The cover-up by the Government, the Roman Catholic Church, and the RUC over the Claudy bombings which killed nine people in 1972 was one of the most disgraceful episodes in recent Irish history.
Those who moved the suspected IRA terrorist Father James Chesney across the border to Donegal took that decision with the aim of preventing widespread loyalist attacks on Catholic clergy and people.
Cardinal William Conway, the Catholic Primate, William Whitelaw, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and Sir Graham Shillington, the RUC Chief, were no doubt honourable men, but they allowed their judgement to become clouded and they were collectively guilty of a grossly dishonourable act.
It was an act which was also devoid of morality or of a commitment to justice. That monumental blunder has |returned to haunt today’s leaders of Church and State.
The current Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson has expressed “sorrow” that those responsible for the bombings have not been brought to justice, and the PSNI have admitted that the RUC investigation was flawed.
Catholic Church leaders have expressed shock about Fr Chesney, but in their immediate reactions after the publication of the Police Ombudsman’s Report, they were sending out distinctly odd messages. Cardinal Brady and the Bishop of Derry said that while they accepted the Ombudsman’s findings, there had been no cover-up. Such a conclusion beggars belief. Perhaps they were underlining that the Catholic Church had not initiated a cover-up, and had acted upon the initiative of the then Secretary of State. Quite so, but there was clearly a cover-up by all three involved, namely the Catholic Church, the Government, and the police.
So when is a cover-up not a cover-up ? Presumably when the Catholic Church says so. Cardinal Conway was in a difficult position, but he could have refused to go along with the tawdry little plot by the secular authorities and taken the high moral ground as the Catholic leader. Did all this amount to “collusion” between the Catholic Church, the police, and the Government? Of course it was, but that seems to have been a word too far for the former Bishop of Derry Dr Edward Daly.
He also indicated that he had doubts about Fr Chesney’s alleged guilt, and said that he was sceptical of much of the RUC and Special Branch intelligence in the early 1970’s.
Dr Daly may or may not be right, and he is entitled to his views, but this will disturb many people who would have looked for a more forthright condemnation of every aspect of what, by any standards, was a striking example of cover-up and collusion.
The harsh reality is that the Claudy relatives will never know the truth, unless one of the bombers — if any are still alive — wants to clear his or her conscience.
In the meantime, the reaction of the Catholic hierarchy will give no confidence to those who hoped that they had learned something, indeed anything, from the folly of the cover-ups in so many cases of clerical paedophilia.
Senior Catholicclergy, with the exception of the courageous Archbishop Dairmuid Martin of Dublin, seem incapable of accepting blame on behalf of their Church.
Instead of trying to shift blame onto the police and appearing unduly defensive, the senior Catholic clergy should have said: “We, as well as others, got it totally wrong. We should have done more to stop the cover-up and the collusion over Fr Chesney, and made much more effort on our part to see that justice was done.”
That’s the language everybody understands.