Order. I draw Members’ attention to the antibacterial wipes on their desk and ask that they clean their microphones and work area as they arrive and leave and dispose of those wipes in the bin on their way out. Our cleaners do an excellent job, but let us make it as easy as possible for them.
I would also like to read a statement before we begin the debate. Before I call the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood), I should advise hon. Members that the judicial review currently before the High Court is not sub judice, because it relates to a ministerial decision. There are several other historical Northern Ireland cases which have active legal proceedings and are, therefore, sub judice. Reference should not be made to those proceedings in this debate. I thank the hon. Member for Foyle for his courtesy in consulting the Table Office in advance of his debate, and I remind any other Member participating in this debate to be equally mindful of the sub judice resolution in matters still before the courts.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the potential merits of a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell.
I want at the outset to recognise Geraldine Finucane and her family. I also want to recognise John Finucane, who is a Member of this House. That family have been put through the wringer for decades. They make it clear that they do not believe that this murder is any more special or deserving of truth and justice than another, but there is a particular point about Pat Finucane’s murder that goes right to the heart of the British involvement in Northern Ireland. Let us just take a moment to remember, in all the conversation, debate and politics around the issue, what actually happened to Pat Finucane, a human rights solicitor from Belfast.
On 12 February 1989 Pat was with his wife and three children having dinner one Sunday afternoon. Loyalist paramilitaries used a sledgehammer to beat his front door in. They went to the kitchen and they murdered him. They shot him with 14 bullets, in front of his children. Mr Finucane’s now adult son Michael said that the image of the attack is
“seared into my mind. The thing I remember most vividly is the noise; the reports of each bullet reverberating in the kitchen, how my grip on my younger brother and sister tightened with every shot.”
What happened on that night? Here is what we know. Brian Nelson was a force research unit agent linked to the Ulster Defence Association—an agent of an organ of the British Army, which, of course, told John Stevens when he investigated this case and others that it never had any agents in Northern Ireland. We now know irrefutably that that was total and utter balderdash.
We know that two gunmen entered that house and murdered Pat Finucane. We know that one of them, Ken Barrett, was a Royal Ulster Constabulary agent, and that William Stobie, who supplied the gun, was also an RUC agent. So three agents of the British state were involved in the fingering of Pat Finucane, the planning of his murder, the supplying of the gun and the pulling of the trigger.
We also know that David Cameron, the former British Prime Minister, said that there were “shocking levels of…collusion” involved in what happened to Pat Finucane. We know that the offices of Lord Stevens, an eminent former police officer in this country, were firebombed when he investigated the case—I wonder who did that. He also said as recently as last year that the state held back oceans of information on Pat Finucane’s case.
A few weeks before Pat’s murder, Minister Douglas Hogg stated in the House of Commons that a number of lawyers in Northern Ireland were
“unduly sympathetic to the IRA”.
What did they expect to happen after that statement?
We know that in 2001, at the Weston Park negotiations, the two Governments—the Irish and British Governments —and all the political parties in Northern Ireland agreed to set up a number of public inquiries. The British Government prevaricated. In 2004, Judge Cory recommended that there was sufficient evidence in the case of Pat Finucane to allow a public inquiry, because of the “sufficient evidence of collusion” that he found. All the other inquiries that he recommended have happened and have reported, apart from this one; this is the only one outstanding.
Over an 18-month period in 2010-11, the family were in long conversation with the British Government and Downing Street. The conversation was not about whether there should be a public inquiry, but about the nature of that public inquiry. We then had the de Silva review and, more recently, the Supreme Court ruling that the British Government had not delivered their international obligation to have an article 2 compliant investigation.
There is absolute clarity that there were “shocking levels” of collusion, in David Cameron’s words. Let us think for a second about what that means. It means that a previous British Government murdered a human rights lawyer in Belfast in front of his family and that they have denied every single opportunity to give the family what they absolutely deserve, which is the full truth in the matter.
It would take a long time for anybody in this Chamber to convince me of the righteousness of the British Government, the British state or the British Army. But British MPs should ask themselves a simple question: “What would you do?” What would the Minister do if he had a family in his constituency whose father was murdered in front of their eyes for no crime other than being a human rights lawyer?
I believe in a different kind of constitutional settlement for Northern Ireland, but I recognise the reality that the British Government have jurisdiction in Northern Ireland as it stands. The British Government have a responsibility to the citizens of Northern Ireland. They have a responsibility not to murder them. They have a responsibility not to cover up their murder and they have a responsibility to do everything in their power to get to the truth of what happens when something like that is done.
