The obstruction of justice

In 2004 Ken Barrett was given the impressive-looking sentence of life imprisonment for the murder of my father, Pat Finucane, with a recommendation that he serve not less than 22 years. It was entirely predictable he would serve only a fraction of that sentence – as it happened, less than three years. But that is of no consequence to the larger issue involved in the murder of my father.

The murder was carried out by Loyalist paramilitaries in collusion with the British Army and RUC, and that is now beyond doubt. What remains in doubt is how far the collusion went up the chain of command, who knew about it and who was authorising it.

An obligation to hold a public inquiry stems from an agreement made by the British and Irish Governments at Weston Park in 2001. That agreement stipulated that a public inquiry would be held if recommended by an independent international judge. Although the judge appointed, former Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court, Peter Cory, recommended an inquiry, the British delayed for a considerable period before announcing that one would be established, adding a new twist by saying that the law governing such an inquiry would have to be changed.

This resulted in the Inquiries Act 2005, which contains provisions giving ministers the power to decide what an inquiry can consider in public and what it cannot. Previously, these decisions were solely for the tribunal chairperson or panel, subject to review in the courts, but now a government minister can impose restrictions controlling the business of the inquiry in a manner not susceptible to public scrutiny.

My family have been forced to declare that they will not participate in or cooperate with such an inquiry because the degree of Government control would rob it of the very thing that makes it valuable: its independence.

Senior British judicial figures, including Lord Saville of Newdigate, chairman of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, have been critical of this law: "[I] would not be prepared to be a member of an inquiry if at my back was a minister with power to exclude the public or evidence from the hearings." Justice Peter Cory, the man who wrote the report recommending the inquiry in the first place, wrote to a US Congressional Committee in March 2005: [It] seems to me that the proposed new act would make a meaningful inquiry impossible. The commissions would be working in an impossible situation. For example, the Minister, the actions of whose ministry was to be reviewed by the public inquiry, would have the authority to thwart the efforts of the inquiry at every step. It really creates an intolerable Alice in Wonderland situation...

If the new act were to become law, I would advise all Canadian judges to decline an appointment in light of the impossible situation they would be facing. In fact, I cannot contemplate any self-respecting Canadian judge accepting an appointment to an inquiry constituted under the new proposed act."

On 7 March 2006, Dáil Éireann passed an all-party resolution, moved by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern TD, on behalf of the Government: "The Government has made clear our opposition to the British proposals, both bilaterally and through international fora. We will continue to do so in London, Washington, Belfast and elsewhere. I have consistently raised this case with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr Peter Hain, who met with the Finucane family last month... The Government wishes the British Government to establish a full, independent and public judicial inquiry into the murder of Mr Finucane, and nothing less." The motion was unanimously passed amidst considerable vocal support for my family and swingeing criticism of Britain from all of the other party leaders.

On 17 May 2006, the House of Representatives in Washington passed Resolution 740, which urged the British to "immediately ... establish a full, independent, and public judicial inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane, which would enjoy the full cooperation and support of his family..." It also went on to criticise the actions of the British in delaying the inquiry thus far in an unusually direct manner, calling upon the "government of the United Kingdom to reconsider its position on the matter of an inquiry into the murder of Mr Finucane, to amend the Inquiries Act of 2005, and to take fully into account the objections of Judge Cory, objections raised by officials of the United States government, other governments, and international bodies, and the objections raised by Mr Finucane's family."

The issue now is not the release of an insignificant loyalist thug, it is the determined refusal of the British state to be properly accountable for what happened.

Michael Finucane is the eldest son of Pat Finucane and a practising solicitor in Dublin.