I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. First, may I pay tribute, on behalf of my party, to the widow of Pat Finucane, Geraldine, and her whole family? As with so many victims I have met, the dignity, determination and strength they have shown in the face of horror unimaginable to many of us in this House is humbling, and I know how difficult today has been for them.
The murder of Pat Finucane in 1989, gunned down in front of his young family in his kitchen by loyalist paramilitaries, involved shocking levels of state collusion. It is welcome to hear the Secretary of State repeat former Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology, but he is right: it is not enough. There has never been an adequate investigation into Pat Finucane’s murder and Supreme Court justice Lord Kerr has said that previous investigations have had profound “shortcomings” that
“have hampered, if not indeed prevented, the uncovering of the truth about this murder.”
That this crime could happen at all in our country is shocking, and that it has never been investigated to a lawful standard is unjustifiable. We have to ask ourselves, as we do with all legacy issues from the troubles: do we accept a lesser standard of justice for citizens in Northern Ireland than we would if this terrible crime had happened in our own constituencies? The Secretary of State references the Manchester inquiry. Do victims in Northern Ireland not deserve the same transparency and justice?
I have listened carefully to the Secretary of State, but the decision he has taken today will be a desperate disappointment to the Finucanes, and I struggle to see how he can make the case that it prevents him from remaining in breach of his human rights obligations, as the Supreme Court found last year. Indeed, an initial reading suggests that it is at odds with some of the central conclusions the Supreme Court reached. He says that through a series of processes the state can cumulatively meet its article 2 obligations. That was the same argument made by Sir James Eadie for the Government, who said that although the de Silva review had not been article 2 compliant, previous investigations, taken together, meant it was. It is of fundamental importance that the House is aware that Lord Kerr rejected that argument in the Supreme Court case last year. Furthermore, he said that the legal standard had not been met because:
“Sir Desmond did not have power to compel the attendance of witnesses. Those who did meet him were not subject to testing by way of challenging probes as to the veracity and accuracy of their evidence.”
If Sir Desmond had been able to compel witnesses and had had the opportunity to probe their accounts, it may have led to the identification of those in the police and the security services involved in the targeting of Mr Finucane.
It appears that nothing the Secretary of State has announced today will make up for these most fundamental shortcomings in previous reviews, and the family have described his approach as farcical. Is he not concerned that all this does is leave him open to further legal challenge and to being back here in a few months’ or years’ time? Waiting for a legacy investigation branch review, which the police themselves acknowledge they are not operationally independent enough to conduct, and an ombudsman’s review of existing evidence is simply delaying the inevitability of the only right and legal course of action. I note that he is not ruling out a full public inquiry in the future. Why does he not grasp this opportunity to deliver it now?
The troubles were a dark and violent time in our history. More than 3,000 civilians, soldiers and police officers lost their lives. Many have never received justice. The trauma of loss and grief from losing loved ones to such violence has been compounded by the prolonged failures of successive Governments to deliver the truth about what happened to them. That trauma echoes through the generations and is felt at a societal level in Northern Ireland. It is incumbent on the Secretary of State urgently to bring forward legacy proposals that would deliver the truth for all victims. It remains the most significant outstanding element of the Good Friday agreement, 22 years on. However, I regret to say that the Secretary of State’s unilateral approach so far in dealing with legacy has been harmful and hurtful to victims across Northern Ireland. If we are finally to take responsibility in this House for helping Northern Ireland deal with the legacy of its past, then he must urgently engage with all communities, victims and of course our partners to the Good Friday agreement, the Irish Government. This was the essence of the Stormont House agreement, which his Government committed to legislating for just this year.
Today’s announcement is a painful setback for those who have campaigned for the truth for decades and in the faith that the Government are committed to reconciliation. I would strongly urge the Secretary of State, in the further difficult decisions that lie ahead, to remember the deep responsibility that he has to deliver the truth to all victims and to reconciliation in Northern Ireland.