Kevin Myers: Finucane Inquiry calls are futile: the British won't reveal dirty tricks
Published 14/12/2012 | 05:00
CONTRAST the Government's adamant refusal to have a public inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar with its equally vehement insistence that there should be one into the murder of Pat Finucane.
Connoisseurs of such matters will have particularly relished the sight of Gerry Adams, a noble fellow who knows nothing whatever of murder, trembling with righteous anger as he too called for a public inquiry into the Finucane affair.
Even by the execrable standards of Northern Ireland, the assassination of Pat Finucane was perfectly evil: terrorists sledge-hammering down the front door and then shooting their victim to death at the family dinner table, gravely wounding his wife. This unspeakable atrocity, organised by servants of a "democratic" state, was, unequivocally, a war crime, for which its highest political authorisers – and not just its sordid executioners – absolutely must be punished.
But calls for a public inquiry are futile. The British are not going to expose the inner workings of their intelligence organisations to the entire world. Furthermore, we in Ireland have the misfortune to know something about inquiries: those fell words – "Flood", "Moriarty" and "Mahon" – almost rob one of the will to live.
The Saville Inquiry, into a slaughter of unarmed young men, rather thoughtfully conducted in broad daylight, nonetheless lasted a dozen years and cost £400m. How does one conduct an inquiry into the Byzantine horrors of Northern Ireland's dirty war (Scapaticci, anyone?), which would be efficacious but without resulting in an estate in Provence for every single barrister in Ireland and Britain?
Does anyone actually believe that MI5 or MI6 or even MIXXX is calmly going to allow Irish nationalists a free run at revealing the dirty tricks of British intelligence, without the British in reply gleefully exposing how the Fianna Fail government of 1969-70 helped found the Provisional IRA? And how long before the strands from the Finucane Inquiry ineluctably reach towards, say, the King's Mill massacre of 10 Protestant workmen, or to Enniskillen, both of which atrocities had cross-border dimensions? Oh, mess with the tougher nuts of British intelligence, and then repent at your leisure.
There's another aspect to consider: the nationalist preference for the myths of victimhood over historical reality. Perhaps the most spectacular example of this was Ireland's foundation inquiry, from which all others descend: the public commission into the murders of three wholly innocent men in Portobello Barracks during the Rising in 1916: the republican, Francis Sheehy Skeffington, whose name alone is remembered today, and Thomas Dickson and Patrick McIntyre, who, being unionists, are forgotten.
Far from it being a military cover-up, as now alleged, the commission was composed of two Irish Catholic jurists and a Jewish King's Counsel from Manchester. They heard that the killings were carried out on the orders of a mentally deranged Irish officer named Bowen-Colthurst (who killed five unarmed people that night). The duty adjutant, Lieutenant SV Morgan, was a working class Irish Catholic, commissioned from the ranks. Two 18-year-old subalterns, just out of school, were also present: Lieutenant A Wilson, from Frankfort Avenue, Rathgar, just five hundred yards away, and Lieutenant W Dobbin, whose father was governor of Waterford Jail. (All three were soon to die in the war.)
Francis Sheehy-Skeffington's family was represented by Tim Healy, KC MP, by now of largely Sinn Fein sympathies. He declared to the commission: "In a time of war like the present, we should eliminate all topics of racial prejudice by making it clear that we are here concerned with an Irish regiment and Irish officers and the discredit which must indelibly remain on them would be a discredit to my own country (Ireland), and therefore not appertaining to Great Britain."
Couldn't be clearer, could it? Not a British crime, but an Irish one.
Yet though these words were reported in 'The Irish Times' in August 1916, 90 years later 'The Irish Times Book of the 1916 Rising' of 2006 never even mentioned them, instead blithely referring to "British atrocities, including the murders of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and other innocent civilians".
So, a Finucane Inquiry would certainly enrich generations of lawyers, even those as yet unborn – a heart-warming prospect indeed! – but with equal certainty would do terrible damage to Anglo-Irish relations. Moreover, to judge from the Sheehy-Skeffington Commission, and every inquiry since, the only public memories resulting from it – fictional or otherwise – would be those myths that accorded with the canon of nationalist self-pity.