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Added to on October 13, 2006

In October 1995, while Bishop Brendan Comiskey was being treated for alcoholism in the USA, Veronica Guerin published an article in the Sunday Independent that claimed she had tracked him down to a specific clinic in Florida - the Hanley Hazelden Centre in Palm Beach. When Bishop Comiskey returned to Ireland in February 1996 he made a statement to journalists that contained the following sentence:

"Far from wanting to live it up in Florida or anywhere else - and I never had any contact with any treatment centre in Florida - I was also conscious of the need for privacy of other fellow people who might have been fellow patients with me in Ireland."

In an article dated 3 March 1996, Veronica Guerin graciously stated that:
"At the outset let me place on the record that I accept Bishop Comiskey's word that he was never in the Hazelden treatment centre in Florida. I had reported "with near certainty" that the bishop was receiving treatment for his alcoholism at that clinic. At last Wednesday's conference I expressed regret publicly for any upset that my report had caused him".

So how did Ms. Guerin manage to make that mistake in the first place? A perusal of her article in the Sunday Independent dated 22 October 1995 (copy below) should provide clues.

Rory Connor
October 2006

Sunday Independent, 22 October 1995

EXCLUSIVE by VERONICA GUERIN in Palm Beach, Florida.

A Sunday Independent investigation has pinpointed the location of Bishop Brendan Comiskey, the Bishop of Ferns who left Ireland earlier this year to receive treatment for alcoholism.

The whereabouts of Bishop Comiskey have been shrouded in secrecy since September 16 last when he fled the country, supposedly on sabbatical, with the true purpose of his departure taking several further weeks to emerge.

Since then the Irish news media have conducted extensive searches in the United States to try to locate the Bishop, without success until now.

Last week the Sunday Independent amassed enough evidence to conclude with near certainty that Bishop Comiskey has been staying at the Hazelden Centre in West Palm Beach, Florida. Yesterday an official at the centre said that for reasons of patient confidentiality, they could neither confirm or deny that Bishop Comiskey was a patient.

Earlier last week I was in Wexford talking to friends and clerical associates of Bishop Comiskey to establish to establish how many, if any, had heard from him or when he was due to return to Ireland. None of his friends confirmed that they had heard from him but the consensus was that he would be returning to Ireland in early December.

An unusual source suggested to me that he was being treated at a centre with close professional associations to the Aiseiri home in Wexford town on the Rosslare Road.

I subsequently learned that Aiseiri operates to the same professional guidelines as the Hazelden centres in the US.

On Thursday a clerical contact told me he understood that Bishop Comiskey was in a clinic in West Palm Beach, Florida. On Friday morning I contacted the Hazelden Centre in Minnesota and they gave me the telephone number of the Hanley Hazelden Centre in Palm Beach.

I immediately called the centre and asked for Brendan Comiskey. I was asked what area he worked in and I explained he was a patient there. I was then asked if Comiskey was spelled with a 'C' or a 'K'.

When I gave the spelling I was told "Yes, hold on, I'll put you through".

The phone was then answered by a woman who identified herself as a nurse. When I asked to speak to Brendan Comiskey, there was a five to seven second pause before she asked, "Are you ringing from Ireland'.

I replied yes and was told, "Due to our confidentiality obligations I cannot say if he is here."

I thanked her and the conversation ended.

My instinct however was then Brendan Comiskey was a resident at the Centre.

On Friday afternoon, following discussions at the Sunday Independent, it was decided I would travel to the US to see whether Bishop Comiskey would talk to me.

I arrived at West Palm Beach at 11.45pm local time on Friday night. I asked the cab driver to take me past the Hazelden Centre en route to my hotel to see what the premises looked like.

The driver immediately said: 'Lucky for you the Centre is not on the route to your hotel. It's in one of the roughest neighbourhoods of West Palm Beach.

