|Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane who was shot dead by Loyalists.|
Niall O'Dowd in Washington D.C:
You could hear a pin drop in Foreign Affairs Committee Room 2172 in the Rayburn building in Washington on Wednesday.
The occasion was new hearings on the Patrick Finucane murder, the Northern Irish civil rights lawyer who was gunned down in cold blood by loyalist killers on February 12th 1989.
Finucane is the murder that won’t go away, a nightmare for successive British governments. The reality is that everyone knows that Finucane’s death was ordered from very high up in the British establishment, quite how high remains the mystery.
Patrick’s son Michael gave eloquent and chilling testimony about that fatal day his father was gunned down in front of his wife and family.
Pat Finucane was a civil rights attorney who, as his son said, would have defended the men who killed him because the law meant so much to him.
He had become a thorn in the side of the British, was effectively named and set up in the British parliament by a member of the Thatcher cabinet. He was marked for death from that moment on.
But it was Jim Cullen, head of Friends of Sinn Fein in America who transfixed the hearings with his own tale of how he tried to get to the bottom of the Finucane murder.
Cullen has a fascinating resume. Following completion of law school, he was drafted into the U.S. Army as a private in September 1969. He was selected for appointment to the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He was later promoted up through the ranks to Brigadier General and Chief Judge, U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
As the son of Irish emigrants he took a keen interest in justice issues in Northern Ireland. He had an amazing resume from his time in military justice. He was once part of the investigation into the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
His mission in Northern Ireland he felt was the same as My Lai, find out the unvarnished truth and act on it whatever the cost. He says that is what was pretty much done in the Savile inquiry into Bloody Sunday in Derry, which resulted in acceptance by the nationalist community there that Prime Minister David Cameron had allowed the inquiry to do its best and find the truth.
In an attempt to do that in the Finucane case and faced with British stonewalling, an ad was placed by leading Irish Americans including Cullen in the 1990s in the Belfast Telegraph offering a reward for information on who killed Pat Finucane.
To Jim’s surprise the ad was responded to and he found himself in a Belfast hotel room with a Loyalist prepared to tell him the truth.
William Stobie told him he was the man who supplied the two guns for the murder of Finucane. He was a high up figure in the Ulster Defense Association who was also a Special Branch informer.
On the day of the murder in February 1989 he had told his handlers that he was about to be involved in a hit. They let him go ahead.
When the two assassins arrived at his home to get the guns Stobie saw a Special Branch car and his handler parked opposite his house observing the scene. He assumed they were there to arrest the two men when they reached the scene of the crime.
Instead they did a u-turn and drove away.
Later that day Stobie heard on the radio about the Finucane murder.
Subsequently Cullen said Stobie came under suspicion as an informer who knew too much about the Finucane murder, which became an international scandal.
Stobie knew he knew too much, told two journalists and eventually a third about his role and told the UDA if anything happened to him the story would go public.
Then after international pressure came the Stevens inquiry into collusion and the Finucane death. Allegations of a plot reaching all the way up to Margaret Thatcher were rife.
Later on Stobie let it be known he would testify about what really happened the day Finucane was assassinated to a sworn inquiry as had been demanded by the Finucane family.
As Cullen noted, that would have been explosive evidence. Stobie never got to give evidence. He was murdered in December 2001 by persons unknown.
What he would have revealed we will never know. I’m sure the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. Congress has heard many such horrific tales of assassination by evil forces of crusading lawyers and human rights activists.
But because it was Britain, because it was a former Chief Judge of the U.S. Army giving evidence, it seemed all the more chilling to hear of the fate of William Stobie, a man who went to his grave knowing many dark secrets.
“The prior knowledge of the Special Branch and the FRU about the murder, together with coordination of Special Branch and FRU activities at the very top of their command chains, make clear the extent of the governmental collusion in Pat Finucane’s murder,” Cullen said.
“The refusal by the British government to convene a credible independent inquiry into Pat Finucane’s murder ensures there will be no accountability for those who orchestrated and sanctioned the murder of Pat Finucane.
Faceless securocrats and their political protectors have successfully neutered the rule of law in Northern Ireland and have sadly intimidated the current political leadership of the U.K.”
Kudos to Republican Congressman Chris Smith for holding the hearings and for holding up the light to what will always remain one of the most horrific slayings of The Troubles.
It is always gratifying when truth gets a day out.