“Nobody likes US” – says American director.

VETERAN US director Robert Altman has joined Syriana director Stephen Gaghan by wading in with his own Bush-bashing tuppence worth.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning(Feb 24) and just two days after Gaghan said US President George Bush had ordered the assasination of “lots and lots of people”, Altman said of Americans that “the whole world does not like us”.

He added: “I was always considered very welcome at different places in the world then suddenly it became this ‘American thing’, and it still is, right now, today.

“This will endure certainly until (after) this current mess that Mr Bush has gotten us into . . . it’s painful.”

Altman – whose directorial hits include M*A*S*H, Short Cuts and Gosford Park – is currently in London to direct the London premier of Arthur Miller’s Resurrection Blues. The play is Canadian ex-Scream star Neve Campbell’s theatrical debut.

In the BBC morning interview, Altman – just turned 81 – revealed he received hand-delivered threats over previous “anti-patriotic” comments despite remaining one of the film industry’s most respected directors.

Altman – who has been named alongside George Clooney, Cameron Diaz and Sharon Stone in a long list of Hollywood “traitors” – said: “I was in England doing Gosford Park when 9/11 happened.

“I got back for the Oscars or one of those things and I was asked how do I feel coming back and seeing the American flag, and I said it makes me sick.

“And boy, that hit the papers, saying I was a traitor. People left hand-delivered notes at my door, threatening, and saying I was un-American and that I was a traitor and blah, blah, blah.”

Altman – who is up for an Honorary Oscar for his massive body of film work – added: “I thought Oh, boy, if we’ve come to this point, this is really where I don’t want to be. The politics are really wrong (in America).”


US President George Bush “orders hits”, says Syriana director.

Warner Brothers oster for the film

GEORGE Clooney may have refused to openly attack US President George Bush while promoting controversial thriller Syriana but his director shares none of his reserve.

Stephen Gaghan has accused Bush of “definitely” ordering the assassination of “lots of people”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 arts programme Front Row on Wednesday night (Feb 22), he also said he didn’t believe the president even bothers to read some of the orders he signs to have them killed off.

Gaghan was asked by presenter Mark Lawson if he thought assassination orders are actually given by either the CIA or the president of the United States in real life – bearing in mind the plot that features in Syriana.

Gaghan replied: “I know it goes on. It does go on and it IS the president. All lethal authority, all lethal findings in the US come from the White House.

“It ultimately has to be the president signing the paper. I don’t think our president reads, so I don’t know if he knows what he signs but he has definitely ordered the deaths of lots and lots of people.”

When asked by Lawson “where and by who?”, he replied: “That’s the thing we don’t know. It’s all top secret.”

And Gaghan, whose screen play for the film Traffic earned him an Academy Award, added: “It’s easy to order a hit, it’s very difficult to know you are going after the right person. Once you have this killing aparatus in place, you can manipulate it and use if for your own purposes.”

Gaghan’s comments are the strongest yet around the release of Syriana, which has so far earned Clooney – who plays soon-to-retire Middle East CIA oficer Bob Barnes – a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor.

Official Warner Brother film still

Based on former Middle East-based CIA agent Robert Baer’s “See no evil” and also starring Matt Damon and William Hurt, the political thriller focusses on the oil industry and a bungled assassination plot.

It also features what some people see as a “sympathetic” portrayal of two suicide bombers and gets its name from the term Syriana – used by Washington “think tanks” to describe a hypothetical reshaping of the Middle East.

As well as riding on a crest of a wave of discussion about US foreign policy, it has also inspired the current campaign to reduce US dependence on oil, Oil Change.

Daniel O’Donnell wife Majella records LP

DANIEL O’Donnell is to have a new rival in the charts – his own wife.

Majella McLennan, who married the housewives’ favourite in 2002, is to release her own album of country classics.

But unlike the prolific touring her husband undergoes to promote his own million-selling albums – the 45-year-old has no intention of setting foot inside a tour bus. The album is due out at some stage in the summer and will be released here, the UK and in the US.O’Donnell’s manager Sean Reilly told The Irish Daily Mail: “I never knew she could sing until recently.

“I’m not too sure who persuaded her to record an album.

“But one thing that’s for certain is that she got a terrific voice and we are very confident her album is going to do very well.”

Recorded a month ago at a studio in Athlone over just “a few days”, it has been produced by O’Donnell’s lead guitarist, Kevin Sheerin.