I have very little faith that this British Government will do the right thing in this case. They absolutely should, but this is the same British Government, of course, that put out a statement on 18 March, moving themselves as far away as possible from the Stormont House agreement—another international agreement that they are prepared to break, it seems. They are seemingly prepared to sacrifice victims at the altar of political expediency, to throw some red meat to the Back Benches of the Tory party, and to abandon the opportunity for all of the victims of our terrible conflict to have the full truth of what happened.
In my view, there is no chance whatsoever for my community to move forward in the spirit of reconciliation unless we get to the full truth of what happened during the conflict. I implore the Government, once and for all, to live up to their commitments in Weston Park, to live up to the promises that were made to Pat Finucane’s family and to live up to the needs of the community of Northern Ireland, who need to be able to move forward.
We do not want to live in the past anymore. We want to move forward, but we have to do that on the basis of truth, justice and democracy. It cannot be held back any longer.
It is an unusually great pleasure to be able to serve under your chairship, in your first outing as Chair here in Westminster Hall, Ms Bardell. It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) and to belatedly welcome him and his party back to the House of Commons. In the last Parliament, there was a missing piece in the parliamentary puzzle, which meant we did not see the whole picture when it came to Northern Ireland politics. It is very important that the nationalist viewpoint in Northern Ireland is represented here in this House.
Given my own family background, I have taken an interest over many years in the politics of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I have visited Belfast on many occasions during my parliamentary career. When I went there, I was always struck by the similarity between the cities of Belfast and Cardiff, which I represent—in their architecture, in their size and in the warm welcome of the citizens of those two cities.
In drawing on that comparison, I have to ask whether it would be acceptable in my city, and to my constituents, if the state were involved in hampering the discovery of the truth about the murder of one of its citizens. The answer to that question has to be an emphatic no. If that is the case for Cardiff, or for Leeds, Barnsley, St Helens, Sheffield, Worcester or any of the other constituencies that elect Members to this House, it is equally unacceptable for Belfast.
The troubles were a dark and violent time in the history of these islands. Thousands of civilians and soldiers—we remember our armed forces on this Armistice Day—lost their lives as a result of calculated brutality, which still echoes darkly down the generations. In that awful period, the appalling murder of Patrick Finucane in February 1989 was one of the darkest moments. Thirty-one years on, it remains a source of grave public concern, not just in Northern Ireland and Ireland, but across the United Kingdom and anywhere in the world where people seek and care about justice.
Both Lord Stevens and Judge Cory were clear that there was state collusion in the murder of Mr Finucane. As my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle said, the then Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, described the outcome of the separate de Silva review as revealing
“shocking levels of state collusion.”—[Official Report, 12 December 2012; Vol. 555, c. 296.]
It is now 20 months since the Supreme Court found that inquiries into Mr Finucane’s murder had been unlawful under article 2 of the European convention on human rights. Investigations that have taken place have had profound shortcomings, and those shortcomings, in the words of Lord Kerr,
“have hampered, if not indeed prevented, the uncovering of the truth about this murder.”
That this crime could happen at all in our country is in itself a shocking stain on the fabric of our recent history. That it has never been investigated to a lawful standard is a tear in that same fabric that needs to be repaired.
The issues at stake could scarcely be more important. The European convention on human rights is the foundation that underpins the Good Friday agreement and is the fundamental safeguard on which citizens rely. Those rights are not trivial. Compliance with them is non-negotiable.
As my hon. Friend has said, the family of Pat Finucane have had to wait too long for the adequate and effective investigation into his murder that is their right and the right of all citizens whom we represent in this place. Last month, as we have heard, Patrick Finucane’s widow, Geraldine, was forced to take action in the High Court to seek a resolution from the Government. Mr Justice McAlinden, overseeing the case, described his deep unease at the approach of the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This delay has added insult to injury. Mrs Finucane has received unequivocal undertakings from the British Government that such an inquiry will be held, and that should now be honoured.
The administrative burden in establishing an inquiry is simply not a justification to prevent the truth from emerging. The long years that have passed since the ceasefire and the Good Friday agreement have served to demonstrate that unless justice is done and seen to be done, the wounds of the past simply will not be allowed to heal, so I say to the Minister: the time has come to right past wrongs and allow this public inquiry to proceed.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell, and, indeed, to see you in the Chair.
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) on securing this incredibly important debate. The troubles were a violent and appalling time in our history. Veterans in my constituency served in Northern Ireland, and some lost colleagues who were murdered while on duty. Those whom I have had the privilege to meet since being elected value, as all of us do, the rule of law in this country. Upholding the rule of law is, and must be, one of our fundamental values.
