Vulnerable children left unprotected - the Sinn Fein way

The longer Sinn Fein fails to tell gardai what it knows about sex abusers, the more children are at risk, writes Mairia Cahill

Abuse survivor Mairia Cahill leaving Government Buildings, Dublin, following a meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Mairia Cahill

Everybody has an opinion. With any new story, people listen to the radio, or read a newspaper over coffee, digest it, think about it and talk about it.

And that's fine. It's good. The story in this case is about sexual abuse and further trauma caused to me by the IRA and Sinn Fein. Sexual abuse thrives on secrecy. Silence protects the perpetrators. And when the cloak of silence is wrapped around them, abusers take that as a green light to continue.

That's why Sinn Fein denials of cover-up have been so damaging. That's why the party president needs to be seen to go to the guards with information. If he were to do that, it would send a very important message to the public, to parents, to perpetrators. To victims. This. Silence. Will. Be. Broken. We will protect you no longer.

It isn't just a story to me of course. I was perfectly entitled to tell it because This Is My Life. I've lived it, warts and all, and I'd like to think I've achieved some good over the last number of weeks since the BBC Spotlight programme aired, and through writing in this paper in my own words. Both were empowering for me, and helped to do the following.

I lifted the lid on how the IRA dealt with predators of sexual abuse. Sinn Fein had continued to deny the issue until I opened my mouth. I forced them to admit it. And I know that, because of this, perpetrators may just think twice before laying a hand on a child again. They'll feel the net closing in.

I exposed the Sinn Fein position for what it was. No amount of back peddling, or changing of stories, or bluster, or inconsistency now will wipe from the Irish collective consciousness the shameful way in which they treated me in public, once I found my voice and used the media to help me to highlight the wider issue.

I alerted every single political party on the island (with the exception of Sinn Fein, because they didn't want to listen) to this very dangerous situation of how the IRA moved on child abusers. By speaking out, I hope those people are looking over their shoulder.

All of those parties are united that something must be done about this. And that's the way it should be.

Sinn Fein must collectively bring the information they have forward. They are the party whose members will know the most on this issue. They absorbed IRA members into their ranks - some of whom I know have direct knowledge of cases. Those people, including the party president, should meet the gardai face to face and bring forward every scrap of knowledge they have. The longer they fail to do this, the more children will be at risk. Your children.

Let me tell you what it feels like to be scared, Sinn Fein. I remember the first fingers laid on me and what that felt like. My childhood wiped out in a split second. I remember the fright. The confusion. Being too afraid to open my eyes as the IRA man got a kick out of using me like a rag doll.

Not being able to scream out loud. Screaming inside my head instead. Keeping my eyes shut in the hope that he would go away. Feeling the pain. Digging my fingernails secretly into my skin so that I could flip my head somewhere else.

Wanting to be sick. Feeling owned. The smells. Disgust. Shame. Fear.

I remember what it was like to tell someone too. Words wanting to tumble out, but not being able to say them. Sitting in a mess, face burning with embarrassment, knowing that the person I was sitting in front of would know the most intimate details of my life.

One of those women who I told, some of whom are still alive, went to the IRA months after. They insist now that they tried to help me. That's not my idea of help. I know that those women will read this.

Put yourself in my head for a second. You know the trauma I was going through. Are you proud of yourself for putting me through more by telling those IRA people? Are you proud of yourself for still continuing to peddle the myth that that was "helping"? Because it didn't help. It frightened me to death.

I remember being 18 also. Starting university. I wanted to be a lawyer or a journalist. I could have done it too - if the IRA hadn't forced themselves into my life and turned my world upside down.

You see I know those IRA people will read this. Do you think you "helped"? Really? 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 me turn white with shock. You will remember me sitting monosyllabic at times.

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 and stopping the car sharply so I could be sick on to the road.

You will remember my dramatic weight loss, my panic, my fright about the fact that at some point you were going to tell him what you were forcing me to tell you. And you'll remember my parents' anger at you, when you informed them that you had been "questioning" their child for months.

You'll remember me having to pull out of university because you screwed my head over so much that something had to give.

And you'll remember putting him under house arrest when other victims came forward. Asking me to decide what you were going to do with him, so I would feel responsible. I'm glad I didn't play your sick game.

And you'll remember his "escape".

That's not help. That's an abuse of power over a traumatised young girl who should have been at university working hard to achieve her goal. I should have had everything to live for at that stage. You, and the man who abused me collectively stripped that away from me.

Bit. By. Bit.

You had absolutely no right to involve yourselves in my life. And that, by any normal person's definition, is not help. It's torture.

And are you proud of yourself, Gerry? Mary Lou? Pearse? Peadar? Jennifer? Sue? Caral? Padraig? David? Martin? Sinn Fein?

Because, no matter how uncomfortable a snatch of that "story" above may be to you reading it, it's my life. It happened to me. And it will never go away. And you, by denying it, and by trotting out the party line in order to protect yourselves, made me relive it all over again. Does that make you feel good?

You all had the opportunity to admit that it happened to me and to finally do the right thing - and you all chose the protection of the large dysfunctional family instead.

I'm glad I spoke out. It cost me a little, but I gained a lot. The support I received from people who I didn't even know was overwhelming. The support I received from people who I did know kept me going.

I did the right thing. Victims will get help, and I'm going to ensure they do. And I will work with the agencies to identify as many perpetrators as I can.

People know now what I went through. And they journeyed with me as I used my experience to alert people to the fact that I wasn't the only one. And they heard you try to deny what happened to my life.

And every time the issue of child sexual abuse is raised in this context, people will remember that. I may not be always present in the papers, or on the radio talking about it - but I don't need to be. The issue is wider than me now. And awareness is the key.

I hope that the people who hurt me, hear the cries of the other children who may be out there at the end of their day. Because I do.

And I'm going to do everything in my power to ensure that there is no hiding place for those monsters who the IRA moved around this country, any longer.

Because that's the way you should really "help" children, Sinn Fein. You should care about them enough to do everything in your power to keep them safe. They deserve nothing less.