IRA priest damage limitation
The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has insisted that it did not cover up the suspected involvement of a terrorist priest, following the release of a damning report into the Claudy bombing.
In a joint statement, Archbishop of Armagh Cardinal Sean Brady and Bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty said they accepted the findings of the report, released by Al Hutchinson, Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman.
Nine people were killed when three car bombs exploded in the small town of Claudy, Co. Londonderry, in 1972. A senior officer in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) admitted to the then secretary of state William Whitelaw that he feared civil unrest would ensue if he arrested the suspected mastermind of the attacks, Fr James Chesney.
The priest was transferred to a parish in Co. Donegal following talks between Whitelaw and the then head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal William Conway.
Fr Chesney has always been a key suspect in the bombing but was never questioned or charged and died in 1980 at the age of 46.
Cardinal Brady and Bishop Hegarty said it was ‘shocking’ that a priest could be a suspect in such an attack and that the case should have been ‘properly investigated and resolved during Fr Chesney’s lifetime’.
‘If there was sufficient evidence to link him to criminal activity, he should have been arrested and questioned at the earliest opportunity, like anyone else’, they said. ‘We agree with the police ombudsman that the fact this did not happen failed those who were murdered, injured and bereaved in the bombings’.
Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson said the Government was ‘profoundly sorry’ that Fr Chesney’s involvement in the atrocity had never been properly investigated.