Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s personal appeal to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to call a full inquiry into the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane has been rejected.
Last year the UK Supreme Court said the British government had not fulfilled its Article 2 obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights by ordering a competent investigation into the murders and security force and intelligence services collusion.
Taoiseach Mr Martin’s direct request by letter and by a week-end telephone call – to honour an earlier pledge by the British government dating back to 2001 – followed his meeting in Dublin last week with the murdered solicitor’s family, including his widow Geraldine and his son, John, now a Member of Parliament for North Belfast.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who in October promised a decision no later than 30 November, made the announcement in a statement to Parliament late on Monday afternoon. He told the family of his decision before his statement.
Mr Finucane’s MP son John said: “Their response today was nothing short of insulting… disgraceful decision from the Secretary of State.”
Solicitor Pat Finucane (39) was shot dead in his family home in north Belfast in February 1989 by the UDA in front of his widow Geraldine and their three children. As a lawyer he had successfully defended several IRA suspects.
The Finucane family have been campaigning for decades for a public inquiry to establish the extent of security force involvement.
Their call for a proper statutory, judicial inquiry is supported by all political parties in Northern Ireland and has strong support in Europe and among lawmakers in Washington.
In 2012 then Prime Minister David Cameron publicly apologised for official collusion in the murder, one of the most controversial of the Troubles.
On Monday Mr Lewis said the decision had been taken following “a careful consideration of the facts” and that he was not taking it off the table entirely.
He said the British Government has published new information – not previously public – about earlier investigations into the Finucane case.
Mr Lewis said: “The murder of Patrick Finucane was an appalling crime that has caused tremendous suffering. The UK Government is clear that the shocking levels of collusion in this case are totally unacceptable, and has publicly apologised that this took place.
“This case is sadly but one example of the violence and tragedy experienced by so many individuals and families during the Troubles, not just in Northern Ireland but across the United Kingdom and Ireland. It demonstrates the importance of ensuring that all families affected by the Troubles have an opportunity to find out the circumstances of their loved one’s death.
“We remain committed to working collaboratively with the Irish Government, the Northern Ireland parties, and civic society, including victims groups, in finding and delivering a progressive way forward on legacy to support NI in working towards a more positive future.”
Mr Lewis added: “I am not taking the possibility of a public inquiry off the table at this stage. It is important that we allow the PSNI and Police Ombudsman processes to move forward, and that we avoid the risk of prejudicing any emerging conclusions from that work.”
But his actions were met with anger and scorn by the Finucane family.
A lengthy statement by Geraldine, on the family’s behalf, was published on Twitter by John.
She said: “The British Government has declined to hold a public inquiry into the murder of my husband, Pat Finucane.
“Instead, the Secretary of State proposes to leave the case in the hands of the PSNI and Police Ombudsman for further investigation.
“This proposal falls so far short of what is required in this case that it beggars belief. It makes a mockery of the decision by the UK Supreme Court and the forthright comments of the Belfast High Court. It is yet another insult added to a deep and lasting injury.
“The UK Supreme Court made it clear that none of the previous investigations , including police investigations, had uncovered the identity of British security force members who engaged in collusion or the precise nature of the assistance they gave to paramilitaries.”
The family earlier called the review by former UN war crimes prosecutor Sir Desmond de Silva QC, ordered by then PM David Cameron, “a whitewash”.
Sir Desmond said there had been significant levels of collusion involving the British Army, police and MI5 but no “overarching state conspiracy”.
As a result of his findings Mr Cameron apologise to the Finucane family for what he called “shocking levels of collusion”.
In her statement Mrs Finucane referred to the Supreme Court’s criticism of the De Silva Review’s limited powers Mrs Finucane said: “The court highlighted the absence of compulsive powers in the De Silva Review and its inability to test the truthfulness of witnesses. The Supreme Court made it clear that an effective investigation had not yet taken place.
“The current Secretary of State proposes that we should engage with the local police as a potential solution… that we should engage with the local police complaints bureau to address a case that involves proven collusion by the British State in the murder of a solicitor. This is a farcical proposal.
“Mr Lewis and his colleagues in government know only too well (this is about) the involvement of a multitude of British State agencies in the murder of Pat Finucane.
“There is only one reason to ask the local police to investigate a case the involves the British Army, the Security Services and former members of the government: that reason is to ensure they will be untouchable. It is this internalisation of the issue to Northern Ireland that has allowed those responsible for the murder of Pat Finucane to do so with impunity.
