Pat Finucane – why his death matters so much

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. 

14 Responses to Pat Finucane – why his death matters so much

  1. Anonymous November 20, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    When one looks at the faces of loyalist/unionists when state collusion rears its head, there is no surprise that is has occurred there is acceptance. In fact, there is disbelief that the Irish state wasn’t involved on the side of republicans. How else can one explain the call by Danny Kennedy for Enda Kenny to make a Dail apology for the killings by the IRA. I often think they are still fighting the “war”. Take, for instance, Willie Fraser. He has set up his Families for innocent relatives. One wonders how he includes himself in that category since in the book “Lost Lives”, he said,”It was those that helped the SAS and the Special Forces who were selected for killing by the IRA”. Hardly uninvolved, not that that excuses their murder but innocent? How many did he help be murdered by the state?

  2. Jude Collins November 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    Anon 15:30 – I don’t think you can talk of Willie Fraser helping people be murdered by the state – or have I misunderstood you?

  3. John O'Neill November 20, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    Did they commit to a date for the outcome of the QC review or will it be pushed around until it is convenient?

    Is there any suggestion that unionist dossier given to Kenny was anything more than a list of the dead – rather the specifics of the collusion they are invoking?

  4. Michael November 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

    That needed to be said Jude, and you explain clearly and persuasively why. Just two possibly weak points you might consider. 1. The cat joke is harsh. The British law enforcement system as a whole probably deserves your slash; but the judiciary? Has ever a state security force been damned so unequivocally as the British Army was by Savile? And was ever a government response more apt or unequivocal? 2. I think the Rosemary Nelson case deserves more than to be tagged on at the end, as a possibly important additional reference. The full truth in that case also must be told. But you are right to point out how attention, and levels of expressed outrage, get accentuated according to status. Still an excellent piece though.

  5. Jude Collins November 20, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    Thank you, Michael. Mind you, you appear to maybe have a higher opinion of British judges than I have – maybe I got jaundiced with the famous ‘appalling vista” (?) comment so many years ago. Re the British government’s response to Saville – it was greeted very warmly in Derry by the families of victims. Me, I simply don’t see ‘Sorry’ 30 years after mass murder as enough. You’re more than right about the Rosemary Nelson case – the report on her death appeared to want to have its cake and eat it – no security force collusion although there could have been security force people involved…Go figger.
    Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. Anonymous November 21, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Jude Collins November 21, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Anon 10:27 – I don’t expect you’ll listen this time either, but I am talking about – ready for this? – STATE killing of its own citizens, in this case a solicitor. As for “IRA solicitor”, you’ve a very warped picture of the legal system if you think that because a solicitor represents a client, he necessarily favours what the client has been charged with.

  8. Jude Collins November 21, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    Sorry, Anon 11:06 – I’m removing your comment. Personal abuse has no place on this blog. Argument,yes; abuse, no.

  9. Anonymous November 21, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    But comparing a girl’s murder to a car accident is fine?

  10. Anonymous November 21, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    I did not see the comment you deleted but given your past form for allowing personal vitriol against yourself I would be convinced the comment must have been bad and of no relevance to the discussion. I have not yet seen you delete anybody’s argument no matter how opposed to your own. Keep it going as you do a good job and that is from someone who does not agree with a lot of what you say.

  11. Anonymous November 21, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    Also, should you not moderate the comments before they go up? You should think about it because somebody could try to sting you for a libel. All blog owners should do that. If you were the editor of a paper you would not take a chance on letting everything through with a view to removing some of it after the event. Do not be a hostage to fortune. It is you not the libelleous poster who pays the price.

  12. Jude Collins November 21, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    Anon 13:30 – thanks for your words of wisdom – I’ve acted on them. I’m afraid I’m a sadly-trusting soul, but becoming less so with passage of time.

  13. Anonymous November 23, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    RE willie Frazer, the reference was to what he said about his father and uncle helping the ‘special forces’ in their operations, not him. He gave that as the reason why they were targeted. My point, confused as it was in the laying out, was that as active aggressors could his relatives be described as ‘innocent’ since the corollary what he claimed was that those UDR men not actively/aggressively involved weren’t targeted.

  14. Anonymous December 12, 2012 at 1:01 am #

    What a load of biased rubbish you spout. The reason Mr Finucane;s killing is made so much of by republicans is that he was a ‘big fish’ in the PIRA, not because he was a lawyer or middle class. Others who died in similar circumstances are not accorded such high ‘victim status’ because they were expendable. Finuacane was a major player loss for PIRA so they squeal about it constantly to capitalize on the propaganda of alleged state involvement in his killing. Frankly he was a legitimate target and deserved what he got whether his killers got assistance or not does not concern me in the slightest. I only wish more of his kind could join him under the sod.