Analysing the Gerry Adams Statement on Mairia Cahill

Similarities between Sinn Fein’s reaction to abuse accusations and behaviour of RC clergy.

Gerry Adams published a lengthy article on his blog recently, following allegations by Mairia Cahill concerning her rape at the age of 16 by an IRA member, and a subsequent botched IRA investigation.  Among other things, Cahill claimed that the IRA forced her to meet her abuser face to face.

The striking aspect of Sinn Féin’s reaction was its similarity to the way the Roman Catholic clergy circled the wagons when confronted with accusations of child abuse.  Indeed, the very nature of Mairia Cahill’s IRA investigation bears striking similarities to the way in which priests and bishops treated victims of clerical sexual abuse.  Both groups saw themselves as the primary investigating authority, both saw the protection of the organisation as the primary consideration, and both intimidated their victims into silence.  In the case of the Catholic church, it was threats of hellfire and damnation such as Father (later Cardinal) Sean Brady inflicted on the children he interrogated, while in the case of the IRA, the threat was rather more tangible and immediate.

Following Maria Cahill’s decision to go public, every right-on, socially-aware, cool, savvy Sinn Féin mouthpiece, from Mary-Lou McDonald to Dessie Ellis, queued up on the radio to cast doubt on and belittle her.   This was unfortunate for SInn Féin since Mairia Cahill turned out to be a far more articulate and composed performer than any of them, and far from the abused 17-year-old girl who was compelled to appear before a jury of republicans to account for herself after being raped.

Imagine if a crowd of priests and bishops had dismissed a rape victim in the way these politicians did.  There would be war, if you’ll excuse the expression, and yet every one of these fine public representatives uttered words reeking of threat and intimidation.

I thought it would be only fair to Gerry Adams to reproduce his article here, and to examine how it applies to Mairia Cahill’s allegations.  For simplicity, I’ve crossed out the bits that are completely irrelevant.  I hope he doesn’t mind too much.  Occasionally, I’ve interjected corrections and emphasis in boldface.

The recent allegations made by Maíria Cahill are of serious concern to myself and Sinn Féin. While I refute deny completely Maíria’s allegations against myself and Sinn Féin it does raise the significant issue of how allegations of abuse had been handled in the past by republicans.

Abuse respects no political boundaries. It affects all classes, creeds and social groups. Women and children in the main suffers as a result. It is now accepted that one in four citizens have experienced abuse.

Our society has been extremely bad, until relatively recently, in facing up to this matter and developing the necessary responses and supports. This has been the case in both states but in the North these failures were further exacerbated by conflict.

In conflicts civilians suffer the most, particularly women and children. This is especially the case when communities are under military occupation. During the conflict in the north many nationalist and particularly republican communities suffered grievously under British military rule. In the main since partition, these communities had never accepted unionist one party rule. They were resentful of, and oppressed in, the Orange state which rejected all attempts at reform over the decades.

After the pogroms of 1969, Internment in 1971 and Bloody Sunday in 1972 the vast majority of nationalists withdrew any consent to be governed from the Northern state, it’s institutions and agencies.

The conflict itself caused widespread hurt and suffering, but so too did the absence of the structures and institutions which are the norm in peaceful, democratic societies. These citizens never had a policing service.  Policing and the Legal process were subverted to the primary objective of defeating republicanism at all costs. The RUC was a quasi-military arm of the state which acted against nationalists and republicans as if we were the enemy.

In many cases the absence of a civic police service also disconnected alienated communities from the support of social services. These communities policed themselves. The vast majority of people were law abiding and decent. Strong and empowered and progressive communities emerged. New and innovative restorative justice systems were developed as part of this collective experience. But there was also, particularly in the first two decades of the conflict a more brutal form of rough justice.

Some journalists and political opponents of Sinn Féin continue to perpetuate a particular myth about life in nationalist areas of the North during the conflict. 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 Féin would not have developed as we have unless we had the support of the people.

The reality of course is that a professional, accountable and impartial policing service was absent and unattainable in a society that was manifestly unjust. In many republican areas the community put pressure on the IRA – which sprang from and was sustained by the community – to fill this policing vacuum.

The IRA itself often viewed this role as a major distraction from its central function. It suspected that the RUC indulged criminals in order to tie down IRA resources and demoralise the nationalist community.

IRA ‘policing’ was most evident in those areas where it had strongest support. The bulk of this activity involved mediation between those in dispute, and went unreported.

However, the IRA often punished petty criminals, car thieves, burglars and drug dealers. The IRA, inevitably also made mistakes.

Despite the high standards and decency of the vast majority of IRA volunteers, IRA personnel were singularly ill-equipped to deal with these matters. This included very sensitive areas such as responding to demands to take action against rapists and child abusers. The IRA on occasion shot alleged sex offenders or expelled them.

