Tuesday 11 December 2018

Mairia Cahill: 'I felt like I'd been kicked when Sinead O'Connor joined Sinn Fein'

O'Connor has been an advocate for abuse victims - which is why her joining Sinn Fein is so depressing

Mairia Cahill
Mairia Cahill
Sinead O'Connor portrait by David Conachy
Sinead O'Connor has joined Sinn Fein
Sinead O'Connor
New Sinn Fein recruit Sinead O'Connor urged Gerry Adams to stand down

Mairia Cahill

I spoke to Sinead O'Connor yesterday.

I had thought before this phonecall that maybe my experiences at the hands of the IRA and SF had escaped her. I know after speaking to her that she was not fully aware of this issue. I welcomed the opportunity to explain it to her, and also listen to her views.

Before that conversation, I had no explanation for how a woman who has been so vocal about child abuse could have chosen to join a party which has been in the headlines for their handling of this issue since my own story broke on BBC Spotlight. She is an influential figure, albeit one who has changed her opinions on quite a few occasions, which, I may add, she is perfectly entitled to do. One thing she has consistently been however is a powerful advocate for those who have suffered abuse.

Which is why I was so depressed when I saw her announce that she was joining Sinn Fein, after everything the public now know about their mishandling of the issue. I understand now that Sinead's heart is in the right place, and that she really believes she can make a difference.

Read more here: Sinead seeks face-to-face meeting with Gerry Adams

I have huge respect for her talents and ability. Her version of the song Lay Your Head Down was my lullaby of choice to sing when I was soothing my daughter Saorlaith to sleep as a baby. I am lamenting Sinead's actions this week.

In response to some criticism on her Facebook page, Sinead O'Connor wrote a statement which enveloped republicans in a cloak of peace process acceptability by saying: "For anyone who is confused, Sinn Fein is no longer associated with the use of violence." Angered, I tweeted giving her the new moniker 'Shinner O'Connor'. I shouldn't have. I let frustration get the better of me. I was equally angered at some of the disgusting attacks on Sinead, calling into question her mental health. She's her own woman, and while criticism of her actions is valid, personal attacks on her are not. Sinead has been hurt in life, and some of her experiences are similar to mine, but she's intelligent and her opinions deserve to be heard as much as anyone's. I don't accept her belief in Sinn Fein, but then, I'm entitled to my opinion too. It's based on my own experience.

My problem is this. When you have been abused, you become hypersensitive when it comes to other victims of similar acts. You feel for them. Want to take their pain away in the same way in which you wish someone could open up your head and heart, and do the same thing for you. I felt like I had been kicked this week. It's been a tough few months and I imagined someone like Sinead would stand up for those victims of abuse that SF, in my opinion, treated shamefully. I know now after speaking to her that she intends to do that, though I am still mystified at how she is going to reconcile the issue in her head as she strives to make a difference from within. Sinead is not known for keeping her mouth shut. Sinn Fein are not known for their advocacy of free thinking. It's bound to end in tears. I hope she doesn't get hurt along the way.

Read more here: Sinead O'Connor: I was repeatedly molested as a child by a member of Sinn Fein

To be fair to her, she has stated that "I absolutely condemn the covering up of sexual crimes." She further said she believed it was "unhelpful to republicanism, that republican leaders associated in people's minds with terrorism and the cover ups of sexual crimes have not stood down and denounced those past practices…" That statement would mean more if she explicitly called out Sinn Fein for the way in which I have been treated by the party and its supporters since I waived my anonymity.

In 2010, Sinead wrote in the Washington Post regarding Pope Benedict's apology to those abused by members of the Catholic Church: "…he denies them the one thing that might bring them healing -- a full confession from the Vatican that it has covered up abuse and is now trying to cover up the cover up." Those members of Sinn Fein who have knowledge of sexual crimes should confess fully also. I hope Sinead holds them equally to account.

She further went on to say "Irish Catholics are in a dysfunctional relationship with an abusive organization. The pope must take responsibility for the actions of his subordinates." Sinead, I completely agree. I would also contend that should you add on "IRA" to "organisation", swop the word "Catholics" for "Sinn Feiners", and the "Pope" for "Gerry Adams" - then that would be a helpful statement to make to those sexually abused by IRA members, and far less traumatic to read than your blog post which said: "And the only vote that's gonna give anyone a chance of bringing to fruition paragraphs three and four of the Proclamation of 1916 is Sinn Fein."

Paragraph four of the Proclamation contains the line "cherishing all of the children of the nation equally." I felt like I and other victims had been slapped in the face. Were children being cherished as the IRA moved those accused of abuse around this country, leaving them free and unchecked to rape and abuse children all over again? Was I being cherished when I exposed my abuse at the hands of a man who Sinn Fein saw fit to profile in An Phoblacht, two months after I was brought face to face with him by the IRA? Were children cherished as they were abused in so called "safe houses" in Louth?

No Sinead. Sinn Fein may not be best placed to help people bring the Irish Proclamation to fruition. They care more about protecting themselves alone, than they do about the safety of those children of this country that you care so much for. But I know, from speaking to you that you didn't intend to cause any hurt, and you will continue to care about sexual abuse.

This week in a Facebook post Sinead also said: "Frightful things belong where they are now, in the past." It isn't the past for me Sinead. Sometimes it raises its head and then you become trapped in it until you can pick yourself up from the night sweats, the panic, the flashbacks and the feeling of being owned all over again. And, when a perpetrator is moved on to somewhere where people don't know their background or the risks they may pose to other children, then they may abuse with impunity again. It is very much a live issue.

Maybe Sinead is the best thing to happen to Sinn Fein, though she will find herself stifled should she wish to speak freely according to her conscience. Sinn Fein batten down the hatches when they feel they are being criticised, and finding anyone to speak against the collective message from within is next to impossible. She may just be a breath of fresh air. Though, I very much doubt that this shade of republicanism will accept some of her more controversial views with open arms.

I wish Sinead all the best with whatever she does in her life, because I know that she is passionate about whatever she chooses to stand for. I hope she continues to stand for all victims of abuse no matter who the perpetrators, and manages to achieve her vision of Sinn Fein - minus those people who have been complicit in the cover-up of abuse.

Mairia Cahill: speaking out
Mairia Cahill: speaking out

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