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Patrick Finucane

Volume 736: debated on Monday 12 March 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effect the lack of a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane may have on British-Irish relations and on the Finucane family.

My Lords, the Government believe that the independent review done by Sir Desmond de Silva QC will be the quickest and most effective way of revealing the truth and answering the Finucane family’s questions about what happened to Pat Finucane. The British and Irish Governments continue to work together on a wide range of issues of mutual interest—for example, the economy, commemorations and security matters.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that demands for a full inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane have been going on for years? They have come from the United Nations, the European Court of Human Rights, the Dáil, the Irish Government, the US Senate and the House of Representatives. Will he confirm that on 11 October last year at a meeting in No. 10 Downing Street with the Finucane family and their lawyers, the Prime Minister confirmed that he accepted that there has been collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane? Will the Government not accept that they will soon run out of excuses and that until there is a full inquiry into this tragic murder, the world will think that the British Government have something to hide?

My Lords, first, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in his efforts to celebrate British-Irish relations in the St Patrick’s Day gala reception that will take place later today.

On the noble Lord’s question, yes, many people have an appetite for an inquiry, but we have to accept that there are two features about inquiries: first, the enormous cost; and, secondly, the enormous delay. Indeed, were an inquiry to have been commenced and were it to take as long as the Bloody Sunday inquiry, it would be 2023 before we might expect a result, which in itself is 34 years after the very sad death of Pat Finucane. Certainly, I can confirm what the Prime Minister said in Downing Street, but Sir Desmond de Silva has been appointed to do his independent review. He has been on the job for five months and we are to expect a report—he has eight months to go.

My Lords, it is important for us to address very tragic and, in the past, worrying individual incidents, such as the horrible murder of Pat Finucane. However, my noble friend agree that instead of encouraging individual families to deal with individual incidents now that it is well over a decade and a half since the Troubles came to a close, we should increasingly try to find ways in which the community as a whole in Ireland, north and south, and the many thousands of individuals who have suffered bereavement and trauma—and, as is evidenced, a generation of young people growing up with trans-generational effects on them because of the experience of the previous generation—should be our focus for attention and for the limited resources that can be made available to deal with the trauma of the Troubles?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that it is important to look at the many. The Historical Enquiries Team, a devolved matter dealt with by the Police Service for Northern Ireland, was set up in September 2005 to investigate some 3,259 unsolved deaths. To date the team has looked into 2,423, which is three-quarters of the deaths on which the team has either done the job or is getting on with the job at present. Clearly, that is very important work. Yes, there is more important work to be done, and work continues to be done in discussions between the Secretary of State and the devolved Assembly.

My Lords, I met the Finucane family to discuss their call for an inquiry into Mr Pat Finucane’s outrageous death. The family told me that they had no intention of accepting an inquiry held under the 2005 legislation, even though other inquiries promised at the Weston Park negotiations were in part held under that legislation. Will the Minister confirm that government policy remains that there will be no more open-ended and expensive inquiries? If he cannot confirm this, I must call upon him to initiate inquiries into the tragedies at the La Mon House Hotel, the Kingsmill massacre, Omagh, and many more.

My Lords, it is indeed the Government’s position that we should not go in for further lengthy, costly inquiries. We want to see this work continued, as I mentioned to my noble friend, with the Historical Enquiries Team and with other work that can proceed.

But my Lords, I am not aware that in the case of Pat Finucane anybody has been asking for an open-ended, expensive inquiry along the lines of the Bloody Sunday inquiry that the Minister mentioned. Noble Lords will recall that the agreement between the British and Irish Governments at Weston Park had commitments from both Governments as part of a package of measures to implement the Good Friday agreement, including on inquiries and other matters such as police and security. In that agreement, a decision was taken to appoint a judge of international standing from outside both jurisdictions to undertake a thorough investigation of allegations of collusion in a number of murders, including that of Pat Finucane. This was not a stand-alone inquiry but part of a package of measures agreed by the British and Irish Governments, on which the Irish Government have fulfilled their part, while the British Government have pulled back on just one of the inquiries, having had the other. Does the Minister understand how this impacts on trust between the two Governments, given that agreement made in 2001 between them? I appreciate that he may be constrained in his response, given that there is a judicial review on this decision at the moment, but it also gives the Government a breathing space in which to think again. I urge the Minister to take that space and do so.

The response I would make to the noble Baroness is that there was an agreement in 2001, and we had got to 2010 and nothing had happened. We had a Government in office who had had nine years, and it was not possible: the noble Lord, Lord Empey, referred to what the family was willing to accept, and so forth. When the new Government came in, one of the first things that the new Secretary of State did was to meet the family and discuss things, then eventually to come to a view on whether there is another way forward. As I indicated, Sir Desmond de Silva has been at work now for five months; let him finish the task.