Maíria Cahill set to win Labour seat in Seanad byelection

Anti-abuse campaigner accepts nomination offer from party leadership

Maíria Cahill is on course to be elected as a Labour member of the Seanad in a byelection next month.

The nomination of the Belfast woman by the Labour leadership is expected to be endorsed by the parliamentary party and central council on Wednesday. Her nomination will be supported by Fine Gael and, given that the electorate is the members of the Seanad and Dáil, with an in-built Government majority, her election will be guaranteed.

There is speculation that Fianna Fáil will not oppose her candidacy.

The vacancy, in the Industrial and Commercial panel, was caused by the retirement on health grounds of Donegal Labour Senator Jimmy Harte.

Ms Cahill told The Irish Times she had thought long and hard before accepting the nomination.

“I think you always doubt if you will be good enough for such a position,’’ she said. “If I am elected, one of the issues I will highlight is abuse in general, including the area of domestic violence.”

Declined approaches

She revealed she had declined a number of approaches, including one from TD Shane Ross on behalf of the Independent alliance, to run in the Republic’s general election. “If I were to run, it would narrow down to a contest between Maíria Cahill and Sinn Féin,’’ she said.

Last May, Ms Cahill received an apology from the North's Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory over how the Public Prosecution Service dealt with allegations that as children she, and two other women, were sexually abused by an IRA member.

This followed the BBC Spotlight programme which broadcast an expose on how she was allegedly raped by IRA man Martin Morris and how she was allegedly interrogated about her claims by four other members of the IRA.

Ms Cahill, a grand-niece of the late republican activist Joe Cahill, called at the time for an apology from Sinn Féin.

Her Seanad byelection nomination was welcomed by several members of the Labour parliamentary party on Twitter at the weekend.

In a statement Minister for the Environment and Labour deputy leader Alan Kelly said he was delighted she had taken up the invitation to seek the nomination. He said he was formally seconding the nomination following Tánaiste and party leader Joan Burton's proposal.

‘Campaign for justice’

“Maíria is a qualified candidate for the Industrial and Commercial panel, given her background in community development, employment and activation,’’ he said. “But she is much more than that. She is also a spokesperson for victims of abuse and will use the platform of the Seanad to continue to campaign for justice and to encourage others to come forward.”

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said her nomination was a fitting tribute to her courage and integrity.

“Maíria Cahill is an Irish woman of the utmost bravery and has demonstrated over a long period that she will not be cowed by the most fierce opposition,’’ he added.

Nominations close on October 15th and the result will be known on November 13th.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times