Pat Finucane Centre
We engage on behalf of families with various statutory bodies such as the Historical Enquiries Team, Police Ombudsman, Courts Service (inquest documents) and Public Records Office.
The services of the PFC are free of charge and we will refer you to the relevant bodies if we cannot be of assistance.
Please note that our staff are not lawyers and cannot offer legal advice. If you have lost a family member and wish to receive confidential advice contact Alan Brecknell or Anne Cadwallader in the Armagh office or Maggie O’Conor or Paul O’Connor in the Derry office.
The PFC is a non-party political, anti-sectarian human rights group advocating a non-violent resolution of the conflict on the island of Ireland. We believe that all participants to the conflict have violated human rights. The PFC asserts that the failure by the State to uphold Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”, is the single most important explanation for the initiation and perpetuation of violent conflict. It is therefore implicit to conflict resolution that Article 7 be implemented in full. The PFC campaigns towards that goal.
Below is an outline of some of our activities
Networking with human rights NGOs and parliamentarians in Ireland and abroad. We participate in the USE of FORCE NGO roundtable which is tracking developments around plastic bullets, CS spray and Tasers.
Long-term involvement on a wide range of issues surrounding policing and the criminal justice system. Facilitating dialogue between the two communities in the North through private contacts, workshops and public meetings on potential truth processes etc.
Individual casework with families who have lost loved ones and creating support structures for families who attend our monthly family meetings.
Co-ordinating a long-term research project with over 60 families in Counties Armagh, Tyrone, Louth and Monaghan. This project has included documenting experiences, providing support structures, contact with official bodies including the NIO, the PSNI, former members of the security forces and the former Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin, Monaghan and Dundalk Bombings. In the summer of 2004 we invited a ‘Panel’ of international human rights experts to meet with these families and take testimony from them.
The PFC is involved in a ‘critical engagement’ with the newly formed Historical Enquires Team and the Police Ombudsman. The former, an initiative of the PSNI Chief Constable, is an attempt to address the legacy of the conflict from a policing perspective. The remit of the ‘HET’ is to review all police files, look for any possible evidential leads, follow these to their conclusion and then meet with families with a view to giving them as much information about the incident affecting that family. We strongly believe that the families who do decide to engage should not do so on their own and without support. The PFC has been involved for many years in researching cases that involved contact with various state agencies. As a Human Rights NGO it is by definition one of our tasks to seek information. As such our engaging with the HET should not be interpreted as endorsement of the process. Regardless of the eventual outcome, this process will necessitate a large outlay of time and resources on behalf of the PFC.
As well as preparing families, we have been involved in ensuring that any meetings with the HET and/or the Police Ombudsman take place in a safe environment/location. We have accompanied families to meetings and supported witnesses at meetings. Solicitors receive no legal aid for such work and are therefore usually not involved. As a result we have seen a corresponding increase in the PFC workload in this area.
We are currently involved in the Truth Recovery and Acknowledgement sub-group of the Healing Through Remembering Project, which is a creative initiative aimed at dealing the human rights abuses associated with the conflict. The PFC is active in the sub-group that includes former republican and loyalist prisoners, clergy, academics, PSNI and representatives of voluntary and statutory organisations. This project has released a report ‘Making Peace with the Past: options for truth recovery regarding the conflict in and about Northern Ireland’. This report is available at www.healingthroughremembering.org
The PFC has been involved in regular round table meetings with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to discuss models for truth recovery and to explore the potential for a truth commission.
Inherent to the work of the PFC is our core belief that;
the conflict has produced a legacy that will prove destablising and destructive to any efforts at peace building and reconciliation unless that legacy is faced openly and honestly;
the criminal justice system is wholly inappropriate to the task of truth recovery, restorative justice and reconciliation in respect of the legacy of the conflict.
As part of our strategy to address point 1 a central focus of our work has been (and will continue to be) to research and document individual cases of conflict related loss of life following a specific request from a relative. Underpinning this is a human rights based approach which dictates that relatives have a ‘right to truth’ in respect of each individual loss. We have developed a certain level of expertise in terms of our advocacy and research and this has been recognised both at a statutory and parliamentary level.*
The first challenge for the PFC has been to ‘piece together the missing pieces of the jigsaw’ in terms of those incidents where our help is sought. The second and more difficult challenge (point 2) has been to find innovative alternatives for families seeking redress as a result of having lost relatives. The inability of the criminal justice system to provide for ‘justice’ in terms of cases which may go back a generation is self evident. The majority of family with whom we work have little or no confidence in the prosecution service or the courts.
The search for innovative alternatives has led us to engage with government ministers, senior police officers, whistleblowers and senior management in both the HET and Police Ombudsman’s Office with a view to finding alternatives. We have successfully negotiated the types of resolution that are required in a number of individual cases. We have also sought to address the larger question of legacy by stimulating discussion around the potential for a non-retributive international truth commission. Our imput has been framed by our own experience. Our experience informs us that neither organisations nor individuals are likely to cooperate in any truth recovery process if they will face legal censure as a result. For this reason, and driven by our core belief that families have a ‘right to truth’, we have actively engaged in processes where the priority has been to facilitate the flow of information from whose who have it to those who require it. By definition the priority has not been to build up an evidential trail that would lead to prosecutions.
There is an argument that the past has the potential to destabilise the present and hinder reconciliation between these islands. If denied or left unacknowledged the past has the potential to destabilise. Equally the blunt instrument of the criminal justice system is both inappropriate and compromised. The PFC is committed to supporting the ‘right to truth’ of each bereaved family through innovative and creative processes designed to meet the needs of victims and survivors.
*The research carried out by the PFC has been commended by a Sub-Committee of Dail Eireann. In the context of policing the PFC proposed and participated in a ground breaking initiative in respect of a cross border advisory group as part of a murder investigation.