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Reminders of Irish 'troubles' rise to surface

From Peter Taggart, for CNN
October 11, 2011 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
David Kelly confronts Sinn Fein presidential candidate Martin McGuiness demanding he name his father's killers.
David Kelly confronts Sinn Fein presidential candidate Martin McGuiness demanding he name his father's killers.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Man confronts Republic candidate demanding answers for his father's killing
  • Patrick Kelly was shot dead attempting to rescue a kidnap victim in 1983
  • Family of murdered lawyer Pat Finucane will talk with British Prime Minister Cameron
  • Finucane's family wants inquiry, and says British government was complicit

(CNN) -- The tragedy of Ireland's violent past seemed close to the surface this week as an Irish presidential candidate was confronted about his former role as an IRA commander, and Britain's prime minister talked with a family about a Catholic victim of "the troubles."

Irish presidential candidate Martin McGuinness was confronted Monday by a man claiming to be the son of a soldier killed by the Irish Republican Army in the 1980s, as McGuinness campaigned ahead of Election Day, October 27.

David Kelly confronted McGuinness in Athlone, Ireland, demanding answers about his father, Patrick Kelly, who he said had been shot dead with a trainee police officer as they attempted to rescue a kidnapped businessman in the Republic of Ireland in 1983.

As shoppers and the media looked on, Kelly demanded that McGuinness name the killers, to which McGuinness replied, "I don't know who was responsible for the killing of your father."

Kelly then accused McGuinness of having been a member of the IRA's ruling Army Council at the time of the killing -- which McGuinness denied. "You are a liar. I want justice for my father," Kelly said.

McGuinness, a former IRA commander and now a leader of the political party Sinn Fein, stepped down from his position as Northern Ireland's deputy first minister to run for president of the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, while the Republic of Ireland is an independent state.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday the widow of murdered Catholic Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane and other family members will hold talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron about their demand for a public inquiry into his 1989 killing. The family says they suspect the British government sanctioned the killing.

Finucane, 39, had represented IRA members in many high-profile cases, but he had also represented pro-British, or loyalist, terrorists. He was gunned down by a loyalist gang at his Belfast home, in front of his wife and three children. His family has long believed the security forces cooperated with the killers. The man convicted of Finucane's murder was a police informer.

John Finucane was the youngest at the family dinner table on the day of the killing, just 8 years old. Now a lawyer himself, he will also attend Tuesday's meeting at Downing Street.

"The meeting is at the request of the prime minister and we expect to be told what his intentions are," he told CNN. "We are optimistic and hopeful he will announce there is an inquiry and the inquiry is one we can engage with. We are cautiously optimistic, but there have been let-downs over the past 22 years."

Finucane says he has "absolutely no doubt" the state was involved in his father's murder.

"That's not just my opinion, that's the opinion of Sir John Stevens, the most senior policeman in England, when he examined it. It's also the opinion of Peter Cory," a retired Canadian judge, "who was tasked with looking at the evidence in the case to decide whether an inquiry was necessary. So it's not just my family that believe there was collusion.

"I think it's pretty much accepted that there was collusion in my father's killing." The question, he said, is "how high up the chain of command that went."

Finucane added that, "in the absence of a transparent examination of all the relevant evidence, I believe it went as high as the office where I'm going to meet the prime minister." The British prime minister at the time was Margaret Thatcher.

While the almost daily violence of the 1970s and 1980s is a thing of the past in Northern Ireland, remnants of "the troubles" remain. Some terrorist splinter groups remain active and even have the capacity to kill. Still, the current campaign is on a much smaller scale than in the past.

Sinn Fein, viewed as the IRA's political wing, is now a key player in the peace process and shares power with its former bitter enemies, pro-British lawmakers, in a coalition government in Belfast.

But this week's events show how old wounds still haunt and divide the island. Finucane believes facing the past is the key to continuing progress.

"The issue of the past is the single most important issue that has the ability to bring both sides of the community here back to a very dark place," he said, "and unresolved cases like my father's do nothing but damage the present society."

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