Claudy: forgotten no longer

When the Claudy Report by the Police Ombudsman was unveiled last week it looked very much as if it would be a one or at most a two day wonder. This was one of the forgotten atrocities of the troubles, like so many others. There seemed little in the way of an organised victims’ group and few politicians apart from the local UUP councillor and Gregory Campbell pushing the issue: Campbell is an extremely busy man and Mary Hamilton is far from a house hold name.

The whole report and furore may well soon be forgotten: a minor issue to be mentioned during the off season for politics. However, when the families were allowed airtime those who wanted to speak came across as utterly honest, largely apolitical figures who simply wanted justice. None exemplified this more than Mark Eakin, the elder brother of Kathyrn Eakin, the youngest of the murdered. Not for him grandstanding or demanding his pound of flesh, no fire breathing demands: rather an utterly decent man who on the usual rough and tumble of the Nolan Show was so dignified that his dignity managed to raise the show itself above its usual fare.

As Mr. Eakin and many of the others said the report raised more questions than answers and it looked as if that was where those questions would be left as usually fairly reliable sources suggested that the Historical Enquiries Team had decided to leave the Claudy bomb to one side since the PSNI had investigated it in 2002. However, as the issue went on beyond a couple of days the HET was forced to come out and agree to meet with the families in order to establish whether or not they wanted further attempts made to investigate and if possible prosecute the murderers of Claudy.

The Ombudsman’s report is only a partial examination of the events of that dreadful day: that is not a criticism as the Ombudsman has repeatedly made clear his only function is to assess the role of the RUC at the time. The RUC does appear to have deliberately and consciously decided not to attempt prosecution or even arrest of Father Chesney. More accurately very senior officers within the RUC leadership seem to have made this decision: the Ombudsman records that a number of more junior officers were clearly keen to arrest the priest. The Special Branch Inspector in Coleraine clearly understood the potential problems but stated: “Having regard to what this man
has done I myself would be prepared to meet this challenge head on.”

The Ombudsman finds fault with the most senior officers whom he accuses of collusion with the Catholic Church and the Government to move the priest rather than arrest him. The report is at its most damning when considering this aspect stating:

6.21 With regard to police, for senior officers to have had the weight of
Intelligence and information that they had pointing to Father Chesney’s
possible involvement in terrorism and not to have pursued lines of
enquiry, which could have potentially implicated him in or eliminated him
from the investigation of the Claudy bombings and other acts of
terrorism, was wrong.

6.22 In so doing they failed to discharge a primary police duty which is to
detect crime. Such a failure, in the absence of an acceptable
explanation, could potentially have amounted to the commission of a
criminal offence. All the key individuals involved in these events are now
deceased and unable to account for their actions.

Although the Ombudsman’s remit is only for the police, he then goes on at least partially to absolve the government:

6.23 With regard to the role of the Government, they were asked by police to
assist in resolving a matter of public interest. They had a legitimate
interest in doing so. In the course of this enquiry the Police
Ombudsman’s investigation found no evidence of any criminal intent on
the part of any Government Minister or official.

This is a difficult position to rationalise. If the police were wrong (possibly criminally so) in colluding, surely government ministers were party to a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice? However, what Hutchinson glosses over is that it is stretching credulity beyond breaking point to argue that the senior RUC officers simply decided to collude in protecting Chesney from the consequences of his actions and instead moving him. Much more credible would be that the RUC asked their new masters in the NIO (remember Stormont had recently been prorogued) for guidance as to the delicate matter of the arrest of a Catholic priest for mass murder. The fact that they had anxieties is actually commendable and very far from the bigoted anti catholic RUC which is the standard republican shibboleth. The decision merely to move Chesney has much more the fingerprints of classic British Tory government expediency than any possibility of it being an RUC inspired plan. As an aside had Claudy been committed 5 years later when Roy Mason was Secretary of State it is much more likely that Chesney would have been moved to ministering within the diocese of Down and Connor close to Lisburn, for a very prolonged period, rather than in Donegal.

The questions for the government are actually much greater than those for the RUC. If by chance the RUC initiated the decision to ask for Chesney’s relocation rather than arrest: how high did that decision go politically? Was it Whitelaw’s alone? Who else did he consult either below or indeed above him? Was the decision referred to the Cabinet? If not why not? This was the mass murder of nine British citizens which the government was deciding to ignore and their murder by a man who appeared keen to carry on murdering people from within or without the jurisdiction. In the much more credible scenario that the decision came down to the RUC from government the questions are in actual fact identical.

