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 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 Féin 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 priest?
"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 Féin wouldn't come. It was about the time there was a power
struggle at the top of Sinn Féin between Gerry Adams and Ruairi
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 new 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
"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 sectarianism.
"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
"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 attacks.
"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 all.
"Now look at it snipers on the roof, policemen everywhere.
"Isn't ironic that as Northern Ireland moves closer and closer to peace,
America is going in the opposite direction?"