“The British government have not only set themselves against my family but also the Irish government, local, national and international political parties, political institutions, legal and human rights groups domestically and internationally.
“The murder of Pat Finucane has been described as not just an attack on one lawyer but an attack on the rule of law itself…that the attack is continuing.
“They have clearly set themselves against the rule of law in ignoring the highest court of their own jurisdiction. They remain in breach of their international legal obligations, a shameful and inexcusable position for a sovereign government to take.
“Colluding with killers did not just result in my husband’s murder, but many others.
“The extent and depth of this political policy is what the British government fear being exposed.
“We are grateful for the enormous support we have received. We will continue to campaign for a full public inquiry. The questions that demand answers around Pat’s murder are not going away and neither is our campaign for justice.”
Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh criticised Mr Lewis’s decision and said that if the Government is ever to resolve the legacies of violent deaths in Northern Ireland it should adequately investigate Mr Finucane’s murder.
She said the ‘cumulative’ reasons given by Mr Brandon to justify not ordering a public inquiry had already been rejected by the Supreme Court last year.
Last week during their visit to Dublin John Finucane addressed the Oireachtas’ Committee on Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement to reiterate calls for truth and justice for his father.
The Committee was unanimous in calling on the British Government to hold an inquiry.
A similar Seanad resolution was supported by all parties and independents.
After his address in Dublin Mr Finucane said: “We were very grateful that (Foreign) Minister Simon Coveney attended and spoke so forcefully at that hearing and again at the Good Friday Agreement committee.
“We had MPs, TDs, and senators all speaking one after the other, stressing the importance that the United Kingdom Government needs to live up to the promise that they made not just to my family, but also to the Irish Government, as far back in 2001.
“When they agreed to have an inquiry if a judge recommended that inquiry, but here we are, 31-years after his killing, nine years after the then Prime Minister David Cameron sat in front of me and accepted that there was collusion on behalf of the British state and the people who came into our house in February 1989, we are still campaigning for the inquiry that has been promised.”
“It is over to the British government. I don’t think they’re in any doubt as to what the world thinks and pressure has also been brought to bear from the committee of ministers.
“There’s very little room for the British government to move to, they have a judgement from the highest court within their own jurisdiction that they must answer.
“My mum was 39 when my father was killed, they had the best years of their life ahead. She was left with his three children, not just without a husband, but also, a very cruel and delivered context where she was seen as no better than a widow of somebody who deserved what he got.
“The word collusion was very much a dirty word. If you uttered that word you were viewed through a certain lens as nothing more than a Republican propagandist.
“I think the campaign that we have had wouldn’t have been possible without her strength, I can only imagine what she went through, and it does take a toll on all of us.”
Ahead of Monday’s decision Mr Coveney told Northern Irish news media that a public inquiry would be a significant step forward.
Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill said that the British government has added insult to injury by denying the family a public inquiry they committed to almost two decades ago.
Michelle O’Neill said: “This evening the family of murdered human rights lawyer Pat Finucane has been shamefully denied a public inquiry and the justice and truth they deserve.
“In 2001 the British government committed to holding a public inquiry into the British state-sponsored killing of Patrick Finucane. A former British prime minister previously acknowledged ‘shocking levels of collusion in the killing’ of Pat Finucane.
“Yet today, the decision by British Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to once again deny the family of Pat Finucane a public inquiry places the British government on a long list of rogue states who are comfortable acting beyond the remit of the law.
“The British government and the political establishment in Downing Street have again closed ranks to prevent a public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane. It is clear that the British government has no intention of holding a public inquiry.
“This is a cynical, duplicitous and shambolic political manoeuvre to deny accountability and facilitate impunity for state actors particularly when the evidence speaks to an overarching state conspiracy in the murder of Pat Finucane.
“This decision is about protecting state agencies and those involved in RUC Special Branch from due process.
“It is a bad day for justice when those involved in state murder are further placed beyond the reach of the law.
“This is further evidence that the British government are intent on protecting those in the upper echelons in Whitehall who were involved in collusion and state murder in Ireland.
“The British government has again shown that they have no regard or respect for the families of those killed by state collusion. Their cynical and calculated decision to resist accountability simply facilitates impunity for those involved in state-sponsored killings.
“The decision not to hold a public inquiry has wider implications for legacy matters and the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.
“I want to pay tribute to the courage, bravery and resilience of Geraldine Finucane and her family. They have spoken truth to power.
“I, and Sinn Féin, will continue to support them in the campaign for a full public inquiry.”