Republicans have tried denial, obfuscation, and political attack since Maíria Cahill’s story became public, writes Micheál Martin
When I first met Maíria Cahill two years ago and heard her account of how she was treated at the hands of the most powerful men in the provisional movement, I was genuinely shocked and upset.
She was obviously distressed as she explained the various setbacks in her attempts to hold those who had abused her to account.
At that time, her primary concern was that political imperatives in the north would not be allowed to influence and undermine the legal process she was involved in. I discussed with her what I could do to help and wrote on her behalf to the prosecutorial authorities, informing them that I was aware of the allegations that had been made.
I mention this only in response to the increasingly shrill accusations from Sinn Féin representatives and increasingly nasty contributions from social media sources who seem to believe that political support only came to Maíria Cahill when she went public about her experiences on the BBC Spotlight programme.
Those who have experience of how Sinn Féin operate will not be surprised at the strategy they have rolled out over the last fortnight. The organisation has a standard toolkit for how it deals with those who dare to criticise it.
When the critics come from within, senior figures move quickly to define them as either ‘enemies of Sinn Féin’s peace strategy’ or to subtly dismiss them as personally damaged. Sometimes, critics are labelled as both — as in the case of those who came forward to reveal Gerry Adams’ role in the IRA in Belfast.
This process of undermining the whistleblower is then backed up online in social media fora through sustained and vicious repetition of the charges.
In Maíria Cahill’s case, we have seen each and every one of these techniques combined in an effort to marginalise and undermine her. Even as SF spokespeople turn up on mainstream media to encourage anyone with information to go to the relevant authorities, her key accusations about the IRA’s ‘investigation’ and her forced confrontation with her alleged rapist are dismissed with a shake of the head and a wring of the hands: “If anything like that happened it is wrong, but Gerry Adams is clear he never spoke to her about these things.”
Apparently content that the stock phrases are enough to satisfy the public, Sinn Féin then moves on to attack political opponents, claiming that if we really care, we will simply leave the issue alone and let the authorities deal with the victims. In Sinn Féin’s world view, the only reason that a political representative would raise an issue like this is because it benefits them.
That perhaps says more about Sinn Féin than it does about those they seek to criticise. Senior representatives of every political party in this country, north and south, have been of one voice in expressing their anger and frustration at what is unfolding here. Indeed, if this were happening in any party other than Sinn Féin, the dismay of senior political figures would be universal. Only in Sinn Féin is it unacceptable to utter a word of criticism of the leader.
That groupthink mentality and intolerance of dissent is one of the reasons why I believe it is important to establish an external independent mechanism for victims of IRA and Sinn Féin abuse to come forward and be heard. We put these mechanisms in place for victims within the Catholic Church — the need for an external mechanism is even more important when we are dealing with an organisation whose grip on some communities in the North is still very real.
Another strategy employed by senior SF spokespeople has been to muddy the waters of Maíria’s case, presenting it as another ‘legacy issue’ of the conflict. In this narrative, we in the Republic just don’t understand what it was like in the war zone — the IRA were actually only trying to help people etc.
The problem here is two fold. Firstly, it just isn’t true. The Provisional IRA were the scourge rather than the saviour of nationalist communities. The idea that there was just no functional society in the North until Sinn Féin and the IRA gave it the thumbs up flies in the face of historical fact. You need only look at Sinn Féin’s electoral failure until they gave up violence to see that.
Secondly, and more importantly, the horrors described by Maíria Cahill did not take place in the dim and distant 1970s. Her rape, the IRA ‘investigation’, and her failed attempts to get help from Gerry Adams all took place after the ceasefire and at a time when we were being told thatSinn Féin and the IRA were committed to exclusively peaceful tactics.
Since these issues came into the public domain, Sinn Féin have tried denial, misdirection, obfuscation and political attack. It is time that they simply accept a victim’s testimony, give Maíria the apology she is seeking and come clean about the issue of abuse within Sinn Féin and the IRA.
Micheál Martin is leader of Fianna Fáil
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