Report Cites Cover-Up In 1972 N. Ireland Bombing
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A report in Britain reveals collusion between the Catholic Church and the government to prevent the questioning of a priest. The priest was one of the main suspects in a series of bombings in Northern Ireland. Nine people, including three children, died in those explosions in the village of Claudy in July 1972.
After a meeting between a Catholic cardinal and a British minister, the priest was quietly moved to the Irish Republic and was never questioned.
NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from London.
ERIC WESTERVELT: Father Jim Chesney always denied any involvement in the notorious Claudy bombing in July of 1972. But British authorities believe he was a senior IRA figure in south Derry and may have helped plan the attack. A bomb-sniffing dog found traces of explosive in his car at a checkpoint a few months after the bombing.
1972 was one of the worst years of the conflict in Northern Ireland. The Claudy bombing came six months after British soldiers shot and killed 13 unarmed civilians during a civil rights march in Londonderry known as Bloody Sunday.
Today's report shows that the then-secretary of state for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, met in private with the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal William Conway, and talked about the possibility of transferring Father Chesney.
Authorities possibly feared that arresting a priest over the bombing would have only further inflamed Northern Ireland's Catholic minority. Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson said he found no evidence of criminal intent by the church or government in agreeing to the transfer. But Hutchinson said he hopes his report prompts debate.
Mr. AL HUTCHINSON (Police Ombudsman, Northern Ireland): Well, the actions of church and state may not have been criminal - let others debate that - but the issue of the rightness or the morality of their action really has to become part of a public debate. And in many ways, it's a contemporary debate with, you know, what's happening in Northern Ireland today.
WESTERVELT: To some, the report again underscores how the Catholic Church hierarchy shielded priests from allegations of criminal activity. Cardinal Sean Brady, the current head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, has faced pressure to resign over his role in concealing cases of sexual abuse by priests.
Cardinal Brady today said he regretted that the bombing was not fully investigated, but he asks that his predecessor's actions be seen in the context of the summer of 1972.
Cardinal SEAN BRADY (Archbishop, Armagh; Primate of All Ireland): Cardinal Conway did what he believed to be right in the situation. He was faced with an impossible situation, but his primary consideration would be the prevention of any further acts of violence.
WESTERVELT: All the key figures involved at the time are now dead. The attack was never solved, and no one was ever charged. A 9-year-old girl and two teenaged boys were among those killed. Father Chesney was transferred to Donegal in the Irish Republic in 1973. He died there in 1980. Some family members of the victims today expressed deep disappointment with the report and called for a wider inquiry.
Mary Hamilton, who was injured in the bombing, said the report failed to deliver any justice.
Ms. MARY HAMILTON: They knew the perpetrator. They know who he is. And he can get off scot-free. And my point is he had a chance to live his life (unintelligible). The people (unintelligible) innocent people (unintelligible) they lost their lives, and for what?
WESTERVELT: In a statement, the British government's representative in Northern Ireland today said he was profoundly sorry that Father Chesney was not properly investigated, and that the victims and their families have been denied justice.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, London.
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