Monday 26 August 2019

This is a difficult case - but it must be fully examined

News today of a prominent politician, from recent decades, facing allegations of sexual abuse will anger, shock and distress many of us
News today of a prominent politician, from recent decades, facing allegations of sexual abuse will anger, shock and distress many of us
John Downing

John Downing

Few people in modern Ireland emerge with much credit from an examination of the most distressing issue of child sexual abuse.

The exceptions are the survivors of this evil crime; a handful of heroic individuals who tried, often in vain, to draw the authorities' attention; and more recently advocates who have campaigned for changes on the issue. The rest of us struggle to learn the many lessons of recent years and fervently hope the future will bring no repeats.

Changes in the attitudes of those in authority have been tortuously slow. Change generally has been very hard won, and too often required cathartic interventions by those who survived these abuses, and spoke out to ultimately help educate all of us as a society.

But we have fundamentally changed our views on this issue, especially over the past decade-and-a-half. We have heard the voices of the most vulnerable and offended against, and learned the need to face down deniers who further abused their powers and authority.

News today of a prominent politician, from recent decades, facing allegations of sexual abuse will anger, shock and distress many of us. The allegations date back in time and come from different, and apparently independent, witnesses who say they were victims of this un-named person.

There is a suggestion that at least one previous allegation may not have been pursued by the authorities in the past with all due vigour. We are left to ask whether the power and influence of the alleged perpetrator had any bearing upon this.

It is clear that the Gardaí are currently treating the allegations with the utmost seriousness. The Garda sexual abuse and domestic violence unit is now working on the cases. We must await a fuller outcome of their work and whatever charges, if any, which may or may not ensue.

It is worth noting also that accusations of sexual abuse, if publicised involving the naming of an alleged perpetrator, can be seen in the public mind as tantamount to conviction. The damage to a person's good name, in cases where the allegations are deemed unfounded, can be deep and lasting. So, everyone must proceed carefully.

We have also learnt that there is a depressingly common pattern to many of the cases of child sexual abuse which have come to light in recent years. Wave after wave of them affected the Catholic Church in Ireland, the very people who often lectured all the Irish nation on sexual mores.

It is barely six years since the 2009 Ryan Report appalled the entire nation with revelations in this regard. Last year Sinn Féin, the IRA and the Republican movement faced allegations from Mairia Cahill and later Paudie McGahon.

Again ironically, Sinn Féin had earlier castigated the Catholic Church for its behaviour in these matters. Then they followed the depressing pattern of many such abuse cases.

There was denial, followed by a less-than-gracious acceptance that this denial was no longer sustainable, followed by equivocal acceptance. We can measure future progress more generally against an avoidance of that mendacious and hurtful melodrama.

There are few positives to be taken from this latest case. But while British police continue to investigate a paedophile ring in Westminster, there is no suggestion of comparable allegations in Ireland.

Irish Independent

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