Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was a man on a mission.
He doesn’t usually do Opposition Leaders’ Questions on a Thursday. But he was present yesterday, with his focus on the controversy surrounding Sinn Féin following the rape allegations made by Paudie McGahon against an IRA member.
He said he was sure Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, who represented the Government, would accept that there had been debates on many scandals, allegations and issues surrounding sexual abuse.
Everyone had condemned the abuse, he said. He was particularly mindful of the “very strong and strident’’ comments of Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who had said that anyone, including gardaí, found to be complicit in the cover-up of child abuse must be arrested to face the full rigours of the law.
McDonald, sitting seven seats away from Martin on the Sinn Féin benches, sipped a glass of water and made notes.
"This week we have had the heartbreaking account of Paudie McGahon's story on the Spotlight programme on Tuesday night,'' said Martin.
“He gained the courage to tell his story, and Maíria Cahill telling her story was the trigger for him to go public on the issue.’’
Fundamentally, said Martin, people wanted justice and truth.
He suggested the Government give serious consideration to establishing a commission of inquiry into the allegations aired on Spotlight.
O’Sullivan said there was an obligation on anybody with information about children at risk to bring it forward.
It had been admitted, she said, that the IRA had held “internal inquiries’’ into the abuse allegation, “if I can use that nice phrase’’. Another term, she added, was “kangaroo courts’’.
McDonald said it was more than a mantra to say those with information must come forward. It was most eloquently put by Paudie McGahon, who said nobody should be afraid, she added.
"Why were they afraid?'' asked Labour's Robert Dowds.
McDonald said victims of sexual abuse, rape and sexual violence were often anxious and fearful about coming forward.
"Or being shot,'' said Labour's Emmet Stagg.
O’Sullivan suggested that McDonald was putting the onus back on the victims. She said it was about time the Sinn Féin deputy leader and her party accepted responsibility in bringing forward information on abuse.
Howls of derision
McDonald said history could not be rewritten. “Another thing we cannot do, and that we simply will not do, is carry out the functions and role of An
or the PSNI,’’ she added.
There were howls of derision from the Government benches.
McDonald offered the view that anybody who raped a child forfeited the right to describe themselves as a republican.
"But they do not have to go to the Garda station,'' said Minister of State Simon Harris.
The bitter and heated exchanges concluded.