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Home / Blog / Cover-up in the Finucane Case + Brexit = Trouble in US-UK relations
December 04, 2020

Cover-up in the Finucane Case + Brexit = Trouble in US-UK relations

Even to seasoned watchers of the United Kingdom government’s policy on Northern Ireland, the announcement on Monday that there would be no public inquiry into the 1989 murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane came as a shock.

On February 12, 1989, during The Troubles, Finucane was murdered at his Belfast home in front of his family. He was 39. Over the years, the U.K. government has ordered a series of investigations, yet all have failed to reveal the full truth of who was behind the murder.

Last year the U.K. Supreme Court ruled that the investigations had not been effective, and the government seemed to have run out of all options other than a public inquiry. It had committed to just that in 2001. Monday’s announcement was expected to be the breakthrough the Finucane family had long sought.

But the government said it was leaving the matter for the police to review, despite conceding that there were “shocking levels of collusion” in the murder between the killers and British security forces.

Pat Finucane’s widow Geraldine said the decision was “farcical” and “beggars belief.”

Last week a bipartisan group of 24 members of the U.S Congress sent a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, saying they were “astounded that the British government has refused to live up to its responsibility, and is violating its commitment to establish the inquiry.” The letter also pointed out that the Finucanes have testified ten times to the U.S. Congress, and that Congress has passed a series of resolutions and legislation calling for a full inquiry.

Not least, the letter also mentioned the “indispensable” role played by the United States in establishing the Good Friday agreement, which ended three decades of large-scale violence in Northern Ireland. Enforcement of the agreement is poised to become a source of conflict between the U.K. government and the incoming Biden administration. The British government has announced it intends to break international law by ignoring parts of the Good Friday Agreement in order to facilitate new trade arrangements under Brexit. President-Elect Joe Biden said in September that the agreement cannot become a “casualty of Brexit,” and that further U.K.-U.S. trade deals had to respect the agreement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also warned the British government in September: “Don’t mess with the Good Friday accords. This is something as Americans we’re very proud of our participation in.”

That Brexit could result in the restoration of a hard border between the north (now outside of the European Union) and south of Ireland (still inside the EU) is alarming. It would likely cause friction and possibly conflict, threatening the peace brought by the Good Friday Agreement.

Brexit’s threat to the Good Friday Agreement and the British government’s continued cover-up in the Finucane case may disrupt the Special Relationship. Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Richard Neal (D-MA), described Monday’s decision as “inconsistent, unrealistic and dismissive of the extraordinary human rights implications of his murder—a case where the government has acknowledged collusion but will not accept responsibility,” and accused Johnson’s government of “more ploys, more maneuvering.” 

Human Rights First has for decades supported the Finucane family in their campaign for a public inquiry. We published a series of reports on the murders of Finucane and fellow Northern Ireland lawyer Rosemary Nelson, including 1989’s Beyond Collusion and 2017’s A Troubling Turn, and in 2014 we hosted an event with the Finucane family at Fordham University in New York to mark the 25th anniversary of his death.

After 31 years of campaigning for the truth about who killed Pat Finucane, his family won’t give up. The British government knows that, and seems to be playing for time so that when it eventually concedes to an inquiry, the perpetrators will be too infirm to be held accountable, or will have died.

“There is only one reason to ask the local police to investigate a case that involves the British Army, the security services, and former members of Government — that reason is to ensure they will remain untouchable,” said Geraldine Finucane on Monday. “With every breath in my body, I will fight them to the bitter end.”