Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Hon. Christopher H. Smith
Chairman - Helsinki Commission


The purpose of today’s hearing is to review the report of Judge Peter Cory -- a highly distinguished retired Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court -- who was selected by the British and Irish governments to investigate the question of state collusion in six murder cases, two in the Republic of Ireland and four in the north of Ireland.

This hearing is the ninth hearing that I have chaired on the subject of human rights in Northern Ireland. The Cory investigation, like our hearings, underscores the critical links between public confidence in the rule of law, government accountability, and the prospects for a peaceful future. Mandated in the 2001 Weston Park agreement by the Irish and British governments, the Cory investigation was and is a key component of an accord reached solely to breathe fresh life into the stalled peace process. Recognizing that a peaceful future can only be built upon a truthful past, and present, the two governments stated in the agreement:

certain cases from the past remain a source of grave public concern, particularly those giving rise to serious allegations of collusion by the security forces in each of our jurisdictions. Both governments will therefore appoint a judge of international undertake a thorough investigation of allegations of collusion in the cases of the murders of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, Pat Finucane, Lord Justice and Lady Gibson, Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright”

The two governments also stipulated in the Weston Park Agreement:

“In the event that a Public Inquiry is recommended in any case, the relevant Government will implement that recommendation.”

Take note that the Agreement obligated London and Dublin to establish a public inquiry if recommended. The precise wording of the agreement was “will implement” not “may implement.”

Twenty-three months after Judge Cory began his investigation – seven months after he submitted his final reports to the respective governments – we are not surprised that he has recommended the establishment of independent public inquiries into five of the six cases he investigated. For we too had investigated the allegations of collusion, especially in the cases involving harassment, physical threats and murder of defense attorneys.

At our third hearing, held in September, 1998, Northern Ireland Solicitor Rosemary Nelson asked Congress to support an independent public inquiry into the murder of solicitor Patrick Finucane. Mrs. Nelson bravely testified about the harassment, intimidation and threats made against her by RUC officers simply because of the politics of her clients. She said she had been physically assaulted by a number of RUC officers and that she had received death threats.

The parallels between her situation and the murder of Patrick Finucane were chilling and not lost on Rosemary Nelson herself. She said: “Although I have tried to ignore these threats, inevitably I have had to take account of the possible consequences for my family and my staff.” She added, “No lawyer in Northern Ireland can forget what happened to Patrick Finucane, nor dismiss it from their minds.” She made it clear that she thought the RUC would kill her and continue to abuse other defense attorneys if the issue of state complicity was not properly investigated and dealt with through a public inquiry.

Six months after her testimony, Northern Ireland attorney Rosemary Nelson was murdered, killed by cowardly assassins in a vicious car bomb attack. We do not know what, if any role, any RUC officer may have played in Rosemary’s death, but we do know that they did harass her, they did make death threats against her, and they did fail to protect her.

Having heard her riveting and deeply moving testimony here in Congress, we are very grateful that Rosemary’s case, as well as the cases of Robert Hamill, Billy Wright, and RUC Officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan will now be the subject of independent inquiries on both sides of the Irish border.

That said, we remain perplexed that we have not seen what should have been a no brainer – a decision by the British government to immediately, without hesitation, implement Judge Cory’s recommendation for a public inquiry into the murder of defense attorney Patrick Finucane.

At our very first hearing on human rights in Northern Ireland in June, 1997, Michael Finucane, the eldest surviving son of Patrick Finucane, shared his eye-witness account of the brutal murder of his father. Michael told us:

my father, who was a human rights lawyer practicing in Belfast, was shot to death in front of me, my younger sister Katherine who was 12; and my younger brother John, who was 8; my mother Geraldine was also shot. We were sitting down to our Sunday evening meal when the assassins kicked in our front door and shot my father 14 times in front of all of us...My father was not a member of the IRA. He was not a political activist, nor was he a member of any political party. He was a solicitor who vigorously represented his clients within the law. He sought the protection of British justice for his clients. He represented anyone who needed his expertise from both side of the community.”

Michael added, “my mother said that such was his dedication and professionalism, he would have defended the very people who murdered him.”

Judge Cory in his report said: “there is nothing in the RUC files which indicates that Patrick Finucane was a member of PIRA, the IRA or the INLA.” He points out that the Senior police investigating officer and coroner concurred:

The police refute the claim that Mr. Finucane was a member of PIRA. He was just another law-abiding citizen going about his professional duties in a professional manner. He was well known both inside and outside the legal profession. He was regarded in police circles as very professional and he discharged his duties with vigour and professionalism.

Geraldine Finucane is here today and will testify about the ordeal her family has endured seeking justice for her murdered husband. She has bravely fought for honesty and transparency in a new Northern Ireland. Geraldine you can certainly be proud of Michael whose articulate testimony continues to motivate us to work for justice for your husband and others in Northern Ireland. And please know how much admiration and respect I – we – have for you. You are a remarkable woman and an inspiration for justice, reconciliation and truth.

Judge Cory’s report in the Finucane case is replete with evidence of possible collusion relating to activities of the army intelligence unit (FRU: Force Research Unit) and to the actions of the police force particularly Special Branch of the RUC. I will cite just two examples.

With regard to the Army, the report focuses on government-paid double agent Brian Nelson who was a central player within the UDA (Ulster Defense Association). Nelson had direct influence over targeting operations. Judge Cory reports, “If Nelson is correct in stating that he told his handlers that Patrick Finucane was a target, and no steps were taken by FRU (the Army) to either warn Patrick Finucane or otherwise intervene then that would be capable of constituting a collusive act. Only a public inquiry can determine whether this occurred. The evidence I have seen warrants the holding of a public inquiry on this issue.”

With regard to the RUC, Judge Cory states: “SB (Special Branch) rarely took any steps to document threats or prevent attacks by the UDA, whereas pro-active steps were routinely taken in connection with PIRA and other Republican threats. The failure to issue warnings to person targeted by the UDA often led to tragic consequences...The failure to act on information received by RUC Special Branch, both before and after the Finucane murder, could be found to be indicative of collusion and should be the subject of public inquiry.”

In 1999, the House adopted my bill, H.Res. 128, which condemned Rosemary’s murder and called on the British government to launch an independent inquiry into Pat Finucane’s murder and an independent investigation into Rosemary Nelson’s killing. The vote was overwhelming, 421 – 2. In September 2002, Congress passed and President Bush signed my legislation (Public Law 107-228; section 701) stating US support for independent judicial public inquiries into the murders of Patrick Finucane and Rosemary Nelson – as a way to instill confidence in the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. The agreement at Weston Park, with its mandated investigations and commitment to follow the recommendation of the Cory report, had the same goal.

Now, inexplicably the British government says that no movement can be made on a Finucane inquiry until the completion of a case against Ken Barrett, an accused triggerman in the case. Unfortunately, this prosecution if every completed, will not get to the larger compelling issue of state collusion and complicity. It begs the question of cover up to suggest that the two investigations cannot coexist?

For the process of peace and reconciliation to flourish in Northern Ireland the festering sores – “the grave public concerns” about collusion – need the healing balm that only a public inquiry can provide. We owe it to the memory of those slain; to their families; and to every person in Ireland who cherishes justice to see to it that the British government immediately commences the public inquiry as promised in the Weston Park Agreement. No exceptions. No excuses.