At least two of the tracks are duets with O’Donnell , who has sold more than six million easy-listening albums.

One of the tracks on the as-yet untitled album is “Crazy”.

Reilly added: “Majella will be promoting the album in around April and May but is insisting she will not be touring.

“She just doesn’t want to do it and as far as I know, it is unlikely she will even appear on stage with him when he goes on tour.

“But you never know. That’s not down to me.”

Ms McLennan was unavailable for interview last night as she is in the middle of a two-week break with husband Daniel in Tenerife.

It’s the holiday island where he met the divorced mother-of-two in 2000 – the same year they got engaged.

Ms McLennan had her marriage annulled and the couple married two years later in the same small parish church of St Mary’s in Donegal’s Kincasslagh village where he had been baptized.

Thousands of fans lined the roads around the church, even serenading the couple with a rendition of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.

The launch of Ms McLennan’s music career couldn’t be more different to the route O’Donnell – who was awarded an honoury MBE in 2002 for his services to music – began his.

Renowned for the annual tea parties he hosts at his home for thousands of fans, he started by touring the Irish clubs in the UK week after week.

Although it’s an aspect of a recording career his new rival is insisting she has no intention of emulating, it has certainly paid off for O’Donnell.

The 45-year-old – who recorded his first hit song My Donegal Shore with £600 of his own money in Big Tom’s studios in Castleblaney in County Monaghan in 1983 – regularly sells out concert halls all over the world.

Indeed, it’s little wonder his wife is balking at the prospect of touring her new album.

On March 16, he kicks of a gruelling 92-date world tour to promote his own album From Daniel, with Love – taking in the US, Australia, the UK and Ireland.

Have you got a story? Call me on 07929 313 598.

Ryanair Caught Napping

Ryanair Caught Napping. Ch 4, 8pm, 13.2.06, Copyright Channel 4

THIS is the picture that gives the title to an expose of cut-price airline Ryanair.

The woman slumped across two seats was one of a number of exhausted members of cabin crew filmed fast asleep instead of working during flights. Amazingly, this woman would have been one of the cabin crew charged with helping passengers in the event of an inflight emergency.

A string of safety and other issues are highlighted in tonight’s Channel 4 Dispatches programme, Ryanair Caught Napping.

A pilot too terrified to tell bosses he’s tired for fear of being sacked or demoted is quoted as is a member of staff filmed splashing aftershave on vomit left in a row of seats rather than either clearing it up or closing the row of seats.

Ryanair Caught Napping also contains claims that one flight flew with a faulty Global Positioning System while another took off despite having a faulty emergency exit. The 8pm programme is the culmination of five months investigation by two undercover journalists posing as cabin crew.

They claim they found a staff culture in Ryanair that had a “somewhat dismissive” attitude towards customers which seemed to be based on the premise that if a customer pays next to nothing for a ticket they should expect nothing.”

For example, when asked by one of the reporters whether life-jackets get checked, a member of the crew on one flight flatly replies “no”. And they can be heard adding: “If you pay one pence for your ticket . . . don’t expect to see a life jacket underneath your sea.”

All the claims made by Dispatches are hotly refuted by airline boss Michael O’Leary.

Ryanair Caught Napping. Ch 4, 8pm, 13.2.06

Ireland on Sunday reported yesterday how O’Leary answered each claim by the programme makers on the airline’s website.

He said: “We have received a series of untrue and unsubstantiated claims which (Channel 4) have failed to support with any evidence.

“Ryanair has nothing to hide and has comprehensively dealt with all of the written allegations put to the airline by the Channel 4 Dispatches programme.”

As well as accusing the programme makers of using of underhand and reckless tactics, he slammed various claims made in the programme as “complete fabrication and nonsense” and accused the TV channel of “attempting to hide the truth.”

A Channel 4 spokeswoman told the Irish Daily Mail last night: “We stand by our programme 100 per cent. The video footage that is used speaks for itself, regardless of what Mr O’Leary says about us.

Ryanair Caught Napping. Ch 4, 8pm, 13.2.06, Copyright Ranald Mackechnie

“The undercover footage reveals what takes place behind the scenes: security lapses, dirty aircrafts, pilots complaining about the hours they have to fly and exhausted cabin crew.

“We would be more than happy to hand over the file we have on Ryanair to any aviation authority that wishes to investigate this matter further.”