While this may have been expedient at the time it was not appropriate. 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 these actions were of their time and reflected not only a community at war but also an attitude within Ireland which did not then understand or know as we now do, how deeply embedded abuse is in our society.

For decades the institutions of both states including successive governments, the RUC, An Garda Siochana, the courts, social services, churches and others did not deal with these matters properly.

Many senior republicans, including me, had major issues with the IRA acting as a policing agency. Martin McGuinness and I are on the public record speaking out against punishment shootings since the 1980s.

This facet of IRA activity was gradually discontinued over a long period as republican activism evolved despite sizeable and understandable opposition in some communities, which were contending with a Loyalist murder campaign alongside British military aggression and ingrained disadvantage and discrimination. They had little patience for anti-social behaviour, drug pushers, death drivers or sexual abusers.

Despite the alienation from the RUC it was the accepted de facto practice that they dealt with traffic accidents, car insurance and such matters. Incidents of rape were also reported to them in some cases and no thinking person would have made a case against that. But many victims or families of victims were reluctant to bring cases of child abuse forward. This was part of the larger problem all society and particularly victims faced at that time. But where a case emerged there was the added problem for some about reporting this to the RUC. They wanted the community or the IRA to take actions.

As society became better informed as to the issue and handling of abuse, republicans began to develop victim centred approaches, ensuring that victims received the necessary supports, counselling and advice.

As Sinn Féin developed our constituency services we also developed our policies in relation to abuse.

I advocated that we direct victims to the Social Services if they did not want to go to the RUC, in the knowledge that the Social Services could go to the RUC.  In other words Republicans including the IRA, could not deal with these issues. Sinn Féin would direct people to counselling services and advise victims of legacy issues but we also told everyone that we would report all cases in which children could be at risk to the Social Services or the HSE.

Following the IRA cessation in 1994 and the developing peace process legacy cases of abuse emerged. Many of these are in the public domain. Some involved republicans. My father was an abuser. Some also may have involved IRA volunteers. Those who wish to have these cases dealt with have that right.

The recent publicity surrounding the case of Maíria Cahill has brought this particular issue to the fore in public consciousness. Maíria alleges she was raped, and that the IRA conducted an investigation into this. The IRA has long since left the scene so there is no corporate way of verifying this but it must be pointed out that this allegation was subject to a police investigation, charges were brought against some republicans who strenuously denied Maíria’s allegations. They insist they tried to help her. They were all acquitted by the court.

Maíria has also accused Sinn Féin and me of engaging in a cover up. That is untrue. When I learned of the allegation that Maíria was the victim of rape I asked her grand-uncle Joe Cahill, a senior and widely respected republican, to advise her to go to the RUC. He did this but Maíria did not want to do so at that time.

When Maíria subsequently did go to the police, I co-operated with the police investigation.

Any of the other Sinn Féin representatives named by Maíria have assured me that they at all times sought to support and help her. They advised on counselling, on speaking to her own family or approaching social services or the police. The people she spoke to are decent, thoughtful citizens and compassionate people. There was absolutely no cover up by Sinn Féin at any level.

Sinn Féin has robust party guidelines and processes on the issues of child protection, allegations of sexual abuse and/or sexual harassment, which were adopted by An Ard Chomhairle in 2006 in line with changes to the law.

Sinn Féin adopted New Child Protection Guidelines in 2010, which were produced in consultation with the HSE and Social Services and the PSNI.

Maíria has said that there are other victims who are living in fear, and perpetrators at large who are a danger to children at this time, as a result of how republicans dealt with these issues in the past.

No one should be living in fear and no child should be at risk.

Anyone who has any information whatsoever about any child abuse should come forward to the authorities North or South and they will have the full support of Sinn Féin in so doing.

That includes Maíria Cahill, who says that there are perpetrators at large who are a danger to children at this time. Whatever information she has on this she should give to the appropriate authority.

Healing and rebuilding a society still emerging from conflict demands that many difficult issues will need to be faced up to and dealt with as a necessary part of putting the past behind us.

That will require a huge amount of courage, compassion and humility across our society.

How Republicans dealt with the issue of child abuse should be one of these issues, if that is what victims want.  Sinn Féin will accept our responsibility in contributing to the resolution of these wrongs.  We are committed to creating a society which is no longer bedevilled or haunted by the legacy of any harm or injustices. Sexual abuse is a challenge which still challenges all sections of modern Irish society.

Looking after all victims and their families is a significant and important part of building  a peaceful and just society. And victims include a wider category than those killed or injured as a result of armed actions by any of the protagonists.

It includes those who were brutalised or had their lives limited or adversely affected by growing up in a society scarred by war and the absence of agreed, stable, democratic structures and institutions.