The cab driver told me of the patients from around the world that travelled to the Centre for treatment. "Just last Thursday, I delivered an Austrian. He told me his programme was scheduled to last six weeks", he said.

When I first saw the building I was surprised. It is a single-storey complex with a number of adjoining annexes, situated on East Avenue about 500 yards off a main road. There is a small parking lot at the front of the premises surrounded at various intervals by trees.

At 7.30am yesterday, I headed back out to the complex from my hotel. There seemed little point in telephoning the clinic, given the response I received previously when calling from Ireland. I decided to deliver a letter to Bishop Comiskey, asking him if he would be willing to talk to me and telling him where I was staying if he wished to contact me.

The brief letter explained that I, like many people in Ireland was interested in how he was and that a brief conversation would suffice.

When I arrived at the Hazelden Centre there was no activity around the building, probably because of the earliness of the hour and I decided to wait until 9am before approaching the building.

At that time I entered the main reception area and handed the letter addressed to "Brendan Comiskey" to the girl at reception. I asked her when it would be delivered to him. When she took the letter, she checked what appeared to be a list at her small desk and told me it would be collected for him at 10 o'clock.

I asked her if it was all right to walk around the small outdoor area adjacent to the reception and she said: "Certainly".

When waiting for 10 o'clock I dropped into the Hanley Hazelden book store called "Serenity Books". I browsed through the recovery books and pamphlets and looked at the various audio and video tapes on display, which were all about recovering from addiction.

At 10.10am, I returned to the reception. As I walked in, the receptionist looked at me, picked up the telephone, dialled an extension, and said: "You haven't collected the patient's letter."

She continued: "Yeah, for Brendan C. Oh, OK I'll tell her that." She turned to me and said: "He's in group at the moment and he won't be out until 11, but he'll collect it himself then."

I waited around outside the reception area and when Brendan Comiskey hadn't arrived by 11.10 I went back in. The girl laughed and said: "I'm sorry, I'll see what's keeping him."

She dialled a number and said:
"Brendan C. hasn't collected the letter yet." She then said: "Well, the girl who delivered it is waiting for him to collect it."

After listening to the person she was talking to for a short while, she said "OK", hung up and turned to me and said: "She's going to tell him."

I went outside and within minutes the receptionist came out and asked my name. I told her I was Veronica Guerin. About five minutes later another lady came out from a different door in the building. She asked whether I was Veronica Guerin. I said I was and she asked me to hold on a moment.

She then went into reception and came back out with my letter to Bishop Comiskey unopened. Handing me the letter she said: "Because of our confidentiality obligations, I cannot confirm or deny that we have a patient of that name. You are to take this letter."

I explained that it was my understanding that Brendan Comiskey was a patient in the centre and that he had been there for some weeks. I put it to her that the conversations with the receptionist over the previous hours had confirmed to me that he was in the centre.

I then told her I did not want to create any difficulties and asked her top give the letter to Brendan Comiskey.

She repeated what she had said about the obligation of confidentiality and repeated that I should take the letter.

I took the letter and left the centre.

COMMENT: The only way this extraordinary story can be true is if we assume there were TWO Brendan Comiskeys both from Ireland at two different treatment centres in the USA - and Veronica Guerin got the wrong one! This is not impossible but is most unlikely. In any case the identity of the "wrong" Comiskey should be known by now. In fact, because of the vast publicity, he would have been identified back in 1995 - IF Veronica Guerin's report is true.

In fact Bishop Comiskey was not in the Hazelden Centre and not even in Florida so Veronica Guerin invented the entire report. I don't think she was a raging anti-cleric. I think that she had to file some sort of story for Sunday's newspaper and -faced with a deadline- she made it up. This must have confirmed Bishop Comiskey's views about journalists and the credibility of their allegations. It also lead to further extra-ordinary allegations from Conor Cruise O'Brien (of which more later). In the Cruiser's case it WAS anti-clerical hatred pure and simple!

Rory Connor