By Ewen MacAskill
The British government was heavily criticised at a US congressional committee on Wednesday for reneging on a pledge to hold an inquiry into one of the most controversial incidents of the Northern Ireland Troubles, the killing of Belfast civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane.
The Republican chairman of the committee, Chris Smith, accused the British government of being guilty of a "massive injustice" by protecting "those responsible for the murder". The failure to hold the promised public inquiry was "a glaring, public breach of faith".
A member of one of the Loyalist paramilitary groups was convicted in 2004 of the 1989 murder of Finucane, who represented prominent IRA members such as Bobby Sands. A subsequent inquiry established the Royal Ulster Constabulary had been colluding with the paramilitary group responsible, the Ulster Defence Association. But there are strong suspicions that the collusion went much further, involving both the British special branch and the army.
That a group of US members of Congress should holding such a hearing is embarrassing for the British government, which remains determined not to reopen the case.
Smith, in addition to holding the hearing, is asking members of Congress to sign a letter to British prime minister David Cameron urging him to hold the promised inquiry. The British government promised a decade ago it would hold the inquiry but two years ago announced it would not, instead limiting the investigation to a review of evidence.
Cameron, after the review, apologised on behalf of the British government, admitting there had been collusion on the part of the RUC and that British intelligence had been aware of threats against Finucane but did not act on them.
Smith, who in the past blocked the then RUC from training in the US until it was established they met stringent human rights standards, praised the British government for progress in resolving some of the outstanding issues left over from the Troubles. "But the work is not done because the British government has reserved one final, yet massive injustice: it continues to protect those responsible for the murder of Pat Finucane. Prime minister Cameron told the Finucane family that the government would not conduct the promised public inquiry into the collusion."
Smith, chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa, global heatlh, global human rights and international organisations, added: "The deliberate decision not to proceed with a public inquiry is a glaring, public breach of faith. It is the source of enormous frustration to Patrick Finucane's family and friends. It resonates throughout Northern Ireland, calling into question the British government's commitment to peace and reconciliation."
He insisted Congress is not going to let the issue drop. "I'm sure Congress will continue to maintain a strong voice on this case, which goes to the core of human rights and rule of law," Smith said.
Giving evidence to the committee were Michael Finucane, son of the murdered lawyer, and retired US brigadier general James Cullen, a human rights lawyer who investigated the killing.
Michael Finucane, speaking at the committee, described the role of the British government's collusion with the paramilitaries as using "killers by proxy".
In written testimony, he added: "The state was clearly culpable in the murder of Pat Finucane. It simply could not afford to admit to its involvement in a crime as heinous as the murder of one of its own citizens who was, at the same time, an officer of its own courts."
He said the review of the case revealed a great deal of new information but "it is nowhere near being a complete answer. No former politicians were interviewed, nor were a number of key intelligence personnel, including the former head of military intelligence in Northern Ireland, who was in charge at the time of my father's murder."