Sunday 8 December 2019

Adams is sorry all right - but only for himself

Mairia Cahill arriving at Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke
Mairia Cahill arriving at Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke
Mary Lou McDonald

Lise Hand

Mairia Cahill had chosen her seat in the public gallery with care. She placed herself directly opposite Gerry Adams, from where she could follow unimpeded his every move and utterance. And for the duration of the time that she spent in that seat, her eyes rarely strayed from him.

But not once did the Sinn Fein leader raise his gaze to meet hers.

Perhaps Mairia was expecting contrition, sympathy, a bit of compassion from the man. Perhaps he would take the opportunity to let her know that he felt her pain, understood her anger and admired her courage.

But Gerry didn't seem to feel a thing. Instead, it became chillingly clear that he believes that it was he that was the wronged, the put-upon and the victim of intimidation. Ochón agus ochón for Gerry Adams.

His voice did break once during his speech, while he deviated from his prepared script to complain about the "continuous taunts and offensive commentary" suffered by his own family after his brother Liam was convicted of sex abuse.

Clearly it would have been a traumatic time for the extended Adams family. But that isn't the point. Casting himself as a victim, while Mairia Cahill, a victim of rape at the hands of a senior member of the IRA sat only feet away, simply demonstrated the Sinn Fein leader's profound callousness.

Around Gerry his loyal troops sat stony-faced, all present and correct, the faithful Mary Lou McDonald by his side. But some of them looked deeply uncomfortable - at one point when Mary Lou left the chamber for a while, Gerry sat alone. A couple of late-arriving Sinn Fein deputies silently took seats other than the vacant spot beside the leader.

But in truth it was an uncomfortable afternoon in the Dail as the statements on allegations of sexual abuse by IRA members got under way. The atmosphere was tense. There were undercurrents of hostility flowing across the chamber floor.

The Taoiseach rose to speak. His tone was modulated, but his language was harsh, scathing and merciless. He spoke of Mairia's horrible ordeal at the hands of her IRA interrogators. "Drawing themselves up to their full political height, their paramilitary might, they objectified her, humiliated her, degraded her all over again," he said, as he half-turned and pointed to the spot above him where Mairia sat.

But from where he stood, Enda couldn't see Mairia wipe tears from her eyes. Gerry could have, if he had bothered to raise his gaze.

His voice dripping with scorn, the Taoiseach excoriated the alleged Republican cover-up and protection of sexual abusers. "Republicans who thought so much of this Republic that they would honour us with their rapists, gift us their child-abusers," he said, to utter silence in the chamber.

It was a powerful challenge, a weighty, serious political charge made in the national parliament by the head of government. There were echoes of the Taoiseach's historic tirade against institutional abuse by the Catholic Church which he delivered in the Dail after the publication of the Cloyne Report three years ago.

He shared his speaking time with Meath East TD Regina Doherty, who also tore into both Gerry and his deputy leader. "I genuinely hold no hope of truth or co-operation from Deputy Gerry Adams because, God knows, I wouldn't believe the Lord's Prayer out of his mouth," she said.

Regina also revealed that she had the names of eight other alleged abusers who were relocated to the Republic from the North. "But to be honest, I am afraid to name them today," she admitted.

There is a whiff of sulphur around Sinn Fein, inhaled by anyone who ventures to cross swords or criticise the party and in particular its leader. Some of these heroes have taken to taunting Mairia Cahill on social media to demonstrate their allegiance to the party, whether the party wants this sort of 'support' or not.

And when it came to the Tanaiste's time to speak, Joan launched a broadside into what she described as "keyboard warriors".

The least Mairia deserves, she declared, "is that the Sinn Fein President calls off the dogs of war on Mairia Cahill. She must be allowed tell her story without Sinn Fein's keyboard warriors attacking her every word".

Joan grew visibly angry as she glared across the floor at an expressionless Gerry.

"A free press is the cornerstone of our democracy," she said, and then thumped the table in front of her.

"A free press is the cornerstone of democracy," she repeated.

Micheal Martin, who has been deeply involved with Mairia's case for two years, gave a thoughtful speech.

He read aloud Mairia's own words on her ordeal in which she addressed her tormentors directly. "You'll remember, I imagine, the look of fright on my face as you told me you were 'investigating' my abuse. You will have watched my face turn white with shock. And you will remember watching as the rapist told me for hours, to my face and in front of you, that I was a liar and that he didn't do those things to me. And one of you will remember driving me out of the flat that night, stopping the car sharply so I could be sick on the road".

These words of despair and anger and isolation and helplessness fell like rain on the Sinn Fein deputies. All they could do was sit in silence. Some looked at the floor, some stared at Micheal. None looked at Mairia.

If they had looked up, they would have seen this brave woman once again wipe away tears as a compassionate Micheal caught her eye and told the chamber, "That's what Mairia Cahill wants, for someone to say I believe you".

When Gerry spoke, he said, "I believe her".

But that was as far as he would go, and no further. No expressions of sorrow for the brutality inflicted on Mairia.

He defended Sinn Fein against charges of any cover-up and denied knowledge of any relocating of IRA sex abusers to the Republic.

But his defence was eerily lacklustre and detached - except when he talked about his own family trauma.

Beside him, Mary Lou looked pale and strained. "I am the mother of two young children and I would walk across the hot coals of hell to protect them," she declared, clearly emotional.

Mairia sat and listened, and for most of the time was the picture of composure.

Then Joan Burton read some lines from Gerry Adams's favourite writer, Maya Angelou. "You may write me down in history, with your bitter, twisted lies, you may tread me in the very dirt, but still, like dirt I'll rise."

And right in Gerry's eye-line, if he had looked up right then, he would've seen the ghost of a smile pass across the face of Mairia Cahill.

Irish Independent

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