Report on Finucane murder examined
A new report into the loyalist murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane is to be examined by security chiefs to ensure it does not put lives at risk.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said the comprehensive check ahead of publication was also needed to rule out the chance of any national security breaches.
Ms Villiers said some highly sensitive material provided by the government to the report author Sir Desmond de Silva would not be contained in the final document over concerns of identifying the sources.
But she said the Government still had a legal obligation to examine the report to make sure lives and national security were not endangered.
The Conservative MP said the report would be published as soon as possible after the security checks, with Mr Finucane’s relatives set to be offered advance sight.
Mr Finucane was gunned down in his north Belfast home by loyalist paramilitaries in 1989.
The killing of the Catholic father of three was one of the most controversial of the Northern Ireland Troubles with allegations the state colluded to facilitate the murder.
Experienced QC Sir Desmond was commissioned by the government to undertake a legal review of the case last year.
The move angered members of the Finucane family who claimed it fell well short of the full public inquiry they had long campaigned for.
Relatives subsequently launched a legal challenge against British prime minister David Cameron’s refusal to establish an inquiry.
The security checks ordered by Ms Villiers are similar to those conducted by the Government on other sensitive reports - such as the Bloody Sunday Inquiry - prior to publication.
The Secretary of State said it would be unlikely that any material would need to be redacted but said the government had a legal obligation to carry out the checks.
The exercise will be undertaken by Government lawyers along with representatives of the Ministry of Defence, Security Services and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
“I am responsible for publication of the Review’s report, once it is delivered to me,” Ms Villiers explained in a written statement to the House of Commons today.
“I am advised that I have a duty, as a public authority under the Human Rights Act, to act in a way that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
“To fulfil this duty, I need to take steps to satisfy myself that publication of the report will not breach Article 2 of the Convention by putting the lives or safety of individuals at risk.
“I am advised that these obligations must be met by me, in my capacity as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
“I am not entitled to rely on the review to satisfy my Article 2 obligations. I also have a duty to satisfy myself that publication will not put national security at risk, for example by disclosing details of sources of confidential information.”
Ms Villiers said during the course of the Finucane Review, the Government submitted to
the team some material that was relevant to its work but which was too sensitive to be disclosed publicly.
She said this was usually because it contained information which had been provided to the security forces by individuals.
“If those individuals or others could be identified from information contained in the report it would endanger their lives,” she stated.
“I understand that the review does not intend to refer to any material which would constitute a breach of Article 2, or compromise national security, but I have a duty to satisfy myself before publication that none of this material has inadvertently been revealed in the report.
“The review also agreed that the identities of a small number of individuals who were engaged on highly sensitive duties should not be disclosed and I need to be assured that these individuals and others whose lives could be endangered have not been identified.”
Ms Villiers said the security experts would be granted access to the report under strict terms of confidentiality and for the sole purpose of carrying out the necessary checks.
She said they would report directly to her alone.
“Sir Desmond de Silva has agreed that this team can carry out the necessary checks on the Review’s premises while the report remains in his custody, before it is submitted to me,” she said.
“I have confirmed to Sir Desmond de Silva that I am content with this proposal. I understand that the report will be made available for checking today.
“I believe that these checks are necessary in order to meet the legal obligations on me.”
She added: “I want to publish the report in its entirety. Should any concerns about the safety of any individual arise, my first course of action would be to consider whether these can be addressed through alternative means.
"Were I to reach the conclusion, on advice, that a redaction to the text might be necessary, I would consult Sir Desmond de Silva. In the unlikely event that any redaction was deemed necessary, my intention would be to make this clear on the face of the report.
“Once the checking process has been completed I will make another statement to this House regarding its outcome and announcing the date of publication. The report must be published first for this House, and I intend to publish the report as soon as possible once the checking process has been completed.”