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Sunday 25 March 2018

I fully support my brave Mairia, says her father

Dad believes Gerry Adams and others involved in this case should hang their heads in shame

Philip Cahill holds a photo of himself and Mairia
Philip Cahill holds a photo of himself and Mairia
Philip and Mairia Cahill
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

IT is almost 15 years ago since the IRA called to Philip Cahill's home to tell him that his teenage daughter Mairia had alleged that she had been raped and abused.

He remembers the phone call from a relative in the IRA who said they "needed to talk", and how a short time later, his relative was at his front door, along with his cousin, the late Siobhan O'Hanlon, an active republican and friend of and assistant to Gerry Adams.

"[They] arrived at the house and said that Mairia had made allegations against Marty Morris," he said.

Philip and his wife were shocked, stunned and devastated, feelings that were compounded by the fact that they knew the man accused of raping their daughter. He had married into Philip's extended family, one of the most prominent republican families in Belfast.

One of the founders of the Provisional IRA, Joe Cahill, was Philip's uncle. Mairia was his grandniece. And now it seemed that the IRA was hellbent on keeping the nasty allegations against one of their own "strictly" in the family.

According to Philip, Siobhan O'Hanlon and his other relative disclosed that the IRA had conducted its own investigation into Mairia's allegations against Morris. They also told him the outcome: "Well they said that it was her word against his, and that on that basis it [the investigation] was inconclusive," said Philip.

But he and his wife "knew immediately" that what the IRA called "allegations" were true, and the worrying changes they had recently noticed in their daughter suddenly began to make sense.

"Mairia's appearance had changed dramatically. She went from being a girly girl, and quite outgoing and just very talkative, to being very insular . . . She went almost like a tomboy, just completely really baggy tops and track bottoms, just completely dumbed down her appearance.

"Her personality changed completely. She had been outgoing. Mairia was just like an A student, a perfect child, all the way through her childhood. And then everything changed," said Philip.

"We had talked about Mairia, and the changes in her. We were concerned about her as parents. Her mother worked in a school and she had child protection training and she said: 'I think something has happened to Mairia'." And to their horror, her mother was right. The Cahills were "completely devastated" by the news. Philip said he "was horrified that family members had known and hadn't talked to us as her parents."

Only later did they learn that she was ordered by the IRA not to speak about it. And they were outraged that their teenage daughter had been subjected to a "private investigation" by the IRA .

When they challenged Siobhan O'Hanlon and Phillip's other relative on the "so-called investigation", the IRA messengers agreed to "facilitate a meeting" with Mairia's inquisitors ". . . because we were so horrified and we wanted answers and we wanted to know what people, what right they thought they had to do this to our child," said Philip.

He said: "We knew, we understood the impact of that, and how much more damaging that would have been to Mairia, to have to go through that. Even then we didn't know the full extent of it but we knew enough to know it would set Mairia's recovery back a long time."

Within days, a senior IRA man and two long-standing IRA women who worked in the local community came to their house. "He said they were from the Belfast IRA," said Philip.

Philip recalled that the meeting "didn't go very well". "He [the IRA man] was pretty arrogant. I think he did most of the talking," said Philip. "He basically said they had conducted an investigation and that the two women had been brought in, that they were members of the republican movement and they worked in the local women's centre, and they used them on occasion to help in such cases. Again, we were taken aback by that."

Philip said he challenged the IRA figure, suggesting that sexual abuse was a matter for the police. "He said these allegations were made against this person who was a member of the IRA and that's why they were investigating," said Philip.

The days passed in an emotional blur. Mairia's parents swiftly organised counselling for their daughter. Only later did they learn from her the details of what had happened to her, how Morris, her alleged abuser, had "groomed" her into the republican movement, then sexually abused and raped her over the course of a year when she was just 16 years old. They learnt of how she was silenced by her IRA inquisitors, who subjected her to numerous secret interrogations over several months, without her parents' knowledge.

According to Philip, in the traumatic aftermath of processing what the IRA had told them, "our concern was just really to look after her initially and make sure that she was OK, and to give her support, and not to interrogate her. She wasn't ready to talk to us. She was completely devastated and shell-shocked. I'm not even sure we were ready to talk to her at that stage."

