This was not Leaders’ Questions as we know it – it was an unprecedented situation in the Dáil
Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader put Sinn Féin leader in spotlight over Cahill allegations
Not so long ago, in a troubled place they called the Six County Statelet, decent IRA volunteers indiscriminately murdered in a futile attempt to unite the country they love. But their hearts were in the right place. And that’s good enough for Gerry Adams, who is sad to see their revered names being sullied now by people who don’t understand.
These IRA volunteers had so much love for Ireland they shunted their favoured perverts and paedophiles across the North’s border to the rest of the country they claim to love. Oh, and they shot the ones they didn’t need to protect.
Decent people. Adams – the IRA’s Boswell – says he wasn’t a member, yet is remarkably intimate with the organisation’s inner workings; he won’t hear a bad word uttered against them. As he said yesterday, these volunteers “were acting, in my opinion, in good faith” when seeking “to deal with some cases of abuse when asked to do so by families and victims”.
Good faith is not how Maíria Cahill would see it. Yesterday’s extraordinary session of Leaders’ Questions took place right after the Taoiseach met the Belfast woman who says she was raped by an IRA man and then sworn to secrecy by senior members of that organisation who took it upon themselves to “interrogate” her over a number of months to test the validity of her claims. At one point, three of them also forced her to meet her rapist during a “kangaroo court”. She says she met Gerry Adams in his office in west Belfast and told him her story. Adams, his deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and the rest of the Sinn Féin parliamentary party accept that she was raped, but not the rest of her testimony.
Maíria Cahill hasn’t deviated one bit from her version of events. The Gerry Adams/Sinn Féin version has subtly shifted from almost blanket denial to a revised state of knowledge.
Both Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin wanted to hear specific answers from Gerry Adams yesterday to questions posed by Cahill. What they got was generalised remorse and a scripted reply on doing the right thing by abused women and children, interspersed with pinpoint indignation over the wrongs being done to decent members of Sinn Féin.
When you read back over the short transcript of yesterday’s extraordinary Dáil exchanges involving Enda Kenny, Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams, the words on their own go nowhere near conveying the electrifying atmosphere in the chamber.
In agreementThe Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil leader were in agreement over the need to investigate how, as Micheál Martin put it, “the most powerful men within the IRA interrogated victims of abuse at the hands of leading members of the IRA”.
The Dáil did not accept the excuses of leading churchmen over their handling of abuse cases, he said, pointing out that Sinn Féin politicians were to the fore in condemning the Catholic Church when stories emerged of cover-ups over child sex abuse.
He read some of the trenchant comments made at the time by the likes of Martin McGuinness and Mary Lou McDonald.
The Taoiseach described Maíria Cahill as “a courageous, confident, brave young woman” who “overcame the horror of being raped to face down the IRA and its generals, secret or otherwise”.
This was not Leaders’ Questions as we know it. It was an unprecedented situation in the Dáil chamber, with the leaders of the two main parties challenging the leader of one of the biggest parties on the Irish political scene.
And they wanted to know why Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin should feel entitled not to be examined in the same way that the Church and other bodies were investigated when it emerged they ignored cases of abuse to protect their institutional reputations.
Gerry Adams was surrounded by his colleagues , with Mary Lou McDonald to his left. And they looked rattled.
When Enda Kenny questioned her “blind allegiance” to her leader, she slowly shook her head. As the session unwound and Adams rose to defend himself, his party, the IRA and “republicans” in general, you could almost feel the anger and resentment radiating from their ranks.
Adams sounded hurt and outraged almost to the point of becoming emotional.
SlurTo shouts of “shame” from around the chamber, he said the Taoiseach had “cast a slur on thousands of decent Irish republicans”. “Republicans are no different to any other Irish citizens,” he added
But as he read his script and issued an all-encompassing apology for any wrongs that might have been done by IRA members (who apparently were only trying to do the decent thing by responding to requests for help from ordinary people), the look of silent disgust on the faces of most of the non-Sinn Féin TDs told its own story.
And, of course, times were different during the war. (Maíria Cahill’s ordeal happened in 1997.)
“I have set out the circumstances in the North when there was no democratic civic policing service” explained Adams. What is needed now is a “victim-centred approach.”
Some of comments were treated with outright derision, like when he declared: “I refute the allegations that have been made about me and about other Sinn Féin members who assure me that all they did in their engagements, conversations and work with Maíria Cahill . . .”
“Work? Ha!” snorted Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath. But Sinn Féin – including their young political stars who are too young to know – were fuming, in full post-Vietnam vet mode. They just stopped short of shouting . “It was a war, man! You weren’t there!” Most of the TDs in the chamber had read of Gerry’s blog – in between teddy bear tweets and the like – at the weekend.
Community at warHere’s a sample: “But these actions were of their time and reflected not only a community at war but also an attitude within Ireland which did not then understand or know as we now do, how deeply embedded abuse is in our society . . . as society became better informed as to the issue and handling of abuse, republicans began to develop victim-centred approaches.”
And we were transported back to other difficult days, in wood-panelled rooms in big parochial houses, when troubleshooting bishops spoke of different times and how nobody really knew about abuse and now that they do, they are really, really sorry.
As for those simple questions for Adams, put to him by the Taoiseach in the Dáil, there were no straight answers. In fact, the Sinn Féin leader insisted he had already “refuted” them. Refute means to prove – he offered little proof.
And what about the alleged abusers moved south of the Border, or “sent to another parish”, as Micheál Martin observed? “I don’t know” he said. All he knows is that decent volunteers have been done down by “sleeveen” Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin.
And them pure as the driven truck . . . laden with explosives with an innocent man chained to the steering wheel.