THE biggest cover-up in the history of the State. That is how the brutal murder of Fr Niall Molloy in 1985 was described in the Seanad last week. Those words, of Roscommon Labour senator John Kelly, were reiterated this week by veteran murder squad detective Gerry O'Carroll.
A two-year investigation by this newspaper into the priest's killing has exposed a litany of damning evidence and glaring inconsistencies which point to nothing less than a cover-up of staggering proportions, involving several institutions of the State and the Catholic Church.
Even now, almost three decades on, candles still burn for Fr Molloy in the Roscommon village of Castlecoote, where he is remembered as a devoted pastor to his people and a gentleman of the highest order.
A talented horseman, he was in the prime of his life when he was beaten to death in the Offaly mansion of his well-connected friends, Therese and Richard Flynn, shortly after a wedding party in their Clara home.
The priest had gone to the house requesting a large sum of money that was owed to him.
His battered body was left bleeding on the floor for up to six hours before help was called. By then, it was too late. But three of the country's leading pathologists are certain that his life could have been saved if somebody had phoned 999.
Instead, the local parish priest of Clara, Fr James Deignan, was called to the house. He subsequently said he did not know 999 was an emergency call, and had 'forgotten his glasses' so he could not read the phonebook to call a local doctor.
Shortly before dawn, he went to the local garda barracks and asked Sergeant Kevin Forde if the priest's death could be "kept quiet".
Sgt Forde said it could not, but despite the officer's best efforts on that summer's night, a veil of silence fell over the truth about the priest's murder and its shocking aftermath.
When the full facts are finally brought into the public domain, they will rock the foundations of the State.
After hearing the testimonies of dozens of individuals, this newspaper has uncovered a catalogue of shocking revelations.
Senior Fianna Fail politicians were in the house on the evening of the priest's murder, one of them a well-known household name and close friend of the Flynns.
The original garda investigation was botched and shambolic.
Vital evidence was contaminated, bizarre statements were taken and given and key witnesses were never interviewed.
It has also been established that Fr Molloy was first attacked in the living room of the mansion, but his body was put in the Flynn's master bedroom. To this day, gardai have failed to identify blood found on the bannisters of the stairs.
In the immediate aftermath of the murder, two other suspicious deaths took place of people believed to have witnessed the murder and who told friends they could not bear to be around when the truth came out.
THANKS to the courageous work of murdered journalist Veronica Guerin, we also know that Justice Frank Roe corrupted the subsequent trial, hearing the case even though he knew the parties involved. After the killing, Richard Flynn was charged with manslaughter, but Roe directed the jury to acquit him after less than four hours. It is widely believed that another individual was responsible for the killing.
The State's files on the case have seen their share of drama too. The Offaly coroner's one was burnt in a mysterious fire and 'the General' Martin Cahill stole the garda file from the offices of the DPP. Among the more alarming allegations, revealed by Veronica Guerin and crime writer Paul Williams, are details of a garda deal done with Cahill and his associate John Traynor in return for the stolen file.
These claims cast a slur on every serving member of An Garda Siochana, not to mention the integrity of the criminal justice system; yet Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has remained silent when questioned about them.
It is now more than two years since the Irish Independent presented most of its file to An Garda Siochana and Justice Minister Alan Shatter. At the time, he was in opposition but he made a pledge to the Molloy family that if he was in government an inquiry would be established in the interests of justice and the truth.
What the family and the public got was a garda examination whose pace has been shamefully slow and nothing less than mystifying on occasion.
It has left the Molloy family utterly disillusioned and many people in the midlands concerned that there is no urgency at all to take a violent killer off our streets or hold those responsible for the subsequent cover-up to account.
For almost two years, the Molloy family and this newspaper have been calling on Minister Shatter to uphold his promise and instigate an independent judicial inquiry to ensure that all of the disturbing allegations surrounding this case can be examined in a neutral forum.
The time is long overdue for him to grant this, not only because justice must be delivered for the family. But because the public that the minister serves have a right to know the truth, however shocking it will turn out to be.