The bombing in Claudy, on 31 July 1972, was an appalling crime. In reading the Public Statement of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, published today, we can never lose sight of the terrible human cost of this atrocity. Nine people died, including children. Many were injured. Many more were rendered homeless or had businesses destroyed or damaged. The entire community of a small rural town was traumatised by a horrific attack on innocent people.
On a day such as this, it is important to recall the pain suffered by thousands of people through bereavement, loss and trauma over the years of the Troubles. However, our focus today is very much on those who suffered in Claudy through the bombing on 31 July 1972. We realise that the publication of the Ombudsman’s Statement today will bring back many painful memories for them and we want to assure them of our prayers and concern at this time.
We accept the Ombudsman’s findings and conclusions.
All known material in the possession of the Catholic Church has been made available to the Ombudsman.
Throughout the Troubles, the Catholic Church, along with other Churches in Northern Ireland, was constant in its condemnation of the evil of violence. It is therefore shocking that a priest should be suspected of involvement in such violence. This case should have been properly investigated and resolved during Father Chesney’s lifetime. If there was sufficient evidence to link him to criminal activity, he should have been arrested and questioned at the earliest opportunity, like anyone else. We agree with the Police Ombudsman that the fact this did not happen failed those who were murdered, injured and bereaved in the bombings.
We acknowledge the finding of the Police Ombudsman that: ‘With regard to the role of the Catholic Church, when informed of the level of concerns others had about one of their priests, they challenged Fr Chesney about his alleged activities, which he denied. In the course of this enquiry the Police Ombudsman’s investigation found no evidence of any criminal intent on the part of any Church official.’ (6.24)
The Catholic Church did not engage in a cover-up of this matter. As the Ombudsman finds in his Statement today the Church was approached by the Secretary of State at the instigation of senior members of the RUC. Furthermore, the Church subsequently reported back to the Secretary of State the outcome of its questioning of Fr Chesney into his alleged activities. The actions of Cardinal Conway or any other Church authority did not prevent the possibility of future arrest and questioning of Fr Chesney. As the Ombudsman’s Statement points out, Fr Chesney until the time of his death in 1980, ‘is known to have regularly travelled across the border but was never arrested, questioned nor further investigated by the RUC in connection with the Claudy bombings or other terrorist activity.’ (6.12)
Fr Chesney is dead and, as a suspect in the Claudy bombing, he is beyond the justice of earthly courts. Clearly a number of people were involved in the planning and carrying out of this terrible atrocity, some of whom may still be alive. Those bereaved and injured deserve to know the truth. We appeal to anyone who has information in relation to this horrific crime to provide it to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
It is only with honesty and bravery that we as a community can address these painful issues and do our best to ensure that the dreadful lessons of the past are learned and never repeated.
Statement from Cardinal Sean Brady on the Claudy bombing report
Joint Statement by Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh, and Bishop Séamus Hegarty, Bishop of Derry, in response to the Public Statement of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland into the RUC Investigation of the Claudy Bombing, 31 July 1972.
Published 24 August 2010