Moving on there are significant issues here for the Roman Catholic Church. Bishop Daly tried to refute the suggestion that Chesney was one of the Claudy murderers and cardinal Brady gave him some cover pointing out the fact that Daly had interviewed Chesney who had denied involvement. If the church believed its priest it is unclear why they agreed to move him and it is also interesting that no one has challenged the assertion that Cardinal Conway accepted that Chesney “was a very bad man.” The denials of Chesney’s guilt from the church must be placed alongside their denials of any significant problems with child abuse until the whole sordid saga came out and their stuttering and incompetent response which has continued to this day. Rather, the tactic of moving Chesney appears very similar to the tactic of moving paedophile priests: it looks as if they regarded it as a similar sort of problem. Although the church will never answer it, some will wonder how a priest who, according to Catholic teaching, has been given the sacred ability to turn the bread and wine into the body and blood of Our Lord, could continue to do so after having committed mass murder. Does the church really feel that God would continue to allow that miracle to be performed by a man such as Chesney? Rather the only blood which Chesney hands had involvement with after the 31st July 1972 will have been that of little Kathyrn Eakin and that blood will have spoken most powerfully to God against Chesney and his co murderers. Others may not have seen the mark of Cain indelibly imprinted on Chesney but the One who performs the miracle of Transubstantiation will have seen it most clearly.

The other churches also have a few questions to answer. When the Saville Report into Bloody Sunday came out the Protestant clergymen were tripping over themselves to meet with the families. After this report, however, there was a much more muted response from the assorted Protestant prelates. The Church of Ireland have no press releases on their website and no discernible media profile (to be fair one can eventually find a brief statement from the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe, hat tip to Ultonia for finding it); the Methodists absolutely nothing. Both had leaders rushing to get to Londonderry in the aftermath of Saville. The Presbyterian moderator is apparently away but will travel to see the families on his return. However, it appears that the meeting is part of an event to mark the rededication of Claudy Presbyterian Church and that the Claudy families are not important enough to merit a stand alone meeting; let alone one in the immediate aftermath of the report. The selective nature of what Protestant Prelates will attend and publicise gives force to Cushy Glenn’s observation that they are more interested in the media appearance than they are in the actual pastoral needs of the local people.

Another organisation of which searching questions should be asked is of course the IRA. Francie Molloy continued last week to deny that the IRA had committed the Claudy bomb. From the Sinn Fein spokesperson on truth that is of course entirely predictable. As a party Sinn Fein and the republican movement as a whole have never had much of a grasp on truth save when it could be used to beat Unionists or the British Government and then their “truth” has never been close to what anyone else regards as factual. Molloy himself of course has been named in the House of Commons by David Simpson as a philanderer, informer and one involved in IRA murder: an interesting pedigree for a truth spokesperson; though maybe not within republicanism.

That the South Derry IRA decided to murder the inhabitants of Claudy is itself a slightly odd decision. The South Derry brigade would have had much closer targets for murder and also ones with a much larger proportion of Protestants than the mixed though predominantly Catholic Claudy. Much more logical from a republican point of view would have been the much closer and practically 100% Protestant Tobermore: alternatively the little more mixed and also closer than Claudy village of Garvagh would have been a more attractive target for the IRA. Large areas of County Antrim with large Protestant majorities would also have been much more tempting and closer targets for the IRA than Claudy: even Coleraine is as close to South Derry as Claudy. However, that is to ignore the fact that Claudy is much closer to Londonderry than Garvagh or Tobermore let alone County Antrim’s towns.

The Claudy bomb was the same day as Operation Motorman in Londonderry and it has long been claimed that Claudy was designed to distract the police and army from Londonderry. Bombs in Garvagh, Tobermore, Coleraine or Ballymena would not have diverted the security forces away from Londonderry as they would have been dealt with by the Coleraine, Magherafelt or Ballymena security forces. As such in the context of the day it is clear that Claudy would have made a much better target than the closer more Protestant towns.

That desire to attack somewhere close to Londonderry of course brings the issue round to another person who could be asked questions and who has made statements which only the most gullible or committed republicans would believe: Martin McGuinness. McGuinness of course claims to know nothing about Claudy and nothing about Father Chesney. McGuinness was the second in command of the IRA in Londonderry at the time and yet he claims to know nothing about the man reported to be the commander of the IRA in neighbouring south County Londonderry. It is interesting that he has not used the protection from answering questions of his IRA oath and that the IRA still deny involvement in the Claudy bombing. Maybe Claudy is, like Kingsmill, Darkley and a number of others: murders at which the IRA fears even its supporters might baulk. However, any pretence from its truth spokesperson Molloy that the Republican movement has any interest in a Truth Process must be met with the single word: Claudy.

The Claudy murders were amongst the most horrific atrocities of the Troubles though there are many more which vie with them. It has often been called one of the forgotten events. Now, however, a little and a partial light has been shone on it. Whether the relatives can ensure that this light will lead to what they want: the truth and prosecution of some of the many names which have long circulated in the local area as those responsible for the murderers remains to be seen. The police normally continue the investigation of a murder for decades: this case of mass murder must be no different. It may not bring justice but it may. If the relatives want the investigation to continue (as they clearly do) then this case should be no different to every other one. Clearly all the murderers are not dead. As such they should continue to fear that one day they may have to stand in court and hear that they are found guilty. Of course as they all age any who believe in God will know that there will assuredly be justice for little Kathyrn and the others in a few short years. Father Chesney already knows that.