State Archives: Files reveal Charles Haughey's concern at claim lawyers ‘unduly sympathetic’ to IRA

State Archives: Files reveal Charles Haughey's concern at claim lawyers ‘unduly sympathetic’ to IRA

The Government raised concerns over claims made by a British Conservative minister that some lawyers in Northern Ireland were “unduly sympathetic to the IRA”, weeks before Pat Finucane was killed.

In an official Irish government note, released under the 30-year rule, it was revealed then taoiseach Charles Haughey and other senior members of his cabinet were worried about the implications of Douglas Hogg’s remarks in the British House of Commons.

Mr Finucane was shot 14 times in front of his wife and children by Ulster Defence Association gunmen in 1989.

Three weeks before the Belfast solicitor was killed, Mr Hogg claimed in the Commons that there were a number of lawyers in Northern Ireland who were “unduly sympathetic to the IRA”.

After the murder, Irish ambassador Andrew O’Rourke asked Cabinet secretary Robin Butler to issue a statement “correcting any impression” that the British Government considered lawyers defending paramilitaries as acting on anything other than a professional basis.

In a meeting at the London Embassy, a journalist was told by senior staff inside Number 10 that there would be no retraction of Mr Hogg’s remarks, nor any public censure of the statement.

It also emerged Mr Hogg believed he was safe because he “acted on official advice”, and he repeated the claims a number of times to “reflect” a precise official briefing.

Mr Hogg told journalist Des McCartan that he had contemplated naming names – which had been provided to him – but had decided not to as this would be an abuse of parliamentary privilege.

Mr McCartan believed the advice came from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) through the Northern Ireland Office and the British Home Office.

Pat Finucane.
Pat Finucane.

It was claimed there was a list which named three nationalist solicitors – Mr Finucane, Oliver Kelly and Paddy McGrory – and two solicitors with “loyalist sympathies”.

David Donoghue, a press and information officer, wrote to Dermot Gallagher, the assistant secretary at the Department of Foreign Affairs, on May 15, 1989, after he met with Peter Murtagh, a journalist at The Guardian.

The pair discussed an article written by David Hearst which claimed Northern Ireland lawyers pay a portion of their fees to paramilitary organisations in order to secure briefs.

Mr Murtagh said Mr Hearst picked this up in a conversation with RUC sources shortly after the murder of Mr Finucane.

“He was critical of his colleagues for having swallowed this line,” Mr Donoghue said in the letter.

He himself has had contact with Paddy McGrory in relation to Gibraltar and is aware of the acute danger faced by McGrory and others since the Finucane killing.

Similar claims were made in another government note dated February 13, 1989, in which an Irish official said they were concerned by rumours that policemen in the North had prompted loyalist paramilitaries in custody to attack solicitors acting for republican defendants.

However, Sean O’Huiginn went on to say that Irish government officials were dismissive of the rumour that loyalist suspects had been encouraged to take action.

Michael Cowan, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, wrote to then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in March 1989, stating the body deplored the “callous and inhuman” conduct of Mr Hogg, which he claimed encouraged murderous attacks on solicitors.

“We are appalled at the indifference displayed by Northern Ireland secretary Tom King in defending Mr Hogg’s refusal to retract his libel against human rights lawyers,” Mr Cowan went on to say.

The letter called for the resignation of Mr Hogg and Mr King.

Days after Mr Finucane’s murder, Brendan McMahon from the Anglo/Irish division met with Mr McGrory.

Mr McGrory said the RUC were convinced the threat to him, Mr Kelly and Pascal O’Hare was a “very real one”.

Mr McMahon went on to say: “He showed me a copy of a message received by a news service from the UFF naming all three of them using a code (Star of David Ulidia) to verify its authenticity.

“Dessie Boal QC has advised him that the only way to eliminate the threat of this kind is through contact with those making the threat and Boal is making discreet inquiries in this regard.

“McGrory is very reluctant to go down that avenue or to have any representations made to the people involved.”

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