Belfast Telegraph

Priest death inquiry 'unwarranted'

A full inquiry into the mysterious killing of a priest at a lavish wedding 30 years ago would be unlikely to establish the truth, a government-ordered report has found.

Barrister Dominic McGinn said there are significant issues of public concern in the case of Fr Niall Molloy, who died during celebrations at Kilcoursey House in Co Offaly in July 1985.

But despite persistent allegations of a high-level cover-up, he said the length of time passed, the death of key witnesses and the reluctance of others to speak meant a full-scale inquiry is unwarranted.

The Government ordered a review of the cold case two years ago to establish if any other inquiry could get to the truth of how the priest died.

It has been with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald since late last year but only published now.

Richard Flynn, a friend of Fr Molloy and the owner of Kilcoursey house, was charged with manslaughter but was acquitted at the direction of a judge.

Judge Frank Roe ended the trial when he accepted a defence submission that there was no evidence to suggest the priest did not die of a heart attack.

An inquest later found that he died from blows to the head.

In his review, senior counsel Mr McGinn said the case was "extremely unusual if not unique" with many disturbing factors.

"Unfortunately it appears to me that the precise truth of the events of the 7th and 8th July 1985 cannot now be ascertained," he concluded in his 109-page report.

He found:

:: The only people who could clarify the facts are either dead, too infirm to speak or unwilling to reveal what happened.

:: The calm attitude of Richard Flynn when gardai arrived after the killing "many would find inexplicable".

:: At least one member of the Flynn family undoubtedly knew what happened to Fr Molloy and who was responsible.

:: There is little that can be lawfully done to persuade them to reveal what they know about the events.

In his report, the senior lawyer said it remains unexplained why there was such a significant delay in calling the authorities at the time of Fr Molloy's death.

There has been enormous speculation about this, but much of it without foundation, he said.

However, he added rumours, gossip and speculation are to be expected given shortcomings in the original Garda investigation, the lack of any credible explanations, and the outcome of the criminal trial.

Mr McGinn said it was suspicious that business dealings between the Flynns and Fr Molloy were not revealed to the gardai during their original investigations.

It was also "extraordinary" that Richard Flynn was acquitted in light of his confession on a number of occasions to inflicting the violence on Fr Molloy, he said.

But because trial judge Frank Roe is dead it is now impossible to find out his exact reason for the acquittal, the report states.

It is an "uncomfortable fact" that the judge was deeply involved in the horse business, as were the Flynns and Fr Molloy, he goes on.

People will reach their own decisions about this but it is unlikely one can come to any concrete conclusions, he adds.

The review confirmed the Flynns enjoyed friendships with politicians "at the highest level" but said there was no reliable evidence they used this to their advantage in the case.

Mr McGinn also plays down the theft of garda files on the case from the Director of Public Prosecution's office in August 1987.

It was among a much larger number of files stolen in the break in by notorious criminal Martin "The General" Cahill and there was no evidence it was specifically targeted, he said.

The lawyer said there is objective evidence Richard Flynn's now deceased wife Therese attempted to claim a "modest amount" on an insurance policy taken out by Fr Molloy months before he died.

She was named on the policy as his sister and next of kin, but when asked for further details she did not pursue the claim, it has been confirmed.

Mr McGinn said many questions remain unanswered, and this was not helped by the reluctance of those with first hand knowledge to reveal what they know about the events.

Because individuals have a right not to incriminate themselves this difficulty could not be overcome, leaving a completely reasonable sense of injustice, he added.

The barrister said it was not his task to establish the truth, but to identify issues of public interest that need further examination, but he found that would be unlikely to the get to the bottom of the affair.

A number of shortcomings were identified in the original garda investigation.

There are no records of tests on blood samples from the crime scene and some of the Flynn family, on other items taken from the bedroom and other rooms in the house or on fingermarks found in the bedroom, all of which were sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory.

The review found these were sent "presumably" to establish who had been in the bedroom.

Another was that expert medical evidence, which said Fr Molloy lived for three to six hours after the attack, did not form part of the original garda investigation.

The inquiry found it would have put a "different complexion" on accounts made by the Flynn family if it was known at the time.

It said gardai should have checked the guest list for the July 6 1985 wedding with the aim of interviewing everyone and house-to-house inquiries should have been carried out.

The review found the break-in at Fr Molloy's house was not properly investigated.

Other failings revealed people named in a statement from the time were not interviewed and Fr Molloy's watch should not have been given back to the family without its condition being properly examined.

One stumbling block noted by the review was the refusal by Liam Lysaght, solicitor for the Flynns, to produce witness statements on their behalf or allow gardai to interview them.

This was entirely lawful, the review found.

The cleric's family have claimed that gardai mishandled the case for almost 30 years, failed to interview vital witnesses properly, if at all, and contaminated evidence.

It has been claimed that the judge in the trial knew the accused.

Justice Minster Frances Fitzgerald said the report brings greater clarity to the case and outlines how some of the concerns "are simply not supported by evidence".

"The report does not answer all of the questions raised, however, and concludes that the precise events surrounding Father Molloy's death cannot now be ascertained," she added.

Ms Fitzgerald said it would come as a disappointment to Fr Molloy's family but she had to conclude, based on the report and a cold case review by the Garda, that any further investigation would not be warranted.


From Belfast Telegraph