Pat Finucane was going about his professional duties, in a professional manner, when he was murdered, in a cowardly and horrifying act, in his home in Belfast. For the Finucane family, like hundreds of other families of people who lost their lives during the troubles, the adequate and effective investigation into the murder of their loved one that is their right and our obligation has never taken place. Thirty-one years on from his murder, his family are still waiting. That is not a view or an opinion. The institution that has determined that an effective investigation has never taken place is UK judges in the highest court of the United Kingdom, on the basis of British law.
I therefore profoundly believe that the right thing for the Finucane family, for Northern Ireland and for everyone in the United Kingdom is for the commitments made by the British Government to hold a full public inquiry to be honoured. Why? It is important to remember why Judge Cory felt that a public inquiry was so important in this case—as he did with five of the six cases he identified for review at Weston Park. He said that a public inquiry must proceed in order
“to achieve the benefits of determining the flaws in the system and suggesting the required remedy”
and to address public concern. That is why it must be delivered and why commitments made to the Finucane family and the wider community must be kept. But it is also impossible not to think of the hundreds of families whose loved ones were murdered in the course of the troubles and who are still waiting for the truth about what happened to them.
The murders of more than 170 British soldiers are unsolved, as are the murders of hundreds of civilians at the hands of republican and loyalist terrorists. That is why it is more important than ever that a comprehensive solution to the legacy of the past is delivered. That means one that can deliver the truth and that has the confidence of those who are all too often forgotten—victims and their families.
The extraordinary work of Operation Kenova, led by the former Bedfordshire chief constable, Jon Boutcher, is demonstrating that even many years on, important evidential opportunities can still be uncovered. As he told the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, families want investigations to be robust in search of the truth. That is why the recent statement from the Secretary of State, which seemed determined to draw a veil over legacy cases, would have been profoundly unsettling for many families of people who lost their lives at the hands of terrorists. As Jon Boutcher said, that would be
“a legal novelty in the United Kingdom for serious crimes such as murder”.
The whole basis of the Stormont House agreement, which I fully accept was not perfect, was an effort to build a broad-based consensus on establishing and investigating the truth about unsolved murders. I therefore strongly urge the Minister not to resile from those commitments, and to remember the deep responsibility that he and the Northern Ireland Office have to deliver the truth to all victims and, from that, to build reconciliation.
I thank the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) for bringing before us this important debate. It is crucial that we get a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane after all these years, and that we discuss the wider issues of the troubles in Northern Ireland, and Army, police and secret service collusion in particular.
Those are difficult, painful issues, but sweeping them under the carpet serves our society badly. If we want to live in safe, stable and hopeful communities, we cannot ignore our troubled past. If we want to create a future where violence and terrorism are a thing of the past, we have to start with an honest and truthful assessment of what led us to that dark place.
Clearly, it is important to remember the circumstances of Pat Finucane’s murder in 1989, painful as that may be, and the wider circumstances that led to this atrocity, but there is no need for the campaign for a public inquiry to persuade anyone of the facts, which have been conceded by Government. It has already been found that Pat Finucane’s shooting by loyalists involved state agents. That collusion has already been established.
Not only that, but in February last year the Supreme Court held that previous inquiries into the murder did not meet human rights standards. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has given a commitment in a court of law that a decision will be made by the end of the month on whether to order a public inquiry. I plead with him to do so, not just for the Finucane family but for the thousands of victims of the troubles.
The reality is that the family of Pat Finucane represent so many other victims of the troubles, families whose lives have been shattered not just by the tragic events that deprived them of their loved ones, but the secrecy, delay and cover-ups that have stood in the way of justice and truth. Since joining the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in June this year, I have sat in a number of hearings in which victims groups have described the distress of waiting for justice—sometimes not even justice, but only information—to understand the truth of what happened to their family members.
In the eyes of the people who matter most of all in this, the victims of the troubles, the Government have failed on the legacy issue. I have heard from all communities about a lack of confidence among the victims’ families that justice will be done, facts established and lessons learned. The Government now have a serious responsibility to repair some of the damage and to give people some sense of closure and peace, no matter how hard that is.
For Pat Finucane and his family—as the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), said—we need the full truth. The family and the many victims of the troubles need that, but also Northern Ireland needs that. The people of Northern Ireland, from all communities, have to be sure that the lessons of those terrible acts are learned, so that they will never happen again.
