Fourteen years ago Patrick Finucane was murdered by British imperialism. On Sunday 12 February 1989 he was shot fourteen times in front of his wife and three children by two masked gunmen who burst into his home in the early evening. They escaped in a car driven by an accomplice. The next day the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) claimed responsibility for the murder.
Patrick Finucane, murdered at the age of 39, was a Belfast solicitor who had successfully represented many prominent republicans, including Bobby Sands. He was good at his job and was able to pursue the truth in defence of an occupied people facing the courts of British imperialism. That is why he was hated by the British state and its representatives.
Douglas Hogg, The Rt Hon Douglas Hogg QC, MP, then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Home Office, stated in the House of Commons that “some solicitors were unduly sympathetic to the IRA.” Only a few weeks later Patrick Finucane was murdered.
Now, 14 years later, Sir John Stevens, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has issued an interim report on his investigation primarily into the murder of Patrick Finucane, but also into the murder of Brian Lambert and into the “handling of agents”. This is his third enquiry into these and related events.
The interim report is reputedly 3000 pages long, it has been given to the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland, but has not been made public. Apparently ‘legal reasons’ prevent its publication as it is stated to be a report of investigations that could lead to criminal proceedings, some of these investigations are “in their early stages” – 14 years on!
What Sir John has published is an approximately 20-page document entitled “Overview and recommendations.” This document has resulted in considerable excitement and coverage in the media. What is remarkable about it, though, is that it says very little that was not already known and was in the public domain. In fact it tells us that Sir John knows what anyone who can recognise the truth knows, and is prepared to admit some of it.
What does he tell us? He tells us that agents were complicit in the murder of Patrick Finucane; that William Strobie, an agent of the RUC Special Branch, had supplied a gun; that Brian Nelson, an army agent handled by the Force Research Unit, had identified Patrick Finucane for the gunmen. All this was known, both agents had been in and out of court, with cases failing for lack of statements, witnesses, etc. Strobie was shot dead following a collapsed trial, a shooting claimed by the loyalist Red Hand Defenders. Nelson was recently found dead in mysterious circumstances. Alex Maskey, Sinn Féin Assembly member and Belfast’s first Sinn Fein lord mayor, said: “Nelson was involved in the killing of nationalists and republicans at the behest of British Military Intelligence. He also played a part in the murder of Pat Finucane.” Maskey went on to say “Brian Nelson’s death, coming just days ahead of the expected publication of the Stevens report, adds further weight to the calls for a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.”
It is certainly true that the deaths of both Strobie and Nelson, taking with them the information in their heads, are convenient for British imperialism. With all the other skulduggery that has been going on it is reasonable to conclude that these are two ‘suspects’ who are no longer able to speak out in court or anywhere else, having been dealt with in a more summary fashion.
Stevens also tells us that there was collusion between the RUC, the army and agents in murder. He tells us that the RUC did not deal with loyalists and nationalists in “equal measure”, a great discovery! And he tells us that his enquiries were obstructed by withholding of documents and information by the army and the Ministry of Defence, and that his incident room was burned out by what he believed was arson.
What Stevens does not say in his document, or is careful not to say, is that the collusion goes right up to the highest levels of government, and beyond that to the members of the imperialist bourgeoisie themselves. He is in fact careful to say that Douglas Hogg’s statement to the Commons was the result of incorrect briefing by senior RUC officers, and claims that Hogg was “compromised”.
The truth of the matter is, however, Patrick Finucane was murdered not on the whim of some maverick agent, or because the UFF was particularly sectarian and brutal (true though that is), nor was it the result of RUC or FRU over enthusiasm. It was part of a conscious strategy of the British imperialist bourgeoisie. They have been fighting an undeclared and publicly denied war in N. Ireland, and all their claims to be ‘maintaining law and order’ and ‘combating terrorism’ cannot obliterate that fact. It is war perpetrated by an occupying imperialist power against the resistance and struggle for self-determination of an occupied people. What is more, British imperialism was not winning and resorted to terrorist tactics of shoot-to-kill, of summary ‘executions’, of murder. One, and only one of many, of those so murdered was Patrick Finucane.
