Bishop Daly's 'doubts' over Claudy bomb report claims

Fr James Chesney The report said police believed Fr James Chesney was an IRA leader and was involved in the bombing

The former Bishop of Derry, Edward Daly, has said he has doubts about allegations of a priest's involvement in the IRA.

A NI Police Ombudsman report confirmed detectives believed Fr James Chesney was involved in the Claudy bombing which killed nine people in 1972.

Bishop Daly said he had interviewed the priest in the 1970s and been told he was only a "verbal republican".

Three no-warning bombs exploded in the Co Londonderry village on 31 July 1972.

Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson reported that a conspiracy involving the police, the state and the Catholic Church covered up Fr Chesney's suspected role in the bombing. Disucssions took place between the Government and the Catholic Church about the possibility of moving Fr. Chesney. He was later moved to a parish in Donegal in the Irish Republic.

No action was ever taken against Fr Chesney, who detectives believed was the IRA's 'director of operations' in south County Derry.

He died of cancer in 1980 aged 46.

A former detective has said the RUC team investigating the bombing would have had no involvement in any decision not to question Fr Chesney.

The retired detective, who did not want his name used but who was close to the investigation, said the decision to leave the priest alone was made at a senior level.

"The decision not to pursue Mr Chesney was not taken at a low level, it was not made by those who were investigating this or were any way associated with it," he told the BBC on Wednesday.

"This was not a decision by the RUC in general, this was not a decision by the detective inspector who was leading the investigation and those who were working with him.

"This was a decision made above - way above - the investigating team."

Brendan O'Neill, whose aunt Rose McLaughlin was murdered in the bombing, said his family want to know what the prime minister of the day, Ted Heath, knew about what was going on.

"Patricia, the daughter who lives down south, she was posing questions today about what did Number 10 Downing Street know about all this and did they do anything about it.

"She still didn't get those questions answered and they're some of the things that have to be answered before you're going to get closure."

'Serious doubts'

Bishop Daly said in the 1970s he discussed with Fr Chesney the allegations that the priest was an active member of the IRA.

"As I have stated many times before, I have always had serious doubts about the long-standing allegations surrounding Father James Chesney relating to the Claudy bombing," he said.

"He died 30 years ago and I am prepared now to leave him to the Lord, the God of justice.

"I have to admit being sceptical of much of the RUC and Special Branch intelligence in the early 1970s and the interrogation techniques and other devious methods by which some such intelligence was acquired.

"Father Chesney vehemently denied involvement in any kind of IRA activity to me on two occasions, in 1974, not long after I was appointed Bishop of Derry, and again in 1977. He also denied such involvement earlier to my predecessor, Bishop Neil Farren."

'Betrayal'

Mr Hutchinson said some detectives' attempts to pursue Fr Chesney were frustrated ahead of a meeting between Northern Ireland Secretary William Whitelaw and the leader of Ireland's Catholics, Cardinal Conway.

Fr Chesney was appointed to a parish in Donegal in late 1973. He was never again appointed to a parish in Northern Ireland.

Bishop Daly said the failure of the RUC to arrest and question Fr Chesney was "beyond understanding".

"I believe that this constituted a huge betrayal of the victims," he added.

He said he was not aware of Cardinal Conway's involvement in the case until it was made known by Sam Kinkaid, then Assistant Chief Constable of the PSNI on 20 December 2002.

"This report now clarifies that the Cardinal's involvement was initiated by the Secretary of State, at the behest of the police," Bishop Daly said.

"Cardinal Conway did not at any time discuss Father Chesney with me, nor did any police officer or any member of the Northern Ireland Office.

"During my 20 years as Bishop of Derry, I regularly met such people."

Bishop Daly said that he had a lengthy meeting with the former Police Ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, in November 2006 during which he told her her "everything I knew about the case".

No paramilitary group has ever claimed responsibility for the Claudy bombings, and no-one has been convicted of them.

Edward Daly was Bishop of Derry between 1974 and 1993.

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