Sunday 16 December 2018

The courage of Mairia shines a light on dark secrets of IRA's troubling past

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
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

There's something about Mairia.

Something about her extraordinary courage, something about her integrity and something about her soft spoken tenacity that could yet shake the foundations of the Republican movement - and its high priest, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams - to its core.

Mairia Cahill, a grand niece of the late Republican icon Joe Cahill, recently waived her anonymity to allege that she was sexually abused by a suspected member of the IRA over a period of 12 months in 1997 when she was aged just 16.

The prosecution of the alleged abuser never proceeded because Cahill, like many sexual abuse victims who all too sadly drop out of the criminal justice system, withdrew her evidence.

The 33 year old has claimed that she was ordered to take a vow of silence after the Republican movement investigated her claims in a "kangaroo court".

She says the IRA questioned her repeatedly, often several nights a week, for months about her allegations.

After more than six months of questioning, she said that in early 2000's - just little over a decade ago - she was brought face-to-face with her alleged abuser so the IRA could determine the truth.

"They told me that they were going to read my body language to see who was telling the truth and that they were going to bring him into a room," she told BBC's Spotlight programme.

More damning for Gerry Adams, whose own immediate family was torn apart by sexual abuse revelations - his brother Liam Adams is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence for abusing his daughter Aine Dahlstrom - is his involvement in the Cahill case.

Cahill says that she had several contacts with Adams, including a key meeting in which he is alleged, amongst other things, to have remarked on the manipulative quality of child sex abusers.

"Sometimes they're that manipulative, the people who have been abused actually enjoy it," Adams reportedly told the vulnerable young woman.

For his part, Gerry Adams refutes Cahill's account of events and claims he asked her uncle, Joe Cahill, to encourage her to report the allegations to the RUC. But he is rattled.

And when Gerry Adams is rattled, the entire Republican movement - and the ultra disciplined political machine that is Sinn Fein - experiences the kind of foreshocks that presage an earthquake.

Indeed, it is extraordinary, in many respects, how Adams' leadership has weathered so many shifting tectonic plates including his membership (always denied) of the IRA, the Disappeared and his role when his niece Aine revealed she had been abused.

But the Cahill story feels different.

It feels different because not even the heavy legacy of the Troubles and the nationalist community's distrust of the RUC can justify the "internal discipline" of child sex abusers.

The internal discipline of the Sinn Fein party is well known.

But this strength, an all weather iron dome that deflects all internal criticism of Adams' leadership, could also prove to be the party's biggest liability.

Even Mary Lou McDonald, the party's deputy leader and its strongest representative in the Dail, has buckled in the face of Mairia Cahill's allegations.

Cahill's courage cannot be under estimated, to speak out against the IRA and its other dirty secrets was once unheard of. But by speaking of her own abuse, and encouraging others to find their voice, Mairia Cahill has potentially opened a Pandora's Box.

I believe she could yet shine a light on one of the darkest chapters of the Troubles, a suspected Republican paedophile ring alleged to have operated in the north throughout the conflict that is still only spoken about in hushed tones.

How many more Mairia's are there? How many more children of the Troubles are bearing the scars of a different conflict?

If more victims emerge, if more Mairias speak their truth, the place in history that Gerry Adams is seeking to entrench by 2016 could be a very difficult legacy indeed.

Irish Independent

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