To get to that point, the Prime Minister, the Northern Ireland Office and the Government should act now, without any more delay. That starts with ordering a public inquiry into the full circumstances of Pat Finucane’s murder, and it must continue by re-establishing some confidence in the legacy process. Finally, we must all learn the lessons of those terrible tragedies and Northern Ireland’s traumatic past, not in order to dwell on the past or to reopen old rifts, but to look forward.
It is a particular pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I endorse what hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood), have already said. I congratulate him on securing the debate.
In supporting the need for a full public inquiry into Pat Finucane’s murder, I want to make it clear that that is not because I or the Finucane family believe in a hierarchy of victims or that the grief and pain of some is greater than that of others. It is the merits of this case and the appalling vista of state involvement and its planning of murder that mark it out as totemic in getting to the truth of exactly what went on during the troubles. Geraldine Finucane’s dignity and dedication to her husband and her pursuit of justice, not only for him but for many other victims, is inspirational. She was left to be her children’s mammy and daddy—to be the breadwinner—and to do it all while suffering the unbearable grief of losing her beloved partner. She is a remarkable woman and I am proud to know her.
My friend Phyllis Carrothers is another such woman. Her husband Douglas—or Dougie, as he was known to family and friends—was murdered by the IRA in County Fermanagh in 1991. He was an RUC reserve constable and Phyllis went on to chair the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Widows Association. She and her children have never had the truth, nor has she ever had an apology. The unanswered questions about the who, the what and, fundamentally, the why still remain. She deserves justice too. We must remember that the cases of Pat Finucane and all others are about people, and not just about process—their lived experiences and the impact it had on them and subsequent generations. Time is not always enough to heal.
January will be the 45th anniversary of a period of days in 1976 that saw some of the worst incidents of the troubles take place in the part of the world that I come from. On 3 January 1976, a bomb was left outside my grandmother’s pub, the Lough Inn in Camlough. A great deal of damage was caused to the village and my Aunt Ann, who was 12 years old at the time and saw the bombers, was injured. It is widely believed that members of what had become known as the Glenanne gang were involved.
The next evening, on 4 January, elements of the same gang, which included members of the security forces, murdered three members of the Reavey family a few miles away in Whitecross and three members of the O’Dowd family—they, like my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle, were members of the Social Democratic and Labour party—in Ballydougan. They were targeted and killed in their home simply because they were Catholics. No one has ever been brought to justice. The following day, 5 January, 10 Protestant workmen from Bessbrook were taken off a minibus and murdered at Kingsmill. Like those the night before, their religion was the only basis on which their lives were so cruelly taken. All those dead left behind loved ones.
Eugene Reavey lost his three brothers. The unimaginable impact that must have had on him and his family was exacerbated when, just over 20 years ago, it was said in this House that he had had some involvement in Kingsmill. Whatever the motivation behind that allegation, it caused incredible pain. It was and is completely and utterly false. The police, including the then chief constable, and the Historical Enquiries Team’s investigation are very clear that Eugene Reavey had no involvement whatsoever in Kingsmill. It is right that the record is corrected here today.
There were two survivors of Kingsmill. The first was Richard Hughes, the only Catholic on the bus. When it was stopped by masked men, he was singled out and at first believed that he was going to be killed, only to be told to run and not to look back. He never spoke about it or the trauma and aching pain he must have felt. My memory of Mr Hughes — as the paperboy who delivered his Belfast Telegraph every evening — is of a kind, quiet gentleman. He was a victim too. Although he passed away some years ago, I hope his daughter Bernadette has some comfort that what he and his family have endured is recognised in the House.
The second survivor was Alan Black, a Protestant, who was shot 18 times and lay in the rain while the dead bodies of his friends lay on him and around him. I urge hon. Members to read about Alan’s experience and his words. His dignity, loss, compassion and grief are simultaneously inspirational and crushing. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him. He deserves justice too. Alan, along with Brian Sloan and others, set up a cross- community football club in Bessbrook, Brookvale FC. Many years ago, they developed a link with a Merseyside schools football association official, the wonderful and recently sadly deceased Terry Duffy, whose local club Rainford Rangers is, in a pretty remarkable twist of fate, based in my constituency. It was a special and incredible honour for me to welcome Brookvale to Rainford as the MP from Bessbrook for St Helens North.
None of this is easy. The answer is not in the wishy-washy, “Why can’t we get along?” whataboutery. I know that these are deeply divisive hugely emotive and seemingly intractable matters, but I do believe that in unlocking the case of Pat Finucane, we can go to the heart of providing a way forward. The Government have a duty to keep their word and ensure a full public inquiry. Then we must all dedicate ourselves to that inclusive, comprehensive approach to dealing with the past; one that puts victims and survivors, truth, justice and remembrance at its core.
