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Pat Finucane and the Dirty War

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William Crawley | 14:03 UK time, Sunday, 16 December 2012

A victim of the state, murdered, along with a series of others, with the active intelligence and assistance of British military and police officers. That was the verdict of Sir Desmond De Silva's report into the killing of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

David Cameron gave a fulsome apology -- again -- but clearly wants to draw a line under a murky period in a dirty war. But is justice served by openly admitting a catalogue of state-sponsored law-breaking and then denying full disclosure of that in a public inqury?

Or, as many have said, is it time to put the past into history and move on?

On this week's Sunday Sequence we heard from former Presbyterian Moderator, Dr John Dunlop, security correspondent and author, Brian Rowan, and former Victims' Commissioner, Patricia McBride, but, what do you think?


  • Comment number 1.

    I once remember watching an interview with a gangland villain who when asked if he killed a particular individual replied: "The jury didn't think so." He went on to add: "Things happen: people get hurt: people die" (with great emphasis on the final word).

    The problem is that a public inquiry costs taxpayers millions of pounds and no matter what its conclusions there will always be those who will say that the full truth has not come out and that what we need is a "proper" inquiry! The legal aid budget is under great strain as it is and Sir Desmond has quite clearly stated in his report that the state was not involved in any overarching conspiracy to murder Pat Finucane.

  • Comment number 2.


    That 'gangland' quote? Do you intend it to mean anything?

  • Comment number 3.


    Merely to assist with context. It might have been Pat Finucane's profession that brought the jury to mind. Gangsters and states take what measures are necessary to deal with troublesome elements. Are you in favour of a public inquiry?

  • Comment number 4.


    I'll tell you what I'm against - expediency.

  • Comment number 5.

    Does "expediency" refer to the involvement of the state in the death of Pat Finucane or to the prospect of the government holding a public inquiry in response to the calls of a vocal minority? The jury asks for clarification!

  • Comment number 6.

    Nice way to sidestep the apparent indifference of "people die", newlach. You know perfectly well what 'expediency' means; it doesn't matter what we apply it to.

  • Comment number 7.

    The problem with 'full disclosure' is that you can't know if it has been achieved.

    Assuming 'full disclosure' is desirable then the issue is what's the best means of getting close to it.

    The family's response to the De Silva report was that with each additional inquiry more information has come to light. This would lead one to think that another inquiry would reveal even more. Or not.

    This seems to me to be a rather poor justification for a public inquiry. And perhaps the reason for this is that the De Silva report does get to the root of the matter, and in turn punches holes in the need for an 'independent public inquiry'.

    But when you want what you want but you don't get what you want you still want what you want. This is about being in the 'big league'.

  • Comment number 8.


    I "sidestep" do I? I who asked: "Are you in favour of a public inquiry?" and you who answered: "I'll tell you what I'm against - expediency."!

    One definition of "expediency" is "appropriateness; suitability".


  • Comment number 9.


    I don't care much for your silly games; you have made comments in #1 and #3 which suggest that you value convenience even if it raises the possibility of impropriety or immorality - if you are not saying that, then please enlighten us.

    You will know too, if only because you had listened to the Sunday Sequence piece, that the issue of the past is complex and difficult for very many people, and "people die" is not an acceptable way to make progress. Again, if you are saying something different, please enlighten us.

    Regarding inquiries, as Andrew has already pointed out, the question is, "Assuming 'full disclosure' is desirable then the issue is what's the best means of getting close to it." My own view is that 'full disclosure', although I prefer the word 'truth', is preferable to what you seem to be saying.

  • Comment number 10.


    It is my view that states may benefit from the death of certain individuals that they deem especially troublesome. If someone is judged by the security services to be participating in an activity that challenges the very integrity of the state, what should be done if they cannot be made to desist from said activity? It seems reasonable to me that some in the security services would consider all possible options to protect the integrity of the state:

    "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

    'and "people die" is not an acceptable way to make progress.'

    Are you saying that an independent public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane is an acceptable way to make progress? What criteria are you using to decide whether someone's death should be the subject of an independent public inquiry?

  • Comment number 11.


    The acceptable way of conducting our affairs, the one which provides protection for all and which is the basis of freedom, is, equal treatment under the law.

