Banished Priest Who Has the Ear of Top US Politicians

Posted By: March 18, 2007

Banished Priest Who Has Ear Of All America’s Top


Sunday World. Sunday, March 18, 2007
By John Cassidy, Capitol Hill, Washington DC

FR Sean McManus may have the swagger of John Wayne but he
is no high noon gun slinger who shoots his mouth off before
he speaks.

For almost four decades the USA has been the home of the
Ulster-born priest where he has been a thorn in the side of
politicians with Irish blood running through their veins.

After being “transported” out of London 1972, the Catholic
bishops sent him to far-flung America where he hitched up
his horse in the state of Washington DC.

They thought it was a safe enough place to banish him after
he attacked the British Government and its policies in the
UK in the early 1970s.

But how wrong the Catholic Bishops were.

For it was the start of a new challenge for Fr McManus who
viewed the human rights’ abuses in Northern Ireland as
equal to the discrimination meted out to the blacks in
America’s deep south.

And it was here in the late 1980s that he got US
legislatures to pass the McBride Principles aimed at giving
the same rights to nationalists as unionists, turning their
workplace into a neutral environment, and ensuring all
posts were openly advertised for all to apply.

Some political observers in America say he was light years
ahead of his time when he set up the Irish National Caucus
to fight for justice and rights for nationalists back home
in Northern Ireland.

And so much so that former SDLP leader John Hume, Sinn Fein
chief Gerry Adams, and Senator Ted Kennedy from the wealthy
Kennedy dynasty wouldn’t talk to him.

“I suppose I stole their thunder,” chuckled Father Sean
this week as the Sunday World chatted to him over a dinner
in one of his favourite Thai restaurants just a few blocks
from Capitol Hill.

He reflected on the early days he went to Belfast to talk
to the leaderships of the UDA and the UVF, events which
were scary at the time but now he can afford to raise a
smile and even a gentle laugh.

“I remember staying in the Park Avenue Hotel in east
Belfast in 1978. The UVF even posted a bodyguard outside my
door! Can you imagine that, the UVF protecting a Catholic

“And I remember them paging me over the tannoy system:
‘Phone call for Fr McManus, phonecall for Fr Sean McManus
please!’ It was scary times.”

He remembers a UVF killer coming to his room, breaking down
in tears at what he had done.

But when he left that room, Fr McManus knew the contrition
would soon be gone and the man would be back killing again.

“I knew them all in those days. I got to know the UDA
leadership of Andy Tyrie, John McMichael and Tommy ‘Tucker’
Lyttle. I had them in Washington once but Sinn Fein
wouldn’t come. It was about the time there was a power
struggle at the top of Sinn Fein between Gerry Adams and
Ruairi O’Bradaigh.”

This year’s drowning of the shamrock takes place against
the backdrop of the Police Ombudsman’s report into
collusion between RUC Special Branch and the drug-dealing,
tout-ridden killing machine of the UVF’s 3rd battalion
Mount Vernon gang in north Belfast.

To Fr McManus, collusion is nothing knew and points to a
long history of collusion in the US between the FBI and the
white supremist movement of the Ku Klux Klan.

“A 1980 Justice Department report stated that J Edgar
Hoover blocked the prosecution of the KKK in 1965, and in
1968 shut down the investigation without filing charges,”
explained the president of the Irish National Caucus.

“One of the reasons Hoover shut down the investigation was
that the FBI had an informant in the KKK who worked
directly under Bob Chambliss, the lead bomber in the 1963
attack on the Sixteen Street Baptist Church which killed
four young girls aged 11 to 14.

“The informant was called Gary T Rowe and Hoover described
him as the best undercover agent ‘we’ve ever seen”.

It is almost a carbon copy of what Nuala O’Loan found when
she investigated the murder of Raymond McCord jnr in 1997.

“It all sounds very familiar to what was happening in the
1960s between the FBI and the KKK,” says Fr McManus.

As the Northern Ireland parties move towards the March 26
deadline for reaching agreement and forming a new
powersharing executive, Fr McManus remains optimistic that
his homeland is close to a new dawn.

“I very much hope. It is something I have prayed for and
worked hard for on this side of the Atlantic.

“Sadly sectarianism is still rife in Northern Ireland. So
my work is not done. I think the Irish National Caucus has
still a lot more work to do in combating this

“It is my hope that the PSNI can prove to the Catholic
community that it can be trusted, that the bad old days are
over, that collusion is gone root and branch.

“And that means the British Govermennt must come clean on
collusion, something that has now been made harder by the
key role given to MI5 in Northern Ireland and by the
gutting of the Public Inquiry Legislation into the murders
of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill.”

As he sits on the granite stone walls that ring Capitol
Hill, Fr McManus bemoans the way the building has been
turned into a fortress of security since the 9/11 bomb

“I use to come here every New Year’s eve, rain, hail or
snow. There wasn’t a person here at all and it was
beautiful when the snow had fallen . I was alone with my
thoughts. It was so peaceful and I just loved it.

“It has been destroyed. It was one of the most open parts
of this country, the seat of democracy that was open to

“Now look at it – snipers on the roof, policemen

“Isn’t ironic that as Northern Ireland moves closer and
closer to peace, America is going in the opposite