Finucane portrait unveiled in D.C.

Congressman Richard Neal was addressing over 100 members of Congress, Irish American leaders and civil rights campaigners from the North of Ireland gathered in the Capitol Building for the unveiling on Thursday.

"For more than twenty years, I have worked with my colleagues in the United States House of Representatives to campaign for the truth into the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane," Neal said.

"In 2006, on a bipartisan basis, we passed a resolution calling on the British government to hold an independent public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his death. As our search for justice and accountability continues, I am honored to take part in this unveiling ceremony. This extraordinary portrait, seen here for the first time, will help keep Pat's spirit and legacy alive for years to come."

A senior Democrat, Rep. Neal also marveled at the influence of the Irish in Washington. In the past two weeks, President Obama, and former presidents Clinton and Bush, have engaged in the Irish peace process.

"What other country of six million people can boast of that type of strong relationship?" he asked.

Those views were echoed by Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, co-chair of the Ad-Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs.

He stressed that while Democrats and Republicans were divided on many issues, they were at one on the issue of exposing British government collusion in the 1989 assassination of Pat Finucane.

"The British government have good friends in this country, but on the issue of collusion, they have fallen way below the mark we expect of an ally," he said.

Robert Ballagh, one of Ireland's greatest portrait artists, said that his creation of the shattered image of Pat Finucane was a metaphor for Finucane's violent death.

"In many ways, Pat Finucane was a hero and I don't think we should ever forget our heroes," Ballagh said.

Pat Finucane's widow, Geraldine, a frequent visitor to Capitol Hill, where she has campaigned for an independent, international enquiry into his murder, said the painting showed "something of beauty could come from a time of great sorrow."

The painting was jointly unveiled by Reps. Neal and Smith. Among other members of Congress present were Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Joe Crowley (D-NY), Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio), and James McGovern (D-MA). Among prominent Irish Americans were Jack O'Brien, Keith Carney and Sean Pender of the AOH, Fr. Sean McManus of the Irish National Caucus, Kate McCabe and Mike Breen of the Irish American Unity Conference, and Al Nunan of the Irish American Business Association.

Representing the Irish government was Consul General Orla O'Hanrahan, while also attending was U.S. Consul General in Northern Ireland, Kamala Lakdhir.

Clara Reilly of Relatives for Justice and Monica McWilliams, CEO of the Human Rights Commission, in the U.S. to lobby for the North's stalled human rights bill, were among the large delegation from Northern Ireland.

Commissioned by the Belfast Media Group (sister publisher to the Irish Echo) and Belfast art collector Paul Cooper, the Finucane portrait will now be displayed in the offices of Reps. Neal and Smith before it begins a nationwide tour of state offices, including the State House in Boston where Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty will exhibit the work in his office.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.