A mud-slinging campaign by the Irish political establishment has effectively halted Sinn Fein’s rise to become the largest party in the 26 Counties.
In a week of unprecedented media spin and distortion, Belfast woman Mairin Cahill’s abuse at the hands of an older man when she was 16 and 17 years of age has been used by all of the main news outlets in the state to smear and defame Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
When in her early 20s, Ms Cahill, grand-niece of IRA legend Joe Cahill, sought the assistance and advice of Sinn Fein in west Belfast in seeking justice on the matter. Now in her thirties, she is expressing dissatisfaction with the advice she received and an alleged IRA investigation into the matter.
But by pitching the emotional upset of the eloquent Ms Cahill against Mr Adams, rather than her alleged abuser, huge damage has been done to Mr Adams’s image by the mainstream media in Dublin.
The media’s presentation of Ms Cahill’s grievances with the republican leadership in west Belfast was expressed almost entirely in terms of emotion and righteousness against the IRA. The facts and reality of life in war-time west Belfast were ignored, while bizarre distortions were made to link it with the institutional and church abuse scandals of the 26 County state.
Ms Cahill’s grievances include a failure by Sinn Fein to encourage her to go to the RUC, with Ms Cahill claiming her abuser was spared punishment because of his IRA membership. She also alleged that an IRA investigation had ‘retraumatised’ her, that Sinn Fein figures had sought only to placate her, and that Mr Adams himself had lacked empathy when told of the matter.
However, Ms Cahill’s complaints have been exaggerated by the media into an all-embracing allegation of a ‘cover-up’. The internal investigations of the IRA have been smeared as ‘kangaroo courts’ with a pre-determined outcome. Broad allegations of ‘collusion’ and ‘conspiracy’ have also been directed at Sinn Fein in connection with what are alleged to be abusers within the party who have been ‘protected’ and ‘moved around’. However, no evidence to support these claims has yet emerged.
Meanwhile, the law firm representing four individuals named by Ms Cahill as being linked to the alleged IRA investigation has strongly blasted the ‘trial by media’ which has seen them repeatedly defamed. In a dramatic on-air confrontation with RTE radio presenter Cathal MacCoille, Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin told the show the media had responsibility to the public to ensure coverage is fair, including to those named.
“If a person is to pronounce on that question, they’re actually deciding the guilt live on air of four Irish citizens,” he said. “You’re accountable to the Irish people as well Cathal. You’re a well paid journalist.”
Sinn Fein has not denied Ms Cahill’s alleged abuse took place, although Mr Adams has said he did not discuss the rape allegations with Ms Cahill.
Speaking on a number of talk shows and interviews, Ms Cahill said she was “very emotional” after the revelations broke, “to have my experiences denied, also denied other people and invalidated those people as victims.” She said Sinn Fein needs to admit she was telling the truth ‘on all matters’ and has declined to meet with the party until then.
Last weekend, the 33-year-old used her Twitter page to list the initials of up to 30 people and their locations who she said were “suspected child abusers who the IRA investigated and moved around this country”. The names of one or two unlikely Sinn Fein ‘abusers’ could possibly be identified from the list. She later removed the posts.
“If they [Sinn Fein] admit what has happened, if they will cleanse themselves, maybe people can get on with their lives. Right now, Sinn Fein is putting victims through hell,” she said.
Gerry Adams has said he met Ms Cahill, then a Sinn Fein activist, between 2000 and 2006, but said her allegations of rape were never discussed. He denied that there was any cover up in the case, but accepted that republicans on occasions “failed victims and the community alike” when dealing with allegations of child abuse.
Mr Adams has confirmed the well-known fact that the Provisional IRA did act as an alternative to the RUC in nationalist communities when investigating allegations of criminality. He pointed out this was with the overwhelming support of the wider community.
“Some journalists and political opponents of Sinn Fein continue to perpetuate a particular myth about life in nationalist areas of the north during the conflict,” he said.
“They portray republicans as having oppressed republican/nationalist communities through political control and vigilantism.
“This was never the case. The IRA could never have sustained itself without popular support and Sinn Fein would not have developed as we have unless we had the support of the people.”
He accepted that IRA personnel were ill-equipped to deal with many allegations of criminality against women and children, saying the IRA on occasion shot alleged sex offenders or expelled them.
