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McGuinness says he didn't lie over Disappeared but 'made a mistake over dates'

(Suzanne Breen, Sunday Life)

Martin McGuinness is denying he lied about his role in the case of one of the Disappeared despite the account he gave being proved wrong by former republican prisoners.

But the Deputy First Minister did admit he "clearly made a mistake" and his recollection of dates and times "was not accurate" when he had spoken about the IRA's murder and secret burial of a Derry father-of-seven in 1973.

Mr McGuinness had claimed he'd been in jail at the time of Patrick Duffy's disappearance but he'd intervened with the IRA to ensure the body was returned to his family.

His comments caused outrage among veteran Derry republicans, including ex-IRA prisoner Thomas 'Dixie' Elliot, who shared a H-Block cell with Bobby Sands, and former internee, Mickey Donnelly who was one of the 'hooded men' tortured by the British.

They accused McGuiness of "concocting a cock-and-bull story to protect his own image which bears no resemblance to reality".

After being contacted by Sunday Life, McGuinness retracted his claim that he had been in jail when 37-year-old Patrick Duffy was disappeared by the IRA's Derry Brigade.

The Sinn Féin leader admitted he had actually been on the run at the time. But he insisted he'd voiced strong opposition to Duffy's disappearance and said he'd intervened to have the Provos return the body, a claim also challenged by his former comrades.

The controversy began last month when McGuinness told RTE's Marian Finucane radio show that he was in jail when Duffy was murdered as an alleged informer.

"I remember being in Portlaoise prison in 1974 and a man from Derry had been shot and the story was that he had been disappeared and buried," he said.

"I was absolutely furious about it and when I got out of prison, I met with local republicans and voiced my opposition and criticism of what happened and very soon afterwards that man's body was returned."

This account was strongly challenged by ex-IRA prisoner Dixie' Elliot and former internee Mickey Donnelly.

Elliot produced documents proving McGuinness wasn't in jail, as he claimed, when Duffy was abducted from a pub in Buncrana on 9 August 1973.

Donnelly and Elliot both said it was common knowledge that McGuinness was on the run and living in his grandmother's house in Illies outside Buncrana at the time.

Elliot said: "McGuinness had been released from Portlaoise three months before Duffy's death. I just can't accept that he accidentally got the timeframe wrong. We all know when we went into jail and we all know when we got out.

"There's a pattern here of IRA leaders trying to distance themselves from unpleasant events. Gerry Adams told the McConvilles he was in jail when Jean disappeared when, just like Martin, he clearly was not."

Elliot produced a newspaper article of McGuinness speaking at a republican rally in Derry nine days after Duffy's murder. The Derry Journal reports that McGuinness was introduced to the crowd as a member of 'Oglaigh na hEireann'.

At the rally, McGuinness shared a platform with Sinn Féin member Barney McFadden who, to loud applause, condemned a Catholic priest for calling on the IRA to return Duffy's body.

The IRA sprinkled Patrick Duffy's body with lime to speed up its decomposition once it was secretly buried.

Dixie Elliot and Mickey Donnelly said its exhumation and return to the family 16 days after Duffy's disappearance was due solely to IRA internees in Long Kesh who voiced their disgust to McGuinness.

Donnelly said: "McGuinness's account of what happened is a fairytale. He's rewriting history to portray himself as a good guy.

"Our cage in Long Kesh was appalled when we heard the IRA had secretly buried someone. Being an informer carries the penalty of execution but it was another matter altogether to disappear a man.

"We wrote to McGuinness telling him the IRA were socialist republicans, not fascists. We said every family had the right to bury their dead with dignity.

"Patrick Duffy's wife had worked tirelessly for republican prisoners. She had seven wee children at home, the youngest was only six weeks.

"We told McGuinness who was the OC (officer commanding) of Derry that if the body wasn't returned we would condemn the IRA action publicly and embarrass the leadership."

Donnelly said the 'comm', which was smuggled out of jail, was taken directly to McGuinness by his wife Martina: "She handed it to him personally. We told him in no uncertain terms what he had to do."

The Derry internees' threat worked because Duffy's body was dug up by the IRA and left in a brand new coffin inside a car abandoned on the Derry-Donegal border on 24 August.

In his statement to Sunday Life following challenges to his original account of Patrick Duffy's case, McGuinness said: "I clearly made a mistake in recollecting a timeline relating to events that happened over 40 years ago.

"The facts are that I served a six month sentence in Portlaoise in 1973 and another in 1974, and during the Marian Finucane interview, I mistakenly recalled that Patrick Duffy was killed and his body secretly buried while I was in jail."

McGuinness said it was "understandable" that after so long his "recollection of the exact details of dates and times was not accurate". He added: "I reject any accusation I 'lied' about this or about my opposition to the disappearance of Patrick Duffy's remains."

June 17, 2014

This article appeared in the June 15, 2014 edition of the Sunday Life.

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