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Pat Finucane and the Smithwick Inquiry report

memorial to pat finucaneEight years after it was established, the report of the Smithwick Tribunal was finally published on Tuesday evening.  I want to commend Justice Smithwick for his hard work of many years. I am very mindful that at the heart of the Smithwick Inquiry there are two bereaved families and I hope the report helps bring some measure of closure for them.

I also want to commend the Irish government for fulfilling its obligation under the Weston Park Agreement. The onus is now on the British government to move speedily to holding the promised inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.

The Smithwick Tribunal was established as a result of an agreement in the negotiations in Weston Park in 2001 between the British and Irish governments.

Canadian Judge Peter Cory was asked to look at the killing of Pat Finucane; Robert Hamill; Rosemary Nelson; Billy Wright; Judge Gibson and his wife; and RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and RUC Superintendent Robert Buchanan.

Cory worked diligently and in 2003 he handed his reports over to the two governments. The Canadian Judge concluded that there was no basis for an inquiry into the deaths of the Gibsons. He proposed that there was a basis for inquiries into all of the others, including the killing of the two RUC officers.

The Irish government published Cory’s recommendations in December 2003 and announced that it would set up an inquiry, but the British stalled until April 2004 before publishing his reports to them.

Ten years later of the six cases investigated by Judge Cory only the Pat Finucane Inquiry has yet to commence. It is clear that the British government is deeply worried by the enormous political implications of the Finucane case which is known to involve substantial institutional collusion between British state forces and the UDA.

This concern was evident in the introduction by the British government in June 2005 of theInquiries Act 2005. This legislation deliberately limits the scope of the inquiries proposed by Cory who criticised the British move saying it “…would make a meaningful inquiry impossible.”

In June 2006 I met with Justice Smithwick at his request. He asked if I could help. I explained to him that in 2005 the IRA put its weapons beyond use and stood down its structures. The IRA had left the stage. However, after some effort three former IRA volunteers agreed to give evidence to the Tribunal.

A process was put in place to facilitate this. When this was achieved Sinn Féin stepped back and the process moved forward. This was a significant and unprecedented development. For the first time former members of the IRA gave evidence to an inquiry into an IRA action. Clearly this would not have been possible if the Tribunal had not created the context to allow it.

The decision by three former members of the IRA to voluntarily give evidence to the Smithwick Tribunal was an important development. This was the first time former members of the IRA have ever given evidence to an inquiry into an IRA action. The engagement between the three former volunteers and Smithwick is historically unparalleled.

Justice Smithwick accepts much of the evidence given by the former IRA volunteers, for example describing their witness account as a ‘valuable resource for the Tribunal.’ At other points in his report he acknowledges that their evidence in respect of the movement of the RUC car is ‘fully consistent’ with information logged in the journal of RUC Superintendent Bob Buchanan.

Justice Smithwick’s conclusion is contradictory. On the one hand he concludes that the Tribunal ‘has not uncovered direct evidence of collusion’.

But then, in a clear contradiction of this and on the basis of circumstantial and untested intelligence Justice Smithwick then goes on to say that ‘on balance of probability’ some form of collusion occurred.

What Justice Smithwick defines as collusion is very different in form and scale from the collusion that occurred in the north. During 30 years of war the British state was responsible for structured, institutionalised and co-ordinated state run collusion and unionist death squads which led to the deaths of hundreds of citizens, including those killed in the Dublin and Monaghan and Dundalk bomb attacks.

The British government arrogantly disregards the unanimous all-party Oireachtas motion calling on it to provide vital information about these bomb attacks. The Pat Finucane Inquiry is now the only inquiry agreed to at Weston Park that has not been held.  The British government is in clear breach of its commitments.

The Irish government now needs to assertively lobby the British government, including at an international level, to honour its commitment and to set up the promised public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.

Sinn Féin supported these inquires on the basis that families had the right to full disclosure of all relevant information. Sinn Féin believes that there needs to be an effective truth process for dealing with all legacy issues.

We have repeatedly called on the British and Irish governments to invite in a reputable and independent international body to establish an Independent International Truth Commission which would be independent of any state, combatant groups, political parties, civil society and economic interests and would have a remit to inquire into the extent and pattern of the conflict as well as their causes and consequences.
I helped to facilitate the engagement between the former IRA volunteers and the Smithwick Tribunal because I believe there is a responsibility to assist families bereaved in the conflict, though this may not be possible in all cases.
Republicans are very conscious of the hurt and suffering which has been caused through conflict in our country. Sinn Féin has repeatedly called on the British and Irish governments to invite in a reputable and independent international body to establish an Independent International Truth Commission which would be independent of any state, combatant groups, political parties, civil society and economic interests.

It should have a remit to inquire into the extent and pattern of past violations as well as their causes and consequences and would be dependent on the full co-operation of all the relevant parties.

This article first appeared at Léargas

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