11 February 2009
Twenty years on, still no inquiry into Patrick Finucane's death

Patrick Finucane, a prominent criminal defence and civil rights lawyer, was shot dead by two masked men in front of his wife and three children at his home in Belfast, Northern Ireland on 12 February 1989. Lawyer Patrick Finucane, killed in Belfast in 1989

Twenty years later, the government of the UK has still failed to keep its repeated promises to establish a genuinely independent public inquiry into all of the circumstances of Patrick Finucane's death, including into credible evidence that UK state agents may have colluded in the killing.

Patrick Finucane’s was one of the leading criminal law firms in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, acting in defence of those detained or charged under emergency legislation. He was instrumental in arguing against practices which were in violation of international human rights standards.

In the aftermath of his death, extensive and compelling evidence began to emerge that his killing took place within the context of widespread state collusion with armed groups. Further evidence has transpired since then, giving rise to a strong suspicion that state agencies may have played a part in attempting to cover up state collusion in his murder.

Ever since he was killed, Patrick Finucane's family have campaigned for a genuinely independent public inquiry into the circumstances of his death.

In July 2003 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that "the proceedings following the death of Patrick Finucane failed to provide a prompt and effective investigation into the allegations of collusion by security personnel". It found that there had been, in this case, a violation of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to life.

Kenneth Barrett, a former loyalist paramilitary, was convicted of Patrick Finucane's murder in 2003. Since he had pleaded guilty to 12 charges, including that of the murder of Patrick Finucane, no significant information about alleged state collusion in the killing or about the alleged subsequent official cover-up emerged in court.

The same year Sir John Stevens, a senior UK police officer who carried out three inquiries into allegations of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, confirmed that his investigations had uncovered evidence of "collusion, the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, and the extreme of agents being involved in murder".

The full findings of the investigations conducted by John Stevens have, however, remained secret, not only from the public but also from the Finucane family and their lawyers.

In September 2004, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Paul Murphy MP, announced that “steps should now be taken to enable the establishment of an inquiry into the death of Patrick Finucane”.

The UK government continues to insist that an inquiry in this case can only be held under legislation – the Inquiries Act 2005 – which will effectively extinguish the chances of a genuinely independent and effective investigation. In July 2008, the Human Rights Committee, an expert human rights body of the United Nations, expressed its concern at this legislation, because it “allows the government minister who established an inquiry to control important aspects of that inquiry”. A minister who set up an inquiry under the 2005 Act could, for instance, order that the public be excluded from part of the hearings, and could order that material be withheld from the final published report of the inquiry.


Picture: Lawyer Patrick Finucane, killed in Belfast in 1989. Copyright RTÉ

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