Special Correspondent Michael Clifford looks at the possible fallout for Sinn Féin following
revelations surrounding Republican treatment of sexual abuse victim Paudie McGahon
What function has a psychiatrist in a kangaroo court? The detail of Paudie McGahon’s story, as related to the Spotlight programme on Tuesday, is harrowing.
The 40-year-old says he was abused in his Co Louth home by an IRA man when he was 17. Gerry Adams stated yesterday that he believes the abuse happened.
Equally harrowing is his account of how the IRA dealt with the matter by way of a kangaroo court. On this, Adams and his fellow Sinn Féin politicians are a bit iffy on whether they accept that version of events. As with Mairia Cahill, they are prepared to believe the abuse occurred — to do otherwise might be politically dangerous — but not apparently prepared to accept the version of how the IRA dealt with it, because to do so would be politically dangerous.
Paudie McGahon’s story involves two meetings with an IRA “court” in 2002, arranged, he claims, by a local Sinn Féin representative, Pearce McGeogh. He denies arranging any such meeting.
According to Paudie McGahon, the court, or meeting, was conducted in his family home, where the abuse had occurred 10 years previously. Paudie had left the house soon after being raped. He says the meeting was convened in the very room where he had been violated.
In 2002, the full effects of abuse were, to a greater extent, known. Bringing a victim back to the scene where he was abused was surely no accident. Was this an effort to let the victim know he was discommoding the Republican movement through his pursuit of justice? In 2002, four Sinn Féin TDs sat in Dáil Éireann, making law for the rest of us.
If Paudie McGahon’s account is correct, then the armed wing of the party was conducting a parallel justice system in the Republic’s jurisdiction at this time.
Once he, and another victim, had given their testimony, they were told that they would be contacted about the outcome. When they were summoned again two weeks later, there was an addition to the complement of “volunteers” in the room.
“The option was given to us of a psychiatrist and she was sitting in the room with us,” Paudie McGahon told the programme.
It would have been interesting to evaluate the IRA psychiatrist’s credentials. Would her first duty be to her client, or to the IRA? Would she debrief the IRA on what exactly this victim was confiding in her, and whether it could have any repercussions for the “Republican movement”? Was the IRA’s primary motivation in convening a kangaroo court to locate some form of justice, or to fireproof the “project” from an abuse victim?”.
The detail about Paudie McGahon’s allegations of a kangaroo court point to the same old chestnut when it comes to the Republican movement. Everything, including natural justice, fidelity to an objective form of truth, whomever has been trampled on, or destroyed, all are deemed subservient to the party and its ultimate project of reunification.
Later, in 2009, Paudie McGahon sought out another Republican, the then Louth TD Arthur Morgan. According to the victim, he was frisked by one of Mr Morgan’s cronies before gaining entry to the TD’s office. Is this routine for visitors to a Sinn Féin TD, or did it just apply to a potentially turbulent victim of Republican abuse? (Mr Morgan denies any knowledge of the frisking).
In recent days, members of the Republican family have emerged to offer sympathy to Paudie McGahon, but it’s difficult to take this stuff at face value.
On Tuesday evening, the mask slipped temporarily. Soon after the broadcast, Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy tweeted: “Another load of rubbish on spotlight tonight. Joint Indo bluesh.. production.”
It spoke volumes, particularly as Mairia Cahill has been subjected to a pounding on social media since she came forward.
Yesterday, Mr Molloy apologised, but briefly there was a glimpse of sentiment within the party. Paudie McGahon has the potential to cost political capital, and his plight is set against naught when compared to that imperative for the Shinners. Expect scurrilous rumours about Mr McGahon to seep into the public square in the coming days and weeks.
The fallout from this latest story of how the Republican movement dealt with abuse within its ranks is difficult to gauge. Sinn Féin in the South has projected itself primarily as a so-called anti-austerity party. In reality, this translates as the motherhood and apple pie party. Under Sinn Féin policy, nobody but the rich have anything to fear, while water charges, property tax and the USC will all be abolished in a superlative feat of smoke and mirrors.
Yet that is the message that people who are hurting want to hear. One feature that the Irish electorate has demonstrated repeatedly is its wish to be fooled again. It happened in 2007 with Bertie Ahern, and again in 2011 with Fine Gael and Labour.
Sinn Féin knows this and is going hell for leather to do its bit for making fools of the electorate this time around.
In that context, those who are desperate for an easier way are unlikely to be swayed by accounts of sexual abuse, kangaroo courts and dubious defences of actions by the armed wing of the party.
The latest account, however, could act to put a brake on the party’s expansion. In particular, it may set back the party’s attempt to tackle its perennial bugbears — an inability to attract transfers and votes for women. In that vein, don’t expect to see Mary Lou McDonald to the fore in the coming days. As the party’s best chance of attracting women voters, she will be kept under wraps while the awkward questions are being asked.
Another problem that won’t go away is Gerry Adams. Once more, his role at the apex of the Republican movement through the darkest days of violence is returning to haunt him. The widespread belief that he was a key figure in the IRA — which he disputes — raises questions as to his knowledge and role in matters such as those at issue.
Last weekend, Mr Adams was once more returned unopposed as leader of the party. He is now 33 years officially in charge, and the guts of a preceding decade in a leadership role. Between his longevity, and the willingness of his followers to believe versions of his past that are barely credible, he fulfils many of the criteria of a cult leader.
As such, he can largely do as he wants. One thing he might consider is taking a lead from an institution which the Republican family is beginning to resemble. The Catholic Church has at least attempted to make amends for its cover ups by shelling out compensation.
As the most lucratively resourced political outfit on this island, the Shinners might locate their inner conscience and compensate those who were subjected to cover-ups and kangaroo courts. There might even be political capital in it, and that after all, appears to be what matters to the leadership of the so-called Republican movement.
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