An appalling vista

by David Granville

IRISH TAOISEACH announce in the Irish parliament his belief that there was collusion between British security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane is a clear indication of the Irish government's growing anger over British plans to hold a restricted inquiry into the affair.

The Irish premier can't exactly be accused of going out on a limb on this one. Separate investigations by former Scotland Yard chief Sir John Stevens and retired Canadian Supreme Court judge Peter Cory both concluded that collusion had taken place.

It is the way in which British ministers have responded to Cory's 2004 recommendation for a full public inquiry and the strength of opposition to this from the Finucane family, and others which has finally forced him to speak out with such clarity.

Towards the end of March Ahern told Dublin parliamentarians that, British ministers were insistent that any inquiry into the Finucane murder must be held under the terms of the controversial 2005 Inquiries Act, which allows ministers to block information deemed to be a threat to national security.

As Pat Finucane's son Michael told members of the Irish parliament's Human Rights sub-committee in February, any such inquiry would effectively be under the control of the government and intelligence services and therefore would fail the test of independence, accountability and transparency.

Commendably, the Finucane family are refusing to co-operate with any inquiry set up under such conditions and have urged others, including members of the judiciary world-wide, to do likewise.

Human rights groups and organisations representing the legal profession are among those who share the family's concerns, as does judge Cory. It is now clear that this is also the position of the Irish government and all political parties in Dublin parliament.

The truth is that an appalling vista, much like the one which appeared before Lord Denning and his Appeal Court colleagues in 1980 as they rejected the appeal of six innocent Irishmen wrongly imprisoned for the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, has begun to take shape before the eyes of British ministers and those responsible for Britain's covert military and intelligence services.

Is what might be revealed by a fully independent inquiry likely to be so terrible? Given what is already known about security force involvement with loyalist paramilitaries, their infiltration of republican groups, and the extreme lengths to which the government appears prepared to go in restricting the independence and scope of the Finucane inquiry, we must assume that it is.

But while the vista may be appalling, it is one that we must be faced for the sake of the Finucane family, the prospect of securing lasting change for the people of the North of Ireland and for the future prospects of our own limited democracy. Without an unfettered investigation into the collusion that resulted in the murder of Finucane and others, there can be no confidence that the full truth will emerge, that lessons will be learned and that appropriate measures will be taken to ensure that those responsible for such crimes, whether at the level of intelligence officer or cabinet minister, are made to account for their actions.

Meanwhile, the fact that the notorious Force Research Unit (FRU), the covert military intelligence unit which recruited and ran loyalist and republican agents, has been renamed the Joint Services Group and is now operating in southern Iraq, should be of concern to everyone.

The FRU is implicated in some of the worst deeds of Britain's dirty war, including the murder of Pat Finucane. Despite all the talk of openness and accountability during the early years of the Blair government, it has become increasingly obvious that, like its predecessors, this does not extend to the military or intelligence agencies - hence government attitudes towards security force collusion with loyalists in Northern Ireland or the Deepcut deaths.

An attitude of 'my country right or wrong' keeps the truth conveniently buried and any embarrassment, either on the domestic or world stage, to a minimum . We must not remain silent. To do so would just be another form of collusion.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2006-04-06 18:02:55.
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