The programme also shows a sequence in which passport checks are discussed. Amazingly, despite heightened concerns all over the world about terrorism, a senior member of staff told one of the reporters that a passport check effectively amounted to just making sure the passenger had one.

They are filmed telling the reporter: “We are full all day. So when I let you know, you go and you board.

“And you board straight away, there’s not waiting, you board, you’ve got 25 minutes to do it. You’re checking have they got the right flight number on the boarding card.

“The gate staff will tell you to check the passports…..but you just make sure they’ve got a passport. It shouldn’t take you all day to do, just rip the boarding cards and you let them through.”

The programme comes amid a string of criticism about working practices at Ryanair. As well as attacks by unions for making trainee staff pay for their uniforms and in-flight meals, the airline’s handling of safety issues has been called into question.

Two incidents last year involving Ryanair pilots are believed to have been among the reasons which prompted the head of the Irish Airline Pilots Association(IALPA) to question the adequacy of Ireland’s air safety procedures.

Earlier this year, Capt Evan Cullen said: “There is no doubt that the safety margins in Irish aviation have been eroded. “The important question is whether we have in place the regulatory oversight system to alert us when the safety margin has been eroded to an unsafe extent.”

He was speaking after Italian authorities attacked Ryanair for delaying an investigation into a series of irregular approaches into Rome last September by the crew of a Ryanair Boeing 737-800.

As a consequence, the investigation was delayed by four months – and O’Leary had to admit his company had “screwed up” over its handling of the affair.

The company’s own report pointed to the crew’s “almost complete loss of situational awareness, both lateral and vertical” and blamed this on a failure by its own pilots to follow standard operating procedures.

In July last year, another Ryanair crew were rapped for carrying out an “an irrational and inexplicable” steep landing approach to Stockholm’s Skavsta airport.

The pilot of the plane – which touched down at 330km/h in an incorrect “configuration” – was found to be suffering from stress, as was one of the pilots involved in the September 2005 incident at Rome.

Have you got a story? Call me on 07929 313 598.

Latvia and the Irish mushroom

LIKE so many Latvian towns, Karsava survived its own brutal Nazi holocaust in 1941 and some 50 years of occupation by the former Soviet Union.

But now it faces its biggest single challenge yet.

Yet unlike the string over adversaries this remote rural community in the south eastern part of the former Eastern Bloc country have seen off over the centuries – this particular foe has never actually set foot inside Latvia.

It is none other than the . . . humble Irish mushroom.

In just one year, the town’s population has fallen by nearly a third and most of those who left are now living in Ireland.

In a trend that is echoed throughout Latvia, scores of the town’s young men and women – the lifeblood that should guarantee the future of the place for generations to come – are jumping on trains to the country’s capital Riga and taking cheap Ryan Air flights to Dublin each week.

Since Latvia joined the European Union in May 2004 and barriers to free movement across the borders of member states came down, an estimated 50,000 Latvians have emigrated to Ireland.

Once in the country, the young Latvians – many of whom are qualified engineers, psychiatrists and other such professionals – take on board any number of jobs.

Latvian farm outhouse

However menial – mushroom picking being one of the most popular – the wages involved can amount to as much as 15 times more than what they could expect at home.

Its an exodus that has even captured the imagination Hollywood, where a studio is said to be in talks to turn into a film the first of five books written by a woman who left her four children behind in Latvia three years ago to pick mushrooms in Ireland.

But while Laima Muktupavela’s book The Mushroom Covenant may have become a best seller, it effectively documents the start of a phenomenon that has alarmed the Latvian Government so much is has set up a task force to investigate.

Edgars Puksts, the mayor of Karsava – which is about 40km from the Latgale region town of Rezekne where Muktupavela was born – laughed out loud when interviewed by Ireland on Sunday.

He said: “It is funny to us that a newspaper in Dublin sends reporter to here to ask about what is happening.

“This is at the same time as our own Government sends a team of investigators to Ireland to figure out what is so special about Ireland and why so much of its workforce is ending up there.”

Hotel backyard

Yet driving down the pot-holed and crumpled roads that link each village in the vast Russian border area, it’s hard not to see why.

Streets of once-thriving towns stand deserted, countless homes sit empty while schools and churches struggle to survive as not only whole families move out but the people who run the local services just give up and leave.

Wages earned in a month for anything from a school cleaner to a psychiatrist are a fraction of what a SuperQuinn shelf stacker can take home in a week.

Locals say that if the two men employed to drive the town’s ambulances could leave they would.

