Thursday 23 January 2020

State papers 1989: Warning over lawyer threat days before brutal murder


Grieving: Mourners at the funeral of Pat Finucane in Belfast. Photo: Pacemaker
Grieving: Mourners at the funeral of Pat Finucane in Belfast. Photo: Pacemaker

Ralph Riegel

The son of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane has said the lives of other solicitors in the North were saved by the Irish Government's intervention with its UK counterparts in 1989.

Secret files revealed the Government directly raised concerns with British ministers over the potential threat posed to Northern Ireland solicitors by loyalist paramilitaries just four days before the murder of the Belfast solicitor.

Confidential documents released as part of the 1989 State Archive revealed that the Government, in the wake of Mr Finucane's murder, received multiple contacts indicating that the killing was linked to collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the British forces.

Writing in today's Irish Independent, his son, Michael Finucane, said that the "murky truth" behind the murder is still shocking, even after 30 years. And he emphasises the need for a full public inquiry.

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"The contents of the Irish State Papers reveal that the Irish Government was well aware of what was happening in Northern Ireland and made its feelings known on the matter at the time to the British authorities and the British prime minister, Ms Thatcher," he said.

"It is a matter for speculation now, thankfully, but it seems quite likely that the lives of other solicitors were saved as a result of Irish intervention," he added.

Mr Finucane, who had represented numerous IRA defendants, was killed after a loyalist gang broke in to his Belfast home on February 12, 1989.

They shot him 14 times in front of his family with several of his children hiding under the kitchen table from the gunmen.

Secret documents now reveal that just four days earlier, Tánaiste Brian Lenihan had directly raised with the British the fears of the Irish Government over the potential threat posed to Northern Ireland solicitors in the wake of incendiary remarks by the home office minister Douglas Hogg.

Mr Hogg had accused some Northern Ireland solicitors of being "unduly sympathetic" to the IRA.

He steadfastly refused to apologise or withdraw his remarks amid the resultant controversy.

One document, dated February 8, 1989, revealed Mr Lenihan had been carefully briefed about the issue.

"The Tánaiste might like to say in the tête-à-tête that he is concerned about the recent remarks of the home office minister Douglas Hogg, in the House of Commons, that some Northern solicitors are unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA.

"This was all the more unfortunate because of rumours circulating that Mr Paddy McGrory and certain other solicitors may be targeted by loyalist paramilitaries."

Ireland's Ambassador to the UK, Andrew O'Rourke, briefed the British government on a statement to be issued by Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

His memo, that was brought to Dublin by special courier, outlined the meeting with the UK cabinet secretary Robin Butler.

"Butler added one comment - 'not for reporting' - he thought it would appear that we were suggesting that Hogg bore some responsibility for Mr Finucane's death and he regretted this," he wrote.

"I said that in the circumstances of Northern Ireland extreme care is necessary in any public statements.

"In further conversations I emphasised particularly our wish to see an early statement correcting any impression that the British government considers lawyers defending paramilitaries as acting on anything other than a professional basis."

The government knew there would be no censure of Mr Hogg as he "acted on official advice".

"The advice in question came from the RUC via the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office.

"There is reportedly a list which names three Nationalist solicitors (Pat Finucane, Oliver Kelly and Paddy McGrory) and two (other) solicitors with loyalist sympathies.

"He (Hogg) had contemplated 'naming names' - which had been provided to him - but had decided not to do so as this would be an abuse of parliamentary privilege."

Irish Independent

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