De Silva report - Apology is sincere but inadequate

Desmond de Silva’s report into the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane may have added detail to what is already widely believed, but the confirmation that security forces could have intervened and saved Mr Finucane’s life still has, more than two decades later, the capacity to shock.

It has the capacity, too, to dishearten anybody who hopes that Northern Ireland can ever be fully at peace with itself because it confirms a level of officialcriminality unimaginable in any normal society.

It is more than unsatisfactory, too, that despite an unwavering campaign by Mr Finucane’s family and their political supporters, that it has taken more than two decades and five prime ministers to reach a point where the British security forces’ murderous role is recognised.

Nevertheless, it is disquieting that Mr Finucane’s family immediately rejected yesterday’s report, describing it as being “engineered as a suppression of the truth”.

Geraldine Finucane dismissed the report as “a sham... a whitewash... a confidence trick”.

“At every turn it is clear that this report has done exactly what was required — to give the benefit of the doubt to the state, its cabinet and ministers, to the army, to the intelligence services and to itself... The dirt has been swept under the carpet without any serious attempt to lift the lid on what really happened to Pat and so many others.”

What do they know or believe that has not been published? Can there be more? Unfortunately, the answer must be yes, there can be. Feb 1989 was, after all, close to the high point of the “dirty war” against some terrorists — and innocent individuals as well — at least tacitly supported by Margaret Thatcher’s government.

If the Finucane family believes that information is still being suppressed then a way to publish their concerns must be found even if that means the public inquiry David Cameron seems so anxious to avoid. Truth is absolute and an incomplete version of what happened in Feb 1989 is meaningless no matter how contrite subsequent apologies are.

But will there be prosecutions of the security officials who supplied the murderers with guns, disposed of them after the killing, or of the officials who colluded to frustrate early investigations and subsequent inquiries? David Cameron can make all the House of Commons apologies he likes, and there is no reason to believe that they are anything but sincere, but it would be more reassuring if the security forces’ godfathers involved were finally brought to book.

That that possibility is so very remote explains why violence is still a reality on the streets of Belfast. It is an indication of why there remains an unrepresentative hardcore of Republican terrorists prepared to kill to try to achieve their undemocratic aims.

A society with so many skeletons in its cupboards, with so much lingering hurt and pain, with so many grudges to settle, is unlikely to find, much less enjoy, real peace. It is well beyond time that some way of facilitating the catharsis needed to start anew was established.

Yesterday, speaking about the simmering violence in Belfast, golfer Darren Clarke used Twitter to express his concern about this week’s violence. He spoke for the vast majority of people on this island. Let us hope his concerns are not justified but the demands of the Finucane family for a full inquiry are finally met.

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