It also includes those badly served or mistreated by the forces of the State and those badly served or mistreated by non-State actors and armed groups, including the IRA.

There are many holes in this  statement by Gerry Adams, so many that we could be here quite a while filing them in.   He doesn’t accept that Mairia Cahill’s account of the IRA interrogation is true, and in support of his case, he invokes a police force and judicial system that he rejected at the time of the events Mairia Cahill says occurred.

He ignores the victim’s claim that she was forced to share the same space as her abuser.

He fails to point out that the court acquittals were of a very limited nature, that nobody was ever charged with Mairia Cahill’s rape  and that this individual is still walking around and remains a threat to other women.

Gerry Adams, in this blog post , even  fails to acknowledge that Mairia Cahill was raped by anyone.

Now, if that’s not a bishop’s press statement, I don’t know what is, but since we started out with a comparison between Sinn Féin and the RC clergy, here’s one important difference.  The bishops’ misogyny and authoritarian streak is now common knowledge, and what’s more, they don’t run for public office.  Sinn Féin, on the other hand, hope to be in government some day and yet harbour some extremely hardline members in their ranks..

Just like the bishops, it seems they haven’t gone away, you know.


12 thoughts on “Analysing the Gerry Adams Statement on Mairia Cahill

  1. Dear Mr Adams,

    you probably won’t remember me, but we did meet in autumn 1996 at the Frankfurt book fair. I’ve purchased your then just published (btw badly translated) autobiography and attended a talk by you and some other guys from that wee country in the north of the Emerald Isle.

    I was admittedly a bit star-struck, as any upright left-wingish German would have been listening to the charismatic leader of a fight which was closer to central Europe than all the liberation stuff around the world. Look at Nicaragua, Chile or El Salvador! Or better don’t.

    At the end of a rather embarrassing Q&A – I remember one German journalist asking the question: Mr Adams, do you hate the English? At which you answered: No, but I do hate the English establishment (to which I agree concerning any establishment) – I went up the stage and queued to get an autograph for my book. You smiled, you flirted, I was smitten and I still have that unread (because utterly boring and unreadable) book of yours with a lovely personal dedication. At least that was readable.

    I’m still one of those Germans with a slightly romantic idea of resistance and fight for freedom, and despite everything for a love of Ireland. And having met you personally I felt, ah well, it’s rather embarrassing, but I spell it out nonetheles, I felt privileged. Effing draw of celebrities and male charms …

    But shortly afterwards I moved to Belfast.

    And everything changed.

    You see, everyone and Gerry Adams thought that I’m the cute blonde from Germany. Nothing to take seriously. It was kind of an advantage, because I was actually a seasoned journalist using this impression. Well, alright, there was still a bit of fascination for all the sexy Irish madcaps – but that’s another story.

    So I went around Belfast for the next couple of years (and Derry and Antrim and Crossmaglen and … nearly all the places up North) with my big smile and curious mind.

    People talked to me: women who run into doors, men with bruises, burnt-out families, pouring their hearts out, acting the maggot, trying to impress, being desperate to find someone who is actually listening
    Even in the old fenced-in and illegal bars down in Ballymurphy or in your very own republican place somewhere along the Falls Road where I met inked men I otherwise wouldn’t want to meet in a deserted street, but equally old geezers with that typical Irish charm and all the stories to tell.

    But they eventually showed a streak which shook up my romantic belief in Irish heroism.

    I was an outsider hence not suspicious and then not good enough in English to actually asking intelligent questions. I just listened.

    You see, Gerry – can I call you Gerry, now that we established that we are old aquaintances? – there was so much desperation among people, there was so much muscle around that tried to suppress any desperation, there was so much Vaticanical stuff going on, that it was hard to breath any hint of an opinion as a woman (or a man).

    And whenever I eventually tried I was told that a woman has to Stand By Her Man, even if he was not her chosen man. Or even if he was, she would be punished for betraying The Cause. The Cause, there is nothing like The Cause. Not even a black eye. A man of The Cause can do no wrong. Only women do wrong by accusing a man of The Cause.

    Gerry, it’s not that I dislike Sinn Fein as such, theoretically. It’s just, you know, The Cause or The Organisation is not everything. There is integrity – and standing up to mistakes.
    What you do now, though, with all your denial and babble is the betrayal of everything you (theoretically) stand for – and all what I believed in when I was still that smiling, pleasant blonde.

    We both grew older, Gerry, we both should see the madness of the past and make it better for the future.

    You don’t. You are still stuck in the old denial which Seamus Heaney put in his immortal words: Whatever you say, say nothing.

    Well, that might qualify you for an Irish politician. But it certainly disqualifies you as a potential leader and most certainly as a man.

    And for you Mary Lou –ah forget it. I don’t want even go into that groupie mind.

    You broke my heart, Gerry

    Kind regards
    The former Belle of Belfast City

  2. Kangaroo courts operated during the 30-year troubles/war/terrorism/political turmoil (pencil out whichever) and what was done cannot be undone. But living victims and living relatives of ‘executed’ and/or ‘disappeared’ victims want information and closure. Gerry Adams says that the IRA has gone from the scene. However many of that organization’s former activists are still scattered around contemporary society, some of them pensioners. They can be contacted and asked to help victims and relatives with their enquiries.

    During the War of Independence 1919-1921 republican courts sat on land dispute cases and adjudicated. Other republican courts held secret ‘proceedings’ and ordered the execution of informers. It would be interesting for historians to compare the secret court and enquiry systems operated between 1919-1921 and the period 1970-1994.

  3. Frome time to time I have had the slightest little bit of temptation to vote for SF – after all, they’re the only opposition party that is both organised and [at least nominally] opposed to the Bend Over and Ask For Another agenda.

    But then I get a flashback to 1987 and the denial, excuses, evasion from Everyone’s Favourite Uncle In a Cardigan. It’s anybody’s fault but ours, and you’re making it worse by asking us to admit to mistakes (which, let me be quite clear about this, we may or may not have made, though it was probably caused by the British Army, and why are you not asking the Prime Minister about the Amritsar Massacre?)

    Carry’s post just confirms me in my view. Unless SF confron their own past, any claims about reforming the glorious political institutions of This Great Little State are hollow. They demonstrate the same instincts for self-preservation and self-aggrandisement as the rest of them. It’ll very quickly become just more of the same.

  4. Why did you not mention that this case went to trial, and she withdrew her evidence, and her rapist went free because of that.

  5. Shellshock: What were the charges in ‘the case that went to trial’? I have heard/read a number of people who maintain that the only charges brought (and on which the accused were acquitted) were of IRA membership. Was there a charge of rape or sexual assault?

    It is perhaps worth noting that many victims of sexual assault withdraw statements or cease cooperating with prosecutors. Reasons I have heard for this include intimidation, shame, and fear of the ordeal of giving evidence.

    It is also worth noting that the SF line has demonstrably shifted from ‘There was no internal enquiry’ (Pearse Doherty a few days ago), to ‘If there was, it wasn’t at all like Maria says’ (Mary Lou on Marian Finucane) to ‘Well, we did the best we could, sorry, we were only amateurs’ (Nicey McBeardy, blog post cited above). Why has it had to shift so much?

  6. @amadan

    Like you, I am confused. I took my information from the BBC, because as we can see from old Bock here, the Irish media just seems to about venting their spleen against Adams. At this point it is a tedious hobby, and as no where else in the world is this being reported, I can’t help but believe its an anti SF/IRA drive. The woman went to Peter Robinson for support…..

    But as far as I understand it, the case went to trial, and she withdrew her evidence, so he got off with it.

    Adams is being vilified, when her father, mother, and family seemed content to leave it to the kangaroo court of IRA. So why now is this being brought up.

    Was she intimidated by SF/IRA to withdraw her statement?

    What role did the RUC/PSNI play in all this?

    And strangest of all, why is the Irish media ignoring the claims that her uncle Joe was a paedophile who the British recruited as an informer.

    We won’t find the answers on this blog, as its more concerned to join the baying mob in smearing GA so they can damage SF at the next election.

    Was there not enough evidence to proceed?

  7. Ok, I’m wondering what exactly did Gerry Adams do wrong here?

    Also, why was Adams questioned about the Mcconville murder only recently?
    Why is this woman coming out now? Many years later.
    I think she’s being used as a political pawn.

    I think there’s a deliberate effort to discredit Sinn Fein, which in my opinion hasn’t really had any effect.

    I think the RC church and Sinn Fein differ also, in that the RC Church had much more influence politically and socially than Sinn Fein.

    This woman has my full sympathy also, but what exactly did Gerry Adams do wrong here that she’s calling for him to resign for?

  8. I thought there was something ironic in the photo of Mairia Cahill and Michael Martin. An abused woman from the north asking for help from a member of a political establishment I am convinced knew a lot more and at the highest level. Given how widespread institutional abuse was and it’s duration I firmly believe there is more then one senior politician who if they were honest would admit knowledge. The fucking dogs in the street knew about it and having brought up in this country I am no stranger to the hypocrisy of Irish people over this and their hillbilly attitude to women and children. I’m not saying we’re unique in this respect but the extent to which it was part of fabric of our church and state institutions is unprecedented.
    It seems our esteemed representatives are rooting in the ‘bottom’ of their political toolboxes for that good old standby sex to get at the opposition.

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