Councillor Briege Meehan has been suspended from Sinn Fein after being questioned by the PSNI over allegations of abusing her stepdaughter, it has emerged.
It is understood that Mrs Meehan -- widow of veteran north Belfast republican Martin Meehan -- was stood down from the party more than a year ago.
A member of the Meehan family said that they we re concerned at the length of time it has taken for the PSNI investigation and the fact that no charges have to date been brought against Briege Meehan.
A spokesman said: “The Meehan family would prefer if [Briege Meehan] no longer used our dead father’s legacy for her own gain as she is currently tarnishing his memory.”
The development came as Sinn Fein faced a continuing controversy over its handling of child abuse claims involving party members.
A party spokesman said the allegations against Mrs Meehan, first revealed in the Sunday Tribune newspaper, had not been made public due to the nature of the inquiry and said: “The welfare of children is paramount.”
The Newtownabbey Borough Council member, aged in her fifties, is being investigated for alleged serious abuse of a stepdaughter who was in her care in the late 1970s.
Briege Meehan became involved with Mr Meehan, a prominent IRA and Sinn Fern figure, after his first wife Mary died in 1977. Mr Meehan, who was 62 when he died of a heart attack in 2007, was in prison at the time of the alleged abuse.
At the weekend, the Sunday Tribune also carried allegations by the grand-niece of IRA veteran Joe Cahill against an unnamed IRA man in west Belfast.
Meanwhile, Gerry Adams has responded to the continuing controversy over his handling of sex abuse allegations against his brother Liam. Last week, Mr Adams said he he was unaware his brother, who currently faces sex abuse charges, worked for his party in his west Belfast constituency as late as 2005.
It was the latest in a series of embarrassing revelations of Liam Adams’s activities within Sinn Fein by the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune. He currently faces charges he sexually abused his daughter Aine Tyrell in the 1970s and 80s.
Mr Adams said his political opponents were using the issue in an attempt to undermine him. He said he also felt constrained from fully defending himself by a need to protect the privacy of family members and by a desire not to prejudice any future court proceedings against his brother.
At the time of these alleged crimes, there was no support in republican communities for the then RUC police. British forces working in Ireland generally operated a policy of overlooking child abuse and other sex crimes by republicans if those responsible agreed to work for the state as informers and agents.
Up to the mid-nineties, abuse victims in republican areas were generally advised to avoid the RUC, who tended to exploit the victims for their own military purposes.
Since then, Sinn Fein’s position in relation to dealing with allegations of child abuse is that the issue be brought immediately to the attention of the statutory agencies with responsibility for dealing with it, including the police.
The party has categorically denied it covered up sex abuse allegations against Briege Meehan and the still unnamed IRA figure, and yesterday launched a blistering attack on the Tribune newspaper.
“The Sunday Tribune is clearly involved in a smear campaign against Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein officials have spoken in recent days to both the journalist involved and the editor of the paper and neither sought a response from Gerry Adams or the party in respect of today’s stories. That says much about their motivation.
“Our position on these matters is crystal clear,” Sinn Fein said. “At all times the welfare of children is paramount. The people who should investigate allegations of abuse are the statutory authorities charged with this task - the PSNI/Gardai and the Social Services.”
Mr Cahill’s grand niece, who did not want to be named, told the Sunday Tribune the IRA investigated her claims but just moved her alleged abuser to a location the 26 Counties.
Sinn Fein said the newspaper “while high of sensationalism and innuendo does not produce facts to substantiate their claims.”
“The Sunday Tribunes decision to publish an edited version of Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein’s response to the questions put to us by the Sunday Tribune is equally telling. The matter is in the hands of our legal representatives and we will be lodging a detailed and formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission,” a spokesman said.
“It is not the job of Sinn Fein to establish guilt or innocence and we will await the outcome of the police investigation.”
* Gerry Adams’s response to the Sunday Tribune is published in full below.