On their €20-a-week wage – which is not far off the average for the area – they can barely afford to feed their families.

. . . another Latvian hut covered in snow.

Instead, it is down to locals to provide them with free weekly parcels of home grown vegetables and meat.

But while they stay because their children are so young, they appear more the exception than the rule.

A state TV camera crew turned up when it heard Juris Silvas was to leave.

Until November, the 45-year-old was Karsava Secondary School’s PE teacher.

Earning about €65-a-week, he finally quit his post and announced he was joining his son in Ireland.

It created such a storm that a local TV crew turned up to film his last day.

This, the presenter told viewers, was yet another example of what was happening to Latvia – it’s brightest and strongest leaving to live in other countries, including Ireland.

The broadcast came just days after Latvian biathlete Jekabs Nakums announced he was quitting his country to clean cars in Ireland.

Indeed in the week I spent working for Ireland on Sunday spent in Latvia last December, there were at least five such broadcasts highlighting the country’s emigration crisis.

Jurijs is unmoved by any sentiments such broadcasts are meant to arouse.

He’s had enough of poor wages and the lack of opportunities in his town.

The most 44-year-old wife Vija earnings as secretary at the school was a paltry €60-a-month.

In June the couple waved good-bye to their 23-year-old son Edvins.

Although a qualified farm worker with a specialism in forestry, the only work he was offered on graduation was “washing pigs and cows”.

Jurijs said: “Despite the years he spent studying forestry, demand for his skills fell off when he graduated.

“He tried to make a go of things here but in the end realised he could do so much better in Ireland.”

And while Edvins earns more than €900 working in a supermarket in Ennistymon, Co Clare, his father and mother play their International Correspondence Course English tapes over and over.

Yep, I've only gone and put another one in!

Jurijs said: “We would love to stay in Latvia but we want a better quality of life.

“We also want a more interesting life.

“My son earns more than ten times what he earned while living here.

“My wife and I – and friends of ours who have already left the town are very proud of Latvia.

“We appreciate that by leaving, we are helping to kill of our own communities.

“But life is life. There is change and that is all there is to it.”

Karsava Secondary School Director Stanislaus Katkevic said: “It’s a great pity that so many of our people want to go to Ireland.

“We are genuinely worried that whole communities will just disappear.

“Each year there are fewer and fewer of us.

“In the last year alone, we have lost 800 people bringing our population to about 2,100.”

And he added: “But you know, it is not something the people who leave are shouting about.

“There is a certain amount of shame and embarrassment attached to all this.

“We have a word for it. It is ‘Neerti’.

“Nobody is feeling very good about having to leave their own country just because they need to earn some extra money.”

Erika Bondarenko, editor in chief of local paper Ludzas Zeme, agrees.

She said: “Many of those that leave are walking away from communities they and their families have been part of for decades,

“They are well educated, they have a good station in life and they are well socialised.

“Yet to survive they have to go abroad – mainly to places like Ireland – to earn enough money to give themselves a better quality of life.

“Anf yet the jobs they have to do are menial jobs – like cleaning toilets, building work and picking mushrooms.”

Agricultural student Aija Mihale will soon become another of Latvia’s mushroom picking exports.

The 19-year-old’s mother Silvija has already left and is currently one of thousands of Latvians who pick mushrooms in Ireland.

She admits: “I’d like to be an aupair but I might also end up picking mushrooms.

“There is nothing for me here and the fact that there are so many of my fellow countrymen in Ireland makes it a very attractive destination.

“I do not speak good English but maybe it is not so important if I am among my own people.”

While she talks, the bent over frame of an elderly black clad woman emerges slowly from the shadow of a dimly-lit side room.

Shuffling out into the light and leaning heavily on her walking stick, she looks blankly at Aija and then shuffles back to her room to sit back on a ramshackle bed.

It is her 90-year-old grandmother Bronislava.

Who will look after her when Aija joins her mother?

A family friend shrugs and says with breath-taking and somewhat brutal honesty: “She’s too old to travel and at 90, she’s had her life.

“She will be fine. It should not be young Aija’s concern.

“Maybe Silvija will return in a year and look after Bronislava, maybe not.

“It will not be a problem.”

Also facing a future at home without either their children or their grandchildren is Mihails Kravcenko and his 55-year-old wife Jekaterina, 55.

At 53, Karcava General Hospital’s Chief Administrator considers himself too old to start a new life in Ireland.

