Amnesty International are not alone in finding the resources allocated in the Stormont house Agreement inadequate for dealing with the past. At a meeting of RightsWatch in Westminster last night, the first Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan was scathing, describing the allocation of £150 million over 5 years to deal with all the issues of the past, as “a joke and an insult to the people of Northern Ireland.” The Historical Investigations Unit was “totally inadequate”. She also said Attorney General John Larkin had got it “ profoundly wrong” to believe that little evidence remained and that police investigations should cease in favour of a de facto amnesty. “I believe that many cases would have been solved if the will had been there.”
She took the broad view of collusion, meaning not only direct involvement but turning a blind eye, encouraging illegal acts and conducting sham investigations. The argument was: “We needed to infiltrate organisations to get informants and then protect the informants. Informants who confessed were not prosecuted. Suspects had one long sham interview and then released. Interviewers did not complete records. Collusion between paramilitaries and the State operated through all paramilitary organisations.”
I asked the Sinn Fein MP Pat Doherty if it would help if former IRA members came forward to give evidence of collusion. He welcomed the idea if appropriate arrangements could be made for the security forces to come forward. Lady O’Loan retorted that it was safe to say that knowing it wouldn’t happen” Mr Doherty replied : “If the former IRA were given immunity they would not be found wanting”. And so we go round in circles.
The meeting was called to review latest moves in the long campaign for a public inquiry into the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989. It was attended by his widow Geraldine and son John who was 8 years old when his father was murdered. MI5 are believed to be a major obstacle to holding a public inquiry. Mark Durkan MP told how when he asked Tony Blair at Weston Park why the delay in holding a PI the PM grimaced and rolled his eyes – twice. Jane Winter the former director of Rights Watch attended the Downing St meeting with Mrs Finucane when David Cameron told them he was setting up the de Silva review not a PI. She repeated the account she gave to the Detail When challenged Mr Cameron said, “ Look, the last administration couldn’t deliver an inquiry in your husband’s case and neither can we. Because there are people all around this place, [10 Downing Street], who won’t let it happen.” Ms Winter said that as the Prime Minister made the admission he raised a finger and made a circular motion in the air”
A judicial review of the decision not to hold a PI is due in May.
Rights Watch said that earlier in the day the Labour shadow secretary of state Ivan Lewis had given “ a cast iron guarantee” that Labour in government would set up a PI. This was greeted with some scepticism by the SDLP MPs and the Sinn Fein MP present. Baroness Helena Kennedy ( a Labour peer) said Labour was often beguiled by the secret world and authoritarian when in government. Lawyers present said that a PI into Finucane wouldn’t be anything like as lengthy of the Bloody Sunday inquiry. The issues had been scoped by de Silva and an inquiry would not run on endlessly.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London