Calumnies sting without disabling; and those stung are moved by hatred of their detractors

“Oh, yes–you can shout me down, I know! But you cannot answer me.”

Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People

It’s taken two weeks for a mainstream journalist to commit to print some kind of defence of Sinn Fein and raise questions about Mairia Cahill’s credibility. Roy Greenslade has interesting views on the matter, not least because he breaks the news that…

…the programme itself is now under fire. It is claimed that the makers failed to take account of the fact that the woman, Maria (aka Maíria) Cahill, was a leading member of a dissident republican organisation with an anti-Sinn Féin agenda.

It is further claimed that she remained a Sinn Féin supporter for many years after the alleged rape and only sought to go public with her sexual abuse allegations after she had turned against the organisation for political reasons.

Critics suggest that Spotlight’s presenter and producer were too willing to accept Cahill’s story and did not point to countervailing evidence.

He adds then that…

That is not to say that she was not raped. Nor does it negate her view that the IRA handled her complaint clumsily and insensitively. But in Northern Ireland, where almost every aspect of life has a political context, it does mean that vital information was denied to viewers.

That’s the news which broke over the weekend that Ms Cahill joined the Republican Network for Unity after leaving Sinn Fein. It fell to Newton Emerson to point out the bleedin obvious in the midst of a pretty intense Twitter storm of party pro anger on Sunday:

The truth is that Sinn Fein feel themselves to be under attack not simply by Ms Cahill but also their political opponents. But as one veteran commenter remarked to me yesterday there are serious limits to the extent to which you can traduce an opponent whom you already accept was raped.

There aren’t many good options here.

Even Seamus Finucane has now gone on record to distance himself from one particularly nasty ‘suppressive act‘ [no link to the blog provided] by an Irish American blogger who tried to blame Ms Cahill herself for what happened to her and which Finucane had posted on his Facebook page.

Even this far better and more detailed response from closer to home makes the insiderly mistake of believing that politics nullifies the public interest issues raised in Jen O’Leary’s Spotlight Documentary, A Woman Alone with the IRA, and by Ms Cahill ever since.

One of the truly disturbing aspects of this story is the seeming sidelining of the justice system. Mr Finucane’s solicitor, his own late brother Pat’s partner Peter Madden has pointed out that his client has been proven not guilty.

Such obvious sidelining of due process for the court of public opinion lends a weird craziness and unpredictability to the whole affair. And not in a good way for Sinn Fein, whose only serious political reverses have come at the hands of smart and politically disenfranchised Catholic women in the media.

Not for the first time the party is becoming a butt of other people’s humour as its own version of the truth sharply impacts with the picture most of the rest of us are seeing. Even Fintan O’Toole is at it this morning:

Over the last fortnight, one after another of its smart young TDs has come out to tell us that what really matters to them – and thus what should matter to the rest of us – is not evidence about what Gerry Adams did or did not do. It is the way their personal knowledge of Gerry makes them feel, which is, inevitably, an unshakeable sense of trust. Pádraig MacLochlainn put it most touchingly: “I know the character of Gerry Adams and I absolutely believe him.” It’s that “absolutely” that should alert those of us outside the party that we are in the realms of pure truthiness.

It’s no excuse for my error, but I presume you have to do some kind of course to achieve this level of truthiness, some training where you finally “go clear” of mere concern with objective truth and become whatever the Irish is for Operating Thetan. But, not having done the course, there is still one problem, rooted no doubt in false consciousness, that bothers me. I now completely accept that what matters is what people who know Gerry Adams believe absolutely in their gut. What I still can’t grasp is which Gerry Adams they believe absolutely.

Very funny, or not as your own political conviction may predispose you. The problem for Sinn Fein is not that everyone is out to get you (almost everyone is on this story), but rather that they themselves cannot or will not openly testify against Ms Cahill in their own favour.

This is a prime weakness in Professor Greenslade’s analysis, particularly where he reports that BBC NI has…

…conceded that Spotlight did not seek to establish the truth of Cahill’s rape allegations, but investigated her “treatment by the republican movement and in particular her account of how, as a very young woman who said she had been abused, she had been made to meet her alleged perpetrator.”

