Northern Ireland Human Rights: Update on the Cory Collusion Inquiry ReportsThe Honorable Mitchell B. Reiss, Special Envoy of the President and the Secretary of State for the Northern Ireland Peace Process
Testimony Before the House International Relations Committee Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operation
March 16, 2005
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss the case of Pat Finucane and continuing efforts to answer all of the questions surrounding his murder on February 12, 1989. As is common in countries emerging from periods of intense civil conflict, Northern Ireland is now grappling with the difficult issues of how to deal with its past in a manner that consolidates the gains that have been achieved during the peace process and contributes to a just future characterized by mutual respect. As I will discuss in detail, the U.S. Administration has long recognized the symbolic importance of the Finucane case and the importance of establishing a public inquiry to examine the allegations of collusion.
The question of how to deal with crimes committed during civil conflict is one of the most vexing problems facing societies in post-conflict periods. There is no standard method to deal with these matters. What is appropriate for South Africa differs from what should be used in the Balkans. In Northern Ireland over the past decade there have been numerous discussions about possible ways forward. Ideas discussed have included amnesties; the release of government information; the creation of an archive of victims’ stories; the establishment of a truth commission; and issuance of public apologies. It is for the people of Northern Ireland, particularly those who suffered losses during the Troubles, to design a process or a combination of processes that meets their needs.
In parallel with these discussions, the British government has initiated independent inquiries into a number of high-profile cases in which there are allegations of wrong-doing by state officials. Among these cases is the inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972, which was established in 1998. In a separate initiative, last month Prime Minister Blair publicly apologized for the injustice caused to 11 individuals wrongfully imprisoned following the IRA bombings in Guilford in 1974.
In 2001, the British government also agreed to conduct an inquiry into the murder case of Pat Finucane provided that Judge Peter Cory concluded that such an inquiry was justified by well-grounded indications of collusion between the government and the perpetrators. (Judge Cory also considered five other cases involving allegations of collusion; three in Northern Ireland and two in the Republic of Ireland.) The Cory process was one of the outcomes of the Weston Park talks, which were a significant milestone in the peace process because they paved the way for the SDLP to give its support to the new policing structures.
Mr. Chairman, in your capacity as a member of this committee and as co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, you have brought the Finucane case to the attention of the American people with a series of hearings and briefings over several years. Your hearing last year included testimony from Judge Cory, who discussed the material that he collected on this extremely complex case. His report detailed the activities of the British military and police intelligence agencies in Northern Ireland during the period of Finucane’s murder. It also discussed the possible links to the murder of Brian Nelson and William Stobie, both of whom worked as government agents within the Ulster Defense Association, the loyalist paramilitary organization that claimed responsibility for Finucane’s murder. Based on this material, Judge Cory concluded:
The UK government accepted this recommendation in principle, but deferred establishing an inquiry due to concerns over compromising prosecutions in the case. The Finucane family expressed disappointment over this delay, arguing that a public inquiry should take precedence over prosecutions. In his report, Judge Cory recognized the tension between society’s obligation to bring those suspected to justice through the courts and the public’s interest in establishing an inquiry to examine allegations of collusion.
In September 2004, the suspected gun-man, Ken Barrett, confessed to the Finucane murder and is now serving a sentence of 22 years (although he may be eligible for early release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement).
Following Barrett’s conviction, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, announced that the British government would establish an inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane. He also announced, however, that the inquiry would be established on the basis of new legislation governing inquiries.
This new legislation, the Inquiries Act, is currently being considered by the UK Parliament. The Finucane family, as well as several human rights organizations, have raised concerns about provisions of the proposed Inquiries Act. There is concern that, as drafted, the Act could reduce the independence and transparency of an inquiry into the Finucane murder.
It is for the Parliament of the UK to debate and decide on matters related to this draft legislation. Whatever legislative instrument is used, my concern is that the inquiry have the necessary legal powers to establish the truth of what happened in the Finucane case and that the process have the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland. To gain that confidence, I believe the chairman of the inquiry will need to be a person of unimpeachable integrity and international standing. The chair and other members of the inquiry should be fully satisfied that the terms of reference will provide them with the authority necessary to establish the truth and to examine thoroughly the allegations of collusion highlighted by Judge Cory. Public confidence also requires as much transparency as possible, within the constraints of protecting lives and considerations of national security. Judge Cory’s report is eloquent on this point: "Without public scrutiny, doubts based solely on myth and suspicion will linger long, fester and spread their malignant infection through the Northern Ireland community."
In my remaining time, Mr. Chairman, I would like to detail our government’s actions to support the goals articulated by Judge Cory. At the outset, I want state my belief that the British government officials with whom I have worked with on this issue, including Prime Minister Blair and Secretary Murphy, share the desire to establish this inquiry in a manner that achieves the goals of establishing the truth and securing public confidence. This is consistent with Prime Minister’s Blair’s unstinting support for achieving the goals of the Good Friday Agreement.
The American role in the peace process has been to support the efforts of the British and Irish governments. Our approach to Northern Ireland reflects core American values: the primacy of the rule of law, protection of human rights and safeguarding equality of treatment. Our advocacy for a Finucane inquiry is consistent with this vision. We believe that resolution of this case will advance the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Since my appointment as Special Envoy for the Northern Ireland Peace Process last January, I have traveled to the region four times, including to participate in the negotiations at Leeds Castle last September. During these visits, I have met with the Prime Minister Tony Blair, Secretary Murphy, and with Prime Minister Blair’s Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell. I have also met regularly with senior officials of the Northern Ireland Office and with representatives of the British Embassy in Washington. In each of these meetings, without exception, I have raised the Finucane case and emphasized the importance of an inquiry that follows the principles articulated by Judge Cory.
I have also met with the Finucane family, both in Belfast and here in Washington and have been in contact with Mr. Peter Madden, the solicitor for the family and Pat Finucane’s former law partner. I have shared with the Taoiseach and senior members of the Irish government my discussions and actions regarding this case. My recent meetings have included detailed discussions on the draft Inquiries Act and its potential impact on this case. This dialogue is ongoing.