The North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said he was in the IRA in Derry city in 1972 but did not know who carried out the Claudy bomb attack, and still doesn’t know.
The Claudy bombing happened in the County Derry village on July 31st, 1972, killing five Catholics and four Protestants. It took place on the same day as Operation Motorman, an unprecedented British army invasion of the no-go areas in Derry.
Operation Motorman took place six months after Bloody Sunday and was the subject of extensive planning from both a military and propoganda point of view.
When three bombs exploded in the county Derry village on the day, it was claimed that the IRA had carried out the attack - as a diversion. The IRA has always denied it was responsible.
Mr McGuinness revealed this week that he had met Fr James Chesney shortly before his death in 1980 but that he knew nothing of the allegations that the priest was one of the Claudy bombers.
The allegations were found in RUC police files uncovered by the Police Ombudsman’s office. They also confirmed that the British government mysteriously sought to have the priest secretly moved out of the North in secret discussions with the Catholic church.
Last month the North’s Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson accepted the RUC allegations at face value, but found no explanation of the plan to move Fr Chesney.
“When I met Fr Chesney . . . I was unaware at that time of the allegations against him,” he said.
“I was asked to visit him as someone who was dying and was a republican sympathiser. Sadly I have had many such meetings over the years. The Claudy attack or the IRA were not discussed in our conversation,” added Mr McGuinness.
“There was no discussion whatsoever about IRA actions of any description. It was basically a political discussion on his strong views that Ireland should be united,” he said.
Mr McGuinness referred to a statement he made to the BBC in 2002, in which he said he did not know the priest. He said that, 22 years after the meeting, the statement to the BBC was made “in good faith”.
“It is only recently that in the controversy surrounding the publication of the ombudsman’s report and the allegations from RUC sources about Fr Chesney that I was reminded of my visit to him shortly before his death. That is the only contact I ever had with Fr Chesney,” he said.
Mr McGuinness said he was aware that there was a public perception that the IRA was behind the Claudy attack but that he didn’t know who was responsible. “I was in Derry city at the time of the move by the British army into the city and that was on the same day as the Claudy bomb,” he said.
“I was very angry when I heard that a number of bombs had exploded in Claudy and that innocent people had been killed and I think those people in Claudy are entitled to the truth,” he added.
He said the IRA in Derry city “played no part” in the bombing. He also met “two very senior members of the IRA in Dublin” at the time.
“I asked was the IRA involved in the Claudy bomb and they told me no, and it has been a mystery ever since.”
The Church has insisted that it was not involved in a cover-up and Bishop Edward Daly said he was unconvinced of Fr Chesney’s guilt, expressing concerns that “untested intelligence files” were being accepted as proof.
Mr McGuinness said he was sympathetic to that view and the now widely held perception about the IRA and Fr Chesney could have arisen from information put out by the RUC.