It did address the fact she continued to work with Sinn Féin for some time after the alleged abuse and she was asked if, in speaking out, it was her intention to damage the party, which she denied.

The BBC said Cahill “contests the allegation that she is a dissident” and that her membership of the RNU was “extremely brief”. (Cahill has stated separately that she was “national secretary of RNU for a period of a few hours in 2010”).

Machiavelli had much to say about politics, much of it more positive and progressive than our received understanding of his work. In his work on Titus Livius, he had this telling remark about the harm caused by lack of open and transparent redress in society:

…it is before the magistrates, the people, or the courts of justice that men are impeached; but in the streets and market places that they are calumniated. Calumny, therefore, is most rife in that State wherein impeachment is least practised, and the laws least favour it.

For which reasons the legislator should so shape the laws  of his State that it shall be possible therein to impeach any of its citizens without fear or favour; and, after duly providing for this, should visit calumniators with the sharpest punishments.

Those punished will have no cause to complain, since it was in their power to have impeached openly where they have secretly calumniated. Where this is not seen to, grave disorders will always ensue.

For calumnies sting without disabling; and those who are stung being more moved by hatred of their detractors than by fear of the things they say against them, seek revenge.

When even the deputy First Minister says he believes Ms Cahill was raped, but she herself cannot get an effective case through the courts we appear to be in situation where some people in Northern Irish society remain unimpeachable.

That’s not a safe state of affairs for the inconveniently innocent, whether in Machiavelli’s historic city state of Florence or contemporary Northern Ireland.

This matter, as we have said, was well arranged for in Rome, but has always been badly regulated in our city of Florence. And as the Roman ordinances with regard to it were productive of much good, so the want of them in Florence has bred much mischief.

As Alan noted in his recent preview of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People:

The contaminated water comes from another morass, the morass of our politics … The scandal must come to light.

Or not, as the case may be.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Robin Keogh

    ……and whats you point?

  • Barneyt

    Why would one not believe she was raped and my view is that the energy and momentum that has to be behind her, would be better served securing justice through the courts, rather than figuring which particularly string to pull in the puppet they see before them.

    She has been used and abused in the past, and although not on the same scale, something too is happening here.

    The claim to have been a member of RNU for minutes is the most Clintonesque remark I have heard in a while.

  • mickfealty

    Sorry, I was being lazy and trying to let Machiavelli say it for me.

    If we are all in a situation where we believe Ms Cahill was raped (and I think only that IA wingnut thinks otherwise), the question arises (via Machiavelli) over the problem of NON impeachment.

    That is if we cannot impeach over what seems to be a widely accepted injury, we as a society are only encouraging other unimpeachable forms of calumny.

  • mickfealty

    You’ll be calling for a special prosecutor next Barney… [See where this is going??]

  • Malachi O’Doherty has left a stinging comment under Roy’s column in the Guardian …

    Roy, this is low. Lower still for being so transparently done in the
    service of the party. A woman is raped and interrogated by the IRA but
    none of us can judge the moral weight of these events if we are not told
    that four years ago, ten years after the event, she supported a
    political movement that is opposed to Sinn Fein.
    Mairia chose to
    release her story and to go to the police after she discovered that she
    was not the first case which Gerry Adams knew about and had covered up.
    She had been prepared to live with the grief in silence until that
    shock. She lost patience with Sinn Fein when she discovered that Gerry’s
    brother had raped his own daughter and that Gerry had known about it
    for years. Is this not also relevant information too? Why is it that the
    first impulse of so many is to attack the credibility of the rape
    victim and to accuse those who write about her of having no other motive
    than a political intention to damage Sinn Fein?
    I never believed I
    would read such rubbish in the Guardian. Apparently the only
    qualification for being a rape victim who deserves sympathy is to be a
    supporter of Sinn Fein.

  • Dan

    He never believed he’d read such rubbish in the Guardian?

