Opinion: We need a proper inquiry into Patrick Finucane’s murder

In the midst of an economic crisis, a climate crisis and a Secretary of State for Defence who seems determined to turn his life from an uplifting drama into a crisis, it’s easy to forget the sins of governments past.

But some issues shouldn’t be left to lie as footnotes in the pages of history. One of those is the case of the solicitor Patrick Finucane, and Liberal Democrats should return to their campaigning roots, within and outside Parliament, to press for a full inquiry into the case.

Finucane was a Catholic solicitor in Northern Ireland, where among his most famous clients was the hunger striker Bobby Sands. Finucane won a number of notable victories against the UK courts in the years before he was murdered, in front of his children, in 1989.

Just days before he was murdered the Tory Minister Douglas Hogg (later to find fame as the owner of the moat which he had cleaned on parliamentary expenses), then a junior Home Office Minister, said in the House of Commons that a number of solicitors in Northern Ireland were “sympathetic to the aims of the IRA”.

Two public investigations since the murder, including one by former Met Police Commissioner Lord Stevens, concluded the Northern Irish Police and security forces colluded in the murder of Finucane.

The Finucane Family and Amnesty International have called for a full public inquiry; the U.S. House of Representatives even passed a motion calling for same.

In 2001, during talks between the British and Irish Governments, an undertaking was given by the British Government to have a public inquiry into the Finucane case, while the Irish Government agreed to have an inquiry into collusion between members of the Irish Police and the IRA in the killing of two RUC officers near the border.

The Labour government announced an inquiry in 2007, but the Finucane family and Amnesty International believed the remit of the enquiry proposed by Peter Mandelson was too limited and so refused to cooperate with it.

Last week the Irish Government, who have as many if not more crises to deal with as the UK Government does, fulfilled their part of the 2001 agreement by announcing an inquiry into Irish Police collusion. On the day they announced it, Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, decided that there would be no inquiry into the Finucane case. Rather there would be a ‘review’, something which the Finucane family have immediately condemned.

There isn’t really any dispute that collusion happened. David Cameron has even officially apologised, when announcing there would be no inquiry, but the nature and extent of the collusion remains open to question.

There are not a lot of votes in this issue for the Lib Dems, just as there probably weren’t when Nick Clegg successfully championed case of the Ghurkhas. But this is a chance for Lib Dems of all persuasions to unite and campaign for Britain as a state to right a wrong in Northern Ireland and aide the process of reconciliation which has been advanced by every British Prime Minister since John Major.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • It seems to me that the more general issue is the need to sort out the Enquiries Act 2005. Were it not for the provisions of this act, as I understand it the Finucanes would have co-operated with the enquiry already started.

    Apart from anything else, I think we need to make public enquiries sufficiently effective, and sufficiently worthy of public confidence, that they only need to be done once.

  • david thorpe 18th Oct '11 - 12:36pm

    Thanks for the comment John.

    I agree. I also think the government are thinking about the Bloody Sunday enquiry, which got the right result but costs hundreds of millions…..the finucane enquiry would be on a smaller scale of course but I think they are mindful of costs

  • These enquiries are just a way for troughing lawyers to bring forward the purchases of their country piles. They achieve nothing. NI could have gone down the South Africa truth and reconciliation route and they didn’t. If you want to spend 100 million in NI, invest in something that will give people jobs and a future. If the murderers had been caught they’d have been released along with all the other murderers by now anyway.

  • david thorpe 19th Oct '11 - 5:43pm

    alaistair there are murderers roaming the streets and many may be in polic eor army uniform thats the most important thing

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