Northern Ireland

Adams defends McGuinness over Claudy priest meeting

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has defended Martin McGuinness over his recollections of a meeting with a priest alleged to have been involved in the Claudy bombings.

In 2002, Mr McGuinness told the BBC he had never met Father James Chesney.

On Wednesday the deputy first minister said he now recalled going to the priest's deathbed in 1980.

Mr Adams said Mr McGuinness had been honest about his memories.

He added that his colleague could have kept "schtum" on the issue and that the deputy first minister had issued the statement saying he had met Fr Chesney "of his own volition".

"It is not a sin or a crime or offence to forget a meeting," he said.

"The statement Martin issued at some point in the past saying he had never met Father Chesney in my opinion was released in good faith - why otherwise would he deny it?

"When he remembered, it was he who came forward, he told me that he was going to put out the statement.

"He told me it was because of the appeal from the families on the back of the recent report (Claudy bomb report).

"Martin was out of the country on holiday when the report was released and he told me when he returned that as soon as he got the first opportunity he was going to add his voice on this issue in support of the families' right to the truth."

Earlier this week, Mr McGuinness said that in his meeting with Fr Chesney, the priest had talked about his support for a united Ireland, but did not mention the 1972 Claudy bombings, which killed nine people.

"I never knew Fr Chesney before Claudy; I never knew Fr Chesney for many years after the bombing," he said.

"I was told he was a republican sympathiser; would I go and see him and meet with him in County Donegal?"

In 2002, Mr McGuinness issued a statement to BBC Northern Ireland current affairs programme Spotlight, saying: "I have never met Father Chesney, nor do I have any knowledge of him other than from media reports."

On Thursday, the son of a man killed in the Claudy bombings said he did not believe Mr McGuinness has told the whole truth.

Gordon Miller, whose father David was killed in the bombings, also said he did not want to meet the Sinn Fein MP.

'Not guilty'

Mr Adams said those "bereaved through the conflict" were entitled to say "anything they want on these issues", but it was a different matter for political representatives.

He said he supported a "truth recovery process" in Northern Ireland and said Fr Chesney was "not guilty" and was not able to respond to the allegations made against him.

The Police Ombudsman said last month that the police, the Catholic Church and the state conspired to cover up Fr Chesney's suspected role the no-warning car bomb, one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles.

The investigation found high-level talks led to Fr Chesney, a suspect in the attack, being moved to the Irish Republic.

No action was ever taken against Fr Chesney, who detectives believed was the IRA's 'director of operations' in south County Londonderry. He died of cancer in 1980 at the age of 46.

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