Wednesday 26 October 2016

Mairia Cahill: 'I cut off oxygen to orchestrated online campaign'

Senator Mairia Cahill on how 'pressure' from various quarters and a 'burn-out' forced her to stay away from debates

Senator Mairia Cahill

Published 15/11/2015 | 02:30

Mairia Cahill
Mairia Cahill

If someone had told me a year ago, never mind when I was 16, that I would one day be elected to Seanad Eireann, I would never have believed it.

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Nor would anyone who knew me at some of the roughest periods of my life, I suspect. For me, it's a powerful reminder that life carries both negatives and positives. I've lived mine, warts and all.

I am proud to serve as a Senator, and I am looking forward to being able to raise the issues which are important to me, such as youth activation and employment, social enterprise and community development, and those which I also care deeply about - domestic violence and the issue which ultimately brought me here - sexual abuse.

Abuse permeates society, and destroys lives. I want people to know that abuse does not mean that you cannot rebuild your life, and I hope that I can be a good advocate for all of those people who have been at the receiving end of this terrible experience.

There are many things I wish I had done differently in my life after my abuse began.

Not disclosing earlier. Not going to the police long before I did. Not self-harming for a period at a time when I felt bad about myself. Not trying to kill myself.

Not repeatedly beating myself up every time I made a stupid decision. Not being frustrated with others when really I was frustrated with myself. And joining Sinn Fein, and later the Republican Network for Unity (RNU).

For me, it's all interlinked. For others, that may be hard to understand. But there are many republicans who will understand how easy it is to move towards those political organisations, and the isolation felt once you are outside the large dysfunctional republican 'family'.

Some are proud of their involvement, some are not. I fall into the latter category, I take responsibility for my involvement in both and, as I have stated, I regret it.

West Belfast is an area with great people, for the most part, and I'm proud of some of the innovative community projects I've been involved in. But it has serious problems also.

One of those was a policing vacuum and a mistrust for the police. I've seen different actions over the years, which haven't made me their biggest fan in the past.

Unacceptable actions have been carried out on all sides, particularly by illegal armed groups. However, I am not anti-policing - I just expect that the very best service of policing is delivered to the community the police are supposed to serve and protect.

And, I believe, it has come a long way from where it was. I also believe that the community has come a long way from where it was. We all have, myself included. And I am not opposed to the PSNI or the gardai, despite what my past associations look like. I support both.

I spent four long years in a protracted court case about my abuse. I have worked with both the PSNI and the garda over the last year in particular on issues of child protection, and have encouraged other victims to report their abuse.

As I have stated before, I am pro-peace. The only way in which the problems of the North will ever be solved is that every disaffected person is engaged and feels ownership in the process, and that the violence which has blighted the lives of many families stops.

There were many positive aspects of my campaign, such as meeting TDs and senators, talking to Rape Crisis Centres about how I could help, and interacting with those who have supported me.

However, there were negatives also. Those negatives overshadowed the very important issues above, which I wanted to help with by giving them prominence during the campaign. Instead, one issue in my past gained prominence in the final stages.

Now, I want to look to the future, and be judged on my record in the next few months ahead, doing the best that I can in the Seanad.

It's hard to keep me quiet most times, believe me, but a number of things happened in the last two weeks which were factors in my decision not to partake in two by-election debates, or in subsequent media interviews.

Firstly, I became aware of a widespread campaign. A number of politicians told me they had been on the receiving end of pressure (a nice way of putting it) from various quarters.

But the strong legal advice and from Labour was not to engage with this campaign. I took that advice.

Another factor was the sheer exhaustion brought on by a recently diagnosed condition. I burned out, got a few days rest, and got back on board. I was also reluctant to give oxygen to what amounted to a clearly orchestrated online campaign.

I want to thank every single person who has supported me, for believing me, for realising that the person that I once was is not who I am today, and for putting their faith in me. There were also people who kept me strong - thank you.

Additionally, thank you to Joan Burton and Alan Kelly, to my director of elections Joe Costello, to all of the Labour staff and activists, it means a lot.

Also to An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Regina Doherty and Fine Gael, and the many well-wishers across the political spectrum, go raibh mile maith agaibh. And most importantly to my daughter, who changed my life when she came along.

If there is one lesson to be learned from all of this, it's that when people start believing in themselves, others do also.

I hope that by the end of my term in the Seanad, I will have proven that I have made a positive contribution.

Sunday Independent

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