But he has already seen his daughter Jelena move there.

Her husband Viktors left in January and returned for her in June, once he’d found a job and a flat.

A fully qualified psychiatrist, the 33-year-old had instead been forced to work as a cleaner to make ends meet.

Her take home pay was little more than €20-a-week.

Mihails, who survives on his own meagre wage by growing his own vegetables and only ever buying second-hand clothes, said: “My daughter is a very well educated and intelligent woman.

“But what kind of life is there for her here if all she does is cleaning.”

And it’s a life his two grandchildren will never get to experience.

Daria, 13 and her eight-year-old brother Daniil are dubbed “mushroom orphans” because, like thousands of other young Latvian children, they are left at home with relatives while their parents eek out a living in Ireland.

But, although they talk to their parents over the phone each day, they are hoping to join their parents in about two years.

Daria said: “I don’t want to go but I know I will have to after a certain time of study at school.

“I will finish one, maybe two years and then go.

Talk to anyone in the town about Ireland and they all say the same.

When asked where we were from by Vladmir Paklenkovs, a petrol pump attendant at a garage on the outskirts of Karsava, he signed: “Oh my God, you guys.

“You have taken half our town.

“We are not so used to seeing Irish people in our country. It seems we prefer to come to you.”

Although the 40-year-old father-of-two will not join most of his school friends in Ireland, he admits: “If I was younger, I think it could be a better option.

“But I have my various jobs, my car, my house and my life here – which is cheaper than in the West.”

He knows of more than 30 of his relatives and friends who have left in the past year and talks of the new lives they have established for themselves in Ireland.

While some of them have gone over to pick mushrooms, others have taken jobs on building sites, in forestry and in factories.

One of his customers, who had been listening to the conversation by the counter, muses aloud in Latvian that the area in and around Karsava had survived invasion and occupation by both the Nazis and the Soviets.

“But,” he says with a smile, “it looks like we could be beaten by the Irish.

“They will be the death if our communities with their bloody mushrooms.”

About two miles out from Karsava, sits The Brothers Cemetery – a stone-column reminder of the day the town suffered its own Nazi holocaust.

Laid out off a remote pathway in dense forest, it marks the spot when – on August 21, 1941 – the town’s Jews were rounded up and “terribly killed and burned by Hitler’s Fascists”, with their bodies dumped in a massive open grave.

And in its wake, the Soviet regime has left its own mementos – in the form of Karsava’s once grand and paint-peeled Communist Party buildings, as well as in ghost towns like Lidumniek, about 20km away and nearer the Russian border.
There, row after row of drab concrete cereal box-style blocks of flats stand deserted on hills above countless centuries-old wooden farm houses, also abandoned.

Although the timber-framed and newly-painted Catholic Church remains open for weekly services, the old 1920s secondary school closed in nearby Siblis about five years ago because it simply ran out of children to teach.

This is hardly surprising when – as the town’s chief economist Zinaida Pavlova admits – so many of the area’s 20 to 30-somethings leave each year.

She says simply: “Although we have launched various initiatives to do what we can to rebuild the infrastructure, there is a perpetual decline in the population.”

Few doubt that perhaps the legacy and “monument” of Ireland’s influence here and elsewhere in Latvia may well just be the growth of ever more dead or dying communities.


Casey admits confusion in first interview for six years.

