Radio: Sinn Féin circles the wagons as Maíria Cahill case turns up the heat on Gerry Adams

Review: Party TDs stay on message in the IRA sex-abuse controversy, but others are less reticent during a week of compelling radio

It's a story that won't go away, you know: a controversial leader, beset by allegations of a cover-up following a crime, sees his position become ever more untenable as the media turn up the heat and political opponents turn the screw. It may be 40 years since Richard Nixon resigned as president of the United States, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, but that seismic event again crops up this week, much to the delight of George Hook, on The Right Hook (Newstalk, weekdays).

Prompted by the death of Ben Bradlee, who as editor of the Washington Post helped uncover the Watergate scandal, Hook revisits the episode with the American journalist Kevin Cullen. This subject should suit Hook just fine, given that his cultural reference points increasingly seem to reside in the past. (Earlier in the week, his main contribution to an item on IBM's cloud computing woes is an odd riff about the company's besuited 1960s salesmen.)

As it happens, the item takes on a more contemporary relevance. Hook fixes on the notion of whether members of the media, then and now, harbour a left-liberal bias; Cullen contends that reporters’ priorities lie elsewhere. “I think the ultimate scalp in American journalism, and probably Irish journalism, is bringing down a hypocritical, phony or corrupt politician. That’s still the pinnacle.”

It's a sentiment the Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams may recognise, if not necessarily empathise with, as he and his party are walloped on the airwaves with fallout from the Maíria Cahill case. Cahill's charges that she discussed her allegations of rape by an IRA member with Adams are constantly aired this week, not least by the woman herself, who in her many radio appearances comes across as an indefatigable personality. Speaking to Matt Cooper, on The Last Word (Today FM), she sounds calm considering the traumatic ordeal she says has occurred: not just the sexual abuse she suffered as a 16-year-old but the "kangaroo court" she says she was compelled to attend as the IRA investigated one of its own.


But she is also formidable, quietly ratcheting up the pressure on Adams. She speaks warmly about her meeting with the Taoiseach, pointedly remarking that “my first thought was that is how you should treat a sexual abuse victim”. Cooper handles the interview sympathetically while asking pertinent questions, such as whether Cahill thinks the Taoiseach’s genuine compassion is accompanied by a desire to damage Adams. (She doesn’t.) Cahill finishes by saying that all Sinn Féin has to do is to apologise and admit it was wrong for the IRA to investigate this abuse.

But as Cooper notes, no one from the party is available to speak on the show. It's this "sacred tradition of silence" that troubles his next guest, the author Martina Devlin, in particular the quietness of the "strong, outspoken women" who have run as Sinn Féin candidates. "There's a younger generation coming through whose judgment is now being called into question," Devlin says. As a final twist, she notes that Cahill is the kind of "eloquent, believable and utterly determined woman" the party normally covets.

In fairness, some Sinn Féin TDs put their heads over the parapet on Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), where Cathal Mac Coille, one of the anchors, lies in wait. On Wednesday, deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn voices his concern that Cahill's case is before the Oireachtas justice committee, unlike those families who have requested hearings on alleged State collusion in murders during the Troubles. Then he voices his concern again. "You've made that point," says Mac Coille. "But it's a very important point," says Mac Lochlainn. "But you've made it," the presenter reiterates.

Ping-pong ensues. Mac Coille doggedly presses his guest on Cahill’s allegations: “Can you concentrate on the question I’ve put to you?” Mac Lochlainn sticks to the party line, indignantly characterising the issue as a “political football”, which rather overlooks the fact that it stems from serious claims openly made about his political leader. But he has no doubts about Adams’s conflicting account of his meetings with Cahill. “I know the character of Gerry Adams, and I absolutely believe him,” he says.

This, presumably, is the kind of unwavering conviction that the former IRA volunteer Anthony McIntyre speaks of during his interview with Shona Murray on Tuesday's Breakfast (Newstalk, weekdays). A critic of Sinn Féin's peace-process strategy, McIntyre explains the rationale behind the IRA dealing with sex-abuse charges against its members, which he says he once agreed with – RUC Special Branch would have used such allegations as leverage for "nefarious" purposes.

But he points out that Cahill’s case occurred in 2000, after the Belfast Agreement, when the IRA was nonetheless “at its most murderous and most mendacious within the community”. And McIntyre claims that “as a member of the IRA’s army council, Adams prescribed the manner in which these [IRA]courts adjudicated.”

This, of course, goes against Adams’s denial that he was ever an IRA member. But for McIntyre it is symptomatic of Sinn Féin’s handling of the Cahill case, which is “to put our heads in the sand like ostriches and say we believe Gerry on anything he says. And if he says he wasn’t in the IRA, he wasn’t in the IRA. It becomes an absolute nonsense.” The IRA may have gone away, but, as a week of compelling radio suggests, its legacy hasn’t disappeared.

Moment of the week: Sean O’Rourke uses his loaf

On Today With Sean O'Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), the food writer John McKenna gets into a surprisingly heated debate with Gordon Polson of the UK Federation of Bakers about the former's Irish Times article claiming negative health effects from the Chorleywood method of baking sliced white pan. O'Rourke sounds amused throughout, chuckling as the argument flares up repeatedly. "Okay, those points have been well aired, or well aerated." Talk about a half-baked gag.