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ALBERT'S SHOCK OVER PERVERT PRIEST FALLOUT; Ex-Taoiseach surprised Smyth row toppled him.

Byline: By NICOLA TALLANT

FORMER Taoiseach Albert Reynolds didn't believe the row over pervert priest Brendan Smyth would topple his Government, a new documentary reveals tonight.

Government press officer Sean Duignan says Reynolds underestimated how much the public hated Smyth.

The Cabinet collapsed when it emerged an extradition warrant demanding Smyth's return to the North had been gathering dust at the office of the Attorney General.

This error had allowed the pervert cleric to remain on the loose in Ireland for seven months. Duignan, who worked in the Dail press office at the time, said the public wanted "somebody's head" but Reynolds never considered it would be his.

The Fianna Fail leader had tried to push Attorney Harry Whelehan forward for a senior position in the courts, despite the allegations that infuriated the public.

The paedophile priest had been wanted in the North to face charges of horrific child sex abuse but was hiding out in the Republic sheltered by his Norbertine Order.

In an episode of Irish language show Scannal, Duignan recalls how it was Dick Spring's spokesman John Foley who told him the Government would fall due to the Smyth scandal. He said: "I was the Government press officer and I was in my office that day.

"John Foley called me and said, 'I've bad news. The Harry Whelehan deal is off'.

"When I asked why he said, 'The priest, Brendan Smyth, has changed everything'.

"I went to Albert and told him. But he said that it was just ridiculous and asked what it had to do with him.

"I had to tell him that the whole thing had been disastrously mishandled and Labour felt that because he defended Whelehan and pushed him for the job he was equally to blame. I don't think we realised at first just how serious the story was or how it was in the minds of people that there was a link between Albert, the priest and Harry Whelehan.

"We also didn't realise how much the public hated this priest.

"It took us a while to realise that the people wanted somebody's head and unfortunately because Albert had supported Harry, the public held both of them to blame.

John Foley was right - the priest did change everything." Duignan said that as the extent of the scandal hit the Dail, rumours were rife about the Attorney General.

He added: "There were rumours about the Attorney General's office.

"They included a right-wing Catholic element in it or that Harry Whelehan or other people working there were in Opus Dei [a secret Catholic organisation].

"But Harry denied that to me personally.

"Whatever the case - be it conspiracy or cock-up - what happened in

the Attorney General's office, it was a definite scandal."

In Only The Devil, which will be shown tonight on RTE1, Colm O'Gorman of sex abuse support group One In Four said the Smyth case opened the floodgates.

He said: "For the first time ever to see a priest arrested and brought before the courts really said to people very clearly this was actually a crime.

"Nobody would have believed that a priest of the Catholic Church could have viciously sexually assaulted children."

Smyth was convicted in a Belfast court in 1994 of 17 counts of sexual abuse.

Three years later in Dublin, he pleaded guilty to another 74 counts of child sexual abuse.

His abuse of children was known to his superiors in the Church as far back as the late 1940s and the programme recalls how he was sheltered in his abbey in Co Cavan - even when he was wanted by the RUC.

Smyth died in prison in 1997 and was buried at night in the Abbey.

news@irishmirror.ie

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COLLAPSE: Reynolds' Cabinet was brought down by pervert Smyth
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 13, 2006
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