BY ED WEST
BOOKMAKERS had to suspend betting on the appointment of the new Bishop of Down and Connor last week after a flurry of bets for a rank outsider — who subsequently was given the job.
Mgr Noel Treanor, from Clogher in Co Monaghan, was not on Paddy Power's original shortlist of six when it opened a book on the appointment last Thursday.
However, his name was added after a request on the same day. Soon after came a flurry of bets for Mgr Treanor, bringing his odds down from 7/1 to 5/4, ahead of previous favourites Auxiliary Bishop Donal McKeown of Down and Connor at 6/4, and Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore at 2/1. Later on Thursday the bookmaker suspended betting on the next bishop after 67 bets for Mgr Treanor had been placed in four hours. The following day he got the job.
It has led to speculation that either a syndicate of priests was betting or an insider had been indiscreet. The process of choosing a bishop is highly secret, with the Papal Nuncio informing the chosen cleric and the bishop-elect being sworn to secrecy before the official announcement. Only a hand ful of people in Rome and in the diocese would have known the bishop-elect's identity.
A spokeswoman for Paddy Power said she did not suspect foul play. "We suspend books for lots of different reasons, often because the people betting know more about a subject than we do. Betting in bishops is a very niche area, but it's become hugely popular, and we look forward to getting requests," she said.
"Obviously the transactions are very secret, and we wouldn't know the profession of the people making bets. What I will say is priests, like anybody else, are entitled to a flutter if they want to. "We were betting on the Irish football manager for ages and had flurries for Terry Venables. We got worried for a time, but he didn't get the job. And for priests this would be like the football manager to them."
The Bishop of Down and Connor, based in Belfast, is the most senior Catholic in Northern Ireland. Retiring Bishop Patrick Walsh, 75, has held the position since 1991.
Mgr Treanor, 51, hails from Co Monaghan and is the secretary general of Comece, the Church's lobby group in the European Union. He is fluent in French, German, Spanish and Irish.