EAMON Casey’s name may be cleared of recent abuse allegations against him and a plane ticket booked for his long-awaited return home to Ireland.
But the last person to know about it yesterday was . . . the man himself.
As far as the 78-year-old former Bishop of Galway is concerned he’s staying in the UK and has yet to be told if his name has actually been cleared.
The decision is believed to have been made over the past week after a Catholic church enquiry into sex abuse claims against him by a UK-based woman with a history of mental problems.
As a result of the allegations – about an alleged incident that his accuser claimed took place more than 30 years ago – Dr Casey had to step down from his post as a parish priest while they were investigated.
That investigation is now over.
But last night, in his first interview in more than six years, he said: “The whole situation is very, very bizarre.”
Speaking from the small west Sussex parish church of Our Lady of Fatima in Staplefield – where he has been based for the past six years – he said: “That I have been cleared may be a headline in all the papers but I still have not been told myself.
“I can’t tell you how I feel or say anything about being cleared because I simply haven’t been told by anybody that the accusations against me are false, or that they have been withdrawn.
“The police haven’t spoken to me at all about this, and nobody has written or phoned to tell me I have been cleared. So I just don’t don’t know.
“That’s the gospel truth and to be honest – not that I was ever particularly good with them – I’m just lost for words on the subject.”
He added: “I am genuinely not avoiding anything here or running away from anything, I’m just telling you the facts.
“It’s bizarre and I feel very, very frustrated by this..”
And as far as returning to Ireland was concerned, he said: “I’m making no decision about it whatsoever until I hear formally that my name has been cleared.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m sticking and staying where I am until then. And I’ll only decide whether or not to go back to Ireland when I’m told.”
Asked how he’s coped over the past weeks, Dr Casey – who was trying to get hold of his lawyer last night in a bid to find out what was going on – said: “As the man says, ‘I’m surviving, thanks be to God.’
“My full ‘release’ won’t come to me until I get formal confirmation and I’ve absolutely no idea when that is likely to come or where it’s likely to come from.
“I’m currently in the process of writing letters to 56 people who wrote to me and have been very supportive to me throughout all this yet I’m writing these letters without actually knowing what’s going on.”
Pressed again on the issue of whether or not he will return to Ireland when he does get confirmation – as predicted by Ireland on Sunday last year – that his name has been cleared, he laughed as he repeated: “I’ll make that decision when I’m told.”
Earlier this week, reports claimed Dr Casey was to be cleared of all the allegations against him and that an announcement was due to be made about preparations for his home-coming.
Gardai – who, like the UK police, haven’t interviewed Dr Casey – are said to believe that there is no substance to the claims made against him.
The allegations last December were a massive blow to someone who has not only struggled with ill health because of a series of “mini strokes” in recent years but also someone who has worked tirelessly for charity and among parishioners of his remote country parish.
As well as holding church services, he was also a regular visitor to nearby Princess Royal Hospital local hospital in Haywards Heath, offering pastoral care to up to 150 patients-a-day virtually all year round.
His work and the years that have passed since he resigned as Bishop of Galway in 1992 over his relationship with Annie Murphy have done much to rehabilitate the colourful cleric.
His affair with the American divorcee, which started in 1973, resulted in the birth of a son – who is now 30 – and for whom Dr Casey is believed to have paid out around €100,000 in maintenance.
Just before the allegations against him came to light, Dr Casey had told friends: “There is nothing on my conscience whatsoever about this claim and I am very much at peace and ease with myself.
“I have done nothing wrong.
Friends told Ireland on Sunday last year how bitterly upset he had been not to have been able to thank all the parishioners he had grown close to over the years as he was effectively forced into hiding while the investigation was carried out.
He had been due to retire last this year anyway.
The woman behind the Dr Casey allegation could now herself face either a police investigation or a civil action for damages.
Her recollection of the alleged assault when she was a young girl growing up in Limerick is believed to have came about as a result of Recovered Memory Syndrome (RMS).
While attending intensive therapy sessions to help her find possible reasons behind behavioural problems she has been experiencing, she suddenly “remembered” the alleged assault.
Although mindful of the controversy associated with RMS in court cases, therapists immediately contacted Catholic Church authorities and Dr Casey volunteered to step down.
Last night a close friend said: “The past few weeks have been horrendous.
“He has known all along that he was innocent and yet even now, he is still having to put up with the weight of this whole business.
“It really is sad that nobody can just give the poor man a ring and put him out of his misery. Hasn’t he endured enough?”
Bishop of the Arundul and Brighton, Dr Kieran Conry said “We’d be happy to have him back.”
Rev Stuart Geary, the diocesan spokesperson, added of the news the claims against Dr Casey have been dismissed: “We recognised that that was going to be the likely outcome.”


Eamon Casey tells friends “conscience is clear”

