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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 March 2005, 14:24 GMT
Finucane 'may cause Anglo-Irish rift'
Mark Devenport
By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

Bertie Ahern paid tribute to seven women during his speech to the swanky American Ireland Fund dinner in Washington DC.

Six of them were the sisters and partner of Robert McCartney, who captured all the attention during this year's St Patrick's Day festivities.

The seventh was Geraldine Finucane, who has been campaigning for the truth about her husband's brutal murder since the late 1980s.

Mr Finucane was murdered by the UDA in 1989
Mr Finucane was murdered by the UDA in 1989

Mr Finucane was murdered by the UDA in 1989 after being targeted by the Army agent Brian Nelson with, it is alleged, the connivance of elements of Army intelligence.

The symbolic contrast between the McCartneys, inside the White House, and Gerry Adams on the outside meant that the sisters were always likely to dominate the media version of the Washington proceedings.

The extraordinary appearance of Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Christopher Dodd alongside the sisters served to emphasise the scale of their impact.

Because the Pat Finucane saga has been, by contrast, such a long drawn out affair, Geraldine Finucane's campaign was never likely to capture the same headlines this week.

'Trenchant criticism'

However, the latest developments in the case have the potential to cause a serious Anglo-Irish rift and have implications for other campaigns for justice which have nothing to do with Northern Ireland.

Shortly after Ted Kennedy et al said their piece in one Congressional building, a hearing on the Finucane case began in another.

The hearing, organised by Congressman Chris Smith of the House International Relations Committee, heard some fairly trenchant criticism of the government's plans to hold any probe into the Finucane murder under the auspices of a new Inquiries Bill.

After being asked to examine six alleged cases of collusion by the British and Irish governments, Judge Cory recommended public inquiries in five cases, including Pat Finucane's murder

The Bill will enable any inquiry to meet in large part in secret and will give government ministers powers to direct aspects of the inquiry.

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy says an inquiry will remain independent and will have powers to compel witnesses.

However - in a letter to the Congressional hearing - the Canadian judge Peter Cory was withering in his contempt.

After being asked to examine six alleged cases of collusion by the British and Irish governments, Judge Cory recommended public inquiries in five cases, including Pat Finucane's murder.

'Made public'

Now the judge has told the US Congress he does not believe the British plans fulfil his recommendations and he would advise any Canadian judge not to take part in the kind of inquiry being contemplated.

Dublin shares Judge Cory's disdain for the British plans, but so far Tony Blair is showing no sign of bowing to the pressure to think again.

Canadian judge Peter Cory "was withering in his contempt"
Canadian judge Peter Cory "was withering in his contempt"

The government's firmness on this point appears to reflect the power of the Ministry of Defence in deciding what should be made public and what should remain secret.

Congressman Smith told the BBC's Inside Politics that the UK government should scrap its Inquiries Bill.

There are rumours the bill will at least be delayed until the other side of the election, although Paul Murphy did not confirm or deny this when interviewed by the BBC.

After years of trying to get to the truth about her husband's murder Geraldine Finucane faces the prospect of having to decide whether to boycott the form of inquiry now on offer.

Human Rights campaigners argue that in the future it might not be just Mrs Finucane's dilemma.

They claim that other families - such as those suspicious about the deaths of their children inside British military barracks - could find that even if they do win inquiries those inquiries will be, under the new legislation, neither as public nor as independent as they might have expected.




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