Finucane decision ‘will signal if UK Government is committed to reconciliation’

The UK Government’s decision on whether to order a public inquiry into Pat Finucane’s murder will signal if it is committed to truth and reconciliation, Ireland’s foreign affairs minister has said.

Simon Coveney said an inquiry into the 1989 killing would represent a “big step forward” in trying to address the pain of the past in Northern Ireland.

The UK Government will later announce whether it will hold a public inquiry into the murder of the Belfast solicitor.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis will tell the Finucane family how the state will respond to a court judgment that found it had failed to hold an “effective investigation” into his death at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries.

Pat Finucane death
Pat Finucane death

Mr Finucane, a 39-year-old solicitor who represented both republican and loyalist paramilitaries during the Troubles, was shot dead in his family home in north Belfast in February 1989 by the Ulster Defence Association in an attack found to have involved collusion with the state.

Mr Finucane’s widow Geraldine and the couple’s three children have been campaigning for decades for a public inquiry to establish the extent of security force involvement.

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

The court acknowledged Mrs Finucane had been given an “unequivocal undertaking” by the Government following the 2001 Weston Park agreement that there would be a public inquiry into the murder.

However, the Supreme Court judges found that the 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 a Government delay in responding to the judgment, Mrs Finucane took fresh judicial review proceedings against the state.

Last month, Mr Lewis’s lawyers gave a High Court judge in Belfast a commitment that a decision would be announced by November 30.

Tomorrow my family & I will hear the British Govt response to our Supreme Court victory regarding an inquiry into my father’s murder.

In advance I wish to thank everyone across Ireland & internationally, for the incredible support you have given us.

We deeply appreciate it.

— John Finucane MP (@johnfinucane) November 29, 2020

The Secretary of State will inform the Finucane family of his intention on a virtual call on Monday afternoon.

Ahead of that conversation, Mr Coveney said there was unanimity among parties in the Irish Republic that the case would be in “many ways an indication as to whether the British Government is fully committed to truth and reconciliation in the context of the legacy of the past”.

“If we are to move forward together on this island – both governments, all political parties and indeed most importantly victims and their families – well then we need to see full commitment by both governments to establishing the truth,” he added.

He told BBC Radio Ulster: “I think the Pat Finucane case today is an opportunity to say to communities that the legacy process is about establishing the full truth, even if that involves a dark and difficult period in history that needs to be exposed.”

Sinn Fein has warned that failure to order a public inquiry will have profound implications for confidence in the rule of the law.

Party vice president and Stormont Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said Monday is a “day of reckoning” for the Finucane family.

“The British Government’s approach of delay and denial has literally run out of road,” she said.

“It is a matter of huge public interest that there is full and maximum disclosure around questions about who ordered the killing, about who knew what, and when.

“Those involved must be held accountable. Until now there has been virtual impunity for the British state agencies and actors involved in the killing.

“Any attempt by the British Government to ignore the family, political and wider public demands for a public inquiry will have profound and fundamental implications for confidence in the rule of law, the administration of justice and the wider approach to legacy.

The Andrew Marr Show
The Andrew Marr Show

“Now is time for the British Government, and the British Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, to finally listen to the Finucane family and call a public inquiry as a matter of public interest. There can be no further delay.”

Former prime minister David Cameron decided not to hold a public inquiry into the murder, but instead ordered a review of all the files related to the case by former UN war crimes prosecutor Sir Desmond de Silva QC.

Sir Desmond found significant levels of state collusion involving the Army, police and MI5 but said there was no evidence of an “overarching state conspiracy”.

His findings prompted Mr Cameron to apologise to the Finucane family for “shocking levels of collusion”.

However, Mrs Finucane branded the de Silva report a “whitewash”.

Last week, three other Stormont parties – the SDLP, Alliance and Greens – joined Sinn Fein in writing to Mr Lewis to demand a public inquiry.

The Irish Government also called on its UK counterparts to order a probe, as did 24 members of the US Congress.

Mr Finucane’s son John, a solicitor and Sinn Fein MP for North Belfast, tweeted on Sunday evening: “Tomorrow my family & I will hear the British Govt response to our Supreme Court victory regarding an inquiry into my father’s murder.

“In advance I wish to thank everyone across Ireland & internationally, for the incredible support you have given us. We deeply appreciate it.”