Brits Stonewall Probe into N. Ireland’s Death Squads

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-MA), and other lawmakers, are demanding that the British Labor government of Tony Blair take immediate steps to conduct a full and independent public inquiry into the 1989 murder of Belfast’s human rights lawyer, Patrick Finucane. He was the victim of a notorious death squad, the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), a Loyalist paramilitary gang. The UDA appeared to be acting in collusion with elements within the state’s security system at that time, like, among others: the British Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU) and the (RUC) Royal Ulster Constabulary’s (SB) “Special Branch.”

On May 5, 2004, at a meeting on Capitol Hill of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (0SCE), an independent federal agency, the panel, chaired by Rep. Smith, heard testimony from a variety of concerned witnesses. They included Finucane’s widow, Geraldine, and also retired jurist, Peter Cory of the Canadian Supreme Court. In 2002, Judge Cory was selected by both the British and Irish government to investigate allegations of security forces collusion in four high-profile murders in the north of Ireland and also two in the Republic of Ireland. With respect to the Finucane case, Cory’s report, dated Oct. 7, 2003, found strong evidence of collusion that warranted the UK regime launching a “public inquiry” into the controversial case (

Blair’s government, however, has refused to begin such a measure. It lamely claims that it needs to first move forward with a criminal case pending, in the north of Ireland, against one Ken Barrett, an accused triggerman in the Finucane case. Chairman Smith labeled that decision “inexplicable.” He added, “It begs the question of a cover-up to suggest that the two investigations cannot coexist.” Smith continued, “We owe it to the memory of those slain, to their families, and to every person in Ireland who cherishes justice to see to it that the British government immediately commences the public inquiry as promised in the Weston Park Agreement. No exceptions. No excuses.” Rep. E. Neal said Blair’s deeply disappointing response indicates “a failure of his government to honor its commitments.”

Father Sean McManus, President of the Irish National Caucus, a Washington, DC-based lobbying group, in a written statement, said that the Finucane case “was the key to all of the collusion cases,” in the north of Ireland, and that is why Blair is stonewalling on it. He added that a public inquiry into that assassination, “will expose to the world that it was the British state that murdered Finucane” (See also, “Britain’s Secret Army,” Chris Thornton, “Time Europe,” April 20, 2003).

Elisa Massimino, Washington Director of Human Rights First, in her testimony, took strong exceptions to disparaging statements recently made by David Trimble, MP, one of the kingpins within the Loyalist community. Trimble claimed that Finucane had “a clear terrorist connection.” He also attacked human rights organizations as “one of the great curses of this world.” Massimino added that Trimble’s kind of wild charges underscores “the consequences of the ongoing denial of justice in the Finucane case. The lack of accountability for a murder committed fifteen years ago makes it possible for prominent officials to perpetuate unsubstantiated clams.”

For background on the Finucane matter, we have to direct our attention first to January 9, 1989. At that time, a Conservative member of the British Parliament, one Douglas Hogg, who had close political ties to then-UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, made the following statement at a public session of that body: “Some solicitors (lawyers) in Northern Ireland are unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA.” Another member of the Parliament, Seamus Mallon, demanded that Hogg immediately withdraw his impetuous comment, since it could possibly make some lawyers in the north of Ireland, “targets for assassins’ bullets.” Hogg refused to do so (Jude Collins, “Irish News,” April 8, 2004, “Never Speak Ill of the Dead?”).

Less than a month after Hogg’s inflammatory comment, on Feb. 12, 1989, Finucane was murdered in his home, in front of his wife and children by two masked men. He was shot 14 times in the head and torso. The killers belonged to the UDA, which claimed responsibility for the crime. Another lawyer, Rosemary Nelson, from Lurgan, in Northern Ireland, asked the U.S. Congress, in Sept., 1998, to support an investigation into Finucane’s death. Six months after her testimony, Chairman Smith explained, “She was murdered, too, killed by cowardly assassins in a vicious car attack (in Lurgan). We do not know what, if any role, any RUC officer may have played in Rosemary’s death, but we do know that they did harass her, they did make death threats against her, and they did fail to protect her.”

Judge Cory in his report said, “There is nothing in the RUC files which indicates that Finucane was a member of PIRA, the IRA or the INLA.” He was known in the community as a “just another law-abiding citizen going about his professional duties in a professional manner.” Judge Cory also revealed that one of the key pieces of evidence suggesting collusion in the case arose out of the role of British double agent Brian Nelson (now deceased). Nelson was a “central player” within the UDA’s death squad and had direct influence over its “targeting operations.” He was also working for the British Army’s Intelligence Unit’s FRU. Cory also pointed out that the RUC’s Special Branch regularly failed to issue warnings to persons “targeted by the UDA.”

Finally, Judge Cory also rejected Blair’s reasons for delaying a public inquiry into the Finucane murder. The distinguished jurist told the panel, “This may be one of the rare situations where a public inquiry will be of a greater benefit to a community than prosecutions.”

In her riveting testimony, Geraldine Finucane insisted that her husband’s killing “was part of an approved policy of widespread collusion between the British state and loyalist assassins that included state-sponsored assassination.” She emphasized, “The campaign that my family and I have engaged in is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. The end I seek is a a public, independent judicial tribunal of inquiry that will fully examine all of the evidence in my husband’s case.”