiry. The Green Party, like every other party here, regards the Weston Park agreement as an international agreement, the setting aside of which does an injustice to the Finucane family and insults the Irish Government and people. I ask that the Minister take that message to the British Government and make it clear that we do not accept this. We must ensure, by dealing with the British Government and every government worldwide, that every influence is brought to bear on the British Government to uphold the agreement into which it entered. The message should go out that all of us are determined and unrelenting, as the Finucane family is, to ensure justice is done and that we will not rest until it is.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Before this debate commenced the Northern Ireland Office issued a statement dismissing it. Before I entered the House I was handed a copy of its press release headlined: "Dáil inquiry debate flawed and misleading". They did not even have the courtesy to wait to hear what we had to say and we should respond by feeling spurred on in our attempt.

All-party motions of any kind are a rarity in the Oireachtas and today's motion is significant. It shows the strength of the support for the family of murdered human rights lawyer Mr. Finucane in its demand for a full, independent public inquiry. As such this is a welcome motion and a positive development. By refusing to hold the inquiry as recommended by Judge Cory the British Government is in flagrant breach of its commitments given at the Weston Park talks. It stands indicted before the international community.

The main obstacle to an inquiry into the murder of Mr. Finucane is the British Government's insistence that it be held under the odious Inquiries Act, which would give a British Minister the power of veto over the evidence given, the duration of the inquiry and the final report. Pressure must be brought to bear on the British Government to repeal that draconian Act. The Irish Government must make plain to people in Ireland, Britain and the international community why an inquiry under this legislation would be entirely unacceptable. The Inquiries Act gives sweeping powers to British Ministers. It would be like the Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform having the power to decide what evidence could and could not be heard at the current tribunals of inquiry at Dublin Castle, stopping the tribunals when he wanted to and editing their final reports as he saw fit. This is exactly what the British Government wants to do on the more serious issue of collusion. This is not about beef, political donations or planning corruption but the lives of hundreds of people killed because of collusion between British state forces and loyalist paramilitaries. It is about their bereaved families and loved ones and their demand for justice and truth.

The Taoiseach should use this all-party motion as part of an international effort to bring attention to this anti-human rights British legislation and to press the case for an inquiry. The Finucane case and the issue of collusion in general should be raised in a systematic manner by the Irish Government at both EU and UN level. As a follow-on to this motion the Taoiseach should call a special meeting with Mr. Blair devoted exclusively to the single issue of collusion between British state forces and loyalist gangs, which led to many deaths throughout this island. Over 1,300 people were killed in Ireland by British state forces and their loyalist paramilitary surrogates since 1969. Nearly 50 of those deaths were in the 26 counties, 33 of them in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of May 1974.

The word collusion is inadequate to describe what happened. Loyalist paramilitary groups in their various guises were used as counterinsurgency gangs by the British state. Key British strategist Brigadier Frank Kitson admitted this point