May I first congratulate you, Ms Bardell, on being elevated to your new position? I wish you well and know that you will do the job extremely well. I thank the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) for raising the issue. I spoke to him beforehand, so he knows where I am coming from. I just want to put some things on the record. On the facts of the case that he has so meticulously outlined—I say this for the record—my heart goes out to the family members who have been left with an empty chair that will never be filled. They have my sincere condolences. No one should ever lose a loved one in such circumstances. That is where I am coming from. That is my standpoint.
Unfortunately, it is the history of Northern Ireland that too many families have been left feeling this endless grief. The hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) just referred to that. Too many daughters have walked down the aisle alone, too many sons have graduated without their proud parent watching on, and too many mothers have wept over the clothes of their sons whose scent has long faded away. The devastation is clear in so many households in the Province to this day, and their loss must be acknowledged. I want to put that on the record.
I wish that that were not the case. I wish that my cousin Shelley did not have memories of that first Christmas without my cousin Kenneth Smyth after he was ruthlessly murdered 49 years ago, on 10 December 1971, by the IRA. I wish that his companion, friend and fellow worker, Daniel McCormick, had not been murdered. He happened to be a Roman Catholic, by the way, and the IRA murdered both of them on a road outside Castlederg 49 years ago. When Shelley came to me with Kenneth’s file clutched in her hands and tears in her eyes, I wish that I could have given her the justice she sought—I and everyone else here has equally sought justice—but I could not do that because it was not in my power.
This is not about tit for tat. I do not seek in any way to take away from the pain that the Finucane family felt and feel today. I, too, have had my debate in this House calling for the murder of Kenneth Smyth to be reopened, as well as that of Lexie Cummings, who was murdered by the IRA in Strabane. I have called for their murderers and the collaborators to be brought to justice, but nothing has been achieved, not because they did not deserve it—they did—but because they did not get their justice.
Kenneth Smyth’s sister and family, including my side of the family, long to see justice, yet we must trust in the most righteous judge of all. I am a Christian and I believe that you might escape justice in this world, but you will not escape it in the next. I believe that in my heart. I am sure that others here would concur with my sentiments. The righteous judge will mete out the appropriate justice to all those evil men and women who killed and have not been made accountable.
This debate was titled well: that consideration be given to the potential merits of an inquiry. I do see a family devastated and I want justice for them. At the same time, I see Kenneth Smyth’s family and Lexie Cummings’ family. I have a meeting coming up on a case that has come to me in the last few weeks. Private John Birch was one of the four Ulster Defence Regiment men murdered at Ballydugan, which I have spoken about in this House—two or three Members here will remember that debate. Of the four UDR men murdered, I knew three of them personally. I know where they come from. Private John Birch’s son seeks answers to assuage his perpetual grief. He wants an explanation. He has told me in an email that he needs to talk to me about it. I said I will do that.
In any consideration of any public inquiry, the consideration of the third of cases that remain unsolved must be enshrined within. Do the families that I have spoken about, my constituents, not deserve the same treatment? They do. With all due respect, who will meet my cousin Shelley and tell her why the disgraceful murder of Pat Finucane deserves a level of justice that Kenneth Smyth is unworthy of? Who will explain why her pain and quest for answers should not merit a public inquiry, but Pat Finucane’s does?
I wish—I mean this with all my heart—for every grieving person in the Province to have the closure that we all need and we all wish to have. I wish for every child to feel that the loss of their father or mother has not slipped by. I want to fight for Jonathon Birch to have the full story of the murder of his father at Ballydugan 30 years ago to be heard, just as it is being done on behalf of the Finucane family today. I will not say that one person must simply accept a life of pain and questions while someone else deserves attention from the Government— I say that very respectfully.
Unless someone will attend the homes of any of the 211 widows of RUC officers and tell them that the slaughter of their loved ones is acceptable but that of others is not, I will not be able to accept this call for an inquiry. Unless someone will tell a child whose father was taken away so early that he has no memories of him, that his pain is not deserving of a high-level intervention, I will not be able to accept this call. I say again that this is not tit for tat, or saying that my pain is worse that your pain—it is not that. It is acknowledging that the Government should not create levels of mourning.
I want peace. I want peace for the Finucanes, just as I want it for every family who still grieves, but public inquiries cannot be the solution. Pat Finucane’s death mattered, and it still does, but so did the killing of Kenneth Smyth and Lexie Cummings. The same is true of John Birch, Steven Smart, John Bradley and Michael Adams—the four UDR men killed at Ballydugan—and of Stuart Montgomery, an 18-year-old police officer who was murdered in Pomeroy. It is also true of the other 3,200 murders in the Province. Their loss is felt today, and the pain of the innocent matters. So does the call for equal justice and, indeed, for this nation collectively to move forward.