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    If Mairia did choose not to tell the BBC that she joined the anti police dissidents and the BBC never done its homework maybe we could overlook this and maybe one day forgive them- But if the BBC knew that she was a dissident and deliberately kept that bit out of the programme than that’s a different animal – and it seems it’s the BBC who are refusing to answer Questions now from the media-( I honestly think the dirt was done and the BBC have been found out )-

  • Tacapall

    Com on Alan your quoting Malachi O’Doherty who wouldn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel or tell a lie to beef up a story

    “Many sex-offenders were shot dead by the IRA”

    I doubt very much that Malachi could name even one.

  • mickfealty

    Mickey, just to point out, that this is the very calumniation Machiavelli talked about.

  • patrick23

    Mick, the Cahill issue is a series of accusations: the rape, the kangaroo court, a Sf cover up, Adams’ comments and Psni balls up/ conspiracy.
    One can easily hold differing opinions on each, there’s no reason why someone couldn’t believe she was raped and equally believe the PSNI did everything by the book, say. It’s not doublethink, a riff that Malachi went off on today.
    Accepting that, then it is clearly important that the RNU issue which could colour any commentary on Adams, SF or the PSNI is considered, without Newt shouting down anyone who does so as denying a rape occurred, victim blaming or discussing an “ideal victim” narrative.
    I can’t understand what the rush to discount it is

  • Tacapall

    “That is if we cannot impeach over what seems to be a widely accepted injury, we as a society are only encouraging other unimpeachable forms of calumny”

    This is the British controlled part of Ireland Mick that has endured a lack of justice since its inception what in your eyes makes this case much more important than all the rest ?

  • mickfealty

    It’s not a matter of what opinion you hold, one way or the other.

    I’m arguing that it is corrosive to good order and fairness for there to be a widespread belief not that the courts got it wrong but that they were in no position to get it right.

    The fact that Ms Cahill has had to move four times (also ‘suppressed’ in the documentary) has a much more direct bearing on the matter than her joining the RNU some considerable time later.

  • mickfealty

    Precisely because it is specific and particular rather than a generic off the shelf type of wrong.

    Most victims are too scared to speak out. (worth listening to Greg Hughes ask Ms Cahill very directly if her case helps or hinders position of other victims:

    Now consider Gerry’s remedy…

  • mickfealty

    That was supposed to start at 11.58

  • barnshee

    Greenslade and The Guardian have form in this area

    They can safely be ignored

  • patrick23

    The start of your argument is that Newt is correct and she has been traduced. I that discussing the RNU issue is an example of that, for the reason I gave above.
    The calumny and court of law seems unrelated, we know why the case couldn’t proceed. I assume you’re now proposing that the four house moves are related to the inability to test in court?

  • mickfealty

    Machiavelli’s point was that where the law is unable to mediate strongly, we fall into calumny by default and an increased scope for mischief…

  • mickfealty

    She absolutely has been traduced. And she can only expect it to get worse, particularly when the story dies down.

    The point about the four moves is simple enough. It was not declared in the doc, but it was potentially relevant. RNU is a useful stick, but has little direct bearing on the matter in hand.

    Other than that I’m pointing to Machiavelli and reading him into the NI RECORD particularly on the foot of the apparent unimpeachability problem.

  • patrick23

    Perhaps. We shall have to await the inquiries of Keir Starmer as to whether the law was unable to meditate strongly, else calling those people unimpeachable may be a mischief in itself.
    And more, to cast everything from an obvious slander to items of material interest (RNU) as traduction or mischief, serves rather to shut down debate

  • Turgon

    Greenslade’s article and indeed much of the Sinn Fein response to Mairia Cahill seems to be remarkably close to Scientology’s Fair Game system for treating those who fall foul of it.

  • Dan

    Kier Starmer appointed to review the Cahill case?…good lord, who are they kidding?
    How can someone with such close links to the Labour Party be given that role?