Some months later, news reached Philip that two other girls had come forward with allegations of abuse against Martin Morris. This time, according to Philip, the IRA moved quickly.

Philip, who had been on holiday in Donegal, returned to Belfast to hear that Morris was already in IRA custody.

"When I came back to Belfast, Siobhan [O'Hanlon] was at my relative's house . . . I had a conversation with Siobhan in the house and then she asked me to step into the car," said Philip.

He had already made clear that he wanted the matter dealt with by the police, and that the IRA "should never have been involved." He told Siobhan that he wanted assurances that Morris was "going nowhere".

"And she said, 'he's going nowhere, he's under house arrest'. And I said, 'well I want absolute assurances that that's going to happen.' And that's when she said to me, 'well what do you want done, do you want him shot?' And then I said, 'how dare you ask me that question? You are telling me he's an IRA man, you're telling me you have him under arrest and you know it's up to you to deal with him on your terms. But I want assurances that he'll be handed over to the police. And she said, 'that's not happening'."

Within a day, he said, Mairia's original IRA inquisitors - the Belfast IRA figure and one of the two women members - got back in contact with the Cahills. They called to the family home, met Philip and Mairia, and told them they wanted to "re-open the investigation".

"I said to him I want him handed over to the police and he said, 'well, that's not happening, we'll walk away.' And then at that point, I took Mairia into the front room of the house and said to her, 'we're wasting our time talking to these people, we need to go to the police with this'."

Days later, the Cahills learnt that Morris had "escaped" from IRA custody. According to Philip, that prompted another visit from the IRA, this time from one of the city's most senior IRA commanders and one of the women who had interrogated Mairia.

"He came to the house and said they were here on behalf of the IRA leadership. He said we want to apologise for the way this was handled . . . people will be reprimanded and lessons learned. I basically told him where to go. I was really angry. I said I know you helped him to get away. I know you probably know where he is."

Philip said he practically "threw him out". They had one further meeting. This time, Philip said he was trying to make inquiries about Morris's whereabouts. He said he told the IRA commander: "I want him here so that the police can deal with him and I know you know where he is. He basically said, we don't have the resources."

Mairia did go to the police and made a formal statement in 2010 when she was in her late 20s. Four years later, an investigation by the PSNI resulted in charges of IRA membership being brought against five people - including Morris who was also charged with abuse. All charges were later withdrawn and all were acquitted.

Philip never met Gerry Adams or discussed Mairia's ordeal with him. But he was aware that his daughter had met him, and understood that they talked about her alleged abuse and IRA interrogation.

Gerry Adams has admitted they met, but claimed that it was to see if Mairia was all right, because his friend, Siobhan O'Hanlon, was concerned about her. He claimed he didn't know about the IRA interrogation, didn't discuss the rape, and that he wanted her to go to the police.

Philip said this is simply untrue. "I think Gerry Adams and the other IRA people who were involved in the case should hang their heads in shame. Gerry Adams in particular should publicly acknowledge that what happened to Mairia happened, that it was wrong, the IRA should never have involved themselves, that they re-traumatised her, in their treatment of her, that they traumatised us as a family, and they devastated relationships. And pretty much made the conviction of a sexual predator impossible and he's still walking the streets. So I think Gerry Adams would do well to go away and hide himself somewhere. He should be ashamed of himself."

He said his only agenda in speaking out is to support his daughter. "I'm her dad, and that's it pure and simple. That's always been my consideration as her father. Anything that we've done has been in her best interests as far as we were concerned," he said.

"The only thing that's ever prevented me talking about this issue would have been sensitivities towards Mairia in the past. I'm not a person that shies away from difficult conversations and it's unfortunate that lots of other people do. But this is a subject that needs to be talked about and needs to be fully acknowledged and explored and hopefully it gives other people courage to come forward," he said.

"I am fully supportive of Mairia, absolutely 100pc. I think she is a really courageous, brave young woman and it's just a shame that her actions are in stark contrast with some of the cowardly, despicable behaviour of some of the people involved."

Sunday Independent

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