By Jamie Bryson
This weekend marks 30 years since the killing of republican solicitor Pat Finucane by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) in Belfast, who said in a statement at the time that they had not killed Pat Finucane the solicitor but “Pat Finucane, the IRA officer”.
It cannot be disputed that Finucane came from an IRA family, with his three brothers all senior and active terrorists. Indeed Lord Maginnis stated that Pat Finucane was himself “inextricably linked” to the IRA and labelled those pursuing the Finucane campaign as “naïve and malicious”. He challenged the family to sue him and air the issue in open court. They initially did, only to back down and pay the former UDR man’s legal costs.
The Chief Constable at the time of the Pat Finucane killing, Sir John Hermon, echoed the remarks made by Lord Maginnis telling the Daily Telegraph in May 1999 that Pat Finucane was “associated with the IRA” and had “used his position as a lawyer to act as a contact between suspects in custody and republicans on the outside”.
Let me begin by making clear that the family of Mr Finucane, regardless of what he may or may not have been, have the right to pursue justice for their loved one, as indeed does every family regardless of from which section of our community they come.
However, the killing or Mr Finucane has been elevated to a status far beyond that of every other victim. His case has been used as a political tool to advance republicanism’s collusion narrative, despite there never being a finding of a criminal conspiracy that would amount to collusion by any criminal court.
The killing has been the subject of numerous investigations; Stevens one, Stevens two and Stevens Three. It has been the subject of scrutiny by Judge Cory and a lengthy report by distinguished Human Rights Lawyer Desmond De Silva.
The De Silva report has been seized upon by nationalist activists as ‘proof’ that ‘agents of the state’ killed Mr Finucane. This narrative has grown legs and wandered all around the world, yet is has done so not on the basis of a factual analysis of what the De Silva report actually says, but rather due to a manipulation of the report to present a particular narrative. Put bluntly republicans have been better at propaganda and media management than loyalists, and therefore they were able to ‘bank’ the most speculative parts of the De Silva report and promote such speculation and hearsay evidence as ‘fact’, even when the most outlandish claims within the report are found to be contradictory and baseless by De Silva himself.
The most explosive allegations come from Ken Barrett who became an informant in 1991, two years after the Finucane killing. Mr De Silva found Barrett’s assertions contradictory and ultimately without foundation, yet this is not reported. Ken Barrett was found guilty of the murder of Pat Finucane- and admitted it to Special Branch officers in 1991- yet it is his assertions that republicans have held up as a beacon of truth. It is fascinating how loyalists are ‘state sponsored killers’ on one hand, but as soon as those same killers begin to parrot a line that fits the collusion narrative, all of a sudden their word is gospel.
Despite the fact that the De Silva report demolishes the narrative that the British state planned the killing of Pat Finucane and actively assisted the killers, the Prime Minister issued a public apology to the family, yet still this was not enough. Despite the most intensive scrutiny on the case, and the numerous aforementioned investigations, all that has definitively emerged is a series of contradictory accounts of the killing and a mountain of hearsay evidence which is uneasily drawn together to conclude that ‘collusion’ (it should be noted there is no such criminal offence, it is a made up propaganda term) played a part in the killing of Pat Finucane.
In the course of this a number of loyalists have had their right to the presumption of innocence and privacy systemically violated via a trial by media. Do I know whether any of these loyalists killed Pat Finucane? No. Do I know if any of these loyalists worked as agents for the security services? No.
What I do know is that Stevens, Cory and De Silva do not identify by either name or cipher any ‘agents of the state’ involved in the planning or actual killing of Pat Finucane. I say that not as a defence of any of the individuals concerned, but rather as a statement of fact. It is no different than the wild allegations made against deceased loyalists as part of the ‘Glenanne Gang’ myth., many of which are based on speculative comments by convicted murderer John Weir. Unionist Voice challenged that, therefore it is equally fair to challenge other cases whereby propaganda has been allowed to trump substantive facts.
I am astounded at the unchallenged speculative narrative that has been allowed to spread its tentacles and become the root from which much of the ‘collusion’ propaganda has been allowed to grow.
The De Silva report concluded that RUC officers were passing information informally to loyalists. Is this organised collusion? Desmond De Silva says no.
I would as a side note point out that PSNI officers regularly leak to the media as part of a propaganda campaign against loyalists. This can often endanger lives, is this collusion? Some may dismiss this is a ridiculous comparison, but is it really that outlandish?
The considerations around the role of individuals are largely irrelevant for the purposes of this article. The key here is the wider point; whilst nationalist legacy activists and legal representatives argue that OTRs and those with Royal Pardons should have their identities withheld, and complain about documentaries and articles naming IRA terrorists in the absence of any convictions, they have simultaneously made a series of unproven allegations against a patchwork of loyalists over the years.
It cannot be all one way traffic, if the republican movement argue for the right to the presumption of innocence and privacy- and indeed wider society holds that view as well- then surely loyalists, regardless of what they may or may not have done, are entitled to the same protections?
The republican movement continue to justify the murder of members of the judiciary, and of lawyers such as Edgar Graham. What is the difference between Edgar Graham and Pat Finucane?
After the IRA shot down Edgar Graham in cold blood six years prior to the killing of Pat Finucane, they issued a statement saying his murder should “be a salutary lesson to those loyalists who stand foursquare behind the laws and forces of oppression of the nationalist people.” In other words a ringing endorsement of the IRA murder of unionism’s rising legal star.
Therein lays the contradictory position that is inescapable for nationalist legacy activists. The republican movement continued to endorse the view that Unionist legal professionals and members of the Judiciary were legitimate targets- whilst touring the world stage elevating Pat Finucane as a ‘special’ victim because he was a solicitor.
The UFF said they did not kill Mr Finucane the solicitor, but rather the IRA man, however let us for one moment stop and consider- not as an endorsement of the attack on Mr Finucane but rather as a critical analysis at the logical faultline within republicanism’s argument- if the UFF had murdered the solicitor, what would be the difference between that and the murder Edgar Graham? And if the murder of Edgar Graham was legitimate in the eyes of the republican movement, then how can they simultaneously argue the killing of Pat Finucane was not equally legitimate?
I make this point simply to flush out the contradictory arguments at the heart of nationalism’s legacy narrative. They do not want truth and justice for all; they want selective truth and justice that fits into their own political objectives. That is why in their eyes the murder of Edgar Graham was legitimate, whilst that of Pat Finucane was an outrage. They cannot ride two horses.
There has never been outright condemnation by the republican movement of the attempted murder of catholic Magistrate Tom Travers, in which his young daughter Mary was murdered. Was Mr Travers a ‘legitimate target’? What makes his life worth any less than that of Pat Finucane or any other citizen?
I finish as I began; the family of Pat Finucane deserve justice, just like every other family- and that includes those murdered by the IRA. What they are not entitled to, and this may be an unpopular thing to say out loud, is a special form of justice tailored to their own political objectives.
Absurdly they even object to an inquiry under the Inquires Act 2005- the statutory basis for all public inquires. They want a special inquiry, a special set of parameters- defined to suit their own agenda- and ultimately until they hear that Maggie Thatcher was driving the car and Douglas Hurd was the gunman, then they will never be satisfied. There are many victims within the unionist community, none of whom have ever had the resources or public indulgence shown to them as that lavished on the politically driven quest not to solve the killing of Pat Finucane, but rather to use it as a springboard to advance nationalism’s one sided legacy narrative.
Unionist Voice has compiled a short summary of legal professionals murdered by the IRA, you can read it HERE
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