Sunday 22 September 2019

Mairia Cahill: 'Over to you, Sinn Fein: it's time to end shameful silence on sex abuse'

Seamus Marley's conviction for rape means the other victims must be acknowledged, writes Mairia Cahill

Seamus Marley at the Central Criminal Court, Dublin. He was convicted of raping two teenage boys after a six-day trial. Photo: Collins
Seamus Marley at the Central Criminal Court, Dublin. He was convicted of raping two teenage boys after a six-day trial. Photo: Collins

Mairia Cahill

In November 2014, I sat in the public gallery of Dail Eireann as former taoiseach Enda Kenny opened an unprecedented five-hour debate into allegations regarding sexual abuse by members of the Provisional republican movement. For the previous month, I had spent almost every day talking to media after waiving anonymity on my own treatment at the hands of my abuser, the IRA and Sinn Fein. I was exhausted and emotional.

Sinn Fein's stance at that time was that they believed my abuse, but they stopped short of admitting that the IRA had brought me face to face with my abuser in a traumatic chain of events which included what is now commonly known as a kangaroo court.

Memories of that debate are crystal clear - traumatic to listen to - but also in a way, cathartic. I needed to know I wasn't on my own at that time, and, after Sinn Fein tried to discredit me, and then silence me through attacks online and off, knowing that others were united in disgust at how the provisional movement had treated a rape victim publicly and privately was important.

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From online blogs accusing me of enticing my rapist with my virginity, to graffiti on the walls of west Belfast, to punishment tweets, pedalled defamation, to activists' cruel comments, to public representatives' disgraceful interviews, it felt like the entire world was coming in around me.

I had no choice but to keep repeating the details of what happened to me ad infinitum in the hope that people would see the truth glistening in among the many snowballs fired in my direction by Sinn Fein.

The debate was powerful. Politician after politician put both Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald on the hook as the leaders of a political party which had links with people who had conducted clandestine investigations into child sexual abuse.

The highly-charged atmosphere led Adams to walk out at one point to compose himself, before returning and complaining that it was becoming personal. Sinn Fein accused the other parties of playing political football, which frustrated me greatly, because I knew that everything was hanging on this debate with regards to bringing other victims forward.

In another part of the country, two men were also watching that Dail debate unfold on their televisions as it happened. One was shaking with anger, and another fearful. They heard one Sinn Fein politician, Padraig Mac Lochlainn, manage to speak without mentioning my name once, quite a feat in a debate in which my case was the central feature.

The men also heard Gerry Adams rant about not having any knowledge of IRA sex abusers being moved to Dublin, Donegal and Louth. For reasons that I am currently unable to print, one man in particular sitting at home, was incensed.

And so these two men -both victims of the same IRA abuser - became absolutely determined that they would see their cases brought before the courts, and obtain justice.

I had spoken to one of these victims when he heard an interview I gave on radio a few weeks previously, and contacted me.

I could feel the fright and stress in his voice when he did so, and I did my best to listen, but I felt completely helpless in the face of the trauma that he was clearly suffering. When I came off the phone, I broke down.

That's the day I remember the most, just sobbing into my cousin's shoulder and then putting my head on her kitchen table and crying until there were no tears left.

So, the responsibility I felt going into that Dail debate was immense. It is a pity that Sinn Fein clearly did not feel the same sense of responsibility towards the victim of abuse sitting in front of them that day.

I pointed out in an interview that week that every time Sinn Fein denied my experiences, they were denying others, in the hope that they would stop. I knew that it would be much more difficult for victims to come forward in the climate that I was experiencing.

As it turned out, that frightened man whom I spoke to then, and another whom I spoke to in 2015, saw their abuser, Seamus Marley, sentenced last week to seven years for abusing them.

One of the victim impact statements was replete with pain. The victim said that as they lived beside a graveyard, they had "quiet neighbours, dead ones".He learned "it's not the dead that we should be afraid of, but the living".

In 2014, Enda Kenny did not know when he spoke to Sinn Fein across the chamber that there would be a court case which resulted in convicting Marley, yet his words were prophetic.

"Sinn Fein and the IRA put the institution first. They covered up the abuse and moved the perpetrators around in order that the untouchables would remain untouchable... down here you buried the dangerous living along with the discarded dead."

Kenny and other politicians who spoke were lambasted by Sinn Fein, who accused them of smearing them. Had the debate not been held, and had other parties not raised it, victims like me, the two men sitting at home, and others currently in the criminal justice system would have felt completely on their own.

Seamus Marley, the man who threatened one young victim with having his body "found on a border road" if he ever told anyone about his abuse, is the son of legendary deceased IRA man Larry Marley, credited with planning the Maze escape.

The profile of Marley's family within republicanism meant that to disclose, both victims had to come up against not only a political machine, but Sinn Fein's very ideology and history being deconstructed before their eyes.

The movement, which prides itself on propaganda and romanticism of past deeds, had no credible counter argument for IRA men who used their positions to abuse small children, and they will baulk at me mentioning Larry Marley's name alongside the issue of sexual abuse.

I do so to explain that in cases where connections were so deep as to cause embarrassment to the republican movement, it is much harder for any victim to get justice.

The fact that a conviction has now been secured is a good result for victims of IRA abusers everywhere, but will send shockwaves throughout Sinn Fein, because it will undoubtedly bring yet more victims of other IRA abusers forward.

In 2014, Sinn Fein only had to try and stamp out one victim with a voice. As time goes on, and their explanations start to unravel, the full picture will be able to be painted with regards to their actions on child sexual abuse at the hands of republicans.

The question of who knew what in this particular case will be disputed, but the following line from one of the victim impact statements in court is heartbreaking.

So distraught was this man due to abuse perpetrated upon him, that he stated he called Sinn Fein Councillor Pearse McGeough to ask for help. He said that after the call, he knew he was on his own. It is for McGeough to properly explain what his actions or inactions were in this case.

The victim referred to others and stated he would have been in court much sooner, only according to him, "people with power sought to protect their own interests".

He referred to the "fabrication of stories" to discredit him which he said made the trial much harder.

Enda Kenny said something else in 2014: "The abused have not gone away, you know. There will be other programmes and court cases, other whistle-blowers who need to be protected... never again will the rape and torture of these children be ignored or blindly tolerated in order to protect or preserve organisational power, standing or reputation."

There are current members of Sinn Fein who have acute knowledge of IRA abuse cases - some of them sat in kangaroo courts as IRA men and women.

I challenged Mary Lou McDonald to her face to hold them to account. The answer I received left me feeling that nothing would be done.

Kenny and others did the responsible thing, standing with IRA victims of abuse at a time when it was not politically comfortable to do so.

Sinn Fein, it's now over to you.

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