So – what do you think of the Finucane case? I heard someone on radio today saying the Finucane family had been caught flat-footed by David Cameron’s refusal to hold an independent inquiry into the killing of the Belfast solicitor. I’m not sure what was meant by “flat-footed” but if it meant they were disappointed, the observation’s accurate. The family had been given to understand an inquiry was forthcoming, they were called to Downing Street and then told that nothing of the sort would be happening, they’d have to depend on the integrity of a British judge. ( Excuse me a minute, the cat needs putting out, he’s having a fit of some sort…)
Where were we? Ah yes, the Finucanes. Every time I see members of that family on-screen I’m struck by two things: a kind of bleak grief that shows on all their faces, and by their gritted-teeth refusal to give up on their quest for the truth about their husband/father’s slaying. I sympathise with them on the first – to have witnessed the dinner-time horror that they did would have driven lesser people insane – and I marvel at their dogged refusal to let the British government palm them off with anything less than the total, uncomfortable/unforgivable truth. It’s over twenty years since that horrifying evening and the Finucanes still are searching for the truth of what happened.
Some time ago the British government gave up on pretending there wasn’t state collusion in the loyalist killing of the Belfast solicitor. What the Finucanes and a lot of the rest of us would like to know is, how high did that collusion go and is the British government stalling on an independent inquiry because the trail might even go as far as Downing Street? Enda Kenny, if you want to be charitable, continued his interest in the case by meeting with the family last week when he was ‘up here’ and spoke of securing American backing for the family in their quest. (If you want to be uncharitable, you could say Kenny got himself filmed with the Finucanes to counteract his arm-punching mateyness with such as the PUP’s Billy Hutchinson during the same visit). Anyway, Kenny’s good deed, even if you believe it was for the wrong reasons, kind of blew up in his face when a number of unionist families wanted to know what he was doing about the loss of their loved ones, and what they see as at least negligence by the Irish authorities in the pursuit of their killers. A classic case of what the late and loveable David Dunseith would have called what-aboutery but a turbulent experience for Kenny just the same.
There are two uncomfortable facts linked to the Finucane case. One is that his killing differs from killings of unionists by the IRA in one crucial respect: the state was involved in his death. The forces that were sworn to uphold the law and protect the people in fact broke the law and in this case murdered a person. No matter how cruel or unjustified any killing by the IRA – and there were a number - they were carried out by what the state would deem terrorists. By being a part of the killing of Pat Finucane, the state has struck at the heart of organized society and any notion of order, let alone justice. The state’s involvement makes the Finucane killing qualitatively different from all IRA killings.
The second uncomfortable fact about the Finucane case is that it has received enormous publicity in part because he was a solicitor. What you usually hear, and with justification, is that the killing of a solicitor who by definition works to uphold the law is particularly heinous. That’s true. But another, less often acknowledged reason was that Pat Finucane was an educated, middle-class man, and in our twisted view of things that somehow makes his killing worse. Had he been, a lorry-driver or a brick-layer, it’s doubtful if his death would have received the same headlines.
It’s worth keeping that in mind because there are dozens, maybe hundreds of cases from the conflict years where people have lost a loved one and are convinced that the forces of the state were implicated in their killing. These deaths are far from as well known and their chances of finding out the truth are even more remote than those of the Finucane family.
Of course a family’s grief is equally painful, regardless of the status of the person killed and/or the source of the killing. But the death of Finucane, an upholder of the law at the hands of the government’s own forces, has a bitter irony that is unique. Provided, of course, that you don’t believe Rosemary Nelson, another solicitor, was a victim of state collusion as well.