Presence of MI5 headquarters in Co Down compounds cynicism that key agency has prospered in years since 1989 murder
At one point in his House of Commons speech on the Pat Finucane scandal, the prime minister attempted to draw a line under the covert, often morally dubious, sometimes dirty war in Northern Ireland.
David Cameron noted that the army’s Force Research Unit (FRU) and RUC Special Branch – two of the security agencies accused, in Lord de Silva’s report, of colluding with the lawyer’s loyalist killers – were “gone”. In fact, Cameron repeated the word twice in relation to both branches of the security forces, perhaps as evidence that things had changed in terms of counter-insurgency policy in Northern Ireland.
The one body he did not say had “gone” from Northern Ireland was the Security Service or MI5, which in fact today has primacy in terms of counterterrorism operations there. Indeed the presence of the main MI5 headquarters, outside of London, in Holywood, Co Down, compounds the cynicism of many that one of the key agencies embroiled in the Finucane-collusion affair has in fact prospered in the years since the 1989 murder.
MI5 rather than the Police Service of Northern Ireland maintains control of informants and agents – the very people who were not only promoted within paramiliary organisations by being allowed to maim and murder but who in the Finucane case were encouraged to kill.
The De Silva report does shine some new light into dark corners of the undercover battle against terrorism in Northern Ireland. For instance, the inquiry reveals that 80% of the intelligence the UDA were using at the time of the murder was coming from the security forces, mainly in the form of files on republican suspects.
Human rights organisations have also noted the irony that MI5 now has an even more critical role than it did during the Troubles.
The Belfast-based Committee on the Administration of Justice called for a fully independent public inquiry into the Finucane affair, a demand also made by Amnesty International.
Brian Gormally, the CAJ’s director said: “The reality is that MI5 – secret, unreformed and unaccountable – is now running one of the most sensitive areas of policing – covert national security. CAJ has just published a research report into covert policing that lays bare MI5’s role in the past and its lack of accountability in the present. This is a disaster waiting to happen to confidence in the rule of law and our peace settlement.”
The Finucanes alongside Amnesty, CAJ and their supporters internationally will continue to press for that open inquiry. They have argued that this latest report remains one conducted “behind the veil” of security. It would be more honest and transparent, they say, for an inquiry that allowed witnesses to give evidence subject to open reporting as was the case with the Bloody Sunday tribunal.
Such a system of public catharsis would allow even those who ran the agents or had knowledge of them to speak truthfully about what happened. In some cases their identities could be protected as was the case with the paratroopers who gave evidence at the Bloody Sunday inquiry.
Others, such as the army intelligence officer-turned-whistleblower Ian Hurst, or several RUC men who spoke out in the past about the scandal would be prepared to be cross-examined about what they knew in public. They have “in-house” knowledge against the agents, the handlers, the strategies and the policies being operated at the time Finucane and others were murdered.
Hurst expressed incredulity on learning that in one section of the De Silva report dealing with the role of key army agent inside the UDA, Brian Nelson, a fellow ex-member of the FRU was interviewed about the scandal. Known at the time of Nelson’s trail in 1992 as Colonel J, the FRU commander gave oral evidence to De Silva under the term “A05”. However, De Silva’s inquiry team did not take similar oral testimony from whistleblowers such as Hurst – an omission that will only underline the necessity for the Finucanes, Amnesty, CAJ and others that a public inquiry is the next step in uncovering all the truth about the scandal.