Europe Rights Body Reopens Probe of Northern Ireland Lawyer Murder Case

Strasbourg, France, March 12 (AFP/APP): Europe’s top rights body on Friday announced it would put the 1989 murder case of a lawyer in Northern Ireland back under its scrutiny, after London rejected a public inquiry into the killing.

Catholic lawyer Pat Finucane, who had defended high-profile members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), was shot dead in front of his family by loyalist paramilitaries in one of the most enduringly controversial events of the violence in Northern Ireland. Then British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012 resisted calls by the Finucane family for a public inquiry into his death, even as a review found two agents of the British state were involved in the murder.

At a Council of Europe committee of ministers meeting, the committee “decided to reopen their consideration” of the Finucane case to ensure measures are “adequate, sufficient and proceed in a timely manner”. It also invited the British authorities to clarify how the ongoing police and Northern Ireland police ombudsman processes “will proceed promptly and in line with convention standards”.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which is part of the Council of Europe, ruled in July 2003 that the UK had violated the European human rights convention due to its inadequate investigation of the murder. The Council of Europe’s committee of ministers subsequently closed the Finucane case in 2009 but strongly encouraged UK authorities to continue discussions with the Finucane family on a public inquiry. It is extremely rare for the Council of Europe to reopen cases that have been closed.

The decision means that the committee, which is responsible for following the implementation of ECHR verdicts, will regularly monitor the UK’s progress in the case. The murder case of Finucane goes to the heart of longstanding claims of deep British collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in the violence that overshadowed Northern Ireland for three decades.

Mary Lou McDonald, the leader of Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein which wants a united Ireland, said the reopening of the case was “significant and welcome”.

“The British government is in default of commitments and obligations to ensure a full ECHR-compliant investigation. This bad faith must end,” she wrote on Twitter. Finucane’s son John Finucane, a Sinn Fein MP, described the move as “hugely significant”. “This level of scrutiny is vital to ensure truth can finally emerge,” he said on Twitter.

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