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The death of Fr Niall Molloy


Dr Kate Flynn

Dr Kate Flynn

Dr Kate Flynn

Dr Kate Flynn is a world-renowned academic who specialises in peace studies. Her work has taken her to South Africa, Eastern Europe and Northern Ireland. But one story of conflict which has unfolded in the last two years has affected her on a personal level.

It is the case of Fr Niall Molloy, the popular Roscommon priest who was beaten to death after a glamorous society wedding in an Offaly mansion in 1985. A number of Fianna Fáil politicians were present in the Clara manor on the day of his murder, including a household name.

For almost 30 years, his family have been seeking justice in a case that was described in the Seanad last month as "the biggest cover-up in the history of the State".

These words were reiterated recently by an eminent murder-squad officer, Detective Inspector Gerry O'Carroll, who has made a statement to that effect recently to the gardaí.

Kate Flynn heard about the killing years ago, but only recently became aware of the astonishing background after reading an investigation by the Irish Independent.

What she has learnt has shocked her. The reason she feels so strongly is that Richard Flynn, the man in whose house Fr Niall was killed, is her uncle.

At the time, Mr Flynn claimed he was the culprit. Some months later, he was charged with the manslaughter and assault of the 52-year-old cleric. But, both then and now, in the midlands, it is widely believed another person was responsible for the killing.

Mr Flynn's trial was one of the most sensational of the 1980s. Amid huge controversy, Justice Frank Roe dramatically halted the hearing in less than four hours, and ordered the jury to acquit the defendant.

There was consternation in the courtroom and calls for a public inquiry in the Dáil.

It later emerged that the judge was a friend of the Flynns and had written to the then-Director of Public Prosecutions Eamonn Barnes before the trial stating he knew them.

More recently, questions have been asked about the adequacy of the initial garda investigation. Vital evidence was contaminated, contradictory statements were given and received, and witnesses with crucial information were never interviewed.

Since the trial, Richard Flynn, who lives in Ballymahon, Co Longford today, has said his conscience is clear.

The inquest into Fr Niall's death found that he died from head injuries. At the time, Mr Flynn's only son David was interviewed briefly on RTÉ in a dramatic clip which left the Molloy family stunned.

When Kate Flynn watched the interview for the first time last September, during a piece about the case by Miriam O'Callaghan on Prime Time, she, too, was baffled.

In the clip, an RTÉ reporter asked David Flynn if his family had found it very difficult to handle the rumours and speculation surrounding the case.

The handsome, well-spoken young man replied: "Extremely difficult. It's very difficult, maybe, when one knows certain answers and isn't in a position to comment. It makes it very difficult to live with." (You can watch this Prime Time clip on the internet at http://tinyurl.com/bb8myux).

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Dr Flynn was disturbed by her cousin's comments. She wondered what he meant. What were these answers he talked about and what exactly was it that he found so difficult to live with? Today, in the Irish Independent, Dr Flynn has decided to speak publicly about the case for the first time.

She also makes an appeal to David Flynn, who lives in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, to disclose what he knows about the killing in the hope that it will reveal information that will lead to the perpetrator being brought to justice and Fr Molloy's family finally gaining closure after 28 years.

"I was deeply troubled as I listened to his words," Dr Flynn says.

"David obviously wanted to say something more but felt unable. Yet decades have now passed, and the recurrent, unsolved questions about the killing remain.

"Allegations of a high-level cover-up, judicial misconduct, a botched police investigation and an attempted insurance fraud have compounded my suspicions that someone else, not my uncle, was responsible for Niall's killing.

"What I thought was a tragic accident was clearly not. I have followed the coverage of recent years and I am shocked at the brutality of Fr Niall's death.

"We know that he was beaten to death and left for up to six hours before the police were called. We need to know why that happened and why justice was never done."

Kate Flynn, an Irish citizen who was raised in California, only saw Fr Niall once, but she still smiles at the memory. It was the summer of 1982, and she was visiting her uncle Richard at Kilcoursey House, the sprawling country manor where Fr Niall was murdered three years later.

Fr Niall, a talented horseman who kept some of his stock on the land at Kilcoursey, was walking the grounds and happened to look up at the house to see an unfamiliar teenager hanging out a window sneaking a cigarette.

"I never actually met him," recalls Kate, "but on that one occasion I was grateful for his apparent discretion. He smiled briefly, then looked away, and, as far as I know, told no one, at least not while I was still there. I liked him for that."

Dr Flynn also met her cousin David for the first and only time during that trip. When she heard about Fr Niall's death some years later, she was at university. The broader family heard it was a tragic accident but the alarming revelations of recent years have left her in no doubt that it was anything but.

As well as her personal concerns as a member of the Flynn family, the university researcher has taken a professional interest in the case.

For two decades, she has worked as a political scientist in the field of democratic transition, putting her expert experience to work in post-conflict societies like Northern Ireland, South Africa, the former Soviet Union and the Basque country. During that time, she has met many victims of injustice and seen the damage done to families and democracy when the truth about murder is concealed.

"I've spent much of my career working in societies experiencing division, upheaval and irrevocable change. In these countries, you cannot take for granted the transparency or accountability of public institutions and their practices.

"Nor can we take for granted the rule of law where the legal process applies equally to everyone regardless of status or profession. These fundamentals – transparency, accountability and the rule of law – are requirements for the full functioning of the democratic social contract.

"As important as these fundamentals for democracy are, they are merely abstract concepts and rhetorical niceties if not grounded in an ideal of justice. Part of the restorative process is also the full disclosure of all details pertinent to the wrong at hand.

"By this, I mean a state which responds to the needs, interests and values of its citizens, and in exchange can lay claim to the consent of those governed.

"I come back to the killing of Fr Niall and the many unresolved questions about the case. If we wish to have a society in Ireland in which the exercise of justice rests on a commitment to putting things right, an idea of justice as restorative, then decisions and actions must bring to light as much information as possible.

"As an Irish citizen, and a professional working in this field, I am deeply troubled by the shortfalls in transparency, accountability and the rule of law which the case of Fr Niall's killing potentially flags. The Irish public must be given the full facts if they are to have trust in their democracy and criminal justice system."

A two-year garda investigation into Fr Niall's killing, led by Det Supt Christy Mangan of the Cold Case Unit, appears to have made no progress.

This has led to a chorus of calls in the Oireachtas by senior government politicians for an independent judicial inquiry, which Dr Flynn supports.

"I agree with the politicians from Labour, Fine Gael and Independent circles who have called for a public inquiry. The time is long overdue for an independent inquiry into this case and I have written to Minister Shatter to urge him to carry this out.

"In the meantime, I urge anyone with information to come forward, especially my cousin. As you said in 1986, David, it has been very difficult to live with.

"But time has moved on and you no longer have to live with it. Come forward now and tell us about the answers you say you have but couldn't disclose. Do it for the sake of justice and for Niall's long-grieving family who deserve nothing less."

Dr Kate Flynn is a research associate at the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Centre at Liverpool Hope University, England. She also serves on the International Assessment Board for the Irish Research Council's Research Development Initiative

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