So the State Ran Death Squads ?

27 June 2002

The calls for an independent public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane have reached critical mass in the wake of the two part Panorama Special. Overwhelming evidence, irrefutable proof. Doubts have however been expressed from various quarters. For some their opposition to any inquiry stems from the mentality that the dirty war was justified and that there is no such thing as an innocent (Catholic) victim. Another view is that the IRA is to blame for everything anyway from the Great Flood to the forest fires raging through Colorado. Even if Pat Finucane was murdered by the State what about Enniskillen, Teebane, La Mon etc? For others the difficulty is more specific.

According to John Hermon, former Chief Constable, Pat Finucane was "associated with the IRA". Ken Maginness, former unionist MP, said that the Belfast solicitor was a "member of a dedicated republican family." A softer criticism of calls for an inquiry stems from a belief that it would hinder reconciliation. What unites all of the above is the view that we should not delve into the most fundamental and disturbing aspect of the conflict of the past thirty years; the fact that the state organised and directed death squads.

Others have expressed concerns about the point of any inquiry into the activities of the Force Research Unit, Special Branch and MI5. We are, after all, talking about an investigation into the activities of the secret state. Eamon Mc Cann, whose support for the Bloody Sunday families has been unwavering, doubts whether the British state will ever allow the truth to emerge in the Finucane case. Self evidently he believes it should. Given recent events at the Saville Inquiry it is completely valid to question the mechanism employed in the search for truth. The use of that most Orwellian of terms, the Public Interest Immunity Certificate, designed to deny access to information, the rulings on venue, anonymity and screening have all served to wear down the families and encourage cynicism. Why should an inquiry into the secret state be any different it is argued?

Denis Bradley has suggested a truth and reconciliation type resolution. If this were merely to be an exercise in story telling (by survivors who have been denied the basis on which they could even tell a story because they are denied the facts) then the British strategy at the Saville tribunal will have been a resounding success. Wear them down and tire them out. Faced with the implications of recent European Court judgements the British government would welcome a story telling style truth commission with open arms.

We should remind ourselves again. The state organised and directed death squads. An inquiry with power to subpoena witnesses and documents, would form one part of the complex mechanism needed to uncover the workings of the secret state. It will be effective only if lessons are learnt from the Saville Inquiry. It must be accompanied by public pressure from political parties, the public, international opinion and the type of investigative journalism seen over the last week. It will not uncover all of the facts. It will be legally ambushed every step of the road. But it would be foolish indeed to believe that information will be forthcoming without resort to a legal mechanism however flawed. An inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane will not resolve the conflict or uncover all the facts. Notwithstanding this the refusal to hold an inquiry into the use of death squads by the British State would be an inexcusable and illegal denial of the fundamental right of the Finucane family to seek the truth.

The position of the deputy chair of the Policing Board, Dennis Bradley, is confusing to say the least. On the one hand we are told that there is a new beginning to policing that we should all sign up to. In the same breadth Dennis Bradley claims that an independent inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane would be a waste of time because the secret state would block and delay any such inquiry.

The institutions of the state, in otherwords, are so corrupt, so utterly devoid of any respect for human rights or the rule of law, that an investigation into state run death squads is a non-starter…and…there is a new beginning to policing? Mr Bradley can’t have it both ways.

This article first appeared in the Derry News and the Andersonstown News