The allegations were originally published in the Newsletter, the daily newspaper read mostly by the unionist community in Northern Ireland, when a letter signed only “Father Liam” was sent to a unionist councilor in Derry.
According to other newspaper reports, confidential police files confirm that a Catholic priest was suspected of involvement in the bombing. The claim, which has been made repeatedly over the years, has been denied by the Catholic church.
The priest involved is the late Fr. James Chesney, who allegedly had republican sympathies.
A 9-year-old Protestant girl was among the victims of the massacre, which involved three car bombs. Such was public revulsion at the atrocity that the IRA denied responsibility.
The secret police file, according to newspaper reports, suggests that the bombing was carried out by the IRA and coordinated by Chesney. Two of the bombers are alleged to be brothers who went on the run following the attack.
At the time, Chesney was curate at St. Patrick’s Church, Keenaught, two miles from Desertmartin. A year after the attack, he was moved to County Donegal. He stayed in the Republic for the rest of his life and died of cancer in 1980 while working as chaplain in Sligo.
The anonymous letter sent to the Newsletter contains a number of inaccuracies. For instance, it refers to Chesney as “John” and not “Jim”. There is a belief it was actually sent by a unionist in an attempt to highlight the claims.
Ivan Cooper, a Protestant who comes from Claudy, and was a nationalist MP at the time, says that republican sources in 1972 told him of the priest’s involvement and that he accepts it as a fact.
Hugh Orde, the Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable, has said he will investigate the claims. Unionists are calling on him to make a statement on what is already contained in RUC files.