“While this may have been expedient at the time it was not appropriate”, Mr Adams said. “Victims were left without the necessary social service support and abusers without supervision. It ultimately failed victims and the community alike. That is a matter of profound regret for me and many other republicans.”
But he pointed out the actions reflected “a community at war”. He again called on anyone with information about abuse to contact the authorities, adding that “that includes Mairia Cahill”.
Ms Cahill eventually did report the abuse in 2010 to the (then PSNI) police, but the case collapsed after she withdrew her evidence saying she had lost faith in the prosecution.
Ms Cahill claimed she had been “vindicated” by Sinn Fein’s acceptance that she had been abused, but “they also need to accept that I was further abused by the IRA and those Sinn Fein members that covered it up.”
Meanwhile, in her wake, a queue of politicians have lined up to pile pressure on Sinn Fein and issue slurs against republicans.
DUP leader Peter Robinson, who met Ms Cahill on Monday, said Gerry Adams should personally apologise to her. Greeting her at the Dublin parliament (pictured), the Taoiseach Enda Kenny described Sinn Fein’s treatment of Ms Cahill as “utterly despicable”.
And in a tense 15 minutes in the Dail, Mr Kenny claimed “the most powerful people in the IRA conspired” in this. He said it was “reprehensible” that a young woman of this “courage and bravery” should be “kicked about” in the last week.
The taoiseach also repeated the unsubstantiated claims that a number of other alleged victims of IRA abuse had contacted Ms Cahill with their stories. Referring to the four republicans named in the BBC documentary, he bizarrely compared the IRA leadership with the Catholic church in its handling of suspected abusers.
Mr Adams slammed Mr Kenny and accused him of making “politically motivated remarks”. He said he had made a sincere effort to deal directly with the issue of how allegations of abuse had been handled in the past by republicans.
“The Taoiseach should not try to score cheap political points about these sensitive and serious issues.”
Speaking in the Dail, Mr Adams apologised to victims of abuse who he said had been let down by the Provisional IRA.
“IRA actions against sex abusers failed victims. This is a matter of profound regret for me and other republicans,” he said. “I am acutely conscious that there may be victims who were let down or failed by the IRA’s inability to resolve these issues.”
Adams also asked the Taoiseach if he would also meet with involved Sinn Fein members rather than rushing to cast smears on the party.
“Taoiseach, having met with Mairia, is it not right and proper that you meet with myself and the other Sinn Fein members to hear of their experience of trying to help Mairia, to hear of their support and the advice they offered?”
And following heckling by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, Mr Adams said: “This man [Martin] is playing politics with a deeply serious issue and he doesn’t have the gumption to ask me what my version of events is. It is disgraceful.”
Later Mr Adams issued a statement rejecting “in the strongest possible terms” claims that he had information about other abusers being exiled from the Six Counties. Taoiseach Enda Kenny says the ‘revelations’ were “of the greatest concern and fear for people”.
The allegations are likely to form part of a continuing media and political offensive against Sinn Fein by the conservative establishment.
Sinn Fein’s tussle with the notoriously anti-republican Independent News & Media group had accelerated in recent months, with the party making a number of complaints against the group which were upheld by both the Press Ombudsman and Press Council.
In a statement last week, Mr Adams said he and his party had endured “a profound bias against Sinn Fein as a political party and against me as an individual”.
But IN&M has insisted it has not been “curbed”. It is expected to launch its latest salvo against Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams on Sunday.
And amid the onslaught on Sinn Fein, one story was quietly slipped out: the announcement by the British government that a new inquiry into institutional child abuse will not include the Kincora Boys’ Home, where unionist political figures and military brass carried out a systematic abuse of children in the 1970s. Only three of those involved have ever been convicted.
But on the front pages in Britain, another shameful smear was released in a pincer effort to undermine republican morale. On the front page of the tabloid Daily Mirror, appeared the claim that IRA legend Joe Cahill had turned informer in the 1970s after being found engaging in child abuse.
A party spokesman described the claims that Cahill, who died in 2004 aged 84, sexually abused a child in a car as “contemptible”.
“It is gutter journalism of the worst kind.”
Ironically, his grand-niece Mairia Cahill also dismissed the claims and referred to due process.
“There is no victim, and the papers have run the story about a dead man who cannot defend himself,” she said.