Northern Ireland

Finucane’s planned commemoration attendance highly inappropriate, says minister

MP John Finucane (PA)
MP John Finucane (PA)

The planned attendance of a Sinn Fein MP at a controversial republican commemoration is “highly inappropriate”, a Government minister has said.

Lord Caine urged John Finucane to reflect on his decision to speak at the event on Sunday that has been billed as the South Armagh Volunteers Commemoration.

Victims’ representatives have contended that the event in Mullaghbawn will commemorate the actions of the IRA’s South Armagh unit during the Troubles.

Sinn Fein has insisted that republicans have as much right to commemorate their dead as anyone else involved in the Troubles.

The party has suggested the controversy has been manufactured and whipped up by the DUP to distract from the ongoing political impasse at Stormont.

Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Caine said such commemorations did not contribute to reconciliation in the region.

“My response to this is that I completely understand the dismay that his attendance at this event will cause very many people, I totally understand that,” he said.

“My view is that it is highly inappropriate for a Member of Parliament to attend an event that commemorates people who have been involved in heinous acts of terrorism, frankly, and I think Mr Finucane ought to reflect on that and also on how attendance at this event will improve community relations across Northern Ireland.

“One of the elements of the Bill that I’m dealing with (NI Legacy Bill) that isn’t discussed very much is actually how we address so-called memorialisation of the Troubles.

David Trimble funeral
Lord Caine urged John Finucane to reflect on his attendance at the event (PA)

“And one of the ways in which we’re trying to shape this is that it’s done in ways that promote reconciliation, anti-sectarianism and non-recurrence.

“And I urge those who are involved in this event at the weekend to reflect on how attendance might be judged alongside those objectives. I do think it’s highly unfortunate and highly inappropriate.”

He added: “My response would be exactly the same if this were a unionist MP attending a similar event in connection with members of the UVF or the UDA. I just think it’s wrong.”

Mr Finucane’s own solicitor father Pat was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in 1989.

The North Belfast MP’s party colleague Conor Murphy has rejected criticism of the event and questioned why it had become the focus of controversy this year when it has been running for more than a decade.

He said the late Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness had addressed the event in the past and the DUP, his then partners-in-government, did not raise any objection.

Mr Murphy said the main unionist party was only protesting now in a bid to distract the public from its own blockade of powersharing at Stormont at a time when public services were facing financial crisis.