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    Keir Starmer was on Twitter saying that it is a privilege to have been asked to review the Prosecution cases in relation to Mairia Cahill allegations -some of the media and some in the Dail will go mad at that- allegations when they think it’s fact what ever she says-

    Maria has also said that she would fully Participate in this review process-( let’s hope she does not walk away from the review if some one asks her a Question-like she did in Court )-

  • Robin Keogh

    Mick you are not going to have much luck getting your point across when you constatly refer to commentators who are life long critics of Adams and SF. Think about it logically, if it was commonly known that I hated say the lad living next door to me who was regarded by say a large section of my community as a dubous character for various reasons, and every week I came out telling accusotory stories about him, how credible would I sound to those people who are either on the fence about this character or actually like him somewhat. What I am saying honestly is that in many ways you and others like fintan are literally singing to your own choir. It would be wrong to suggest that people are not open to persuasion. Indeed most of the adult population who have even a modicum of interest in current affairs arguably form what we believe to be the cdecent citizenry and they are the court of public opinion.

    But, why should they fall for whipped up and sensationalised media frenzys when they know full well that part of living in the modern world means accepting that influencial selfish interest have the power and position to manipulate information to serve their own personal ends. That is not to say that all politicians and all media groups are sitting on this particular bench but public opinion can be so heavily influenced by the usual suspects that they have become naturally gaurded because so many of the institutions that they believed in both social and civic have been exposed as corrupt or dysfunctional. The court of public opinion can mobilise when it needs to, you see it every day across the world when thousands of people take to the street when they have had enough unpleasantsness in their political environs.

    When we peel back the skin of your argument I respecfully have to say that what it really amounts to is this – we have to invent a form of empeachment that will let us nab Gerry because the darned legal fundamental of due process is either letting us down, or the judicial system is covering up. This is highly unacceptable. We cant allow ourselves to be swept into a society that manipulates its laws and judicial system simply because a lot of powerful influencial people hate you and have the ability to try and affect public opinion causing mass bias mobilization.

    People who are angry at Adams and SF and who want to see the back of them because they genuinely believe that they are not fit for purpose seriously need to change tack. You need to convince a considerable portion of the people that they have nothing positive to offer the FUTURE. SF’s growing support base simply are not concerned with the past nor are they concerned about legacy issues that not only are partly expected but have also been present in the so-called normal decent scociety they have grown up in. Ultimately, most of GA and SF critics are clearly very angry but anger will not slove anything, justified or not.

    ” Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy” Aristotle.

  • NMS

    This is of course the same Roy Greenslade who stood square behind Downey.

    Not a very independent voice!

  • mickfealty

    I keep asking what material difference it would have made to the case (not just here and not just you), and no one wants to answer the question.

    I don’t mean it as a mischief, since I’ve been pretty open in my ‘working out’ so to speak.

    I’m not trying to personalise it in the least but I’m trying to express a certain deep disquiet over where we now appear to find ourselves.

    I do think we have a problem, when this happens when a politician is arrested in the course of an inquiry:

  • Barneyt

    However this is going, some things are clear. The traditional “Big” parties in the ROI are making capital out of this. That’s one certainty. The other blatant certainty is that Ms Cahill was violated, as I don’t believe we have reason to doubt that. What’s not clear if whether she is being used to send a message, at the expense of her personal well-being and with disregard for the events that happened to her. Its also not clear if she is an active part in sending such a message or further an alternative “cause”.

    We need to look at the link to RNU and onwards to ONH (however tenuous). We need to determine if this information was sidelined during the initial reporting. Its important to understand why she withdrew the evidence and if any, what pressure was placed on her to do so. The alternative to her being raped is that she wasn’t and that there was no crime. Withdrawing evidence can bring about that conclusion. Its important that the perpetrator is identified and appropriate measures are taken. Only then should any enquiry focus on any other actions taken at this time, by whomever.

    It may be that the connections with RNU are being exaggerated to lessen the impact of this on SF and to serve as a convenient distraction. It may represent political opportune if true, just as it was for Kenny and co when this story initially broke.

    Whatever this takes lets get to the bottom of it (if we can), but I have one question. Does this represent queue jumping on a grand scale and are other victims not closer to the top of the queue for “justice”?

    I smell a rat, and not just from reading some of the scripts reported to come from Ms Cahill. They are extraordinarily expressive and articulate. I would not doubt they have come from her where it not for the SFIRA reference. Since when has anyone with any connection with Irish republicanism identified two elements of the republican movement in those singular terms?

