Northern Ireland

MLAs clash in Assembly during Finucane inquiry debate

MLAs have clashed during an assembly motion calling on the government to order a public inquiry into the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989.

The SDLP put down the motion which said that the government was reneging on commitments to hold an inquiry.

During the debate, DUP MLA Edwin Poots said that a former IRA man had alleged that Mr Finucane was at IRA meetings in a capacity other than as a lawyer.

Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP strongly objected to Mr Poots' comments.

"Former members of the IRA have made particular statements about their interaction with Pat Finucane while they were being cross-examined and while they were being questioned," said Mr Poots, who is thought to have been referring to claims made by former IRA man Sean O'Callaghan.

"The very clear premise of what is being said is that Pat Finucane was not acting purely as a solicitor representing individuals - that he was a solicitor who was acting for an organisation."

Sinn Fein MLA Jennifer McCann joined SDLP representative Conall McDevitt in objecting to Mr Poots' remarks.

"It is outrageous for (him) to make those statements in this house today," Ms McCann said.

"He has no evidence to back up what he is saying."

'Unduly sympathetic'

Mr Finucane was having dinner with his family at his north Belfast home when gunmen from the Ulster Defence Association burst in and shot him.

Following a number of inquiries into the killing, the British government has said it accepts there was collusion in the case but will not support a full public inquiry.

BBC Northern Ireland political editor Mark Devenport said that Mr Poots' comments were likely to anger the Finucane family.

Our correspondent said they echoed remarks made by Home Office minister Douglas Hogg in the House of Commons a week before Mr Finucane's murder.

Following a briefing from the RUC, Mr Hogg said that some solicitors in Northern Ireland were "unduly sympathetic" to the IRA.

The SDLP motion has been amended by Sinn Fein, which is calling for such an inquiry to be held within the next three months.

However, it is subject to a "petition of concern" issued by unionists, which means that it needs cross-community support rather than a basic majority to pass.

The Finucane family walked out of Downing Street last month after the prime minister told them that he had asked Sir Desmond DeSilva to review the papers in the case.

The decision angered the family who have said that only a full public inquiry will satisfy them.

Their position is supported by the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Irish government.

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