‘SF knows that republicans “investigated” cases of abuse. I know, because it happened to me’
A Provisional IRA rape victim, who was subjected to a secret IRA investigation, writes of her anger at Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty, who said claims the IRA covered up cases of sex abuse are ‘unfounded and untrue’
‘UNFOUNDED and untrue” was Pearse Doherty’s answer when asked whether the republican movement investigated alleged abuse perpetrated internally by republicans.
As someone who was on the receiving end of one of these so called “investigations” — which, for that matter, I did not choose — let me tell you how I felt when I heard the strong denial from SF.
Sick to my stomach. Retraumatised. Shock turned to disbelief, and quickly into anger and frustration as I rechecked what he had said, repeatedly, to ensure I had heard him right. The effect of those denials rushed my experiences of that time right up to the forefront of my mind. Not only was I angry at what I had just heard, but I was also feeling anew the trauma of my abuse, and the subsequent investigation into that abuse. That's what denial does to victims. It cripples them momentarily, all over again. It traps them in the moment.
Still, after everything I know about the way in which Sinn Fein has handled this issue from the start, I was surprised. Surprised, because Sinn Fein have not, contrary to what they may tell the general public, had their heads stuck in the proverbial mound of sand for the last number of years.
They have, arguably, the best word-of-mouth communication network in Ireland. They know that the republican movement not only internally “investigated” cases of abuse, but also moved perpetrators on. I know, because I was there, yet I also know because I have spoken to other victims and to people who passed on information of similar cases.
I exercised my duty by reporting to the authorities tasked to deal with such matters. And I, having been right in the middle of the republican community at the time, also heard the rumours of why one minute certain republicans were flavour of the month — some with public profiles — and, in the next, persona non grata. Moved on, no official explanation, living somewhere else, where they could ride it out and go on living their lives, shielded and safe in the knowledge that their victims most likely wouldn’t report because they now had no idea where they were. In some cases, senior republican figures stopped victims reporting to the police in a variety of ways. Again, I know this because it happened to me.
I have for the last significant number of years watched denial of this issue with both sadness and incredulity. I have been absolutely devastated at the fact that people who I know personally — including some in senior positions within Sinn Fein, who I can say categorically have heard cases such as mine directly from my own mouth — have repeatedly deflected responsibility.
Devastated because I know exactly how traumatic it is to be at the receiving end of sexual violence as a child. I know how difficult it is, the shame that you feel the minute the first finger is laid on you in the act of exercising power and control for sexual
‘When it became apparent that I wasn’t the only one, republicans simply vanished my alleged abuser’
gratification, and the internal guilt about how to tell someone that this is happening to you. The feeling of going |from living as a human being to living as a human shell. And the hope that you have, that closure can be obtained, and the delight and relief in being able to rebuild your life and move on.
I also know what it is like to be on the receiving end of a republican movement interrogation. Because that’s what it was. Repeated and systemic |and forced questioning of the details of what had happened to me. For a |very long period of time. And then, when it became apparent I wasn’t the |only one, republicans simply vanished my alleged abuser.
And this is the reason why I am now writing this. Any denial of internal investigations such as this, is a denial that victims exist. If victims don’t exist in Sinn Fein’s world, then neither do the perpetrators. Years of painful experiences wiped out of history, just like that. If there is no admittance that perpetrators exist, they are simply given the cover they need to potentially abuse again. And that — the most important point — means that children may be at risk. Right now. Suffering in silence. Too afraid to tell because they think they won’t be believed.
And who could blame them for having those thoughts? It’s hard enough to admit that you have been abused. It’s harder still to go up against the weight of a collective party interest who try to deny your experiences in life by saying they never happened. I know the truth. The sad fact is — so do certain figures within Sinn Fein. And rather than admit publicly that in some cases abuse was handled badly, and instead of holding the perpetrators to account by providing that knowledge directly to the police and moving on from it, they are repeatedly causing further trauma by denials, to the people who have suffered most in all of this.
Sinn Fein need to admit that they are handling the issue of child sexual abuse and investigations into it shamefully and dangerously. They need to provide every scrap of truthful evidence, to hold all of those people whom they know to have abused women and |children and young people to account, to prevent anyone else from being potentially harmed.
They need to apologise publicly to all of those people whom they have continued to treat disgracefully by minimising and denying their experiences, effectively insinuating they are liars. They simply need to tell the truth. Because that's mostly what is important to people like me — a validation that what happened was wrong, and an assurance that it won't be repeated.
I really don't think that's too much to ask. And maybe then we can all get on with our lives, safe in the knowledge that everything possible has been done to ensure this type of situation never happens again.