Unfortunately, we are missing a Member, so we will now move to the shadow Minister and then the Minister. Even though we have gained a bit of time, I ask that we make time for Colum Eastwood, given the importance of the debate, so that he has an opportunity to wind up at the end.
It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell—that rather exposes the idea that we are not being quite so genuine when other Members occupy the Chair.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) on securing the debate and on his extremely powerful contribution about the merits of a public inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane. We have heard from Members with real lived experience of Northern Ireland about the merits of such an inquiry, and we have heard powerful, heartbreaking testimony about that murder and about many more from the troubles that remain unsolved and were never fully investigated.
Let me respond first to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), because he makes a powerful case. He and my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) are right to say that none of us is arguing for a hierarchy of victims. All of us want to see truth and justice delivered for the families of victims of the troubles, just as they would have received had their loved ones lost their lives anywhere else in the UK.
One of the tragedies of the troubles is that the killing of Pat Finucane was not distinctive enough to merit a public inquiry. Such brutal murders—many of which have never received even the pretence of an investigation, let alone one that is fully compliant with article 2 —numbered in their thousands, as the hon. Member for Strangford said. That remains one of the most significant and enduring elements of the Good Friday agreement that we have yet to deliver on in Westminster.
It is therefore reasonable to ask why the killing of Pat Finucane merits a public inquiry and more attention than any other murder during the troubles, not least the killing of police officers, veterans and civilians. As has been spelled out, however, the answer dates back to the Weston Park accord and the findings of Judge Cory, who recommended public inquiries into a number of murders. As we have heard, of the four inquiries that he recommended, only that into the killing of Pat Finucane remains outstanding. None of the subsequent investigations has met the legal standards that are held by the British Government. All have fallen short of the public inquiry that for too long the Finucane family have been campaigning for. Disgracefully, they have been forced yet again to take the Government to the highest court in the country in order to be told that the Government remain in breach of article 2 of the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.
As we know, the Court stopped short of directing the Government to set up an independent inquiry, but the Labour party is clear, as indeed are the Finucane family, that it is the only legal way forward for the Government to proceed. If the Minister considers that they can meet their obligations in another way, we believe it is incumbent on him to lay out what options he considers are available to the Government.
Northern Ireland is a society that has made so much progress towards reconciliation in the past two decades, but the intervening years have served to demonstrate that families, communities and society as a whole will struggle to take the difficult remaining steps towards reconciliation until a solution is found to deal with the legacy of the past. It is dangerously naive to think that a veil can simply be drawn over so many atrocities and outrages that occurred over so many years.
We have an opportunity now for Northern Ireland to escape the grip of the past with a mechanism that delivers the truth about what took place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) said, Operation Kenova and the outstanding work of Jon Boucher demonstrate that that is still possible, that there is a way forward and that a victim-centred approach can deliver the truth. That is what the majority of the victims, including the Finucanes, have been fighting for all these years. They have been fighting for a truth process that acknowledges the injustice of the past, clears their loved ones’ names and enables reconciliation. That was the essence of the Stormont House agreement and the basis on which consensus was reached. I say to the Minister, achieving that will be impossible without building that consensus.
Everything that has been achieved in Northern Ireland has been achieved on the basis of consensus. The Belfast, St Andrews, Hillsborough Castle, Stormont House and the New Decade, New Approach agreements were all made possible by painstakingly building consensus across communities and parties, and in partnership with the Irish Government. It would be foolish to think that that legacy should or could be any different.
Ministers committed 10 months ago to find that broad- based consensus on legacy, underpinned by the Stormont House mechanisms, so the departure from that approach in March this year caused enormous anger and shock from victims and people across Northern Ireland society. Trust in the Government’s approach has been understandably fractured in Northern Ireland. We are desperate for the Government to get this right.
I will repeat in public what I have said to the Secretary of State in private. We will work with the Government and help them to achieve consensus on this issue in a way that respects the Stormont House agreement and delivers on legacy. There must be no party politics for Labour and the Conservatives on this. As co-signatories to the Good Friday agreement, we deeply feel the duty for Westminster to get this right, whichever party is in power. It falls to our generation of politicians to take grave decisions and finally deliver on legacy.
I say to the Minister, it is time for the Northern Ireland Office to start engaging. I urge the Government to think carefully about their next steps, to work to build that broad-based consensus. Families have had to campaign for too long for the basics that would have been afforded them, had their loved-ones been murdered anywhere else in the United Kingdom. If we do not resolve this now, victims and survivors will be here in another 10 years’ time having the same debates, and the people of Northern Ireland will continue to suffer for our collective failure.
