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Eoghan Harris: Public inquiry calls will raise the beast of sectarianism

Eoghan Harri

Published 16/12/2012 | 05:00

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Last Thursday I launched James Flynn's Life of Fr James Anderson OSA, a famous 19th Century nationalist priest, in St Augustine's Church, Drogheda. Naturally my remarks ranged from Colm Keaveney's resignation to my reservations about the Finucane family's call for a public inquiry.

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Later I had a chat with Fr Iggy Donovan, who got into hot water for inviting Protestant clergy to a Mass in 2006, and Donnacha Mac Raghnaill, a stern critic of the Provo campaign and chairman of the Labour Party in Drogheda. As both men like straight talk I told them what I thought.

Just as weak people cause more trouble than strong people, so weak governments do more damage than strong governments. That is why I respect both Pat Rabbitte for holding the hard line, and Colm Keaveney for walking the walk. But I hope the Labour wobblers lose their seats.

But while Rabbitte was acting like the Real Taoiseach, Enda Kenny was getting petulant with Gerry Adams for asking about his pay. For the second time in three months Kenny reach-ed for a cheap jibe about Jean McConville rather than wait for a chance to put her murder in a proper context.

Later in the week, Kenny passed up a perfect chance to do so when Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail called for pressure on the British government to hold a full inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. Kenny should have told them firmly that any such campaign would foment further sectarian tensions, ruin the recent good work in Anglo Irish relations, and open a few cans of worms for the Irish Republic as well.

Let me pause to say that the cruel circumstances of the murder of Pat Finucane still sicken me: the smashing of sledge-hammers, the deafening thunder of 14 shots, the white faces of his wife and children, the vicious violation of the sanctity of a family home. The Finucanes have a right to their anger.

But whether the Government should make a family's anger the state's agenda is debatable. Michael McDowell's moving film The Lost Boy revealed that, in 1922, Eoin MacNeill put aside his private anger at the killing of his son Brian so as to protect the fragile Free State.

Last week, on the internet, republican propagandists were using the loyalist flags issue and the Finucane murder to incite sectarian hatred. They are brainwashing a new generation of IRA recruits with a big lie: that the British state at the highest levels colluded in the murder of a simple human rights lawyer.

That is not how it looks to loyalists and unionists. They know Finucane was a strong republican and that his three brothers were republican activists. John Finucane was given an IRA funeral after he was killed on active service in a car crash on the Falls Road. Dermot Finucane was part of the IRA break-out from the Maze in September 1983, when a warder was stabbed to death. A third brother was the fiancé of Mairead Farrell, one of the IRA trio of intransigents shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar in 1988.

Furthermore, as Diarmuid McDermott of the Irish News Agency reminded Pat Kenny on Friday, Finucane was not the only young lawyer murdered. On a fine December morning in 1983, Edgar Graham, 29, a rising young barrister and member of the NI Assembly, was chatting to his colleague Dermot Nesbitt in the grounds of QUB when he was shot in the head by an IRA killer.

Graham's death had a traumatic effect on politicians like David Trimble. But he put that murder behind him to make peace. No unionist lobby has called for a public inquiry. Just as well as such an inquiry could well lead to prominent Sinn Fein politicians.

Finally, let me answer the charge that the Finucane murder was fundamentally different from the murder of Edgar Graham or Jean McConville because it involved British state terror and British state collusion. But open that can of worms and who has clean hands?

The Lost Boy revealed that the Irish Free State was no slouch in using state terror. Eoin MacNeill and the Free State cabinet crushed the IRA by shooting 77 prisoners. One of them was his own son, Brian MacNeill, shot after he had surrendered.

Fianna Fail followed suit. De Valera shot or hanged six members of the IRA during World War Two. Meantime, the Special Branch fomented murderous dissensions within the IRA's ranks. In sum, it took some state terror to save Irish democracy from going down a darker road.

Nor can the Irish Government get on its high horse about state collusion. Three Irish cabinet ministers, Charles Haughey, Niall Blaney and Kevin Boland, helped to set up the Provisional IRA. So are we not in some sense morally responsible for the 3,000 deaths that followed?

For most of the 30 years of the armed struggle the Irish government colluded in protecting IRA killers by refusing to extradite IRA killers who had sought refuge in the Republic. This included the IRA gang responsible for the Kingsm-ill Massacre of Protestant workmen. Let me give just two examples of that culture of moral collusion.

In 1985, Colm Toibin wrote a piece for Magill Inside the Supreme Court. He recounted how on St Patrick's Day 1984, Chief Justice Brian Walsh was informed by telephone that 'Mad Dog' Dominic McGlinchey had been recaptured by gardai after a shoot-out in Clare.

Walsh made it clear he did not believe McGlinchey should be extradited and certainly not on St Patrick's Day. And his reasons? " Kevin Barry had been hanged on All Saints Day, Rory O'Connor and Liam Mellowes had been executed on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. And Dominic McGlinchey, Walsh said, should not be extradited on St Patrick's Day. His caller did not ring back."

Five years later, in 1990, Walsh dismissed an attempt to extradite Pat Finucane's brother, Dermot Finucane, in connection with the killing of the warder during the Maze breakout. Walsh said membership of the IRA was not a threat to the Constitution, because they sought "ultimate unity" not subversion!

Last August, victims of the Kingsmill massacre came to Dublin to talk to the Taoiseach about this moral collusion. They did not ask for a public inquiry. They just wanted an apology from the Irish Government – the kind of apology David Cameron made to the Finucane family.

All they got was a good hearing. That's probably all this generation can give the families of victims without endangering the peace process. Because neither the British nor Irish govern-ments have clean hands.

Eoin MacNeill took his sons away from St Enda's because he felt they were being brainwashed by Pearse. We should emulate his example. We must not allow a new generation to be manipulated by godfathers using grieving families to recruit to the Recurring IRA.

If the Finucanes are entitled to a public inquiry, then so are the Kingsmill and McConville families. But go down that road and we risk waking up the rough beast of sectarianism. Do we really want to send it slinking towards the fragile Bethlehem of peace we have built in Northern Ireland?

Sunday Independent

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