Stevens’ document is an exercise in damage limitation. Too much had become known for it to be swept under the carpet, the lump would be like a mountain. The time honoured ploy is to carry out an “investigation”, drag it out for years, and above all put on the spin to ‘show’ that what has to be admitted was a fault in the system – some individuals had been over enthusiastic, had got out of hand, but that is now sorted so everything is OK again!
Can we seriously be expected to believe that? Are we expected to believe that the government is lily white and innocent of all knowledge, at worst being “compromised” by incorrect briefings? Can we believe it when the current government, that stalwart executive of British imperialism provided by the Labour Party, its obedient servant, is perpetrating war crimes in Iraq as the latest episode of a string of predatory wars and occupations? No, responsibility does not rest with the operatives on the ground, culpable though they are, but extends right up to their real ‘handlers’, the ‘respectable’ gentry that grace the benches in the houses of parliament.
How did the Guardian react to John Stevens’ document? As follows, in its leading article of 18 April 2003: “The third Stevens report is one of the most shocking commentaries on British institutions ever published”. It goes on to say “…even the sparse 19 page document released yesterday tells a shameful story of state-sanctioned murder, collusion and obstruction more commonly associated with South American dictatorships than with western parliamentary democracies.” The Guardian may more commonly associate such actions with South American dictatorships, but this type of activity has been the stock in trade of British capitalism for centuries, and with the advent of colonialism and imperialism there is hardly a corner of the world in which Britain has not perpetrated the most fascistic and heinous of crimes, all in the quest for the highest profit! And it has been doing so in Ireland in its own “backyard” for 800 years.
The difference between South American dictatorships and British parliamentary democracy is that the latter has been at it for a lot longer and is a past master at covering up its crimes.
But the Guardian goes on later in its article (wait for it!), “It is now clear that for a period in the 1980s and early 1990s a small group of policemen and army officers decided the normal rules did not apply to them.” So Sir John Stevens gets some help with his spin from the Guardian. And just to tidy up, the Leading article finishes; “And Tony Blair should ensure that Sir John’s recommendations are implemented in full but that he can finish his enquiries without further obstruction – wherever that may lead.” Then, of course, back to business as usual!
And if that sound cynical, lets look back a few years. Over 16 years ago in 1986 the Observer carried ‘revelations’ that Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) “death squads” had murdered six unarmed people in Northern Ireland in 1982.
Here is what the November issue of Lalkar of 1986 had to say: “It has long been known to those with any understanding of the nature of British Imperialism and its role in Ireland that Britain has been operating a shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland. This has been known in spite of the humbug from British government spokesmen, who have stated categorically that no such policy existed. Now, for all to see, the truth has leaked out in the pages of such a ‘respectable’ newspaper as the Observer.”
Three years later, Patrick Finucane was murdered, and the murderer was none other than British imperialism acting through its various agents, both official and unofficial, as part of the continuing shoot-to-kill policy that had supposedly been exposed and ended!
Alex Maskey summed it up: “This is not about rogue elements within the British system. It is about state policy sanctioned at the highest level.”
And Michael Finucane, Patrick’s son, who along with the rest of the family has refused to speak to John Stevens, put it very eloquently: He said:
“There is no reason for us to speak to Sir John. We gave all the evidence we could to the police at the time. The report is widely believed to be some sort of ‘systems analysis’ – an examination of what went wrong and how that can be prevented in the future. Nothing went wrong. The ‘system’ worked exactly as intended, and in the British government’s eyes it worked perfectly.
“The policy in Northern Ireland was, and may yet be, to harness the killing potential of loyalist paramilitaries, to increase that potential through additional resources in the shape of weapons and information and to direct those resources against selected targets so that the government could be rid of its enemies. Simple policy, simple operation, simply chilling.”
It is always he same story. The heinous deeds of imperialism are kept under wraps until they can no longer be hidden. By then a ‘decent’ amount of time has gone by, and they are dismissed as aberrations that cannot possibly be happening now. Maybe a few underlings are sacrificed to prison, or worse in the case of Strobie and Nelson, but the imperialist system remains intact. Let us learn the lesson and apply it to the lies that are being told about what is going on now. We have had enough history lessons to know that the only way such murderous activity can be stopped is not by carefully constructed enquiries by senior policemen, but by ending the system of imperialism that perpetrates them, a system that is not one spoiled by a few rotten apples but is rotten through and through and from the top down.
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