THE North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has been challenged to meet the victims of the Claudy bombing after revealing he met the chief suspect in the attack.
Mr McGuinness confirmed he spoke with Fr James Chesney before the priest’s death in 1980, but claimed the no-warning car bomb attack which killed nine people in 1972 was never mentioned.
The senior Sinn Féin representative had previously denied ever knowing the priest, but yesterday said he had been mistaken and confirmed he met the clergyman, describing him as a “republican sympathiser”.
Mr McGuinness denied IRA involvement in the infamous bombing, claiming he had questioned leadership figures in Dublin after the attack. But victims and campaigners said he should now go to Claudy to answer their questions.
Mr McGuinness said: “I never knew Fr Chesney before Claudy. I never knew Fr Chesney for many years after the Claudy bomb.
“I was asked, whenever I was told that Fr Chesney was dying, I was told he was a republican sympathiser, would I go to see him and meet with him in Co Donegal. I did that. There was no mention whatsoever of the Claudy bomb. During the course of that, he just talked about his support for a united Ireland and for Irish freedom.”
He denied the priest said anything to indicate he had been directly involved with the IRA, despite allegations the clergyman was a member of the paramilitary group.
Claudy happened six months after Bloody Sunday in Derry, 10 miles away, when Mr McGuinness was an IRA leader. But the Mr McGuinness also denied the IRA in Derry was involved in the Claudy outrage.
Three devices exploded in the previously peaceful village and while no group has ever claimed responsibility, it has always been blamed on the IRA.
Fr Chesney had denied to Church colleagues that he was involved in the attack. But a report by Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson last month claimed that a police investigation into the priest’s alleged involvement was stopped after senior officers conspired with the government and the Catholic Church to protect him.
However, Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the Catholic Church, insisted it did not cover up the bomb atrocity by moving the priest out of the North. He said the transfer to Donegal did not stop authorities arresting or questioning him.
Derry City Council representative Mary Hamilton, who witnessed the Claudy bombing, said Mr McGuinness had questions to answer.
“I would like to see him around a table with the victims,” said the Ulster Unionist. “The people of Claudy deserve answers. We deserve the truth.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved