The political controversy over abuse allegations by west Belfast woman Mairia Cahill has taken a further twist following the revelation that she actually wrote to the Provisional IRA’s army council to ask for their assistance in seeking justice.
The controversy has followed on from a BBC Spotlight documentary, which featured Ms Cahill’s allegations of being abused as a 16-year-old by an IRA member and of a ‘cover-up’ of abuse allegations, including her own, headed by Sinn Fein party leader Gerry Adams.
Her claims received blanket media coverage and accorded the highest political platforms from Sinn Fein’s political rivals, particularly in the 26 Counties. Sinn Fein has vehemently denied any cover-up.
Questions have multiplied in the past two weeks over inconsistencies in Ms Cahill’s allegations against Sinn Fein and the IRA, and her possible political motivations.
Details of Ms Cahill’s letter to the IRA were revealed on Friday when lawyer Peter Madden said it was included in prosecution papers in a failed trial of IRA membership. Padraic Wilson, Seamus Finucane, Briege Wright and Maura McCrory, who are all represented by Mr Madden, were found not guilty in May after the prosecution provided no evidence.
Sinn Fein officials have said the existence of the letter has “demolished” Ms Cahill’s accusations that she was forced to take part in an IRA investigation, which Ms Cahill said had “retraumatised” her by bringing her before her alleged abuser.
Speaking to Irish state radio, Mr Madden said in the letter that Ms Cahill had described the IRA investigation into her claims as “honourable”, but unsatisfactory.
“Now, she’s written a letter to the IRA army council -- believe it or not -- and what she says is, she complains about the fact that the IRA didn’t actually carry out a proper investigation,” he told RTE.
“She also has made a note to the IRA investigation team setting out what her allegations are. In other words, it would seem from these papers that she was co-operating with an IRA investigation.”
Ms Cahill admitted this week that she wrote the letter in 2000 and handed the letter over to the PSNI in 2010. She said it proved she was forced into taking part in an IRA investigation, “ie, putting me through an investigation”.
In the letter, extracts of which have been published online, Ms Cahill reveals her anger that her alleged abuser was allowed to leave Belfast.
She wrote: “In my view if someone, as a member of the army [IRA], brings the movement into disrepute, then regardless of family wishes, the army should have pressed ahead with the matter.
She also says that the IRA’s “intentions were honourable” with regards to two republican women who helped her after the allegations surfaced. She has denied this was a reference to Briege Wright and Maura McCrory, who she now accuses of taking part in an IRA ‘cover-up’.
It also emerged this week that Ms Cahill’s allegations had been privately conveyed to senior political rivals of Sinn Fein such as Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin two years ago, but were not addressed publicly at that time.
And there were more tangible allegations of a political agenda earlier this week, when it emerged that Ms Cahill is a former member of a rival republican group, the Republican Network for Unity. A leaked copy of an RNU meeting indicated Ms Cahill once held the post of the National Secretary of the RNU.
In response, Ms Cahill said she only the held the post for “a period of a few hours” in 2010. But Sinn Fein supporters have said the revelation that Ms Cahill should have been included in the media coverage of her accusations against the party.
In a separate development, two woman who say they were sexually abused by the same man accused of raping Mairia Cahill, Martin Morris, have complained they were “exploited” by the PSNI and Crown prosecutors for “political point scoring” after the case against him collapsed.
The Belfast women told the Belfast-based Irish News that they “had lost all faith and trust in the criminal justice system” after they were told by telephone in October 2012 that the trial against Morris had been “adjourned indefinitely to facilitate the related case” of IRA membership against him and the four named by Cahill.
The women said that at that meeting they emphasised strongly their only interest was in “prosecuting our abuser and we would have absolutely no involvement in any other emanating proceedings” including allegations of IRA membership.
Deeply unhappy, both women later pulled out of the sexual abuse case because it was “transformed into a politically charged matter”.
They also said prosecutors “failed to acknowledge or recognise the impact” their approach to dealing with Morris “was and continues to have on us, particularly given the area which we live and the sensitivity of the allegations made”.
Crown prosecutors are under increasing pressure to explain their handling of the abuse cases and why they were subordinated to the pursuit of more political IRA membership charges.
A prominent London lawyer, Keir Starmer, was appointed this week to review the role of the PSNI and prosecutors in the cases linked to the abuse allegations.