|Interview with Geraldine Finucane: Breaking the glass ceiling|
What was it you loved about him?
A meditative silence. “There was no one thing... I just loved him.”
They married after their graduation and, in 1979, Pat opened a legal practise in Belfast with fellow solicitor Peter Madden.
“When Pat and Peter went to the office in the beginning they probably had one client between them in a whole day,” she smiles at the memory. “They built up a reputation because they worked very hard. He really did work very hard,” she adds, as if truly realising it anew. “We didn't have an answering machine at that time and people would ring here seven days of the week. The children were all taught very young how to take a phone message.”
But Pat Finucane's skill at advocacy was winning the attention of more than prospective clients. According to Justin O'Brien's book, Killing Finucane: “He had successfully challenged the British government at the European Court of Human Rights over its incarceration policies in the mid-1970s. He had spearheaded the use of compensation claims in cases involving allegations of mistreatment and torture within interrogation centres. He was also instrumental in galvanising opposition to the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was facing a barrage of international criticism from human rights organisations.”
By bringing the 1982 murder of Gervaise McKerr to the European Court, he raised the temperature on the shoot-to-kill controversy. In November 1988, one of his clients, Patrick McGeown, was acquitted of all charges related to the mob-hysteria killings of two soldiers in Andersonstown during the funeral of one of Michael Stone's victims at Milltown Cemetery. In a 1992 interview with American lawyers, McGeown recounted that he was subsequently stopped by a police officer, irked at his acquittal, who told him: “Don't think you got away with that. We intend to make sure that you won't be about too long. And your mate Pat, we'll fix him too.”
Judge Cory's inquiry turned up several examples of the security forces in the North having knowledge of danger to Pat Finucane and failing to act. His wife looks back now and remembers the alarm she felt when she heard that the junior Home Office minister, Douglas Hogg, had engaged in felon-setting during a House of Commons debate in January 1989. “I have to state as a fact, but with great regret,” he told parliament, “that there are in Northern Ireland a number of solicitors who are unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA.” There was uproar, but never a retraction from Lord Hogg.
“Pat had been threatened,” Geraldine remembers. “When he went to Castlereagh holding centre to meet his clients they would say, ‘we'd better get a new solicitor because you're not going to be around' and ‘you're a thug in a suit'. They were the sort of things being said to them. It started very low level, slightly derogatory, and ended up as death threats. Pat thought they were interrogation techniques rather than being directed at the solicitor. But when Douglas Hogg said that it certainly made me stand back and look at things. Three to three-and-a-half weeks later, Pat was dead.”
Why, does she think, was her husband selected for assassination?
“Because he used the legal system for people who previously had no one to do that for them,” she replies, picking her words carefully. “People who are repressed generally don't have any representation but Pat was educated. He decided to become a lawyer and he wanted to give something back to his own community. People who previously had no representation suddenly had someone to represent them.
“When he was killed it really did rock the whole judiciary. There were a number of people in the law who just decided they wouldn't do anything controversial after that. They weren't putting their heads above the parapet, and that's fine if you have a young family and you need to protect them. Other people considered moving away altogether because they were so worried. Then, some people, like Rosemary Nelson [solicitor killed by a car bomb in 1999], decided they would continue challenging things, and she paid with her life.”
Even though police witnesses at the inquest and other investigations since have reiterated that Pat Finucane was not a member of the IRA, unidentified sources have persisted with the line that he was in off-the-record conversations. The former IRA informer, Sean O'Callaghan, has claimed that he saw Finucane at an IRA meeting in Donegal.
“Sean O'Callaghan, as far as I can make out, is a liar,” she responds calmly. “Anything I have ever read that he has said is untrue. Pat had a very good reputation and he was a very good lawyer so, when someone like Sean O'Callaghan comes along, people know the truth.”