The TroublesBritish PM apologizes for British “collusion” in 1989 killing of Irish lawyer

Published 14 December 2012

British Prime Minister David Cameron offered an apology to the family of Patrick Finucane, a lawyer who represented IRA activists, saying that there was “a shocking level of state collusion” when it came to his killing in 1989; Cameron offered the apology after a 500-page report on the killing was completed, implicating British Army intelligence unit, as well as MI5 and MI6, of facilitating the killing through both action and inaction; Finucane’s widow, demanding a public inquiry, said this report, like earlier ones, aims to protect senior officials close to then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

British Prime Minister David Cameron  offered an apology to the family of Patrick Finucane, a lawyer who represented IRA activists, saying that there was “a shocking level of state collusion” when it came to the murder.

Finucane, was murdered in 1989 while eating dinner one Sunday night in his home in Belfast with his family. Two gunmen from a Protestant paramilitary group broke into Finucane’s house and shot him fourteen times.

The New York Times reports that a 500-page government-commissioned report on the issue was based  on a thorough investigation into the killing by Sir Desmond de Silva, a human rights lawyer.

Cameron described the killing as “an appalling crime” and said he was “deeply sorry” for what the report uncovered about the role the British Army police intelligence units had played with the Ulster Defense Association, the militant Protestant group that killed Finucane.

According to the report, the communication between intelligence officials and police informants inside the IRA had a role in identifying Finucane as a target, and the British Army unit also  supplied one of the guns that killed him. Cameron also said the relationship between informants and law enforcement played a part in “deliberately obstructing subsequent investigations.”

 De Silva wrote: “My review of the evidence relating to Patrick Finucane’s case has left me in no doubt that agents of the state were involved in carrying out serious violations of human rights up to and including murder. However, despite the different strands of involvement by elements of the state, I am satisfied that they were not linked to an overarching state conspiracy to murder Patrick Finucane.”

Geraldine Finucane, Patrick’s widow who was injured during the murder, was not happy with the apology and said  the report was similar to British inquires in the past in that it  protected senior officials, including high ranking members of the inner circles of Prime Minister Margret Thatcher, who was in power at the time of the murder.

“This report is a sham, this report is a whitewash, this report is a confidence trick dressed up as independent scrutiny and given invisible clothes of reliability,” Finucane told the Times. “But most of all, most hurtful and insulting of all, this report is not the truth.”

Sir Desmond de Silva, the lawyer who conducted the investigation, was given permission to search through secret documents, as well as to interview current and former senior officials of MI5 and MI6 and police and army officers involved in the case.

The hearings were held in private, which irked Finucane’s wife, who has been demanding a public inquiry.  Cameron said, however, that it is unlikely a public investigation will uncover any unknown details.

According to the report, the men who directed and executed the attack were linked as informers to the army unit and intelligence officials in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the province’s police force which was considered strongly biased toward the Protestant community at the time.

As a result, British officials, along with agents of MI5 and MI6, ignored some high-profile assassinations were carried out by Protestant extremists, according to the report. The report  also says that officials were told by informants of two previous plans to murder Finucane, but elected not to warn him. 

“Steps were often not taken to secure the protection of those who were considered to be a thorn in the side of security forces during the time of the Troubles,” the report said.

Nortehrn Irish politicians were quick to react to the report. Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin president and Irish deputy, said: “The information provided by Desmond de Silva is a damning indictment of British state collusion in the murder of citizens. It reveals some of the extent to which this existed. It does not diminish the need for a public inquiry. On the contrary, it makes such an inquiry more necessary than ever.”

The SDLP MP Mark Durkan questioned the idea in the report that there was no overall, structured policy of collusion. He said: “Between special branch, FRU and secret services we had a culture of anything goes but nobody knows. And as far as Desmond de Silva is concerned now we still have to accept that nobody knows!”

The Protestant leader Ian Paisley Jr, the Democratic Unionist MP, supported the prime minister’s refusal to hold a full, public inquiry. He also repeated his demand that the Irish government open up its files on allegations that a previous administration helped establish the Provisional IRA.