UK Politics

Truth and consequences

There’s some damaging news out for the Catholic church and the UK state:

The police, the Catholic Church and the government conspired to cover up a priest’s role in one of the worst atrocities of the Northern Ireland Troubles, an investigation has found.

Nine people died in bombings in Claudy, County Londonderry on 31 July 1972.

The NI Police Ombudsman’s probe found that high-level talks led to Fr James Chesney, a suspect in the attack, being moved to the Irish Republic.


BBC Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson said that the report lacks any explanation from Cardinal Conway or Mr Whitelaw about how they came to their decision to move Chesney.

“As both are now dead, we can only speculate as to their motives,” our correspondent added.

“The most generous theory is that they felt that protecting the priest was the lesser of two evils.

“During that turbulent period in 1972, many believed that Northern Ireland was on the brink of a sectarian civil war. Almost 500 people were killed that year.

“If a priest had been arrested in connection with the Claudy bomb, it could have pushed community relations over the edge.”

Both Protestants and Catholics were killed in the blasts.

To some, this news will re-enforce the view that the Catholic Church think they are above the law, and are unwilling to confront issues within their ranks. On the other hand, the UK state at the time comes across as trying to avoid a massive backlash against the Catholic community by colluding in a conspiracy to hide Chesney’s role. There were bigger issues than the individual priest.

It is possible the outcome of the collusion was to save innocent lives on both sides of the sectarian divide.

In these days of demands for increased transparency and wikileaks, are there ever times a democratic government should hide the truth for a greater good?

Or should the truth be out, regardless of the consequences?