The British government’s decision not to hold a public inquiry into the UDA assassination of Belfast lawyer, Pat Finucane, is hardly a surprise. That, more or less, has been the British stance since the day after his death.
What was surprising was the anger vented publicly by Sinn Fein this time – in contrast to past similar rebuffs.
Sinn Fein have had ample opportunity in the many years since the death of Pat Finucane to put some muscle behind the demand for a full probe but never did, especially when pleasing Sinn Fein, or at least appearing to, was a policy priority of the British Cabinet.
I am thinking in particular of the lengthy, almost unending talks, post-GFA, to set up a power sharing government that could lock the Shinners into constitutional politics.
Sinn Fein could have made a sworn and public inquiry a precondition to signing an overall deal, but never did, not during those interminable negotiations.
In fact, I am told that the SDLP made more of a fuss about a Finucane inquiry during those talks than SF ever did.
Why was that?
Two possibilities come to mind. One has to do with the internal politics of the IRA at the time, especially the then opposition of the Belfast Brigade to the direction being charted by the Adams’ leadership, a division that was not fully reversed until after the second ceasefire.
In the months before his death. I had started meeting Pat Finucane on a fairly regular basis. We would meet in the Landsowne Court hotel, have a few drinks and talk about the only subject journalists like me, and lawyers like Pat Finucane, were talking about in those days which was: ‘What the fuck is Adams up to?’
What I did not know then, but know now, is that Pat had his own connection to the BB where, doubtless, the same questions were being asked, although perhaps in an angrier tone than our Wednesday evenings in the Lansdowne Court. It would have been clear to the British that the BB was problem.
The other possibility, short of a British intelligence fuck-up – which essentially is what the De Silva report suggested – is that it would not be possible to probe the Finucane killing without considering the unsuccessful attempt on the life of Gerry Adams – and all in public, with witnesses sworn in and obliged to to tell the truth.
The over lapping characteristics of the two events are the fact that the UDA was behind both efforts to kill, that the same UDA intelligence chief, Brian Nelson, was deeply involved in the preparation and planning and lastly, that the British Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU) ran Nelson as one of their agents.
The only difference is that Pat Finucane was killed while Gerry Adams survived. And survived to deliver a defanged IRA into Stormont Buildings.
The rest, as they say, is history.
But we’ll be asking for a long time to come why one man lived and the other did not.