  • mickfealty

    You are right of course. The other parties are making political capital out of this, although I don’t believe that any of them will profit directly from it.

    Blaming the victim does nothing to ameliorate that effect, in fact it makes it worse. And to be explicit about your own comment, presumably for political reasons of your own, in your own analogy you’ve swapped the victim and perpetrator.

    The US Congress did not sick the Special Prosecutor on Monica Lewinsky, but by your own lights, it’s Cahill who is analogous to Clinton.

    SF have been clever in their rope a dope strategy. In providing no information they’ve ceded the stage to Cahill and now are trying to make her the subject of inquiry rather than their own actions.

    Going back to the OP, that’s largely because there appears to be no danger in it for them. Now the civil courts may or may see differently.

    But the question remains are we suffering from unimpeachability under Peace Process rules? When a victim of rape can be so easily cast as a ‘political perpetrator’, I think the question is a good un.

    What about you Barney?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Robin, while you suggest to Mick that “You need to convince a considerable portion of the people that they have nothing positive to offer the FUTURE”, its usual for people’s record of past behaviour to determine how their future actions may pan out. Or how their statements are judged.

    And you are not addressing the core of what Mick is actually saying. He is not asking for some special treatment for GA, rather he is drawing attention to the inability of our systems of accountability to function in any manner that will actually release the tension on issues such as these.

    For me, this is not something new, but an end product of the eroding of social values by the long colonial experience of the Irish people. I’ve suggested over on the “Latest SBP/REDC poll in the South-Sinn Fein still second” thread that the impression that parts of our electorate or party members do not feel they may even begin to challenge their leadership on issues such as Adam’s generally accepted record on woman’s issues is a product of a post-colonial lack of self worth instilled by centuries of the experience of powerlessness, and the atmosphere of cynical amoralism this instills. Otherwise I find it very, very difficult to account for SF’s inability to challenge what parties in virtually every other European state would see as highly compromised and as such unacceptable leadership. The one clear exception is Berlusconi’s hold over has party and Italy.

    But what Mick is saying, as I understand it, is that “I’m arguing that it is corrosive to good order and fairness for there to be a widespread belief not that the courts got it wrong but that they were in no position to get it right.” I entirely share the lack of trust he is referring to, from my own experience of the frequent arbitrariness of court decisions, especially on issues such as rape. But the inability of people to unreservedly support the legal process must seriously compound the generally faulted nature of all social and political structures.

    What Mick is calling for is not special treatment for any one person, but a legal system and rule of law that functions. Without this, we are still sunk deep in the powerlessness we have all inherited from an abusive historical experience, where the victim of abuse may all too easily become identified with the abuse itself. So Maíria becomes the enemy, as Mick has pointed out in a comment below.

  • patrick23

    The court case? Not a jot of difference. That’s my point. One can accept it makes no difference to that (ergo not denying the rape as Newt would see it, or victim blaming, or casting as less than “ideal victim”), whilst legitimately querying the “GA said this” and “I know Mary Lou knows” element that could be otherwise coloured by an RNU viewpoint, and is driving the political element of the story.
    To ignore or downplay it is to potentially allow a calumny or slander to play out on GA or ML. Like yourself I’m frustrated that that question is going unanswered

  • Barneyt

    I was thinking of the “I did not inhale” episode to be honest. I find it hard to believe that anyone’s membership and involvement with any political outfit would be so short lived.

    She is the victim of rape. She may be a victim in other ways yet, and that depends on who emerges from the shadows and what their game is.

  • mickfealty

    Really? Where was a young teenager called Cahill immersed in the ‘Republican Movement’ going to go in west Belfast?

    Heard this morning from a friend that those who stayed in the CPGB after Hungary and then Prague were known as ‘Tankers’.

    It would be unfair to make an absolute comparison between the two since SF is far more vibrant and popular and young.

    Two rape cover ups so closely connected to the party President does not necessarily mean there is a wider pattern, but to seek to pin blame on the victim for the crisis is akin to blaming the people of Prague for wanting their freedom from Moscow.