Patrick Finucane (1949 – 12 February 1989) was a Belfast solicitor killed by loyalist paramilitaries. His killing was one of the most controversial during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Finucane came to prominence due to successfully challenging the British Government over several important human rights cases in the 1980s. He was shot fourteen times as he sat eating a meal at his Belfast home with his three children and his wife, who was also wounded during the attack. In September 2004, a UDA informer, Ken Barrett, pleaded guilty to his murder.
Two public investigations concluded that elements of the British security forces colluded in Finucane’s murder and there have been high-profile calls for a public inquiry. However, in October 2011, it was announced that a planned public inquiry would be replaced by a less wide-ranging review. This review, led by Desmond Lorenz de Silva, released a report in December 2012 acknowledging that the case entailed “a wilful and abject failure by successive Governments”; however, Finucane’s family called the De Silva report a “sham.”
Born into a Catholic family in 1949, Finucane was the eldest child with six brothers and one sister. He graduated from Trinity College, Dublin in 1973. One of his brothers, John, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) member, was killed in a car crash in the Falls Road, Belfast, in 1972. Another brother, Dermot, successfully contested attempts to extradite him to Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland for his part in the killing of a prison officer; he was one of 38 IRA prisoners who escaped from HMP Maze in 1983. His third brother Seamus was the fiance of Mairead Farrell, one of the IRA trio shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar in March 1988. Seamus was leader of an IRA unit in west Belfast before his arrest in 1976 with Bobby Sands and seven other IRA men, during an attempt to destroy Balmoral’s furniture store in south Belfast. He was sentenced to fourteen years’ imprisonment. Finucane’s wife, Geraldine, whom he met at Trinity College, is the daughter of middle-class Protestants; together they had three children.
Pat Finucane’s best-known client was the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. He also represented other IRA and Irish National Liberation Army hunger strikers who died during the 1981 Maze prison protest, Brian Gillen, and the widow of Gervaise McKerr, one of three men shot dead by the RUC in a so-called “shoot-to-kill” incident in 1982. In 1988 he represented Pat McGeown who was charged in connection with the Corporals killings, and was photographed with McGeown outside Crumlin Road Courthouse.
Finucane was shot dead at his home in Fortwilliam Drive, north Belfast, by Ken Barrett and another masked man using a Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol and a .38 revolver respectively. He was hit 14 times. The two gunmen knocked down the front door with a sledgehammer and entered the kitchen where Finucane had been having a Sunday meal with his family; they immediately opened fire and shot him twice, knocking him to the floor. Then while standing over him, the leading gunman fired 12 bullets into his face at close range.
Finucane’s wife Geraldine was slightly wounded in the shooting attack which their three children witnessed as they hid underneath the table. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) immediately launched an investigation into the killing. The senior officer heading the CID team was Detective Superintendent Alan Simpson, who set up a major incident room inside the RUC D Division Antrim Road station. Simpson’s investigation ran for six weeks and he later stated that from the beginning, there had been a noticeable lack of intelligence coming from the other agencies regarding the killing. Finucane’s killing was widely suspected by human rights groups to have been perpetrated in collusion with officers of the RUC and, in 2003, the British Government Stevens Report stated that the killing was indeed carried out with the collusion of police in Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters (UDA/UFF) claimed they killed the 39-year-old solicitor because he was a high-ranking officer in the IRA. Police at his inquest said they had no evidence to support this claim. Finucane had represented republicans in many high-profile cases, but he had also represented loyalists. Several members of his family had republican links, but the family strongly denied Finucane was a member of the IRA. Informer Sean O’Callaghan has claimed that he attended an IRA finance meeting alongside Finucane and Gerry Adams in Letterkenny in 1980. However both Finucane and Adams have consistently denied being IRA members.
In Finucane’s case, both the RUC and the Stevens Report found that he was not a member of the IRA. Republicans have strongly criticised the claims made by O’Callaghan in his book ‘The Informer’ and subsequent newspaper articles. One Republican source says O’Callaghan “…has been forced to overstate his former importance in the IRA and to make increasingly outlandish accusations against individual republicans.”
