Northern Ireland news

Provo priest: My only regret? That I didn't do more for IRA

Former priest Patrick Ryan speaks to the BBC Spotlight team.

A former parish priest, who travelled the world on behalf of the IRA sourcing finance and weapons, has said his only regret is that "he wasn't even more effective".

While state papers released last year linked Patrick Ryan to the IRA bombing campaign, he speaks openly to BBC Spotlight for the first time about his visits to Tripoli to meet Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, sourcing tons of weaponry and high grade explosives from the regime.

He describes the Libyan leader, who was deposed and publicly executed in October 2011, as "a fine fella, best I ever met".

State papers released in 2018 revealed Ryan's activities led to diplomatic tensions after Margaret Thatcher accused the Irish government of doing nothing to help extradite the priest.

Ryan was the subject of a lengthy legal battle in 1988 after being arrested by Belgian police at a home where they found large quantities of cash and bomb-making equipment.

The UK requested to have him extradited, however, the Belgian authorities refused the request and later extradited him to the Republic in a military plane, avoiding British airspace.

Fr Patrick Ryan attends a rally with Gerry Adams in in the 1980s.

A former Pallottine priest from Tipperary, the Republic's refusal to extradite him to the UK caused tension between the British prime minister and then Taoiseach Charlie Haughey.

Speaking to Spotlight he details his trips across the world where he moved money and sourced weapons on behalf of the IRA.

He also boasts about sourcing a more stable timing device while travelling through Europe.

The defrocked priest says he realised the timer could be utilised during a period when IRA members were blowing themselves up with their own bombs.

The small pocket sized 'memo park' timer was widely used across European to remind motorists when their parking ticket was about to run out.

"I spotted these things, these little timers, it rang a little bell to remind you, you better get back to your car, your money had ran out", said Ryan.

"That was foolproof against any Ra man, even if he tried he couldn't kill himself planting a bomb, and that became extremely successful. Most of them never knew where it came from, they just took them and used them".

The remains of a 'memo park' timer was discovered in the rubble of the 1984 Brighton bomb when the IRA attempted to murder the top tier of Margaret Thatcher's government in the Grand Hotel during the Tory party conference and also in the remains of the Hyde Park bomb.

When asked about Margaret Thatcher's description of him having a hand in a number of bombing missions, Ryan tells the BBC, "I had a hand in most of them ... she was right, absolutely 100 per cent".

"I have big regrets, I regret I wasn't even more effective.

"But we didn't do too badly", he adds.

Spotlight on The Troubles: A Secret History: Tuesday 24 September, 9pm on BBC1.

Former parish priest Patrick Ryan.

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