- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

BELFAST, Northern Ireland, April 18 (UPI) — In the Northern Ireland capital Friday, the devastating evidence that rogue elements within British army intelligence aided and abetted loyalist gunmen in the assassinations of Catholics has divided opinion on what happens next — both to the inquiry and to the ongoing peace process between Protestants and Catholics.

The report by British police investigator Sir John Stevens has been angrily dismissed by family members of victims in the killings under investigation. The son of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, a Catholic who represented IRA suspects in court and was gunned down in front of his family in 1989, demanded a judicial inquiry.

"What needs to be looked at is the extent to which it reached back into the establishment," Michael Finucane said, adding that until these questions were answered, his family would not be satisfied. The other killing at the center of the findings was the murder of Catholic student Adam Lambert in 1987.

The Stevens report has been handed over to the Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde, who was the senior investigator into army links with loyalist terror groups before he took up his post last year. He will now explore criminal proceedings against those named, believed to include a former colonel, now a high-ranking army attache in Beijing, alongside the Northern Ireland prosecution authorities. The full report will remain hidden until then.

The Northern Ireland Department of Public Prosecutions said they were not yet ready to say when they would make a decision about criminal proceedings. Orde is expected to implement all the Stevens police recommendations to prevent recurrence in future, however, though most of the officers in what was the Royal Ulster Constabulary's secretive Special Branch have retired. And the Northern Ireland police division, tasked with countering the IRA terrorist campaign, has a history of being beyond accountability.

Its British army counterpart has been revealed as the Force Research Unit, a branch of military intelligence responsible for recruiting and handling agents who would infiltrate both loyalist and republican terror groups and send back vital intelligence. One of the agents recruited, Brian Nelson — who died last week under what some believe are suspicious circumstances — claimed at his trial that he was used to manipulate loyalist activities. One of those activities was the murder of the apparent IRA sympathizer Pat Finucane.

Swift local reaction illustrated simmering bitterness. Pat Finucane's family has been at the forefront of demands for the truth into his killing for a decade, and his widow Geraldine has dismissed the Stevens findings and remit as "irrelevant," despite the fact his report seems to vindicate their campaign to blow open what was regarded as a "dirty war" on the Nationalist community.

Mark Durkan, leader of the Catholic Social and Democratic Labor Party, said he believed the Pat Finucane murder was "state-sponsored and sanctioned." He wanted to see police officers associated with these operations prosecuted, and he added his name to those demanding a full inquiry. Republican leader Gerry Adams referred to a "British policy of collusion" he said he had tried to expose in the 1980s.

South of Northern Ireland, in Dublin, the Irish Republic's Foreign Minister Brian Cowan described the report as a source of concern about the activities of "agents of the state" to his own government.

But despite the storm of controversy the report has unleashed, it so far has not destabilized the uncertain political peace process — at least not any more than it has been since last October, when London ministers reassumed control of the government during a stand-off between republicans and loyalists. Although the Irish Republican party Sinn Fein demanded a Bloody Sunday-type judicial investigation, they have resisted making major political capital out of the evident discomfort this causes the British and Northern Ireland authorities. Where the reverberations will culminate — in other words, just how high they will reach into the upper echelons of the British establishment going back to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government — is impossible to predict. But Stevens' report hints the allegations could implicate senior figures. He refused to rule out the investigation of former government ministers of defense and British Army chiefs.

Stevens, in Belfast for the press conference, said that not only had army agents taken part in at least two of the killings he investigated, but that the attacks were known to them in advance and could have been prevented. Victims' families boycotted the press conference. This is Sir John's third report in 14 years, and he indicated his activities had been stonewalled by figures in senior positions.

Pat Finucane was a high-profile lawyer who some loyalists believed had links with the IRA. His killing remains one of the most controversial events in 30 years of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland. What makes it so important is its place at the center of allegations that not only did some members of the security forces do nothing to prevent killings, they actively assisted in their planning and execution. It goes to the heart of the question of black-ops and psy-ops — a dirty war perpetrated by agents of the state.

Whether the timing of the report will damage hopes of an 11th-hour IRA breakthrough in the peace process ahead of an election here is still unclear. It now remains up to a retired Canadian jurist, Judge Peter Cory, to decide whether there is to be a full-blown public inquiry into collusion in the murders of Catholics going back 20 years.

That is precisely what Finucane's family and nationalist and republican political leaders are demanding. They have called on Corry to bring forward his own findings. According to some sources, the judge privately objected to the Stevens report becoming public as it interfered with his own investigation. The British government may well be a hostage to Corry's recommendations in a way they are not bound by those of Stevens, as they have promised to carry out a public inquiry in line with his findings.

Unionists and British government representatives strongly resist a another full judicial inquiry, however. Authorities spent over 30 million pounds ($45 million) on an inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday on the Jan. 30, 1972, to a crescendo of criticism from Unionists. They accuse the inquiry of huge public waste, and a failure to bring to light any findings of significance to justify spiraling costs.

Unionist leader David Trimble said the Stevens findings did pose tough questions, but he was keen to downplay their significance. The army intelligence community had been overly "enthusiastic" in some of their operations, he said, but that did not mean a public inquiry would get any closer to the facts. And Trimble defended the decision to keep the report under lock and key. Many agents who have infiltrated the IRA, including one known by the codename "Stakeknife," could still be active, and in view of continuing IRA activities, agents lives' should not be put in danger through publication, he asserted.

One other option remains outstanding: a Truth and Justice Commission along the lines of the South African experience. The major obstacle to such a body is almost certainly the IRA, which has benefited greatly from Good Friday-style early prison releases. The idea that former IRA members will publicly divulge hidden details of their nefarious terror activities from the 1970s and 1980s is a scenario unlikely ever to see the light of day.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide