North's Justice Minister puts cross-border abuse probe on hold

North's Justice Minister puts cross-border abuse probe on hold

The North's Justice Minister has ruled out any cross-border inquiry into IRA sex abuse allegations until other ongoing investigations are completed.

David Ford confirmed discussions on a potential all-Ireland probe had taken place with his Dublin counterpart Frances Fitzgerald.

But while Ms Fitzgerald signalled such a move was under consideration, Mr Ford said he would not "cut across" other inquiries related to the Mairia Cahill controversy.

"I have discussed with Minister Fitzgerald how a cross-border inquiry might further strengthen the already good results being achieved, but we are also conscious of investigations already underway, and don't want to cut across those," he said.

An independent review has been launched into three prosecution cases linked to Ms Cahill's allegations, to be headed up by human rights lawyer Keir Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions for England and Wales.

It is not expected to be completed until at least next spring.

Also, Stormont's Justice Committee has agreed to hold an inquiry into public confidence in the criminal justice system over the handling of alleged sexual abuse by republicans.

It is also expected to take several months.

The potential for a cross-border inquiry was discussed by both justice ministers at a meeting in Dublin last week.

Mr Ford said further discussions will take place at the North South Ministerial Council meeting due next week.

"In the meantime it is important that anyone with relevant information comes forward to the appropriate authorities," he added.

"The recent allegations regarding sex abuse of children renew our commitment to strengthen our co-operation and ensure that children on both sides of the border are protected, and perpetrators punished."

Earlier today, abuse victim Mairia Cahill said the inquiry could take too long to get up and running.

She said that the Irish Government could look at other options encouraging people to come forward.

"Something tangible could be started now, which actually doesn't need that legislative change so much - which would be along the lines of the McAleese investigatory report," she said.

"(This) would mean that people could come forward in confidence and tell their experiences in an antonymous fashion; and then that would form the basis for any inquiry that should maybe happen afterwards."

Earlier this month, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, suggested a cross-border "process to deal with the issue of support for those who were victims of sexual abuse during the conflict".

In a letter to First Minister Peter Robinson and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, he said the process could be set up through the North South Ministerial Council.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said Mr Kenny has not yet given a substantial reply to the suggestion.

"The Irish Government has instead set aside the needs of all victims, opted to brief the media and pursue a selective party political approach to dealing with the issue of abuse," he said.

"They have adopted a (Fianna Fáil leader) Micheál Martin proposal, which is not about delivering justice or support for all survivors of abuse."

Deputy Adams said his party would be committed to a process which will support all victims "regardless of whether they were failed by republicans, the RUC, the state or loyalists".

Speaking today, Ms Fitzgerald acknowledged problems with a proposed cross-border inquiry but urged a focus on the immediate risk to any children.

"It would be challenging, but (it is) certainly under consideration," she said.

"But the most important point is that anyone who has any information about people who have abused children, about people who have travelled from one part of the country to another and currently putting children at risk, we need to have those names and the Gardaí need to be informed."

Ms Fitzgerald refused to be drawn on reports that Sinn Féin had passed the names of six suspected republican abusers to the gardaí.

She said it was a matter of public record that Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty and Ms Cahill had separately gone to authorities with names of alleged republican sex abusers who were ordered out of Northern Ireland and who relocated south of the border.

"I met with David Ford on Friday and we had a detailed discussion in relation to this," she said.

"We absolutely both emphasised the importance of reporting and that both police forces will respond immediately to information."

"There is already co-operation between our social services both north and south. We did not rule out the possibility of a north-south inquiry. But that would be challenging for legislative and other reasons."

Now 33, Ms Cahill alleged she was raped by a suspected IRA member when she was a teenager in 1997.

She has further claimed that the IRA conducted its own inquiry into her account, subjecting her to interrogation and forcing her to confront her alleged attacker.

The man she accused of rape was later acquitted of criminal charges in court after Ms Cahill withdrew her evidence and charges were dropped against those allegedly involved in the IRA's internal inquiry.

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