Cahill allegations of rape may result in others emerging
Analysis: BBC programme puts focus on Sinn Féin response to allegations about IRA man
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams: focus on response to allegations of sexual abuse by republicans. Photograph: Alan Betson
The BBC Spotlight programme about Maíria Cahill cast a double focus – on her as the alleged victim of an IRA rape and “interrogation”; and on the IRA, Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams in how they addressed the issue of alleged sexual abuse by republicans.
As is often the case in these matters, it is down to whom people believe. Again as in such matters there were many claims and counterclaims.
What cannot be denied is that Ms Cahill made a strong and articulate case. She alleged that, aged 16, she was subjected to rape and sexual abuse by an IRA member that went on for about a year.
When this came to the attention of the IRA, Ms Cahill claimed that in effect she suffered a double form of abuse at the hands of an IRA “kangaroo court”, testing whether she or her alleged assailant was telling the truth. That inquiry could not make up its mind who to believe.
Ms Cahill comes from what was called republican “royalty” because she is a grandniece of Joe Cahill, founder of the Provisional IRA, a friend of Adams and an important figure in bringing the troops from “war” to ceasefire. So, senior republicans were picked to test her allegations.
For years, Ms Cahill carried the weight of that alleged experience, resulting in recourse to alcohol and two failed suicide attempts. She said it was only in 2009, when she saw the UTV programme on the proven sexual abuse by Liam Adams of his daughter Áine, that she decided to take the case to the police.
Her alleged abuser was charged, as were those allegedly involved in the IRA inquiry into her claims. Ms Cahill said that, in the end, she was not capable of giving evidence in court, with the result that all those implicated were acquitted. The counterclaim by the defendants was that her evidence would not stand up in court.
Ms Cahill said she was unhappy it took so long – four years – for the Police Service of Northern Ireland and prosecution to bring the case to trial. The police ombudsman is investigating how police handled the case.
Legally, that’s where matters lie. But this is a story that may develop. Ms Cahill said last night she had been contacted by women who allegedly suffered abuse by IRA members, numbering in “double figures”. They too, it is claimed, were told to keep quiet. Some may now go public as Ms Cahill did, exposing more poison from the past.