Wednesday 17 July 2019

I'm one woman up against a defunct but still present armed organisation

Mairia Cahill explains what the republican movement must do to counteract the cover-up of child sexual abuse

Mairia Cahill pictured after meeting Michael Martin earlier this week. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Mairia Cahill pictured after meeting Michael Martin earlier this week. Picture: Gerry Mooney

Mairia Cahill

It's a shameful indictment of our society when a sexual abuse victim has to retell her experiences over and over again in the glare of the media in order to rebut the weight of a political party closing ranks to defend itself and a leader who, at the best of times, has trouble remembering detail.

Only it isn't an indictment of ordinary society. It's the dysfunctional family which styles itself outwardly as a party which promotes equal rights for men and women, which outwardly spins a line of care for victims of symphysiotomy, for domestic violence victims, and for those who were unjustly and cruelly treated in mother-and-baby homes. It appears to be lip service to me. Because, for the past three days, I have been subjected to a catalogue of retraumatisation directed at me by Gerry Adams, by Mary Lou McDonald, by Sinn Fein and by online republican trolls.

For telling the truth. For being open about very intimate and deeply disturbing parts of my life. For doing the right thing by thinking I had a responsibility towards other children who may be at risk from IRA perpetrators of sexual abuse and by using my voice to recount my experience in order to help.

Repeated denials and being forced into continually clarifying parts of my account take its toll. I am tired. But I am also determined. And I am not about to allow Sinn Fein to dehumanise me by dismissing my experiences with statements such as "if it happened it was wrong".

"I am absolutely satisfied that Gerry Adams is telling the truth?" said Mary Lou McDonald. How can you say so, Mary Lou? When you also publicly confirmed the same day that you hadn't even bothered to watch the BBC NI Spotlight programme where I recounted my painful experiences in an effort to finally use my voice to do the right thing. Absolutely satisfied? Here is what I am absolutely satisfied with. I am satisfied that you have listened to Gerry Adams - and taken his word for it without actually listening to me. By your own definition, if you haven't seen the programme, you don't know what you are talking about. Either you have deliberately buried your head in the sand on this issue, or you are protecting the leader of your party, or you have simply listened to him in good faith. Afford me the same consideration and go and speak to Dessie Ellis - the TD and former IRA member - who has confirmed that the IRA held internal investigations into sexual abuse - the same thing I have been saying all week - and the same thing your other party colleague Pearse Doherty said was "unfounded and untrue". You have tainted yourself on this issue, Mary Lou. As a woman, and as someone who has been traumatised by your statements this week, I find your position reprehensible.

"I cooperated with the police." So said Gerry Adams, when responding to issues raised in relation to my experiences. Did you Gerry? Did you really? My version of cooperating with the police is to sit down face to face with them and allow them to ask me questions. Only your version of cooperation is to provide a solicitor's statement to the police. And I am aware of the contents of that statement - and there are details in that statement which confirm that not only did you meet with myself, but you also met with my aunt. And what were we discussing? Hardly anything, according to you. Only we were, Gerry. We were discussing my abuser, my abuse, and the forced IRA investigation into my abuse.

"If it happened it was wrong." No ifs, Gerry, please. It happened. You know it happened because you apologised to me for the fact that it did happen. And there is at least one thing we agree on. It was wrong. I would go further and say it was shameful, and disgusting treatment of a barely 18-year-old, already traumatised, abuse victim, to force her through months of repeated interrogation, and ultimately bring her face to face with her alleged abuser. Nothing about that is right, and could never be right. But it happened - and you know, and I know, who is telling the truth on this issue. I just wish you had the basic human decency to afford me the dignity as a person to admit you have been publicly economical with the truth to save your own political skin.

There are people in Sinn Fein who know that I am telling the truth. And they have to be sitting back uncomfortable in the knowledge that their party leadership is repeatedly retraumatising me - and other victims with similar experiences - by their repeated denial of the issue. I'm listening to them all week, and some of those people are extremely disturbed at what is being played out in the media. Put an end to their suffering and validate their experiences by admitting it.

Jennifer McCann, a junior minister in the Assembly in the North, has publicly admitted that I disclosed my abuse to her in 2005. She could have been a crucial witness in my case. She didn't come forward and give evidence in my case - and I find that deeply frustrating. Here was a woman who is only now coming forward to admit that she knew, despite the high-profile public nature of my court case. That very same woman was advocating the rights of other victims of sexual abuse at Kincora Boys' Home to a public inquiry. Where is my right to justice, Jennifer? Tell your party leader to tell the truth.

If this was a member of the Catholic Church, Sinn Fein would be calling for his head on a plate. In fact, Martin McGuinness called for Cardinal Sean Brady to "consider his position" when allegations surfaced about his actions in the Fr Brendan Smyth affair. He has been silent on this issue. I am calling on him to tell Gerry Adams to "consider his position" also.

In the Assembly in 2009, Gerry Adams, debating the Ryan Report said: "I commend the victims and survivors of abuse for their great courage in raising the issue."

I have come out and raised this issue. Rather than Gerry commending me; he has effectively publicly called me a liar and repeatedly trotted out a completely ludicrous line - using two of my dead relatives and former close comrades of his to try and back up his position. I think that is quite despicable.

Here's what his colleague Sue Ramsey (who I disclosed my abuse to) stated on the same day: "The Ryan report exposed a regime of fear that ruled on the dark side of Irish society. We must recognise that it is only because of the courage of the victims and survivors in speaking out that we are able to look at the horror that children and teenagers face. There must be full accountability for that. People cannot expect to get away with the treatment that they handed out to some children."

The sad fact of the matter is I am one woman who is up against a defunct but still present armed organisation, and the entire weight of a political party which one day may very well be running this country. And it isn't easy. But I am not about to allow myself to be silenced on the issue because it is an inconvenient and embarrassing truth for them. Tell the truth, Sinn Fein - it is in the interests of children throughout this island who may right now be at risk from perpetrators who the IRA moved on.

That is the right way, and only way, to counteract the cover-up of child sexual abuse.

Sunday Independent

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