I am grateful for your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. Congratulations on taking the Chair. I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in this powerful debate. I see that the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) has just joined us and was unable to speak, but I am sure he would have made similarly powerful points.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) spoke passionately and poignantly on behalf of his constituents. I absolutely recognise the force and importance of his contribution. The murder of Patrick Finucane on 12 February 1989 in front of his family is one of the highest-profile cases from the troubles. As the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) said, it is a shocking case in any situation. It was an appalling crime and it caused tremendous suffering. I acknowledge the tributes paid to Mr Finucane’s family and their quest for justice in this respect.
Previous investigations have made it clear that there was collusion in this case. That was totally unacceptable and the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, apologised publicly for what he described as the “shocking levels of …collusion” that took place. I want to reiterate that apology today. This case is, sadly, but one example, as the hon. Members for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) pointed out, of the violence and tragedy experienced by far too many individuals and families across Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom during the troubles.
Members have referred to a number of tragic cases affecting far too many families, including the case of the Reavey brothers in 1976. I thank the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) for the important intervention he has made on that matter, and I note that the Police Service of Northern Ireland Historical Enquiries Team found no wrongdoing whatsoever by Eugene Reavey in the incident that he raised.
Over 3,500 people were killed during the troubles, the vast majority at the hands of republican or loyalist terrorists. Many of those murdered were members of the police and security services, and it is only due to the courageous efforts of our police and security services that we have the peace and relative stability that Northern Ireland enjoys today. This Government are sincere and unstinting in their gratitude to those who served throughout the long years of the troubles to uphold the rule of law and democracy. Many hundreds of them, as we have heard, paid the ultimate price for doing so.
As the Government of the United Kingdom, we must be equally clear when the high standards to which we rightly hold ourselves and our service personnel have not been met. As hon. Members will be aware, the murder of Patrick Finucane has been the subject of a number of different investigations, some of which I will set out briefly. A major investigation into his death was launched immediately after the murder by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Responsibility for his murder was claimed by the proscribed loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Freedom Fighters the day after the murder.
An inquest into the cause and immediate circumstances of the death was held on 6 September 1990. Between September 1989 and April 2003, Lord Stevens, the former chief constable of the Metropolitan Police, carried out three separate investigations into allegations of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries, the third of which—Stevens 3—was specifically into Mr Finucane’s murder.
As a result of the Stevens 3 investigation Ken Barrett, a loyalist terrorist, was charged with the murder of Mr Finucane. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in September 2004. William Stobie, a former RUC agent, was also charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Patrick Finucane, but the Director of Public Prosecutions discontinued the prosecution in the light of concerns about the mental state of a key prosecution witness.
As part of the investigation, the Stevens 3 team also investigated allegations that RUC officers had encouraged the murder by providing information about Patrick Finucane, that they assisted in the aftermath by removing a roadblock, and that they failed to act on intelligence in the aftermath of the murder in relation to the movement of weapons. The investigation also included the operational activity of the Army’s force research unit, reviewing and analysing all material relating to the FRU’s operational activity. The findings and recommendations from the investigation were submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and in June 2007 the DPP directed that the test for prosecution had not been met.
A further independent review conducted by Sir Desmond de Silva, QC was announced on 12 October 2011. His terms of reference were to produce a full public account of any involvement by the Army, the RUC, the Security Service or any other Government body in the murder of Patrick Finucane. Sir Desmond had access to approximately 12,000 witness statements, 32,000 documents and more than 1 million pages of material produced as part of the three investigations led by Lord Stevens. He also sought and published a significant amount of additional material, including original intelligence documents, alongside his report. All relevant Government Departments and agencies co-operated fully and openly with his review.
The Historical Enquiries Team within the PSNI subsequently reviewed the content of the de Silva report to determine whether it provided any opportunities to progress the investigation into Mr Finucane’s murder. The investigating officer appointed to carry out the review concluded that there was no reason to review the decision of the Public Prosecution Service in 2007.
As we have heard, following judicial review proceedings the Supreme Court made a declaration that the state had not discharged its obligation to conduct an article 2 compliant investigation into the death of Mr Finucane; however, the court stopped short of ordering a full public inquiry, stating:
“It is for the state to decide, in light of the incapacity of Sir Desmond de Silva’s review and the inquiries which preceded it to meet the procedural requirement of article 2, what form of investigation, if indeed any is now feasible, is required in order to meet that requirement.”
