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December 8, 2004

Ahern admits British Inquiries Bill must be changed: By Joanne Corcoran

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has admitted that the British Government's new Inquiries Bill, which will have an impact on how inquiries, like the one into Patrick Finucane's death, will be held, is inadequate and must be changed.

Ahern made his admission in the Dáil during questioning by Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

The British Government introduced the legislation on 26 November. The Finucane family immediately rejected the bill, pointing out that it did not comply with the recommendations made by Canadian Judge Peter Cory, who looked into six controversial deaths from the conflict, including Pat's.

The family also accused the British Government of making a complete departure from the promises made at Weston Park, where both Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern agreed to follow through on any recommendations made with regard to inquiries.

The family says that Clause 17 of the Bill is a wholesale departure from the Weston Park Agreement and the Cory Recommendations, in that an inquiry established under this draft legislation will not have all the powers usually exercised by a Commissioner in a public inquiry, since it gives the Minister the power to determine when the inquiry sits in private and what material is to be withheld.

The new legislation also allows the government to withhold transcripts from any inquiry from the public for 30 years.

Speaking in the Dáil last Tuesday, Ó Caoláin pressed the Taoiseach on the commitment he gave at Weston Park and asked him whether he had raised the issue of the Inquiries Bill with Tony Blair.

"Is the Taoiseach aware that the central tenet of the Inquiries Bill is to afford the British Government the power to determine when the inquiry sits in private and what material is to be held?" Ó Caoláin asked. "Does the Taoiseach not agree that this is a mockery of any inquiry process?

The Cavan/Monaghan TD also asked Ahern whether he was aware that the Finucane family had stated that they would not co-operate with any inquiry established under the new British legislation.

Responding, Ahern said that he had met Pat Finucane's widow Geraldine and her family recently, and he had arranged for the British Prime Minister to meet the Finucane family.

"I also discussed the issue with a senior representative of the British Government, Lord Falconer, and told him that Geraldine Finucane would not agree if the legislation fell short," Ahern said. "I reminded Lord Falconer of the commitment made at Weston Park to set up the Cory inquiry into the six cases, which led to a wider inquiry."

Saying he would continue to support Geraldine Finucane, because "right is on her side", he added that if the British Government's Inquiries legislation was inadequate, "as it currently is, we must try to have changes made to it and we have continued to lobby for this.

"If the legislation comes before the House of Commons, we will use whatever influence we have to work with those who can try to change it," he said.

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