One of the issues constantly getting thrown up (mostly by SF it has to be said) that its politics driving this matter of Mairia Cahill. If that’s the case then one of the feats the party has achieved is to unite the opinion of the Dail in opposition to the stance they’ve taken over the case.
Sinn Fein are not popular because of their stance or otherwise on the way they and the IRA have handled allegations of rape. They are popular because in a country in distress they are the most consistent and outspoken anti government party.
Was the ill-equipped Briege Wright, who by her very own admission has years of experience working with sexual and domestic abuse victims in the Falls Women’s Centre and who states she has completed child protection training, well-intentioned when she saw fit to re-traumatise a vulnerable young rape victim by allowing her to be put in a room with her abuser in order that her body language could be read to see if she was telling the truth? Was Bobby Storey well-intentioned when he recently issued a memo stating that if Sinn Féin Party members were making comments about Maíria Cahill, they should only be made if they were measured and rigorously accurate? With glee over recent weeks, Sinn Féin members have abused, vilified and re-traumatised Maíria Cahill, through social media and directly.
Deputy Gerry Adams first denied that the IRA carried out any investigations and said Maíria Cahill’s allegations were slurs against Sinn Féin. Then he accepted that there were IRA investigations, but not into Maíria Cahill’s case. His latest stance is that he does not know whether there was an IRA investigation into Maíria Cahill’s case. I am dizzy from the number of changes to a story by a man who brought his own niece to meet her abuser, his brother, Liam Adams, face to face. I am at a loss to know why he would bring his own niece to meet her abuser face to face in a well-intentioned way to help her.
Deputy Adams says there is no corporate way of verifying these matters. These are weasel words to justify inaction. Sinn Féin has many people with a lot of knowledge, not least of whom is Deputy Gerry Adams. Thirty years on from the horrendous gun attack on Brian Stack, Deputy Adams had no problem putting Mr. Stack’s sons in a blacked-out van and driving them to an undisclosed location where a former Provisional IRA chief admitted responsibility for their father’s murder. It is funny how there was a corporate way of verifying that heinous murder but no corporate way to proceed now.
Joan Burton identified a particular aspect of the public traducing of the victim in this case…
What we need Deputy Pearse Doherty and Deputy Mary Lou McDonald to do rather than repeat the denials and facilitate the cover-up, is to follow Maíria Cahill’s example and to challenge the powerful men in their own movement who have something to hide. However, rather than follow Maíria’s example, those in Sinn Féin prefer to attack her character. They do that very subtly. They deny the details of her story. They repeatedly make her justify her allegations. They unleash attacks on her online. They re-traumatise her over and over again. In doing so, they are playing a longer-game. They are setting an example, actively discouraging other victims of abuse from coming forward by demonstrating the trauma they will have to endure in their fight for justice.
At the same time, Sinn Féin portrays itself as facilitating the victim by putting forward practical solutions and new processes for dealing with the past. Yet in the suggestions the onus is usually on some other body – the PSNI, An Garda Síochána or the North-South Ministerial Council – to devise a mechanism or process for dealing with the issue, and crucially, rather than start with the IRA bringing forward its own information about abuse within its ranks, all of the solutions involve putting the victim back in the dock. Will the first step ever be taken by republicans?
Micheal Martin took the full half hour allotted to party leaders…
Every single person who has gone public with an allegation of abuse or murder against the Provisional movement in the years since has at some point been attacked as having a political agenda, being in the hands of the “securocrats” or been involved in criminal activity. There is no exception to this. Every single victim and family member who exposed it has been attacked or undermined.
Since Sinn Féin finally admitted the widespread nature of abuse within the movement to which it remains a full and loyal part, its members have continued to offer excuses for what happened. The most common is the idea that there was effectively nothing else that could be done because of the lack of public faith in policing. This is untrue on many levels. First of all, the principal reason people would not go to the police is because they knew that they and their families would be subject to immediate and brutal reprisals by the movement. Just like the Mafia, its so-called protection of an area was always based on excluding all other options and demanding obedience.
There is also the fact that its behaviour was the same south of the Border. An Garda Síochána is and always has been a legitimate, democratic, civic policing service, yet when Provisional IRA men abused children in Louth and elsewhere, the Garda was kept away and the cover-up was imposed. This behaviour continued past the ceasefires, past the Good Friday Agreement, past the establishment of the Northern Executive, and it has continued to this day.
