Ireland Revisited: Part 17

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Friday, June 15th, 2012
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Pat Finucane was a well known solicitor in the Belfast area. Born a Roman Catholic, his long and distinguished law career saw him represent suspects from both loyalist and republican communities. However, it was his representation of high profile republicans which made his job that much more contentious.

His prominence in cases involving republican suspects saw him successfully challenging the British Government over human rights issues throughout the 1980’s. Finucane came from a mixed background, with his wife born to middle-class Protestant parents. Finucane’s brother John however, was an active member of the Provisional IRA and his brother Dermot, also in the Provisional IRA, was a suspect in the killing of a prisoner officer and was one of 38 Provisionals who escaped from the Maze prison in 1983.

Another brother, Seamus was the fiancé of Mairead Farrell, an IRA member gunned down along with two other members in Gibraltar a year earlier. Seamus was also an IRA leader in West Belfast until his arrest, along with Bobby Sands, in 1976.

With some major republican family connections along with his role in representing Republican suspects, it wasn’t long before the media spotlight would put his life in jeopardy from loyalist paramilitaries. Finucane’s representation of hunger striker Bobby Sands, along with several other Provisional IRA and INLA suspects made him an easy target. UFF gunmen burst into his house on 12th February 1989 as he sat eating his Sunday dinner with his family. Once inside the house, the gunmen opened fire on Finucane, shooting him 14 times and wounding his wife in the process, with his three young children witnessing the horrifying murder.

In the immediate aftermath of the murder, allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the British security services increased. Although always vehemently denied by the RUC, Special Branch, MI5 and the Force Research Unit, many witnesses came forward (from both republican and loyalist communities) stating that whilst they were in custody, interrogators claimed Mr Finucane was an active member of the Provisional IRA and would be “dealt with”.

Claiming responsibility for Finucane’s murder the next day, the UFF confidently stated that they had killed “Pat Finucane, the IRA officer”. The SDLP reacted with fury at the death of Finucane, blaming junior Home Office Minister Douglas Hogg for his remarks the previous month that some lawyers in Northern Ireland were being “unduly sympathetic” to the Provisional IRA. Despite his obvious connections with militant republicanism, Pat Finucane’s family have always denied he was a member of the Provisional IRA, a claim which was also backed up by the police.

It took the police some 15 years to charge anybody in connection with Finucane’s murder when, in 2004, Ken Barrett admitted to Belfast Crown Court of his role in the killing. However, Barrett would only serve two years in prison of his 22 year sentence, activating the early release mechanism contained within strands of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to ensure his release. A subsequent inquiry into the murder by Sir John Stevens was published in 2003 and found that there had been collusion by “rogue elements” of the police in aiding loyalist paramilitaries to kill innocent Catholics in the late 1980’s and that Finucane’s killing “could have been prevented”.

Several months later the Provisional IRA again took its war outside Irish soil and back to mainland Britain, killing 11 marines in the process…..


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