Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: Patrick Ryan is a fanatic for whom human life means nothing, but when did he cease to be a Catholic priest?

Questions remain about when the self-confessed terrorist cleric actually left the Church, writes Nelson McCausland

Patrick Ryan speaking with BBC reporter Jennifer O’Leary
Patrick Ryan speaking with BBC reporter Jennifer O’Leary
Nelson McCausland

By Nelson McCausland

In spite of its title, Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History, there was not as much "secret history" as the title suggests. Moreover, the presentation was somewhat disjointed. However, there were some compelling moments and one of those was the interview with Patrick Ryan, the notorious Tipperary-born priest who was an IRA "ambassador" and "had a hand in" some of the worst IRA atrocities.

After decades of denial, Ryan admitted that Margaret Thatcher was right when she accused him of complicity in a series of IRA bomb attacks, including Brighton and Hyde Park. Indeed, he said: "I had a hand in most of them."

His only regret was that they hadn't done better, which presumably means killed more people. Five people were murdered in Brighton and 11 were murdered in London and those were only two of the actions in which Patrick Ryan "had a hand".

However, it wasn't just what he said that was striking; it was also the way he said it.

We might have hoped that, at the age of 89, he would have mellowed a little. But no. Age may have wearied him, but it has certainly not mellowed him.

Patrick Ryan's words were cold, callous and chilling. As he spoke, he betrayed no signs of humanity. This was the voice of the republican zealot for whom "the cause" was everything and the lives of his victims a mere trifle, a sacrifice on the altar of Ireland.

There was a steely bitterness that reminded me of the late Billy McKee, founder of the Provisional IRA. He died a few months ago, at the age of 97, and went to his grave showing no remorse and no regret.

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On the basis of his interview, it seems that Patrick Ryan will do much the same. His only regret is that he wasn't more effective in procuring weaponry for the IRA.

We can only hope that his words will serve as a salutary reminder to some of the more naive members of our society.

Unionists have already called for his extradition - and rightly so. We now know, from his own lips, his central role in the IRA campaign, but one thing remains unclear.

Before and after the broadcast, the Spotlight programme was reported widely in the media and Patrick Ryan was variously described as a "defrocked priest", or a "former priest". However, there remains a distinct lack of clarity about his clerical history.

Yesterday, one national newspaper reported that "he left the Catholic Church in the 1970s", but there is strong evidence to the contrary.

Ryan was arrested in Belgium in 1988 after the IRA murder of three off-duty RAF men in Holland and, at the same time, Belgian police seized bomb-making equipment.

Eventually, he was extradited, but this was to Dublin, rather than London, and the Irish attorney general advised the Fianna Fail government of Charles Haughey to refuse an extradition request by Britain. Ryan was free to go about his business in the safe haven of the Irish Republic.

A few months later, in June 1989, Fr Ryan stood as an independent candidate for the Munster constituency for the election to the European Parliament. He was backed by Sinn Fein, whose spokesman said: "The party has withdrawn three other candidates in that area in support of Fr Ryan."

His 1989 election literature described him as "Fr Ryan", rather than "Patrick Ryan" and a spokesman for the Catholic Media Office in Dublin said: "The Church has made it clear that this is not a role proper for a person in holy order."

So, in 1989, he still said that he was a priest, Sinn Fein said that he was a priest and the Catholic Media Office conceded that he was a priest. This week's report that he "left the Church" in the 1970s is obviously untrue, or at least misleading, so what then about the assertion that he was defrocked?

The terrorist equipment procured by Fr Ryan was used to kill both Protestants and Catholics and so, surely, it is legitimate for people in both traditions to ask was he defrocked and, if so, when did he cease to be a priest?

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