Daily Ireland, 15 February 2006
17 years ago the lawyer Pat Finucane was murdered. After 17 years of campaigning for an inquiry by the family,
the British Government agreed when reports by a judge and Britain's most senior policeman said
members of the security forces had colluded with Mr Finucane's UDA killers. But they still refuse
Mr Finucane's family a public inquiry. Instead, new legislation, known as the Inquiries Act, was passed
in order to hold the Finucane inquiry under different conditions, where ministers could order
that some material remain secret. The family have run a worldwide campaign - so far successful - to get judges
to refuse to run the inquiry under those terms. Last week Mrs Finucane met Secretary of State Peter Hain
about the case and accused him of pandering to security agencies.
Establishment be warned – the truth will out
"Of course, it is not just former Conservative government ministers who have blood on their hands.
This current prime minister started an illegal war and then expresses fake shock when his squaddies
behave illegally – filmed practising on Iraqi youths, one of them a child, the unchanged human rights’
skills for which the British army is renowned, from engagements in Kenya, Aden and Ireland, to name but a few.
At Westminster there is all-party consensus: soldiers should not be caught beating civilians, should
not be caught torturing prisoners, should not be caught murdering enemies and critics of the state. "
You might think that it would be to the advantage of Tony Blair and incumbent
prime minister Gordon Brown to expose the involvement of their main
opponents – the Conservatives – in murder. They certainly have the
information and power to do it – but not the will or inclination.
For there are some things bigger than party politics and that thing is the
untouchable body politic and its keeper, the British establishment, guided
not by integrity but by the cardinal rule – “our country, right or wrong”.
We got a glimpse of this mentality at work in the infamous, injudicious
comments of the most celebrated English judge of the twentieth century, Lord
Denning. For him to quash the convictions of six Irish people in relation to
the Birmingham bombings would mean finding that prison warders had lied,
senior detectives had lied and that law officers had maliciously pursued a
false prosecution. This was an “appalling vista” which he could not
contemplate and so Denning had no hesitation in jailing the innocent to
protect the guilty, to protect the establishment.
Of course, it is not just former Conservative government ministers who have
blood on their hands. This current prime minister started an illegal war and
then expresses fake shock when his squaddies behave illegally – filmed
practising on Iraqi youths, one of them a child, the unchanged human rights’
skills for which the British army is renowned, from engagements in Kenya,
Aden and Ireland, to name but a few.
At Westminster there is all-party consensus: soldiers should not be caught
beating civilians, should not be caught torturing prisoners, should not be
caught murdering enemies and critics of the state.
This is what the Finucanes and other families, whose relatives were victims
of collusion between state forces and loyalist death squads, are up against.
It explains why, in the Finucane case, the campaign has gone on for 17
years. It explains all the procrastination, the feints of pretence about
wanting to give the family justice, the censoring of the Stevens Report and
the carefully fashioned Inquiries Act of 2005 which is designed to
facilitate the withholding of sensitive information and to control what
appears in any published report.
It explains why the British government slipped a virtual amnesty for its
forces into the proposed legislation which was originally to cater solely
for republican ‘on the runs’. Over-sensitive souls in both the Conservative
and Labour parties took umbrage at the inclusion. Their boys could do no
wrong, were above the law, and they felt there was an equivalence being made
between the IRA and the British army, as if there had been a war going on
between the two.
Britain’s first priority isn’t getting at the truth but in covering it up.
It has to protect its own operatives because of what they can tell about the
chain of command which reaches right up into the cabinet, implicating
ministers in the dirty war.
Much of the media and the political opponents of republicans gloated at the
embarrassment caused by revelations that British agents had infiltrated the
IRA. We know that certainly, during the conflict, agents could only survive
and maintain credibility by carrying out bombings and shootings, including
killings. Ultimately, every ‘outed’ agent is of more embarrassment to the
British government than to republicans and implicates the government further
in the dirty war, as organising and directing ‘terrorism’, to use its
The former security correspondent of the BBC, Brian Rowan, in an article
about the outing of loyalist informers, recently remarked about the
willingness of intelligence officers to tell their ‘war stories’, which has,
inevitably, involved compromising agents on both sides.
In the midst of this there will, of course, be much mischief-making, rumours
and false allegations aimed at demoralising or dividing mainly the
The Republican Movement is more than resilient to absorb a Donaldson or
Scappaticci here or there, and I think it is ironic that the Branch and
Brits are naming touts. After all, the IRA can no longer unearth informers
and somebody should do it. I welcome it because it demonstrates how truly
stupid these intelligent people are and, I repeat, it helps clarify who
caused and stoked the violence – the handlers of the agents and the
It is so stupid that it reminds me of the loyalist poster campaign of the
early 1990s. Loyalists were smarting at accusations that their campaign was
sectarian. So, in order to prove that they were targeting the right people
they released thousands of RUC security files which contained the names and
addresses of republicans. This led to an outcry which forced the RUC to make
arrests in order to demonstrate that it was impartial. Scores of loyalists
ended up in jail and one of them, Brian Nelson, then began spilling the
beans on his handlers and their involvement in the murder of Pat Finucane.
On this, the seventeenth anniversary of the death of Pat Finucane, relatives
seeking justice can take heart. In the end, Lord Denning could not shore up
the establishment in relation to the Birmingham Six.
The failed attempt, but an attempt nonetheless, to include state assassins
in an amnesty for ‘on the runs’ shows an increasingly apprehensive British
government which recognises that exposure is more likely than ever. More
details of Special Branch collusion with UVF death squads are expected in an
Ombudsman’s Report, and the Public Prosecutions Office is running out of
time and excuses in its avoidance of Sir John Stevens’ recommended
prosecution of up to 20 soldiers and policemen.
In the end, the British government, the Houses of Commons and Lords will not
be able to shore up the establishment in relation to Britain’s dirty war in
Ireland. It is so explosive a subject that when the truth emerges – thanks
largely to the persistence and drive of campaigning relatives – it has the
potential to undermine and defeat the very cause the British and its agents
Danny Morrison is a regular media commentator on Irish politics. He is the
author of three novels and three works of non-fiction.