Has the Maíria Cahill controversy damaged Sinn Féin?

Cahill claims child sex abusers were moved by republicans from the North to locations south of the Border

Gerry Adams: has weathered significant controversies without any apparent adverse effect

Gerry Adams: has weathered significant controversies without any apparent adverse effect

 

The arch-strategists have floundered this week. The apparently unstoppable Sinn Féin machine appears to have been stalled by the quiet might of Maíria Cahill.

The 33-year-old grandneice of IRA leader Joe Cahill, who alleges she was raped by an IRA man in 1997 and forced to face her abuser in a republican-style court, was welcomed into Government Buildings by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

She brought a very serious claim: that child sex abusers were moved by republicans from Northern Ireland to locations south of the Border.

Over the years, while residents of the Republic have expressed sympathy and revulsion at terrible events in the North, many have also demonstrated a remarkable ability to turn their faces away and ignore the tragic fallout from the conflict. But if that claim gains traction, the impact on Sinn Féin could be unquantifiable.

Resilient

Gerry Adams

His arrest and subsequent release without charge as part of the investigation into the murder of Jean McConville came last spring in the middle of the local and European election campaign, which were a resounding success for Sinn Féin.

At the end of last year, after Liam Adams was jailed for 16 years for sexually abusing his daughter Áine, the Sinn Féin leader’s political opponents thought the focus would shift to what he knew and he would be wounded. That did not happen. Sinn Féin’s elected representatives and grassroots members remain rock-solid behind their leader of more than three decades.

Hostile media

Sinn Féin prefers to deal with its problems internally. That does not mean the problems are not there and it does not mean the conversations are not happening.

There is an acceptance that the party could be coming close to a plateau of support in the North. If the party is going to grow, that will happen in the south and with a southern leader, most likely Mary-Lou McDonald.

The bottom line is that no party wants any association with any story linked to child sexual abuse. To borrow a controversial word from Mr Adam’s blog, the potential for “corporate” damage is too great.