The British Government has controversially ruled out a public inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, despite calls from the Irish Government to do so.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said he had decided not to establish an inquiry but that the British Government remained committed to the process of reconciliation.
Mr Lewis said: "I have today spoken to the Finucane family. I advised them of my decision not to establish a public inquiry at this time."
Mr Lewis said he was not taking the possibility of a public inquiry off the table at this stage.
He said: "It is important that we allow the PSNI and Police Ombudsman processes to move forward, and that we avoid the risk of prejudicing any emerging conclusions from that work. I will consider all options available to me to meet the Government’s obligations."
Mr Lewis said that this decision has been taken following careful consideration of the facts, the findings of the Supreme Court judgment, the outcome of the independent counsel review, and the United Kingdom’s obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
"Accepting that collusion occurred is not sufficient in itself. The UK Government recognises the need to ensure sufficient levels of public scrutiny of criminal investigations and their results," Mr Lewis said.
The UK Government rightly has no role whatsoever in determining how or when the police deal with its outstanding legacy caseload, he said.
Mr Lewis said it is, quite properly, for the Chief Constable of the PSNI to determine the precise scope and format of any review in accordance with their own priorities and review procedures. The police have indicated that they expect that any review would need to be conducted independently of the PSNI.
Such a process, he said, in addition to the ongoing investigations being conducted by the Police Ombudsman, could play an important role in addressing the issues identified by the Supreme Court.
Mr Finucane, a 39-year-old solicitor who represented both republican and loyalist paramilitaries during the Troubles, was shot dead in his family home in north Belfast in February 1989 by the Ulster Defence Association in an attack found to have involved collusion with the state.
Responding, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the British Government’s decision to again renege on a commitment to hold a public inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane as a disgraceful attempt to bury the truth.
He said: "The government had an opportunity to demonstrate decisively that they are committed to the highest standard of truth and accountability.
"Instead, they have confirmed that they have no interest in meeting the needs of victims and survivors.
"The decision to renege on the decades old commitment to hold a public inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane is a disgraceful attempt by this government to bury the truth.
"Everyone can see through the politics of delay and people will legitimately ask whose interests are served by continuing to deny this inquiry into the murder of a human rights lawyer as he sat down to dinner with his family," he said.
"In doing so, they are putting themselves at odds with international human rights standards, they are reneging on commitments they entered into with the Irish Government and they are setting themselves against the needs of victims and survivors. This is a shameful decision,” he added.
The Ulster Unionist Party’s Justice Spokesperson, Doug Beattie welcomed the decision.
He said: “The brutal terrorist murder of Pat Finucane was absolutely wrong and must be condemned. Thousands of lives were lost in the Troubles. Every single family is mourning the loss of their loved ones with many still seeking truth and justice, and they are all entitled to an Article 2 compliant investigation.
"On this occasion, the Government has made the right decision. There cannot be a hierarchy of victims.
"The UK Supreme Court was clear in 2019 when it stated, ‘It does not follow that a public inquiry of the type which the appellant seeks must be ordered.
"It is for the state to decide, in light of the incapacity of Sir Desmond de Silva`s review and the inquiries which preceded it to meet the procedural requirements of article 2, what form of investigation, if indeed any is now feasible, is required in order to meet that requirement."
The Finucane family said the British government’s decision was “astonishing, arrogant and cruel”.
Mr Finucane’s widow Geraldine and their three children have been campaigning for decades for a public inquiry to establish the extent of security force involvement.
They promised to continue campaigning until their questions were answered.
“There is only one reason to ask the local police to investigate a case that involves the British Army, the Security Services and former members of government: it means they will be untouchable.
“It is this internalisation of the issue to Northern Ireland that has allowed those responsible for the murder of Pat Finucane to do so with impunity.
“In failing to establish a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, the British Government have not only set themselves against my family but also the Irish government, local, national and international political parties, political institutions, legal and human rights groups domestically and internationally."
The British Supreme Court, in February 2019, ruled that the UK had failed to hold an "effective investigation" into the Belfast lawyer's death at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries.
Speaking this evening, Foeign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said the government is “disappointed” with the decision.
In a statement, he said the Government has noted the announcement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
However, we note that the Secretary of State has not ruled out the holding of such an inquiry,” he said.
“It has been the strong and consistent position of the Irish Government that only a full and independent public inquiry, as provided for under the Weston Park agreement in 2001, would provide a satisfactory outcome to this case,” he said.
“I have conveyed to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland our disappointment that an inquiry has not been established and made clear that it remains the position of the Government that only through a full and independent public inquiry will a satisfactory resolution to this case be found,” he added.
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said only a full public inquiry can get to the truth. “That's why successive British governments have refused to establish one.
"They are determined to hide the story of collusion and Britain's dirty war in Ireland,” she said.