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Helsinki Commission Hearing Reviews Progress toward Accountability, Justice, and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland

Finucane Murder, Government Collusion at Core of Testimony

WASHINGTON—At its March 18 hearing on “Northern Ireland: Stormont, Collusion, and the Finucane Inquiry,” the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, reviewed ongoing efforts for accountability, justice, and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.  

Witness testimony focused on the provisions of the December 2014 Stormont House Agreement, especially those aspects addressing government collusion in paramilitary crimes, and the long-promised inquiry into the 1989 murder of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane.

“For years, British officials denied collusion in crimes committed by paramilitaries,” said Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04). “In recent years, evidence has mounted that its security services enabled or had advance knowledge of a substantial number of paramilitary murders. We hope to find out what the British government has done in response.”

“The many previous denials [by the British government] and the time that has passed in the Finucane case have drained public confidence in the peace process and diminished respect for the rule of law in Northern Ireland,” Chairman Smith continued. “There are those who oppose the peace process and their opposition is dangerous. The failure to address the case of Patrick Finucane in the manner promised by the British government provides a readily available propaganda tool for those who would abuse it to further their own ends.”

“Many people in Ireland lack confidence in the establishment and are slow to accept that things have really changed,” said Mrs. Geraldine Finucane, widow of Patrick Finucane. “One of the examples that is often pointed to as a reason for this mistrust of the establishment is the lack of an inquiry in Pat’s case, despite the truly shocking revelations of several major investigations … it is clear that the British Government is fighting against the prospect of full and public accountability for its actions.”

“It was quite a formidable political achievement to achieve consensus on the…Stormont House Agreement,” said Professor Kieran McEvoy, Queen’s University School of Law, Belfast. “If the political will exists from the different political actors, and that will is translated into robust legislation designed to maximize the effectiveness of the different mechanisms, the Stormont House Agreement does provide a roadmap to make significant progress in dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.”

“Most of the families we [at the Pat Finucane Center] represent realize that seeing anyone brought to court for the crimes…is beyond their reach,” said Anne Cadwallader, author of Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland.  “They are, however, full of steely determination that the truth should be told.  They hope that this will ensure that those responsible for taking similar decisions will never again collude in the deaths of the citizens they are meant to protect.”

Chairman Smith was joined at the hearing by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Joseph Crowley (NY-14), Rep. Bill Keating (MA-09), and Rep. Brendan Boyle (PA-13).

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