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Pat Finucane – an advocate for human rights

10 February, 2019 - by Gerry Adams

Former Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD today gave the Pat Finucane annual lecture in St. Mary’s University College on the Falls Road.

Tuesday – February 12th is the 30th anniversary of the murder if Pat Finucane who would have been 70 next month.

Gerry Adams spoke of “the indomitable courage, and the leadership of Pat Finucane - a dedicated human rights lawyer.” 

He also addressed the issue of rights; the need to defend the Good Friday Agreement; the need for a Bill of Rights and for a referendum on Irish Unity.

Mr Adams said that he doesn’t believe we will “ever fully achieve these rights until we have control of our own affairs, free from British involvement. The Good Friday Agreement sets out a peaceful and democratic way to achieve this.

Sinn Féin believes that that referendum on Irish Unity is part of the way forward and unlike Brexit that it should be preceded by an informed and inclusive debate. We believe the Irish government should establish a Forum to facilitate this”.

Edited version of speech by Gerry Adams:

“While the focus of my remarks will be on Pat’s work we will also honour Pat the person, the Falls Road man, the son, the father, the brother and the husband. The quirky, clever, good natured friend and family member.

As a human rights lawyer it didn’t matter to Pat whether you were a republican, a unionist, a loyalist, or none of these. If you were arrested you have rights and Pat’s responsibility – his vocation – his mission in life - was to vindicate and defend those rights. Pat believed that the law should uphold and protect the rights of citizens. But he was not naive.

Pat understood the difference between the theory and the practice in the application of human rights. He worked long demanding hours, under trying and difficult conditions, representing his clients… During this time Pat defended many political prisoners. Later during the hunger strikes he represented Bobby Sands and the prisoners’ interests…”

Gerry Adams outlined the background and context of Pat Finucane’s killing by UDA members who were also agents working for the RUC Special Branch and British Military Intelligence. 

He spoke at length on Collusion, and of the Finucane family’s battle for the public inquiry promised by the Irish and British governments at Weston Park in 2001.

He also spoke about the ongoing battle for human rights today and the need for a Bill of Rights. He said:

“Today, the battle for the rights of citizens continues. The context might be different. The rights issues may have changed. But the issue of rights for citizens, which was at the centre of Pat’s efforts during his years as a human rights lawyer, is still as relevant today. 

These include prisoner’s rights.

There are other fundamental human rights, available in every state on these islands except this one, which must be protected and advanced. These include marriage equality, Irish Language legislation, Women’s reproductive rights and legacy issues. It is also true that the equality and parity of esteem components of the Good Friday Agreement have still not been implemented in full.

There is a clear and pressing need for the Bill of Rights as set out in the Good Friday Agreement, and which has been resisted by successive British governments and by the unionist parties. This is not good enough. The Bill of Rights is essential for the protection of citizens’ rights.

In its submission to the Oireachtas Committee, the Committee on the Administration of Justice warned that Irish citizens in the North may be reduced to the status of “second class citizens” after Brexit. The CAJ pointed out that Irish citizens in the North will become EU citizens “living in a non-member state, thus making their status constitutionally and practically uncertain and insecure”.

In December 2017 in the joint report produced by the EU and British Government, paragraph 52 specifically stated that the people of the North, "who are Irish citizens will continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens, including where they reside in Northern Ireland."

The Taoiseach stated everyone born in the North "will continue to have the right to Irish and therefore EU citizenship”. 

He also stated the joint report was “rock solid, cast iron and politically bullet proof”.

In response to a letter signed by representatives of civic nationalism, the Taoiseach assured them the Government had protected their interests. He stated "Your birth right as Irish citizens, and therefore as EU citizens, will be protected.” He added "You will never again be left behind by an Irish Government.”

It was a very welcome and positive commitment. But it must be more than a clever soundbite. Many now believe this promise has been broken. The specific commitment to citizens who reside in the North is missing from the Withdrawal Agreement published last November. 

Last week the government published its European Parliament Elections Bill legislating for the European elections which are due to take place in May. The EU has allocated two additional seats to the Irish state. Sinn Féin urged the Taoiseach to allocate them to the North to ensure that the majority of citizens who voted to remain in the EU referendum would continue to be represented in the EU Parliament. The government said NO. We will attempt to amend this in committee.

On the back of strong representation from Sinn Féin the Irish Government, in its lobby of our EU neighbours on Brexit, rightly stressed the centrality of the Good Friday Agreement to the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Yet the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach repeatedly dismiss a part of the agreement. A referendum on Irish unity. That too is a key provision and an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Irish government cannot cherry-pick the Good Friday Agreement. The days when Irish citizens in the North would meekly accept second class citizenship are done – gone – finished.

Those days ended when Pat Finucane and others like him decided to make a stand. 

So, we have a continuum of struggle. To achieve positive change and defeat resistance to the absolutely correct demand for rights requires a constant need for vigilance and a long-headed view of the past and very especially of the future. Nil neart go cur le cheile.

For example, whatever about our criticisms of the EU we can hardly imagine the European Union telling the British they cannot leave the EU and going on to outlaw and suppress the British Parliament.

When the people of Ireland voted to leave the British Empire and elected the First Dáil one hundred years ago the British government did exactly that. London said you cannot leave the Empire. London said No and went on to outlaw and suppress that Parliament. 

So the Irish government needs to learn from the lessons of history. The British government does not have friends. It has interests and it always only acts in its own interests.

So, the Taoiseach needs to stand up to the Brits and standby the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. He needs to have a consistent all island visions and all island objectives in keeping with the Good Friday Agreement. 

In addition, there is a responsibility and a constitutional obligation on Irish governments to promote the goal of Irish unity and to work to achieve it through democratic dialogue and negotiation.”

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