  • Comment number 12.


    Are you trying to tell me that the holding of an independent public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Pat Finucane would amount to "equal treatment under the law"?

  • Comment number 13.


    Do you think it will be possible for you to convince me that you are interested in a serious discussion?

  • Comment number 14.

    Considering your comments so far I do not think I could convince you that I am interested in a serious discussion...but I'll have a go anyway!

    Public figures frequently trot out something along the line of what you have said in 11 and if I were a public figure I would say the same. The reality is that the very same public figures who say such things will take whatever measures they deem necessary to maintain the integrity of the state - to ensure the freedom and equal treatment that they publicly champion! You refer to the importance of "equal treatment under the law" but this is no guarantee of a just society even if it holds true. I'm in the "put the past into history and move on" camp (but those who need help should not be neglected). I do not think that the public inquiry called for would be of benefit to Northern Ireland society.

    Discussion in tonight's Nightwaves on public inquiries. There is presently a public inquiry looking into the value of public inquiries, if I heard right!


  • Comment number 15.


    Thank you for #14.

    My "comments so far" have elicited your, "I'm in the "put the past into history and move on" camp (but those who need help should not be neglected)." which is rather different from "people die", which was what I was trying to clarify from the start.

    "You refer to the importance of "equal treatment under the law" but this is no guarantee of a just society even if it holds true."

    I didn't say it was; but neither does this mean that it is something merely 'trotted out', it may also be something of value - an aim, an aspiration; after all, "those who need help (and) should not be neglected" need some kind of framework to operate within...

  • Comment number 16.


    I agree that it may be of value. People who hear such statements and who accept them as being true are less likely to be troublesome. In times of crisis, however, when the authority of the state is seriously challenged, state actors who genuinely have such aspirations necessarily put them on the back-burner. When people come to court it is victory they want not equal treatment. The same is true of those involved in military conflict. The independent public inquiry that the family of Pat Finucane has called for is not the "right framework" in my view.

  • Comment number 17.


    I’m not quite sure how to respond... so I’ll try this - to what extent do you think that something we call ‘truth’ is possible? Or are you simply saying that crooked things cannot be made straight?

  • Comment number 18.

    It seems to me that the more 'political' entries on the blog tend to provoke fewer responses; I wonder if this tells us that there is still a great reluctance, or fear, or uncertainty, or something, about addressing our difficulties?

  • Comment number 19.


    You may be right, but perhaps the 'something' is lack of interest.

    I know I've only recently started to think about 'our difficulties' again after not being overly bothered for a number of years. The interesting thing is that having spent those years beating a certain sub-culture (one we love so dear) out of my head how I now tend to think about these issues is different.

  • Comment number 20.

    Whatever the other implications of a case like this, it must surely place a very serious check on Britain's freedom to lecture other countries about 'human rights abuses'. Otherwise it is going to make us look very stupid indeed.

  • Comment number 21.


    I think the independent public inquiry is one of the best tools we have to find out the truth in matters like the one under consideration and I believe that if one were held into the circumstances surrounding the death of Pat Finucane more unpalatable truths would emerge. The circumstances surrounding his death have been thoroughly investigated and I do not see what benefit there would be in holding yet another inquiry at great public expense. Crooked things can sometimes be made straight but a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane would straighten nothing. In fact it would make things much worse for some people unconnected with criminality whose names would be dragged into the public domain.


    Perhaps there is a lack of interest on this blog for the subject, but I would hazard that on other NI blogs the subject is more keenly discussed. I am not unduly interested in the unpleasantness of the "Troubles". Other interests keep me sane (I think!).

  • Comment number 22.


    If the 'something' is lack of interest, things are worse than I thought.

  • Comment number 23.


    To use a biblical principle, you shall know them by their fruits?


    It's hard to say, I suppose. It also doesn't have to be one reason or the other.

  • Comment number 24.

    This is NOT history; the story (the truth) marches on.
    I think Cameron has every reason to want to apologize and let go - quickly. Killed by FRU (Force Research Unit), Belfast attorney Pat Finucane, was shot 14 times in front of his wife & children. Finucane was a civil rights activist who had defended both Catholics & Protestants, but was considered (most importantly) a thorn in the side by BRITISH AUTHORITIES. He was killed by a fellow FRU informer in the UDA, Ken Barrett, who was convicted of the murder but freed last year after as part of an amnesty program in the Northern Ireland peace process.