Later investigations into the murder:
In 1999, the third inquiry of John Stevens into allegations of collusion between the security forces and Loyalist paramilitaries concluded that there was such collusion in the murders of Finucane and Brian Adam Lambert. As a result of the inquiry, RUC Special Branch agent and loyalist quartermaster William Stobie, a member of the Ulster Defence Association was later charged with supplying one of the pistols used to kill Finucane, but his trial collapsed because he claimed that he had given information about his actions to his Special Branch handlers. The pistol belonged to the UDA, which at the time was a legal organisation under British law. A further suspect, Brian Nelson, was a member of the Army’s Force Research Unit. He had provided information about Finucane’s whereabouts, and also claimed that he had alerted his handlers about the planned killing.
In 2000, Amnesty International demanded that the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Mandelson, open a public inquiry into events surrounding his death. In 2001 as a result of the Weston Park talks, a retired Canadian Judge Peter Cory was appointed by the British and Irish governments to investigate the allegations of collusion by the RUC, British Army and the Gardaí in the killing of Finucane, Robert Hamill and other individuals during the Troubles. Cory reported in April 2004, and recommended public enquiries be established including the case of the Finucane killing.
In 2004, a former policeman, Ken Barrett, pleaded guilty to Finucane’s murder. His conviction came after a taped confession to the police, lost since 1991, re-surfaced.
In June 2005, the then Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told a US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland that “everyone knows” the UK government was involved in the murder of Pat Finucane. On 17 May 2006, the United States House of Representatives then passed a resolution calling on the British government to hold an independent public inquiry into Finucane’s killing.
Initial public inquiries:
A public inquiry was announced by the British Government in 2007, but under the Inquiries Act 2005, which empowers the government to block scrutiny of state actions. Finucane’s family criticised its limited remit and announced that they would not co-operate. Judge Peter Cory also strongly criticised the Act. Amnesty International has reiterated its call for an independent inquiry, and have called on members of the British judiciary not to serve on the inquiry if it is held under the terms of the Act.
Finucane’s widow, Geraldine (born 1950), has written letters repeating this request to all the senior judges in Great Britain, and took out a full-page advertisement in the newspaper The Times to draw attention to the campaign. In June 2007, it was reported that no police or soldiers would be charged in connection with the killing.
On 11 October 2011, members of the Finucane family met with Prime Minister David Cameron in Downing Street. Cameron provided them with an official apology for state collusion into Pat Finucane’s death. Following the meeting, Finucane’s son Michael said that he and the family had been “genuinely shocked” to learn that the Cory recommendation of a public enquiry, previously accepted by Tony Blair, would not be followed, and that a review of the Stevens and Cory casefiles would be undertaken instead. Geraldine Finucane described the proposal as “nothing less than an insult…a shoddy, half-hearted alternative to a proper public inquiry”.
The following day, the official apology was given publicly in the House of Commons by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson.
De Silva report:
On 12 December 2012, the government released the Pat Finucane Review, the results of the inquiry conducted by Sir Desmond de Silva. The report documented extensive evidence of State collaboration with Loyalist gunmen, including the selection of targets, and concluded that “there was a wilful and abject failure by successive governments to provide the clear policy and legal framework necessary for agent-handling operations to take place effectively within the law.”
Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged “shocking levels of collusion” and issued an apology. However, Finucane’s family denounced the report as a “sham” and a “suppression of the truth” into which they were allowed no input. In May 2013, state documents dated 2011 disclosed through the courts revealed that David Cameron’s former director of security and intelligence, Ciarán Martin, had warned him that senior members of Margaret Thatcher’s government may have been aware of “a systemic problem with loyalist agents” at the time of Pat Finucane’s death but had done nothing about it.
Finucane’s law firm, Madden & Finucane Solicitors, led by Peter Madden, continues to act for those it considers to have been victims of mistreatment by the State, or their survivors. The Pat Finucane Centre (PFC), named in his honour, is a human rights advocacy and lobbying entity in Northern Ireland.