Cover-up of priest's role in IRA to be confirmed
POLICE OMBUDSMAN in the North Al Hutchinson is today expected to stand up claims of a cover-up involving the RUC, the British government and the Catholic Church that protected a Catholic priest allegedly involved in the 1972 IRA Claudy bombing.
The report, to be released today in Claudy, Co Derry, is expected to endorse the allegation that at the time the RUC had top-grade intelligence that Fr James Chesney was a senior figure in the IRA gang that planted three bombs in the Co Derry village on July 31st, 1972.
Nine people – five Catholics and four Protestants, with three of the nine having been children – died as a result of the no-warning car bombs that exploded along the main street of Claudy. No one was ever convicted for the bombings.
In December 2002, former PSNI assistant chief constable Sam Kinkaid, who reviewed the original RUC investigation, admitted there were serious deficiencies in that investigation. He further disclosed that the then Catholic primate, Cardinal William Conway, and the then northern secretary William Whitelaw, were made aware by the RUC of Fr Chesney’s alleged involvement, although Mr Kinkaid did not name Fr Chesney.
Fr Chesney was subsequently transferred to a parish in Co Donegal. He was never arrested or interviewed by police about the Claudy bombing or any other IRA activity. He died in 1980.
Mr Kinkaid apologised to the bereaved for how the police handled the investigation. His claims prompted a long-running investigation by the Police Ombudsman. The thrust of Mr Kinkaid’s allegations are understood to be backed up by Mr Hutchinson’s report.
Mr Hutchinson’s team was given access to new documentation that supports Mr Kinkaid’s suggestion of a cover-up involving the RUC, the British state and the Catholic Church, it is understood.
Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady is due to comment on the report today. Fr Chesney would have been appointed to a Donegal parish under the jurisdiction of the late Bishop of Derry, Dr Neil Farren. The bishop’s successor was Bishop Edward Daly, who was appointed to the diocese of Derry and Raphoe in the spring of 1974. Bishop Daly is this afternoon also scheduled to make a statement.
Mr Kinkaid attested to how PSNI inquiries showed that Cardinal Conway and an unnamed senior RUC officer were briefed on the attack not long after the bombing. Cardinal Conway held direct discussions with Mr Whitelaw on the issue in December 1972, during which, according to Mr Kinkaid, the northern secretary made clear his disgust at the priest’s involvement.
One theory put forward as to why there might have been a cover-up is that admission of Fr Chesney’s involvement would have created a situation where loyalist paramilitaries would have declared all Catholic priests “legitimate targets”.
The IRA did not admit the attack, although no one has ever seriously questioned that it was responsible. It attempted to issue a warning from nearby Dungiven, but was unable to do so because one of its bombings had damaged the telephone exchanges.