Northern Ireland news

Bishop John McAreavey suspected paedophile priest Malachy Finegan was police informer

Malachy Finegan has been accused of sexual abuse across Co Down

CONCERNS that paedophile priest Malachy Finegan may have been a police informer were raised by former Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey last year.

It has emerged the Dr McAreavey told the PSNI of his concerns in November 2018.

In a statement issued though his solicitor Conleth Downey last night it said. while the rumours had been "circulating around the time of Bishop McAreavey’s resignation", the cleric had "not been aware of this issue prior to that".

It comes just weeks after lawyer Kevin Winters, who represents some of Finegan's victims, raised similar fears and highlighted the prospect that the alleged paedophile may have breached the confidential seal of confession - a sacrament of the Catholic Church.

Finegan has been accused of sexual abuse across Co Down, including at St Colman's College in Newry where he taught from 1967.

He also served was president of the school from 1976 to 1987.

His long association with St Colman’s College brought him into contact with thousands of school children, some from republican backgrounds across Co Down and south Armagh.

The Diocese of Dromore has said the first report about Finegan came to the Church in 1994.

A second report was made to police in 1996, although the victim, who was just 17 at the time, did not submit a formal complaint. Two years later, in 1998, he brought his allegation to the diocese. The PSNI said it did not receive a report from the diocese relating to Finegan until 2006.

Dr McAreavey stood down after it emerged he had celebrated Mass alongside Finegan in 2000.

He previously apologised for officiating at the priest’s funeral in 2002.

Amid the suggestions that Finegan may have been providing information to the RUC, it emerged last night that Dr McAreavey himself raised similar concerns that Finegan may have been a police informer.

Mr Downey last night released a statement on behalf of the former bishop.

"Following the widespread national media publications raising concerns that Malachy Finegan may have been a police informant, I can confirm that this exact concern was specifically raised by the former Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey on the 16 November 2018 with police officers who were investigating the allegations of abuse perpetrated by Malachy Finegan," he said.

"This concern was circulating around the time of Bishop McAreavey’s resignation on the 1 March 2018.

"Bishop McAreavey confirms that he had not been aware of this issue prior to that.

"On behalf of our client we have written to the chief constable of the PSNI requesting that he confirm or deny the simple allegation that Malachy Finegan was a police informant.

"We have yet to receive a response. Concealment heightens concerns."

Last month, Mr Winters said he had asked secretary of state Julian Smith to establish an inquiry into the claims of abuse levelled against Finegan and others.

Mr Winters told The Irish News that "a central part" of the application to Mr Smith "is the allegation that Finegan was some form of 'protected species' when it came to criminal inquiry into his conduct".

"For many years there was anecdotal evidence only that he was some sort of low-level informant supplying information to the police on young fellas who might have been suspected republicans," Mr Winters said.

He revealed that "mounting suspicion was crystallised" when he was informed by letter "that on the grounds of NCND (neither confirm nor deny) the PSNI would be unable to rebut the simple allegation that Finegan was an informant".

The PSNI were asked if the former bishop raised the issue of Finegan being an informer, if he had written to the chief constable and to comment on the issue themselves.

But a police spokesperson said: "We would neither confirm nor deny and no inference should be drawn from this".

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