NOTHING will come of the recent abuse allegation made against Eamon Casey, the former Bishop assured close friends days before it was made public.
In a series of private meetings before he went into hiding, the 78-year-old told them: “I have done absolutely nothing wrong.
“My conscience is clear.”
The 78-year-old told them that while any investigation into the claim could attract the “wrong kind” of publicity to the church, he would welcome one.
Gardai have yet to interview the former Bishop of Galway about the allegation – which was made by a UK-based woman in her fifties with a history of mental problems and who has made similar and unsubstantiated claims against other priests in the past.
Her latest claim came to light two weeks ago, after Dr Casey’s parish priest informed parishioners during Sunday Mass.
He had just a few days to tell a small number of people himself before news of the allegation was made public.
This has come as a massive blow to someone who has not only struggled with ill health – because of what friends describe as a series of “mini strokes” – in recent years but also someone who has worked tirelessly for charity and among parishioners of a remote country parish.
His work and the years that have passed since he resigned as Bishop of Galway in 1992 over his relationship with Annie Murphy have done much to rehabilitate the colourful cleric.
His affair with the American divorcee, which started in 1973, resulted in the birth of a son – who is now 30 – and for whom Dr Casey is believed to have paid out around €100,000 in maintenance.
Reeling from this latest blow to his reputation, he told friends: “There is nothing on my conscience whatsoever about this claim and I am very much at peace and ease with myself.
“I have done nothing wrong.
“I sleep easy in my bed, I get up in the morning and say my prayers and I go about my daily business.”
When each of his friends – including his Bishop Kieran Conry and his close friend Fr Martin Jakabus – asked what he intended doing, he said: “Even though I know it won’t come to anything, I’ll step down straight away and let an investigation take place.
“It is deeply unfortunate both because the claim against me is just not true and because I have to stop working in a parish I have been so happy in.”
And he even apologized for “any inconvenience” the allegation caused the church.
Bishop Kieran Conly, the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, said: “This is all very unfortunate.
“Eamon has been extremely popular here and he brought with him a wealth of experience.
“I met him on the Friday before news of the allegation was made public and he really was at peace with himself.
“He told me he had a clear conscience.
“I could tell however, that this has really knocked him back.”
For the past six years, he has served and lived at Our Lady of Fatima’s Church in Staplefield – a very small West Sussex church that is a far cry from his previous postings.
Most of his possessions remain in the small priest’s house attached to the church – his radio still sits on top of the fridge in the kitchen at the back of the house, his black jackets hang on the backs of two chairs and a pair of black suit trousers hangs from the back of the kitchen door.
A solitary coffee cup sits in the kitchen sink, while two plates, a saucer and a glass dry on the side.
Although he was nowhere to be seen, deliveries to the house carry on as normal – a DHL courier knocking at the chipped wooden front door with a small envelope of “Urgent Documents” one minute and an oil delivery the next.
Attached to the one-bedroom priest’s house, the small faded white church building is usually host to twice-weekly services for around 140 parishioners.
Those who would speak to us were shocked at news of any claim being made against Dr Casey.
One couple said: “We heard something but don’t believe a word of it.
“He is a thoroughly decent man who has always struck us as utterly devoted to his work both in the parish and at the hospital where he was a chaplain.”
A local pub landlord said he used to see Dr Casey regularly strolling around in the village’s vast green early most mornings.
He said: “I haven’t seen him around for about two weeks but I used to bump into him when I’d walk my dogs.
“He generally seemed to be preoccupied in thought but he was always very friendly and would always say hello.”
Builders at a next door property said they regularly saw him walking around in circles at the front of his church, his head bowed in prayer and clutching an open bible in his hands.
Another neighbour added: “I don’t know anything about what has happened but what I will say about Dr Casey is that he has always ever been a very pleasant and decent person.
“His church services are very popular locally and he is very well respected and liked.”
Dr Casey lost his driving license following a recent drink-drive conviction and has had to rely on a friend to drive him around the parish and to a nearby hospital, where he served as chaplain.
For virtually every day of the past six years, he has visited up to 150 patients-a-day at The Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.
There he consoled relatives of people who had died or counseling the sick in the wards.
According to a close friend, he never once missed a visit and regardless of what he was doing – would always be prepared to visit someone at home or in hospital.
Not wanting to be named because they had been told not to talk to the press, the friend said: “He is not bothered about the claim as such because he knows it’s absolute nonsense.
“He believes it all stems back to the unfortunate notoriety he acquired years ago because of his relationship with Annie Murphy.
“But the one thing that upsets him most about all this is that he hasn’t had a chance to say thank-you and goodbye to all the people he has worked with and met over the last six years.”
Fr Martin Jakabus, head of St Paul’s Haywards Heath Parish, said: “Given the standards under which we now operate it is enough that an allegation has been made to remove a priest from public ministry whether the allegation is true or false.
“The particular and peculiar circumstances surrounding the said allegation make it very unlikely that it is in any way true.
“Fr Eamon is very saddened to end his time with us under these circumstances.
“He is also saddened that he has been unable to say goodbye properly.”