  • Comment number 25.

    Barrett HIMSELF was unapologetic about his FRU “wetwork” on Finucane. “The peelers [authorities] wanted him whacked,” he told a BBC documentary team after his release. “We whacked him and that is the end of the story.”
    The FRU also obtained “restriction orders” from other British security and military units in Northern Ireland, whereby they would pull their forces from an area when UDA agents were going to make a hit there, allowing the killers to get in and get out without hindrance. As one FRU man said: “The mindset was one of ‘the right people would be allowed to live and wrong people should die.’”
    This is the “mindset” now operating in the heart of the Green Zone in Baghdad, where the JSG (Joint Support Group) is carrying out precisely the same mission it had in Ulster. JSG has allowed torture, murder; they commit acts of terrorism, including actions that kill local civilians & the soldiers & bothersome intelligence operatives.

  • Comment number 26.

    Baghdad JSG is not alone in the double-dealing world of Iraqi counterinsurgency. The Pentagon’s ever-expanding secret armies are deeply enmeshed in such efforts.
    Seymour Hersh: “Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador? We founded them and we financed them. The objective now is to recruit locals in any country that we need them. We aren’t going to tell Congress or get its permission.
    2005, not long after Bush’s directives loosed the “Salvador Option” on Iraq – the tide of death-squad activity began its bloody rise to the tsunami-like levels we see today. Ironically, the first big spike of mass torture-murders, chiefly in Sunni areas at the time, coincided with “Operation Lightning,” effort by American & Iraqi forces to “secure” Baghdad. The operation featured a mass influx of extra troops into the capital; dividing the city into manageable sectors, then working through them one by one; imposing hundreds of checkpoints to lock down all insurgent movements; and establishing a 24-hour presence of security and military forces in troubled neighborhoods. For months, US “advisers” to Iraqi security agencies – including veterans of the original “Salvador Option” – insisted that these were Sunni insurgents, although many of the victims were Sunni civilians. Later, the line was changed: the chief culprits were now “rogue elements” of the various sectarian militias that had “infiltrated” Iraq’s institutions.
    Investigative reporter, Max Fuller, disclosed information buried in reams of mainstream news stories and public Pentagon documents: The vast majority of atrocities then attributed to “rogue” Shiite and Sunni militias were in fact the work of government-controlled commandos & “special forces,” trained by Americans, “advised” by Americans & run largely by former CIA assets.
    With the Anglo-American coalition so deeply embedded – infiltrating terrorist groups, “stimulating” them into action,” protecting double-agents no matter what the cost, etc., it is simply impossible to determine the genuine origin of almost any particular terrorist outrage or death squad atrocity in Iraq. What’s more, the “intelligence” churned out is inevitably tainted by the self-interest, mixed motives, fear, CORRUPTION AND CRIMINALITY of those who provide it. Iraq is being torn apart by Sunni/Shiite radicals, or is it? That's the question!

  • Comment number 27.

    Despicable as they are, Jimmy Savile's offences are not as serious as the charges of war crimes that should be faced by former PM Tony Blair.* What is the purpose of the International Criminal Court, if not to put individuals like him (with the blood of hundreds of British soldiers on his hands, as well as that of tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians), on trial?

    *Both men, it seems to me, have effectively camouflaged their wrongdoing by developing a reputation for philanthropy.

  • Comment number 28.

    We're running out of threads again! Maybe Will should just post Open Threads so we can drone on about whatever we want (which I'm about to do anyway). With the possibility of another hiatus I would like to take the precautionary measure of congratulating Newlach on his (her?) appointment as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, the first non-MLA to hold the post I believe. Well done.


    I finished reading 'Christless Christianity' yesterday, If you haven't read it I'd recommend it - Horton addresses several of the issues we've discussed over the last couple of years. I didn't always agree with the details but the general outline is spot on.

  • Comment number 29.


    Thanks for the recommendation, I haven't read it, but I will now.

    "the first non-MLA to hold the post"

    I suppose as long as non-something or others (preferably Christians?) are holding the post, that'll be OK. Ho hum.


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