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Calling On The Government Of The United Kingdom To Establish A Public Judicial Inquirty Into The Murder Of Northern Ireland Defense Attorney Finucane

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, let me at the outset thank Chairman Lantos for his leadership on this issue in general, human rights. But also especially in the case of Patrick Finucane, which so many of us have cared so deeply about for so many years. He has been a great friend of Ireland as well, and I want to thank him for that.

I also want to thank the original sponsors of this legislation, including my good friends and colleagues, Mr. Engel, Mr. Walsh, Mr. Neal, Mr. King, Mr. Payne, Mr. Garrett of New Jersey, Mr. Pallone, Mr. Crowley, Mr. McNulty and Mr. Rothman and the many others who cosponsored this truly bipartisan resolution.

H. Con. Res. 20, Madam Speaker, calls on the British Government to live up to its commitment as part of the Northern Ireland peace process to implement a public, independent judicial inquiry into the murder of human rights attorney Patrick Finucane. Mr. Finucane, who represented Catholics in Northern Ireland, was gunned down in his home in 1989 in front of his wife and his children. I would note parenthetically his wife was wounded as well.

For years, Madam Speaker, nongovernmental human rights organizations, regional and very much renowned international legal experts, have raised serious allegations that Mr. Finucane's murder resulted from collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and British security forces. In 2004, retired Canadian Supreme Court judge Peter Cory, who was appointed by the governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom to examine these allegations under the Weston Park Agreement, reported that sufficient evidence of collusion existed to warrant a full, independent and public judiciary inquiry without delay.

Unfortunately, Madam Speaker, the British Government has yet to comply.

Many of my colleagues know that as chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and as chairman of the Helsinki Commission I have held 11 hearings on the peace process in Northern Ireland. Central to each of these hearings has been the ongoing concern about the human rights abuses by members of the police service in Northern Ireland. The Finucane family has testified. Judge Cory has testified. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers has testified, as well as many numerous human rights leaders. All have advocated for a special investigation into the possibility of collusion in the Finucane murder.

Beyond this, Madam Speaker, last year, the Irish Parliament passed a resolution calling for an open and independent investigation. Our special envoy, Ambassador Mitchell Reiss, has testified before our committee that he and the Bush administration have urged for the establishment of a credible investigation into the Finucane murder. And Congress has supported it as well last year with H. Res. 740 and previously as part of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act.

Madam Speaker, this resolution could not be more timely. Just last week the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, who testified before our committee in 2004, released a devastating report which confirms that police in Northern Ireland have colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in several murders over the last dozen years. The very fact that a police ombudsman exists, and that a report as revealing as hers can be published underscores that policing in Northern Ireland is, in fact, very different, very much improved than it was when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. Further testimony to the advancements and improvements in the policing in Northern Ireland is that just this past Sunday, on January 28, Sinn Fein voted overwhelmingly to move to participate in the community policing system that was set up as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

Today, the Independent Monitoring Commission set up in 2004 by the British and Irish Governments to report on paramilitary activity has praised Sinn Fein for its new commitment to policing. When referring to the IRA, the IMC concludes that ``terrorism and violence have been abandoned.''

These developments clearly are greatly welcome, and there is a new optimism that elections for a new, devolved power-sharing government will be held this spring. Yet, Madam Speaker, with reconciliation must come full disclosure of the truth.

The lack of resolution of charges of official collusion in the murder of a defense attorney such as Mr. Finucane leads people to question the government's commitment to accountability and, above all, to justice. His murder symbolizes the depth and danger of official state-sponsored collusion in Northern Ireland and a disregard for the rule of law. It has left victims who deserve answers. And I know, because many of my colleagues and I have all spoken to them, how they want these answers. There will be no closure and there will be no reconciliation without the truth.

As the U.N. Special Rapporteur told us in 1998: ``Harassment and intimidation of defense attorneys goes to the core of the independence of the legal profession and the administration of justice in any society.''

I am also reminded of the riveting testimony offered on this matter at one of my hearings in 1998. Rep. Don Payne, my colleague from NJ, remembers it as well. He was there, when Rosemary Nelson, an attorney for Northern Ireland testified. Mrs. Nelson, who was also a wife and mother, told Congress that defense attorneys in Northern Ireland feared that they could be murdered themselves because no one had been held accountable in the murder of Patrick Finucane. Six months later, after her testimony, Rosemary Nelson was killed, the victim of a car bomb.

Madam Speaker, I would like to again express my deepest condolences to the Finucane family, as well as Rosemary Nelson's family, and thank them for their courageous and tireless efforts on behalf of justice, not only for their loved one, but for all others who have been victims of state-sponsored collusion in Northern Ireland.

Similarly, I would like to acknowledge the work and support from many human rights activists, including Jane Winter of British Irish Rights Watch; Elisa Massimino from Human Rights First, formerly known as Lawyers Committee for Human Rights; Maggie Beirne, Martin O'Brien and Paul Mageean, who have also testified before Congress on behalf of the Committee of the Administration of Justice and have provided very, very useful and timely insights to our committee.

I would again like to thank my cosponsors and again thank Mr. Lantos.

Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.


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