Finucane, Patrick (1950–89), solicitor and republican, was born in Belfast, eldest of eight children (seven boys and one girl) of Patrick Finucane, flour-mill worker, and his wife, Kathleen. He was educated at St Mary's Christian Brothers’ grammar school, St Malachy's College, Belfast, and TCD. He became a keen amateur soccer player. In August 1969 the Finucane family were expelled from their home in Percy Street (between the Shankill Road and the Falls Road) by loyalists. Finucane's father and younger brother John lost their jobs, and the family's economic circumstances deteriorated considerably. In 1970 Pat Finucane married Geraldine; they had a son and two daughters. Finucane was apprenticed at the Belfast law firm of Oliver Kelly, solicitors. In 1979 he and Peter Madden formed Madden and Finucane, which defended clients arrested under emergency legislation and investigated complaints against the police. This specialised and well-paid field was undertaken by relatively few lawyers. Their clients were predominantly republicans, but occasionally included loyalists.
Three of Finucane's brothers were active supporters of republicanism, though Finucane's widow states that he repeatedly tried to persuade them to continue their education and not to join the IRA. John Finucane, an IRA member and former internee, died in a car crash in June 1972. Two other brothers were imprisoned for IRA activities. Seamus Finucane was interned as a teenager and arrested in 1977 while burning a furniture store (with Bobby Sands (qv) and Joe McDonnell (d. 1981), who later became hunger-strikers). He was engaged to Mairead Farrell (qv) at the time of her death. Dermot Finucane was arrested in August 1981 and sentenced to eighteen years’ imprisonment. He escaped from the Maze prison on 25 September 1985; after his arrest in the Republic of Ireland in 1987 he escaped extradition to Northern Ireland. (The decision rested on a compensation case brought by Pat Finucane, which established that prison authorities failed to discipline prison officers who beat prisoners after the escape.)
Finucane first attracted widespread public attention as Bobby Sands's legal representative. In June 1981 all hunger-strikers not previously represented by Finucane nominated him as their solicitor; one of their former representatives claimed ‘his clients did not arrive at this decision independently’ (Clarke, 199). Finucane was subsequently a trustee of the Bobby Sands Memorial Fund. He represented Eleanor McKerr, widow of Gervaise McKerr, shot dead by the RUC under controversial circumstances on 11 November 1982, and engaged in a long legal campaign to obtain an inquest; this led to frequent television appearances. (He established that RUC officers could be compelled to testify in person at inquests.) Finucane also advised the Campaign Against Plastic Bullets. In the case of Nora McCabe, killed by a plastic bullet on 9 July 1981, he publicised a video which proved that police witnesses had lied when they claimed the shot was fired during a riot. ‘Pat Finucane wasn't only a solicitor but . . . became a very good friend’, recalled her widower. ‘He handled the case with understanding’ (Rolston, 79). Finucane generated considerable police hostility; John Stalker, conducting an inquiry into ‘shoot to kill’ incidents, was told that Finucane was an IRA man, and that a lawyer who defended IRA men was worse than his clients (Toolis, 183–4). At the time of his death Finucane was representing several individuals charged with lynching two British army personnel. He was briefed by Sinn Féin to monitor possible lawbreaking by Belfast unionist councillors and to challenge the ban on broadcasting the voices of Sinn Féin members. The journalist Mary Holland (qv) (1936–2007) argued that, by showing ‘it was still possible to defeat injustice by non-violent, legal means’, Finucane ‘demonstrated the existence of an alternative to the gun’ (Ir. Times, 15 Feb. 1989).
Some of Finucane's republican clients alleged that during interrogations they were told Finucane was ‘a thug in a suit’ and were asked to relay threats to him; loyalists claimed they were told Finucane was ‘the brains behind the IRA’ (O'Brien, 70–72, 184). On 17 January 1989 a junior home office minister, Douglas Hogg, stated in parliament that some Northern Ireland solicitors were ‘unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA’ (ibid., 74–5); the SDLP MP Seamus Mallon complained that this made lawyers ‘targets for assassins’ bullets’ (ibid.). On 12 February 1989 Finucane was shot dead in front of his family by UFF gunmen at his house in Fortwilliam Drive, North Belfast. (He was listed in the telephone directory and kept his front door unlocked to provide easy access for potential clients.) He was the first defence lawyer killed in the troubles (though republicans had killed several magistrates and a prosecutor); his death was recognised as a blow to the whole judicial system. Cecil Walker (1924–2007), Ulster unionist MP for North Belfast, recalled that Finucane had represented protestant council tenants, calling him ‘a principled lawyer and honest man’ who did not behave like ‘a bigot or Provo’ (Sunday World, 19 Feb. 1989).
There were widespread and persistent accusations that Finucane's murder was facilitated by the security forces; national and international legal and human rights groups campaigned for a full inquiry, supported by a 1998 report by a United Nations special rapporteur. In 1992 a BBC Panorama programme revealed that a high-level military intelligence agent within the UFF helped to target Finucane, and that the agent's handlers in the Force Reconaissance Unit knew that the UDA was stalking the solicitor. In June 1999 William Stobie, a former UFF quartermaster who supplied the gun used in the murder, was arrested; Stobie had been a British agent. A week before Finucane's death Stobie had warned his handlers that he had been asked to procure weapons for a murder and told them where the weapons were stored. On the day of the murder he repeated his warning of an impending attack on ‘a top provo’ (O'Brien, 12, 89–90). Stobie was acquitted of Finucane's murder after a witness withdrew, and was then murdered by loyalists. UDA leader Thomas Lyttle (qv), who ordered the murder, was also named as a police agent. In June 2002 two BBC Panorama programmes on collusion and the Finucane affair included interviews with a man who confessed to shooting Finucane. In June 2003 the European court of human rights ruled that the British state had failed to uphold Finucane's right to life.
There were repeated allegations that Finucane was an IRA associate who misused his position to convey messages between detainees and their accomplices. These were denied by relatives and official sources. In February 2003 John Stevens, head of the renewed official investigation into the alleged security force collusion in the murder of Rosemary Nelson (qv) (which the Finucanes denounced as insufficiently independent), declared that Finucane was ‘simply a lawyer who did his job’. In 1992 his son Martin Finucane co-founded in Derry the Pat Finucane Centre (originally the Bloody Sunday Initiative) to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice; he also co-founded Relatives for Justice.