FR. MC MANUS, ENOCH POWELL AND THE REDEMPTORIST INFORMER

Posted By: March 19, 2015



Capitol Hill. Thursday, March 19, 2015—— Everyone connected with Northern Ireland has become conscious of Informers. They seem to have been everywhere: in the IRA, Sinn Fein, the Loyalists/Unionists, the political parties, North and South, the Dublin Government, and so on.

However, Fr. Sean Mc Manus— president of the Capitol Hill-based Irish National Caucus— has become aware of maybe the most unlikely informer of them all: a Redemptorist priest who once lived in the same monastery as Fr. Mc Manus in England: the late Fr. Douglas (Duggie) Brice, CSsR, who died in1989.

Fr. Mc takes up the extraordinary story: “ I received a Google Alert informing me that I was mentioned in a book on Enoch Powell. My first reaction was that it was a mistake. I surely would not appear, I thought, in a book about that old racist Englishman who was ranting and raving about blocking all immigration into Britain, while I was still based there. When Powell’s racism became unfashionable even for the Tories, he fled to a safe haven for bigotry— Northern Ireland, where Unionists/Protestants proudly elected him as MP (1974–79).

But Google had made no mistake. I was, indeed, the Sean Mc Manus mentioned in the book on Powell. The only thing more surprising than being mentioned in the book was the reason.”

The book in question is ENOCH POWELL AND THE MAKING OF POSTCOLONIAL BRITAIN by Camilla Schofield. Cambridge University Press.2013.Page 306-307.

In May1971, there was a national Census in Britain and Northern Ireland. Many Catholics in The North, including many priests and teachers refused to comply with the Census, as a protest against the corruption of the judicial system and the wholesale violation of civil rights. Fr. Mc Manus, deciding to take a lone stand in Britain, refused to comply with the Census as a gesture of solidarity.

Fr. Mc Manus was based in Liverpool at the time, at the Redemptorist Monastery. The local Catholic newspaper, Catholic Pictorial, ran a rather melodramatic story, “ Why I, a Priest, Will Risks Prison.” (But at least the newspaper had the courage to run it).

The book on Powell picks up the narrative :

“Much like his rejection of the civilizing principles of the Commonwealth and Trevor Huddleston’s Christian socialist activism against apartheid in South Africa— on Ulster, Powell continually criticized the translation of Christian teaching into radical political practice. In the early 1970s, a Catholic priest from Liverpool – a city with a large Irish community – started keeping Powell regularly informed of radical Irish priests’ activities in the United Kingdom. Their correspondence began when the priest sent Powell a newspaper cutting from the Catholic Pictorial entitled, “Why I, a Priest, Will Risk Prison, ” which included an interview with a young radical priest named Father Sean Mc Manus.

Powell’s informer wrote to Powell in the accompanying letter, “This man Sean McManus has all the qualities of skillfulness that go to make an outstanding troublemaker, and there are many of his kind about.”
Powell quickly replied. The interview had touched a nerve: when asked [by Catholic Pictorial], ‘Does the division of Ireland, in your opinion then, contravene Christian rights?’ Mc Manus had answered, ‘Very definitely. The basic right of any country is to freedom and independence. It is a grave act of immorality that any country should be artificially divided, like Ireland, against the vast majority of the people.’

To this Powell wrote Brice, ‘I was particularly struck by the expression, used in one of the questions, ‘Christian rights.’ The more one reflects upon it, the more profound and significant is the contradiction in terms.

Over the next two years, Powell’s informer would continue to send information to Powell regarding radicalism in Britain’s Irish Catholic community. ‘Let me make it perfectly clear,’ he told Powell, ‘an Irish Catholic clergyman would not think twice about giving active material assistance to the IRA. I have lived with the IRA for years.’
In 1972, less than a month after Bloody Sunday, Powell’s informer wrote:
‘The Hatred of these men is implacable, and as they do not appreciate being allowed to come to England and permitted to live here, I think –– with I am sure, a lot of others – that the ‘ever open door’ for which this country is well known, should now be closed, and that trouble-makers should either be sent home or issued with Passports … At the moment they are like fleas in the mattress.’

Powell forwarded the priest’s reports to a Detective Inspector Waller and, by 1973, the priest had become a police informant.’’

Footnote number 208 on page 306 identifies Fr. Brice as the informer: “Why I a Priest, Will Risk Prison,” Catholic Pictorial, no date; Douglas Brice, Letter to Powell, July 25, 1971, ‘ Immigration Cases open at Feb. 1974,’ SRO D4490/4.

Fr. Mc Manus said: “ If anyone had told me 40 years ago that a fellow Redemptorist would be an Informer, I just would not have believed it. And look how the author, Camilla Schofield describes me— “ a radical young priest.” For just refusing to comply with the Census? Hell, I hadn’t even gotten started! But it does show clearly how much the Irish in Britain were supposed to keep their heads down. One could speak about anything in Britain— except one thing: British Government oppression of Catholics in Northern Ireland. That was the one remaining taboo, and it applied with a vengeance to young Irish priests.

It also illustrates that if the Brits could get an old Redemptorist priest like Fr. Brice, who was then in his 70s, to become an informer, then whom could they not turn into informers— especially over a forty years-span of The Troubles?”

Fr. Mc Manus concluded: “ The Census protest led to my being transferred to Scotland because of the commotion caused in Liverpool… and eventually to my being “transported” (to use the old word for Irish ‘troublemakers’ being shipped off into exile to Van Diemen’s Land/ Tasmania) to the United States on October 2, 1972. I knew that Catholic MPs in England put pressure on the Cardinal of England, Cardinal Heenan (1905 – 1975) who put pressure on Fr. Charles (Charlie) Shepherd, the Provincial of the London Province of Redemptorists. But I never knew that the old racist, anti-Irish, Enoch Powell had a role in trying to silence me about British Government injustice in Northern Ireland.

But thank you Enoch, thank you Duggie, thank you Charlie, I was exiled to the one place on earth where I could do the most good for Irish justice— the good old US of A. God works in mysterious ways!”
END