An independent review into the handling of Mairia Cahill's rape allegations has started in Belfast.
The UK's former top prosecutor, Sir Keir Starmer, has promised a robust review of the case in which a suspected IRA member was acquitted of rape.
Mairia Cahill, 33, claimed she was attacked as a teenager in 1997. She said republican paramilitaries conducted their own inquiry into her account, subjecting her to interrogation and forcing her to confront her alleged attacker.
The man she accused of rape was cleared in court after Ms Cahill withdrew her evidence and charges were dropped against those allegedly involved in the IRA’s internal investigation.
Sir Keir said his review included three linked cases involving sex abuse and terrorist-related charges. He met Ms Cahill and two other alleged victims today as he commenced inquiries. The probe is not expected to be completed until at least next spring.
The human rights lawyer disclosed: “The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) (in Northern Ireland) has assured me full access to all materials and Public Prosecution Service (PPS) staff for the purposes of this review.
“I will conduct an independent and robust review of all relevant material and will publish my findings.”
The Cahill controversy has shone a light on how the IRA dealt with alleged sex abusers during a time when co-operation with the police in republican communities in the North was extremely limited.
Claims the IRA moved some abusers south of the border have proved highly inflammatory in the Dáil where attention has centred on the response of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.
Government officials on both sides of the border are to assess issues around a potential cross-border inquiry into IRA sex abuse.
Ms Cahill said that in 1997, when she was 16, she was subjected to a 12-month cycle of sexual abuse, including rape, by a man who was believed to be a member of the IRA.
She described how the IRA questioned her repeatedly, often several nights a week, for months about the abuse allegations, before summoning her to a meeting with her alleged abuser in early 2000.
Ms Cahill later went to the police and a case was brought which ended in acquittal after she withdrew her evidence.
Sir Keir is former DPP for England and Wales. He has particular experience of prosecuting sexual abuse offences of a historic nature.
Last year he issued ground-breaking new guidelines for prosecutors on how to tackle cases involving child sexual abuse.
These included a rule that every case must be considered on its facts and merits; myths, stereotypes and prejudices must be ignored for the purpose of deciding whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction.
Northern Ireland’s DPP, Barra McGrory QC, said he commissioned the review so all concerns can be openly and objectively explored and, if needed, lessons learned.
“The review is wholly independent of the service but will have the full cooperation of all staff involved in the cases and access to all of the files.”
The review will also consider any systemic issues which may apply to similar areas of work and may make recommendations to the PPS, the senior lawyer added.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and her Stormont counterpart David Ford said a “scoping exercise” would examine the “legal, procedural and constitutional” complexities of the cross-border inquiry, entirely separate from Sir Keir’s work.
The Government has called for the move to examine allegations that the IRA moved some abusers across the border from Northern Ireland during the Troubles to evade justice.
Mr Ford and Ms Fitzgerald held discussions on the matter at the North South Ministerial Council meeting in Armagh today.
Ms Fitzgerald said a cross-border inquiry had “not been ruled out”.
“We do want to know what the scale of this is because it is very important if children are to be protected that there is clarity on who was moved where, and what children were put at risk, were children put at risk?
“Those questions need to be answered.”
Mr Ford said: “We have tasked officials to look at what further opportunities lie beyond the current issues of criminal investigations and support for victims. The important issue is we don’t cut across the work currently being done by the different agencies north and south.”