I met suspect in Claudy bomb atrocity, admits McGuinness
Martin McGuinness yesterday admitted he had met the priest suspected of the Claudy bombing -- even though in 2002 he denied ever meeting Fr James Chesney.
Mr McGuinness, who is believed to have been the IRA commander in Derry at the time of the bombing in 1972, confirmed yesterday that in 2002 he spoke with Fr Chesney before he died.
But he denied the no-warning bombing, that killed nine people, was ever mentioned in his talk with the priest, who was moved to Co Donegal after the atrocity.
However, in 2002 Mr McGuinness had issued a statement to the BBC, saying: "I have never met Fr Chesney, nor do I have any knowledge of him other than from media reports."
In the House of Commons yesterday, the UK's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg apologised for the handling of the Claudy investigation.
"The government is profoundly, profoundly sorry that Fr Chesney was not properly investigated for his suspected involvement in this hideous crime at the time," said Mr Clegg.
The Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland said last month that the police, the Catholic Church and the State conspired to cover up Fr Chesney's suspected role in the no-warning car bomb, one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles.
Last night, victims and relatives of the dead demanded that the deputy first minister 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, wherever I was told that Fr Chesney was a republican sympathiser, would I go and see him and meet with him in Co Donegal."
He added: "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."
Mr McGuinness went on to say that he gave his statement in 2002, denying ever meeting Fr Chesney, 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," said Mr McGuinness. "That is the only contact I ever had with Fr Chesney."
The security services were convinced Fr Chesney was an active member of the South Derry IRA, the unit suspected of carrying out the Claudy bombing.
Mr McGuinness said other senior IRA men in Dublin told him after the bombing that the IRA was not involved. The Deputy First Minister went on to say that one theory was that there might have been some (British) state involvement.
Mark Eakin, whose nine-year-old sister Kathryn was killed in the Claudy bombings, said Mr McGuinness and the authorities had yet to give the victims the whole truth.
"There has to be a proper inquiry," said Mr Eakin.
"The only thing there has been into Claudy is a cover-up, they have spent more time trying to brush it under the carpet."
Others were asking last night why Mr McGuinness was not questioned in the investigation by the police ombudsman that took eight years to complete.