Mary Kelly: Finucane murder and Holy Cross divided even liberal opinion along sectarian lines

The difference is that Pat Finucane was murdered in front of his wife and children with the involvement of state forces. State agents targeted him, provided the murder weapon and pulled the trigger.

The murder of Pat Finucane and the 2001 Holy Cross protest are two incidents that stand out as polarising opinion along sectarian lines even in liberal-minded workplaces
Mary Kelly

OVER the years I have been lucky enough to work in a mixed workforce with people I liked and respected, even if we didn’t always agree politically.

With some exceptions, journalists tend towards liberal views and it’s the nature of the job to question black and white certainties. But there’ve been two stories that stand out for me, where opinions tended to divide along sectarian lines.

One was the appalling siege of the Holy Cross girls’ school in 2001 which saw horrifying scenes where grown men and women forced terrified children to run a gauntlet of hatred and abuse on their way to school.

Hundreds of riot police, backed up by British soldiers, escorted the children and their parents through the protests each day. Some protestors shouted sectarian abuse and threw stones, fireworks, blast bombs and urine-filled balloons at them.

The scenes drew widespread global coverage and brought shame on this city. But I lost count of the times I gritted my teeth when workmates, invariably from a unionist background, would shake their heads and say, “Why would you put your children through that, when they could use a back entrance to the school?”

The other story that polarised opinion was the murder of Pat Finucane and his family’s indefatigable quest for justice through a full public inquiry.

Unionists complain that many other bereaved families have not found any justice for the murder of their loved ones. That is true. But the difference is that Pat Finucane, a human rights lawyer, was murdered in front of his wife and children with the involvement of state forces.

His murder was not worse than the murder of fellow lawyer Edgar Graham, who was gunned down by the IRA six years earlier on his way work at Queen’s University. But Edgar Graham was murdered by paramilitaries, Pat Finucane was murdered by loyalists who were working hand in glove with the forces of law and order.

State agents targeted Pat Finucane, provided the murder weapon and pulled the trigger.

No government minister briefed against Edgar Graham in parliament, talking about lawyers who were “unduly sympathetic” to the IRA. That minister, Douglas Hogg, later revealed he’d been briefed by senior members of the RUC.

We are supposed to hold the state to a higher standard than terror gangs. Don’t unionists give out about “moral equivalence” when republicans commemorate their “war dead”?

Callers to local radio stations complain about the lack of “balance” and cite other, equally heinous murders which haven’t had the same media spotlight.

There is no doubt that victims and survivors of the conflict here have been treated shamefully in being denied justice, compensation or pensions for those who were maimed or left mentally scarred. The legacy of the Troubles is still an open wound that is not being addressed.

There needs to be some sort of truth commission to at least air the stories of the many victims of this conflict, even if they don’t get justice. Flick through Lost Lives, that towering monument to the human stories behind each man, woman and child who was killed during the decades-long conflict. Nothing will bring them back or lessen the grief of their families. But their story deserves to be heard.

Giving the Finucane family the public inquiry they deserve would be one step in the right direction. It won’t take away anything from other victims either.

* * *

WHEN I was a young reporter my wise news editor, Jenks, told me never to worry too much about letters of complaint to the paper.

“Normal people don’t write letters to newspapers. They just give off to whoever is near them when they read something they don’t like. Only fanatics go to the trouble of posting letters.”

Jenks didn’t live to see the age of social media where you don’t have to write, find a stamp and post your complaint. Sounding off on Twitter takes no effort at all.

Every time I get exercised by some lunacy on a Twitter thread, I need to remind myself of reality. Eighty per cent of tweets are sent by just 10 per cent of users and 80 per cent of the UK population is not on Twitter.

So when I read about the anti-vaccine brigade who are declaring they won’t be taking any anti-Covid jabs because it’s all a sinister plot by big Pharma and Bill Gates to poison the global population, I think of Jenks… it’s just fanatics at work.

A case in point is the actor Laurence Fox, Twitter Twit of the year, who boasted that he’d entertained a group of friends to his house last weekend, where they had all hugged, in defiance of the current regulations, and if the NHS couldn’t cope, then they weren’t fit for purpose.

Actor Mark Dexter was so incensed, he tweeted that he was once up against Fox for a US TV role to play the son of James Fox’s character, “As in, Laurence’s actual dad.”

Dexter got the part.

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