Pat Finucane's IRA and other republican clients made him deeply unpopular in police and military circles

 

Pat Finucane, one of Belfast's most prominent solicitors, was regarded by the security authorities as a thorn in their flesh due to his activities in representing IRA and other republican clients.

His unpopularity in police and military circles was so well-known that within days of his murder allegations were made in Belfast that the loyalist gunmen who killed him had been assisted by intelligence personnel.

The first defence counsel to be killed during the troubles, he appeared in a series of high-profile cases representing republicans and to a lesser extent loyalist clients.

His Belfast city-centre practice was one of only a handful of firms which specialised in cases involving republican and loyalist suspects charged under anti-terrorist legislation.

Among his most prominent clients was republican icon Bobby Sands, who died on hungerstrike in 1981. Mr Finucane also represented many other hungerstriking prisoners who were members of the IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army.

In another case he acted for the widow of a man shot dead by police in a so-called “shoot to kill” incident. At one point he walked out of a court hearing on the incident, denouncing it as a farce.

He successfully defended former hungerstriker Pat McGeown, another leading republican figure, unexpectedly securing his release after he was charged with the IRA killings of two army corporals in 1988.

Mr Finucane had been regarded with suspicion from much earlier since his brother John, who died in a car accident in 1972, was claimed by the IRA as one of its members.

After the solicitor's death loyalist sources claimed that several members of their organisation, the Ulster Defence Association, which shot Mr Finucane, had been encouraged to target him by police. The loyalists said police had described him and two other solicitors who often represented republicans, Paddy McGrory and Oliver Kelly, as “the brains behind the IRA.”

Both the other lawyers have since died of natural causes. Mr McGrory's son Barra was last year appointed Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.

Today's report concluded that police knew that Mr McGrory, like Mr Finucane, was a potential target for loyalist assassination but had not informed him of two threats to his life. After the killing he was offered protection after intervention on his behalf by the Irish government.

In the wake of the Finucane killing a United Nations report called for an independent inquiry, declaring: “So long as this murder is unresolved, outstanding questions surrounding it demonstrate the need for an independent judicial inquiry.”

Police in Belfast responded to the report by saying it fell short in terms of objectivity, accuracy and fairness. It added: “As a supposed `fact-finding mission' it gives scant regard to measurable facts or evidence to support allegations.”

The government said at the time that the report made extremely grave allegations of security force collusion with loyalist terrorists but had failed to produce credible evidence of this.

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