Deputy Adams and the rest of the Sinn Féin leadership have repeatedly used the phrase “we call on anyone with information to come forward”. This formula might fool some people but it is nothing but another cynical manoeuvre to pretend to do something while continuing to protect the movement. A party almost unique in Europe for the scale of its discipline has been using this line for seven years. However, no matter how often it calls on its members to come forward and help the police, no one ever does. Sinn Féin claims to have expelled 13 members for witnessing Robert McCartney’s brutal murder. It also claims to want people to go to the police, yet why has Sinn Féin not given the evidence it used for expelling these people to the police?
Deputies Adams and McDonald have said that the Provisional IRA ran its own set of internal courts in order to keep abuse cases within the community. They clearly have good sources for this. Why have they not given any information to the Garda or the PSNI? The Sinn Féin Parliamentary Party has people in it who, unlike Deputy Adams, admit to their Provisional IRA past. If Deputies Adams and McDonald knew about the abuse and the cover-ups, surely they do? Why have they not been able to bring forward any information to help even a single victim?
And towards the end…
There was a culture of covering it up which continues to this day. Anyone who played a part in the many negotiations of the peace process has stories of Sinn Féin issuing direct or implied threats of the process being in danger because of police action. As has been seen in the Padraic Wilson case, and in Deputy Adams’s own arrest, Sinn Féin has no problem threatening to withdraw consent from policing when it wants to. No matter how non-political a criminal action was, the Provisional IRA and its political representatives in Sinn Féin have demanded that they be viewed as political and an attack on the peace process.
Martin McGuinness’s proposal is nothing but a smokescreen. It would not have the power to compel evidence and it would be subject to political oversight.
Deputy Adams tried to explain his party’s passive aggressive attitude towards Ms Cahill:
In dealing with these issues, I have been attempting to deal with them as they have been presented to me. On the one hand with compassion and understanding for Maíria and on the other hand robustly and honestly defending myself and Sinn Féin. Let me say clearly, if Sinn Féin or I was at fault, I would accept and acknowledge that but the republicans who played any part in speaking to Maíria Cahill, including myself, state with conviction that our concern was for her welfare. Maíria was advised to seek counselling and to go to the RUC. She was an adult at that time and refused to go to the police. That was her right. She did go to the PSNI in 2010 and following an investigation by the PSNI and a high profile court case those accused were acquitted. The recent BBC “Spotlight” programme subsequently subverted due process in favour of trial by media of Padraic Wilson, Seamus Finucane, Briege Wright, Maura McCrory, Sue Ramsey and Jennifer McCann. These are all decent people. They are upstanding Irish citizens, like the late Siobhan O’Hanlon, Maíria’s cousin, and others. They have been smeared in a despicable way. The court acquittals of four of these have either been ignored or devalued by the media and by representatives in this Chamber again today.
Ruth Coppinger of the Socialist Party did not mince her words…
The actions of Sinn Féin and the IRA in the treatment of Maíria Cahill then and now are reprehensible, including by Deputies and high profile members of Sinn Féin. I have a tweet dated 3 November by a Sinn Féin member in my area, Dublin West, which reads: “#dubw,@sinnfeinireland poll rating 26%. Post anti SF fest”. It is tagged to Maíria Cahill. That is utterly disgraceful. It continues “Fair to pointt [sic] out majority accept SF position on this issue”. That kind of thing, which adds to a rape victim’s horror, should be utterly condemned by Sinn Féin. Faced with serious allegations it is clear that Sinn Féin moved, at the expense of the victim, to cover up and circle the wagons for its party. Sinn Féin’s priority was not the abuse or the victim, it was to prevent the victim from publicly speaking with other women which she was doing at the time. In so doing it covered up rape and sexual abuse just as the church did and it is totally unacceptable.
How should rape victims be treated when an allegation like this comes to light? They should be listened to and not disbelieved. They should be supported and encouraged to avail of counselling and they should be free, if they choose, to go to the police or the authorities to prosecute the case. That is their choice. My understanding is that was the choice of Maíria Cahill and her family at that time and she should have been supported in that. It is absolutely true that there were difficulties in Catholic working class communities in going to the RUC. That, however, was the choice of the Cahill family. It is very difficult for any rape victim to go to the police. According to a report we saw today, one in seven rape victims reported that they did not feel they were treated properly by the gardaí. It is not compulsory to insist that victims do that but they should be supported if they choose to. An alleged abuser should immediately be suspended from any organisation. That was not done in this case. The person should be removed from contact with women and young people. Incredibly, Sinn Féin members and the IRA grilled and interrogated the victim, and used subtle threats to prevent her going to the RUC.
Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan picked up on the matter of secrecy…
One of the most poignant moments in Maíria Cahill’s writing concerned the silence. She wrote: “Sexual abuse thrives on secrecy. Silence protests the perpetrators.” That is what happened in her case and many others. Those who have been raped have been afraid to speak out. They have been afraid that they will not be believed. They have been afraid that they could be seen to have been asking for it, as it is called, that is, they provoked the rape. This is why it is important to acknowledge the bravery of Maíria and those who speak out and lift the cloak of silence.
The Rape Crisis Centre has revealed that, in 2013, 1% of men and 8% of women who were raped or sexually assaulted reported it to the Garda. Some people who have reported rape and sexual assault were neither raped nor assaulted. This is most unfortunate, but it should never take from the need to report all sexual abuse and violence. Any person of any age, male or female, must feel secure enough to speak out and report rape in the confidence that he or she will be taken seriously, the matter will be investigated appropriately by the proper authorities, there will be adequate supports, due process will be followed and justice will be done. There can be no protection of those who rape.
As the Catholic Church had to face its demons, so too must the republican movement. The commission of investigation into the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin found its preoccupations until the mid-1990s were “the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets”. Does this apply to the provisional movement also?
Niall Collins accused Sinn Fein of repeating earlier patterns of cover up, including the visiting of witnesses:
Before I was elected to this House, Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was gunned down in the line of duty in my constituency. Sinn Féin’s first response to that event was “Nothing to do with us”. The next step in the response was “It was unauthorised”. The third step involved taking some form of responsibility for its members being involved. Witnesses were also intimidated in that case. I recall meeting one of those witnesses, namely, a driver for a courier company in Limerick who was visited at his house in the middle of the night by Sinn Féin-IRA people and told not to co-operate with An Garda Síochána or to give evidence with regard to what he had seen. What is happening to Maíria Cahill now represents a continuation of what happened in the days before the Good Friday Agreement was concluded. That is the double standard which applies.
Mick Wallace noted a wider culture of not attending to the needs of justice in the state
This is a strange country in many ways and I do not wish to go back over the history of the State and all that has happened but it leaves much to be desired. We still do not do things like we should. A great number of people are not getting justice.
I am delighted that the Maíria Cahill case has been raised and I am delighted that the Government is taking it seriously and it will do something for so many people who have suffered the same crime. However, forgive me if I suspect that kicking the living daylights out of Sinn Féin is part of this because if the story was not true then the Government would give the same attention to it as to these other cases, many of which are currently before a review mechanism. These cases are not getting the same attention they deserve. Maíria Cahill’s case deserves every minute of the attention it is getting but so do the others.
There are many things to which we will not own up. I will never forget the venom from the backbenchers when we questioned how the Garda Síochána operates. We were not supposed to challenge what happens and how gardaí behave – the attitude is that they are great.
One report has followed another in which this assumption is questioned. I refer to the report published yesterday by the Garda Síochána Inspectorate which does not contain much that is new. I did not read anything that shocked me. I did not find anything shocking in the Guerin report because we were raising those issues for nearly two years in this House.
We hear from people who were at the receiving end of it and from gardaí who were not happy with how the force operated. In this country one is damned from a height for challenging the status quo or the establishment. Why do we not use the Maíria Cahill case as a measure by which to do things differently and better for everybody?
Junior Minister at Justice, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin
I have a deep respect for many members of the Sinn Féin Party. Many of the stances they have taken have been quite brave. The spokesperson on justice and equality has campaigned for the rights of Travellers, as has Deputy Dessie Ellis, and this has been quite admirable and inspirational. However, it is easy to stand for the rights of people when there are no consequences. It is much more difficult to stand for the rights of people when there are consequences. It is easy to blame everybody else. I found it quite troubling that a man for whom I have deep personal and political respect, Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, in his contribution could not even mention Maíria Cahill’s name. He could not bring himself to mention her name.
Rape has been a deeply troubling issue in Ireland for a very long time. It is not just about the republican movement, the Catholic Church or any church, sporting organisations here or the entertainment industry in Britain. It is everywhere and one is far more likely to be abused by a member of one’s own family than anybody else. We cannot have a culture of “yes, but”, which is the problem with the issue in Ireland. We have had a culture of “yes, but”: “Yes, you say you were abused and yes, you say you were raped, but”. This is what caused the problem in the church, swimming organisations, other sporting organisations, entertainment organisations and families which have had to deal with this problem. What we are getting on the airwaves from people I genuinely respect is, again, this attitude of “yes, but”.