Following the Supreme Court judgment, an independent review of previous investigations was commissioned by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), to help establish what steps should be taken to address the issues identified by the judgment. The current Secretary of State also met the Finucane family shortly after his appointment in February 2020.
The Secretary of State recognises the importance of reaching a properly informed decision on this matter and is committed to making that decision by the end of the month. That involves many complex issues, and it is right that he considers them all carefully. As the process remains ongoing, it is not appropriate for me to make further comment at this time. Although I am therefore not in a position to respond to all the specific points and requests made by Members, please be assured that I have listened carefully to them and they now form part of the public record.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I assure him that we will seek to update the House as appropriate. Clearly, the first response should be made to the court and to the family, but I will pass on that point to the Secretary of State and urge him to make the decision clear to the House at the first opportunity.
A number of Members raised concerns about progress on wider legacy reform. I reiterate the Government’s commitment to addressing the legacy of the troubles in a way that focuses on reconciliation, delivers for victims and ends the cycle of reinvestigations that has failed victims and veterans alike. As with other priorities, progress on that has been affected by the circumstances of the past few months, but we are moving forward as quickly as we can.
The Government understand just how complex legacy issues are—that is why they remain unresolved, more than 20 years after the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. However, we are determined to get it right, and we remain committed to working with all parts of the community in Northern Ireland, including victims’ groups and families, to do so. I recognise the challenge to engage in that respect from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), and I can assure her that that engagement will be taking place.
It is vital that we now find a way forward that helps society in Northern Ireland to look forward together, rather than looking back to a divisive past. As the hon. Member for City of Durham said, we must ensure that, as we move this process forward, people can look forward to the future.
I thank all hon. Members who took part in the debate, and I particularly thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for his words and for his attitude. Seamus Mallon once told me that every single death diminishes us all, and I stand by that principle today. I want truth for everybody: no matter where you came from, no matter who murdered you, you and your family deserve truth. I believe that our society deserves truth, and needs truth, because we cannot move forward in a spirit of reconciliation and partnership unless we take away the dark clouds and dark corners where this information is held.
I am also very grateful to the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) for righting a wrong today. A former Member for North Antrim made a scurrilous accusation in this place about Eugene Reavey. Eugene Reavey is one of the most decent, upstanding people I know, and what was said about him was absolutely wrong and totally hurtful. Why anybody would think that piling more pain on to a family—one of many such families—would have some sort of value, I just do not understand.
This is about all of us. Pat Finucane’s family are not trying to tell anybody that their pain is worse than anybody else’s or that their truth is more deserving than anybody else’s, but this case, as I and others have already said, goes right to the heart of the British Government’s involvement in Northern Ireland. The act of the murder, the cover-up of how it occurred and the denial of truth tell us a very clear story about the UK’s intervention in Northern Ireland.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman; I had shadow Front-Bench duties, which meant I could not take part in this debate earlier. I thank him for allowing me to make an intervention. I was a witness to the Macpherson inquiry on Stephen Lawrence. That single murder and that inquiry shone such a light on police practice in the UK that they fundamentally changed it. The hon. Gentleman is making an eloquent winding-up speech. The same light, shone on the case of Pat Finucane, in terms of the police and Northern Ireland security services and their practices, such as the wiping of hard drives, could transform things in the way they were transformed post Stephen Lawrence. That is why I think this is such an important case, and the hon. Gentleman is making an eloquent case for it.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; that gets to the core of it. I just do not believe that our society will properly move forward unless we know the truth of what happened. I know the Minister says that legacy issues are complex—well, they are difficult, they are painful, but they are pretty straightforward. What people want is the truth. What is complex about that? We know how hard this is—we live it every single day. Pat Finucane’s family live it, the O’Dowds live it, the Reaveys live it and all the victims of our terrible, terrible conflict are living it still today, and our society is sick because of it.
The Minister has an opportunity to take some of that pain away, to shine some light into dark corners. The Government made this promise—20 years ago, a promise was made to a family and it has not been kept, and this Government have a responsibility to keep that promise. A full, public, independent judicial inquiry is all now that will suffice. The case has been made. The promises have been made. It is time now to deliver.
If we want to deliver on all of the truth and if we want to get right to the heart of it, to the point made by the hon. Member for Strangford, there is a process. It is agreed. It is another international agreement. It is called the Stormont House agreement. If we want to sort all these issues out, we must implement that, bring the victims in from the cold and deliver the truth that they require. That is what we need to move forward as a society, and I fundamentally believe that we will not do so unless this issue is dealt with.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the potential merits of a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane.