by David Granville
KEVIN McNAMARA MP launched a blistering attack on British government ministers over their failure to comment on Sir John Stevens’ report on collusion between British security forces and loyalist paramilitaries and gave his full backing to calls for an immediate independent inquiry into the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane.
Opening a parliamentary debate in mid-May, McNamara, a former Labour spokesperson on Northern Ireland and long-standing campaigner for greater secret service accountability, described the Stevens report as “the most damning indictment of the security services, and by implication government practice” he could recall.
McNamara said that he had been both “surprised and disturbed” that it had taken the intervention of an ordinary backbencher to initiate a debate on such a serious matter. “In light of the grave nature of the findings, I would have expected the secretary of state to make a statement.”
The partial publication in mid-May of the Stevens III inquiry report -- a 15-page interim ‘overview’ with ‘recommendations’-- has confirmed that the inquiry has unearthed widespread evidence of collusion, the involvement of state agents in murder and other terrorist activities, a lack of effective control or accountability over agents, inadequate warning and protection of threatened nationalists and the deliberate obstruction of all three Stevens investigations.
The report also accepts that the murders of the Pat Finucane and Protestant student Brian Lambert, who was mistaken for a Catholic by loyalist killers, had been “preventable” and that Tory junior minister Douglas Hogg had been “compromised” by telling MPs that some solicitors “were unduly sympathetic to the IRA”, just weeks prior to Finucane’s murder.
Stevens’ findings on the murders were clear and it was not in the public interest to further delay the announcement of a full independent inquiry conducted by an “international jurist of repute”, said McNamara.
“The charges made by Sir John Stevens are the most serious to be faced by any government in Britain. They go to the heart of our democracy. Our commitment to human rights, to the rule of law and to justice in Northern Ireland will count for nothing if we cannot address these matters openly and honestly,” McNamara told MPs.
Members and officers of the Force Research Unit were at the centre of the Stevens’ investigation and allegations of dirty tricks and unlawful activities carried out by the British army, said McNamara.
“The unit is now known as the Joint Services Group and, according to Brigadier Arundell David Leahy, its methods of operation have not changed to any significant degree.” McNamara argued that Britain’s intelligence agencies had played a significant role in shaping the political geography of Northern Ireland and for many years had prevented the emergence of a political alternative.
The MP also expressed deep concern at further “even more serious allegations”, which had surfaced recently with the supposed unmasking of Alfredo Scappaticci as the alleged IRA double agent known as ‘Stakeknife’.
“I am aware of the controversial allegations and the extra-ordinary lengths to which the ministry of defence has gone in issuing gagging orders to prevent journalists from reporting them,” said McNamara. I am also aware that republicans regard the whole affair as yet another example of counter-intelligence propaganda.” (A view which appears to have gained credence following the appearance of Alfredo Scappaticci with his solicitor in Belfast to deny that he was ‘Stakeknife’.)
“I urge the government to end uncertainty around his position and to ensure no impediments are placed in the way of his questioning by the Stevens Enquiry,” said McNamara.
If true, the allegations went to the heart of British involvement in unlawful actions in Northern Ireland and government must be held accountable.
“Files with information from Stakeknife would have been passed from the FRU to the Joint Irish Section -- MI5 -- and right up to the cabinet and three prime ministers --Thatcher, Major and Blair. It is the job of MI5 to monitor RUC Special Branch and military intelligence and report independently of them direct to Whitehall and government.”
Prime ministers and senior officials were either fully aware of what was going on or deliberately kept out of the picture, he said.
“I believe the public has been kept in the dark for too long. I believe government has colluded in unlawful activities of its agents. I believe those that are guilty must be called to account --however high up. Where there is sufficient evidence they must be prosecuted and punished.
However, the Stevens report has drawn strong criticism from the Finucane family who continue to view the inquiry as both a waste of time and money and as an integral part of a British establishment conspiracy to delay the establishemnt of a full independent independent judicial public inquiry.
“It is an embodiment of broken promises and dishonoured commitments,” said Pat Finucane’s eldest son Michael. “It carries the hallmark of all Stevens’ work in Northern Ireland, secrecy and repression.”
The family have refused to meet with Metropolitan police commissioner, insisting that they gave all their evidence to the police at the time of the murder and have no further reason to speak to Sir John Stevens.
A group of five prominent human-rights organisations are among those who believe that the Stevens report further points to the need for a full public judicial inquiry. In a joint statement issued by on the eve of the publication of the Steven’s report, Amnesty International, British Irish Rights watch, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, Human Rights Watch and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights stressed that the recent death of British army agent Brian Nelson, who was responsible for assisting loyalist paramilitaries in the targeting of Pat Finucane, further underlined the need for the immediate establishment of a public inquiry.
They also expressed concern that the partial publication of the Stevens report may have had more to do with shielding some of its contents from public scrutiny than, as Stevens’ has insisted, preventing prejudicial material capable of undermining future potential prosecutions from being made public.
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