A brother of the murdered lawyer Pat Finucane was described as a “major terrorist” and there was high-level Irish government support for attempts to extradite him from the Republic, where he had fled, declassified government files have revealed.
Dermot Finucane, who had escaped from the Maze Prison in 1983 and been recaptured in the Republic four years later, was the subject of lengthy extradition proceedings in the Republic.
The case – which is the subject of a bulky NIO file – caused considerable debate among senior ministers, law officers and officials between 1987 and 1990, files released today at the Public Record Office in Belfast under the 20 year rule reveal.
It was also discussed at inter-governmental meetings.
In a meeting of NIO officials in London on July 20 1988, Mr Finucane was described as “a major terrorist”.
Part of one of the Dublin court hearings was attended by the then mid-ranking NIO civil servant Jonathan Stephens, who is now the NIO’s most senior official, its permanent secretary.
Mr Finucane was arguing that if he was returned to Northern Ireland he would be maltreated in prison.
In a confidential March 10 1989 note of what had transpired in court, the then Mr Stephens (now Sir Jonathan) wrote: “I realise that there were close contacts between the CSO [Crown Solicitor’s Office] and the Irish State Solicitor and that instructions for the counsel on behalf of the Irish government had been agreed with us in advance”.
A detailed five-page May 9 1988 letter from Louis J Dockery, the Republic’s chief state solicitor, gave legal advice to the Crown solicitor in Belfast on how to handle an affidavit submitted by Mr Finucane.
In the correspondence to the Government’s lawyers, he suggested that they respond to Mr Finucane’s allegation that his family were “hounded by the British and the RUC” by getting the RUC to “make a statement on the matter. They could confirm that in 1976 [another brother] Seamus [Finucane] was convicted of having a pistol and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment”.
A confidential three-page briefing note on Mr Finucane’s case and that of two others, Owen Carron and Kane, was sent to the secretary of state.
In the February 13 1989 paper, S A Marsh wrote: “Our lawyers will have at their disposal an array of witnesses including Mr Jackson from the Prisons Department, but it is possible that the court’s questioning may stray into areas that the attorney general has ruled as off limits.
“If this should happen the attorney is prepared to lose the case or withdraw the application in order to preserve the principle that extradition hearings should not be turned into inquisitions about HMG’s actions in Northern Ireland generally.”
The document went on: “The murder [of Pat] may also have a further repercussion. Indications from the Republic are that if Finucane were to apply for bail to attend his brother’s funeral it would be granted on compassionate grounds; this is normal practice in the Republic although state counsel is likely to be briefed to argue against it.
“Finucane has not yet applied for bail and it is by no means certain that he will do so in view of the near certainty that he would be arrested if he were to return to Northern Ireland. (The RUC have confirmed that if he appears in the North they will attempt to arrest him with the minimum of fuss.)”
The previous year, in a two-page June 2 1988 memo to the secretary of state, the same official had said: “Some weeks ago his solicitors (a well-known republican firm of which is brother is a partner) filed an affidavit…”
On being told of that 1988 comment yesterday, the firm told the News Letter: “We are not, and were not, at any time a ‘Republican firm’”. The company added that since its founding it had at all times represented people from all sections of the community.
The file also contains an affidavit by RUC Inspector Richard Gawn in which he attempted to rebut Dermot Finucane’s allegation that the security forces had unfairly targeted his family.
He said: “On February 29 1972 John Finucane, a brother of the plaintiff, was arrested and interned, he was released on June 6 1972.
“Following his release, he was killed on June 28 1972 when a stolen car in which he was travelling crashed.
“The statement in the plaintiff’s affidavit that John Finucane was at the time on active service for the Irish Republican Army accords with the intelligence available to the RUC.”
Inspector Gawn’s affidavit went on to say that [brother] Seamus Finucane was in a car leaving the factory compound at Balmoral Furnishing Company on October 14 1976 “as an explosion occurred at the factory” and that there were guns in the car which were used against the police. Seamus Finucane was convicted of possession of firearms with intent to endanger life over the incident and sentenced to 14 years in jail.
Then, referring to Dermot Finucane himself, Inspector Gawn said that he had been arrested and subsequently convicted of throwing bricks at the Army in 1977.
The following year, he was arrested and alleged that he had been maltreated at Castlereagh Police Station, but no case was brought after he refused to give an interview about the alleged incident, the affidavit said.
It went to say that in February 1981 a policeman was murdered near a newsagent on Balmoral Avenue. Mr Finucane was arrested the following day and charged with murder but the DPP directed no prosecution due to lack of corroboration of evidence of identification.
The RUC officer added that in August of that year, five minutes after an Army patrol on Shaws Road in Belfast came under fire, with a soldier suffering multiple gun shot wounds, the police saw a vehicle containing three men mount the footpath before being driven off. Inspector Gawn said: “As officers had seen a rifle in the vehicle, they opened fire in self defence.
“The three men abandoned the vehicle and surrendered on being called upon to do so.
“They were found to be in possession of a Colt .223, M16 A1 rifle and ammunition. There was also spent ammunition in the car. Forensic evidence linked one of these weapons with the earlier attack on the Army patrol.
“The occupants of the car were charged with attempted murder and possession of firearms with intent to endanger life. On June 14 1982, the plaintiff was convicted by Mr Justice MacDermott at Belfast Crown Court of possession of firearms with intent and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment.”
In March 1990 five judges of the Supreme Court of Ireland blocked the extradition of Dermot Finucane and James Pius Clarke on the grounds that they “would be probable targets for ill-treatment by prison staff” if they were returned to prison north of the border.
At the time, it was reported that Margaret Thatcher was “hopping mad” at the decision.
In 2002, the then UUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson told the Commons that Mr Finucane had been given an “amnesty” by the Government.