It is regrettable that we are again discussing the issue of abuse of children and women. As a country and society, we have been discussing this issue for far too long and on too many occasions. Never before has a political party in this House been so closely linked to abuse. For weeks we have been hearing distressing stories of victims being subjected to kangaroo courts and a perverse form of justice. This week, Professor Liam Kennedy of Queen’s University Belfast published a report which laid bare the reality of this abuse and how paramilitaries ruled communities, often with a fatal combination of fear and violence. It is conservatively estimated that in the period between 1990 and 2013, more than 500 children were abused by paramilitaries in the North, the IRA, the UDA and their ilk. That is a frightening statistic which, as stated by Deputy Neville, is about the lives of young children. It is an aspect of the Troubles and the campaign of terror that has never been acknowledged until now.
It is upsetting to read that some children committed suicide following a beating or the beating of a friend. It is truly terrifying to read that, according to an eminent professor: “Sinn Féin centres acted as co-ordinating centres for human rights abuses against children.” That kind of moral cowardice has no place in any democracy or political party. If this was the case in respect of my party, the Fianna Fáil Party or the Labour Party, the people opposite would be demanding that we make changes and that the people in charge would go, and they would be right.
Thankfully, the element of fear for many victims has receded. There are many for whom it has not. Victims are now finding confidence and courage to confront those who compounded the abuse to which they were subjected. Some victims are demonstrating their resolute bravery by speaking out. Victims of abuse in whatever jurisdiction or country deserve our support every day.
Padraig MacLochlainn put in probably the most confident speech from the SF benches in part because he managed to avoid any reference to the matter in hand. He even managed to shoehorn in a particularly tragic hit and run accident in Monaghan:
On 2 August 2011, Mr. Shane O’ Farrell, who was 23 year old, was killed by a hit-and-run driver at Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. A law graduate, Shane had handed in his dissertation for his master’s degree at Trinity College earlier that day. Like the late Mr. Tuohey, he had a full life ahead of him. Words cannot describe the devastation Shane’s death has caused to his parents and siblings. His mother told me when I met her that their family are destroyed. The driver of the car that killed Shane was a drug addict with 40 previous convictions and was at large because of two suspended sentences imposed on both sides of the Border. Shane’s family believe that their son and brother was killed by this State because of the incredible litany of failings in the criminal justice system that culminated in his killing. Theirs is also a harrowing story.
Sinn Fein closed out the session with Mary Lou, probably the single individual TD suffering (and by yesterday’s body language she was visibly suffering) under sternest criticism, being both deputy of the party leader…
Maíria Cahill claims that she was subjected to a coercive investigation by the IRA. This version of events is vigorously contested by the women and men who stand accused of acting as interrogators. For the record, two of those so accused are women. Earlier, the Taoiseach conjured up the image of the disappeared – this was repeated by Deputy Smith – in his words of condemnation of those who he asserts carried out this kangaroo court.
He went on, for reasons best known to himself, to belittle Briege Wright in particular and to sneer at her supportive work with abused women in west Belfast. Is the Taoiseach aware that Briege is the sister of one of those disappeared? Was he being gratuitously cruel in making those remarks? I suppose he does not care anymore because in this case it seems anything goes.
Over recent weeks my words of condemnation for those in the Roman Catholic Church who covered up sexual abuse have been echoed and re-echoed. I wish to repeat those words this evening. Anyone associated with the abuse of a child or the cover-up of abuse must face the full rigours of the law. That is the case irrespective of who the perpetrator may be.
There are no exceptions to this rule. Nobody is exempt, nobody within any group or any organisation, and let me say explicitly that includes republicans and former members of the IRA.
One in four experiences abuse. It is not that far from any of us or from our families. It is undoubtedly the case – a statistical certainty – that abusers are found in all walks of life, and the IRA was no exception. Today, some Members read accounts into the record of this House of very harrowing stories of victims of abuse by republicans.
Can I say to those victims that they were not abused in our name? Can I assure those victims, all of whom I understand have made complaints to the statutory authorities, that we support them fully and want them to find the justice to which they are absolutely entitled?
All fine as far as it goes. But as Deputy Martin pointed out, this may not be the last case. Reeferencing the case of men alleging child rape as boys, Martin noted…
After their father contacted the local Sinn Féin representative, Pearse McGeogh, in 2002 the Provisionals again commenced their sinister internal investigation procedures. The brothers were summonsed to a meeting involving the same man who was in charge of the internal investigation in the Maíria Cahill case and other investigations by IRA-Sinn Féin. This is a person who has held a senior position in Sinn Féin. Councillor McGeogh was also at this internal investigation meeting. There is corroboration from people other than the victims that this internal IRA investigation took place.
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