Belfast Telegraph

Conor Murphy feels the pain of those who, like him, suffered violence at the hands of Malachy Finegan, so why won't he meet Paul Quinn's mother 10 years after his murder?

The truth is the IRA and the Catholic Church treated victims in the same way ... both were more concerned about protecting the institution than punishing the perpetrator, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Since the BBC Spotlight documentary on the late paedophile priest, Fr Malachy Finegan, was broadcast in February, a number of people have stepped forward to detail their traumatic experiences at his hands.

The most prominent so far has been Conor Murphy, one time IRA prisoner, Sinn Fein MLA for Newry and Armagh, and a man who, until Michelle O'Neill's unexpected ascension to the iron throne, was widely tipped to be Martin McGuinness's successor as party leader at Stormont.

He's revealed that he came under the attentions of Fr Finegan when he was a pupil at St Colman's College in Newry in the late 1970s, when the priest burst into the classroom to break up a "ruckus".

"He singled me out," Murphy revealed. "He dragged me out by the hair, by the crown of your head, dragged me along the corridor, up two flights of stairs into his room and then he beat me with a stick on the hands and about the body."

Many who went to schools run by Catholic religious orders have similar memories of physical punishments that went far beyond acceptable discipline. How those nuns and priests dared call themselves Christians is an unfathomable enigma.

Murphy, who believes that Fr Finegan also tried to groom him for sexual abuse, has now called, rightly, for a full investigation into the late priest's activities. The former MP should be commended for speaking out. Whilst Murphy readily admits that other boys in the school suffered far more greatly than he did, and that his experience "pales into insignificance" beside those who were sexually abused, everyone who was a victim of this monster priest deserves sympathy and support.

That doesn't mean, however, that questions cannot be asked about Conor Murphy's attitude to other victims of violence and abuse. One of which is why he still won't meet with the mother of Paul Quinn more than 10 years after her son was beaten to death by the IRA.

After being lured to a farm in Co Monaghan, 21-year-old Quinn was set upon by up to a dozen men who beat him for half an hour with iron and nail-studded bars, breaking every major bone in his body, in punishment for having a "run in" with the son of a local IRA bigwig.

He was taken to hospital, but it was too late to save him. Doctors reportedly told his mother, Breege, that "they left nothing for us to fix".

She's asked repeatedly for a meeting with Sinn Fein, including Conor Murphy, who was Paul's MP at the time of his murder in 2007, but all requests have been refused. Murphy says that he spoke to the IRA and is satisfied, despite all the evidence, that they did not commit this murder. As recently as last year, Breege said of Murphy: "He has serious questions to answer, but he is getting away with saying nothing."

Conor Murphy's beating at the hands of Fr Finegan happened four decades ago, and he still remembers it vividly. That's how trauma works. It ingrains itself into one's psyche. But should his own experience of brutality at the hands of Fr Finegan not make Conor Murphy more compassionate towards those who have endured a similar ordeal, or, in Paul Quinn's case, immeasurably worse?

The SF man's supporters will call it a cheap shot to even ask such a question, insisting that Murphy should be treated in the terrible and still unfolding history of Fr Finegan's repulsive sadism as an ordinary victim rather than a senior political representative; but that category of victims also includes Paul Quinn, and others who were targeted for violent reprisal by the IRA, and having suffered violence oneself shouldn't grant anyone a free pass from a moral duty to help their families find closure.

One can only hope that Conor Murphy's revelations about what happened to him will finally force republicans to realise, after years of denial, the parallels between the Catholic church and their own organisation when it comes to the handling of abuse allegations.

Both the church and the IRA treated victims in exactly the same way. Both cared more about protecting the institution than punishing perpetrators. Both preferred to operate under a shadowy cloak of secrecy, in which terrified victims were sworn to silence.

When matters reached a point where the abuse going on in the ranks could no longer be ignored, the response from the church and the IRA alike was invariably to shuffle deviants off to new jurisdictions, where they continued their abuse.

The IRA man who raped Co Louth man Paudie McGahon when he was only 17 years old was sent to a safe house in Dublin, where, an internal republican investigation subsequently found, he raped another 12 year old boy, as well as two more teenagers in Derry. Nothing was done because he was well connected in west Belfast. If the church is guilty of covering up for physical and sexual abusers such as Fr Finegan, and it manifestly is, then so is the republican movement.

Conor Murphy now says that he's angry because no one stopped Fr Finegan, despite his activities being well known. He must surely see the irony in his own words. When Brendan Curran, a former Irish Army-trained sniper who was jailed in 1973 for the attempted murder of a British soldier, stepped down from Newry and Mourne District Council in 2015, two years after leaving Sinn Fein amid claims that he'd been subjected to "isolation and bullying", he used his resignation speech to reveal that he had personally raised the issue of one particular abusive cleric with republican leaders.

"This priest is dead now," Curran revealed, "but he was in every school in the Newry area for years and abused children in every one of them. People have been coming forward… I raised it with the republican movement 10 years ago and was told to drop it."

The party responded to the bombshell in its usual emotionless way, insisting that "Sinn Fein has no knowledge whatsoever of the claims being made by Mr Curran." In light of subsequent developments, that assertion looks dubious, to say the very least.

Conor Murphy has opened up now about his experiences in order, as he put it, "to encourage others (to come forward) and to say that we believe those who say they were sexually abused".

After what happened to Paudie McGahon and Mairia Cahill when they dared to reveal their experiences of abuse at the hands of the IRA and its kangaroo courts, Irish republicans have a long way to go before they can expect to be taken seriously on this issue.

Belfast Telegraph

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