In the wake of the Maíria Cahill disclosures of her sexual abuse, Sinn Féin has found itself caught in an uncomfortable spotlight over the manner in which the IRA and republicans dealt with sex abusers within its community.
Gerry Adams claimed the disbandment of the IRA meant there was no "corporate knowledge", but it is certain that Cahill's case was not an isolated one.
In the republican strongholds of the North where the writ of the RUC did not run, the local wiseacres had a saying: “There is no law – but there is order.”
It must also be said that the fear of the RUC turning complainants and abusers was real. An IRA man who was accused of abusing boys was allegedly “turned” by the security services in the 1990s.
There is also evidence that the security forces were more interested in recruiting informants than pursuing complaints.
Order came in the form of a parallel justice system, of a summary and often brutal nature, that was run by Sinn Féin and the IRA using various guises such as the civil administration office, run out of Connolly House in Belfast; and at various times Direct Action Against Drugs and earlier iterations of Community Restorative Justice (CRJ).
The republican and loyalist punishment squads were ruthlessly efficient. Incomplete figures show there were 2,149 victims of punishment shootings and 1,328 victims of punishment beatings. The alternative punishment was exile, people being banished from the North by the IRA or UVF.
The paramilitaries also dealt with sex crimes, although Sinn Féin has accepted it was ill-equipped to do so.
Crucially, in a recent post on his blog, Gerry Adams made the unusual (for him) admission that in the past the IRA had, on occasion, shot alleged sex offenders or expelled them. Markedly, he was not prepared to divulge any information or to back up his statement.
The highly secretive nature of the paramilitary organisations and their investigations – often little more than kangaroo courts shorn of any principles of justice – has meant that much of the information about how paramilitaries dealt with sex abuse cases during the conflict is patchy, inconsistent and anecdotal. And in some cases the narrators are unreliable.
An archive search going back three decades reveals 20 separate incidents and allegations of how paramilitaries – most of them in the IRA – dealt with alleged sex offenders.
Needless to say, that represents a fraction of all incidents. It would be impossible to guess the overall figures, given the furtive and secretive nature of the crime, the sense of shame and violation felt by victims, and the clandestine character of the paramilitaries.
Expulsion and exile
Expulsion seems to have been the main tool for dealing with sex attack allegations. While this approach was expedient, it seems that nobody foresaw or cared that all that was happening was the problem was being exported to another community, elsewhere on the island or abroad. It’s obvious that no monitoring was ever going to take place.
In 1997, a 37-year-old Lurgan man was given a suspended jail sentence for indecent assault. He was allegedly involved in another incident. He fled to Dundalk after the IRA was reported to have told him to "leave the Six Counties or be shot".
The republican community’s response was telling. Some had called for punishment. It was claimed he was dealt with leniently because his brother was a ranking republican. In any instance, media reports at the time stated he made a serious attempt to take his own life.
Seven years earlier in 1990, there were allegations that seven men had gang-raped a woman in the Divis Flats in west Belfast. About 100 local women organised a picket outside the local Sinn Féin advice centre. The perpetrators fled before a formal process could take place. It’s not known if they acted unilaterally or received a warning from the IRA.
An article on punishment shootings in the Los Angeles Times referred to the rape. It quoted long-time Sinn Féin spokesman Richard McAuley, who remains a senior adviser to Gerry Adams.
“Punishment shooting and beatings are the end of a very long process which begins essentially with complaints being made by concerned citizens,” he said. “There’s an expectation, in the absence of confidence in the police force, that republicans will fill the gap.”
Asked about the seven alleged rapists who had fled, he said: “[If] they come back to Belfast one would expect very stern and harsh action to be taken against them.”
The nature of the action was not specified. No prosecution took place.
A veteran blogger, writing under a pseudonym, has written in the past week of a case dating from the 1970s. He said a paedophile in the Ardoyne area had abused a number of children.
It must be noted the blogger is associated with a splinter republican organisation, the Republican Network for Unity.
The blog stated: “Because he held a prominent role within the local PIRA, he wasn’t beaten or shot. [Eventually] he was expelled and subsequently forced to live in Dublin until his death last year.”
The same blogger claimed another former prisoner had abused children in the 1970s. He claimed he was allowed “stay in the district afterwards by the Provisionals because he was a volunteer”. He asserted that after another incident that occurred in the late 1980s, this man was “shot in the legs and expelled”.
Again, it seems that nobody was prosecuted and that neither of the two alleged perpetrators was monitored.
In March 2005, Enda Kenny, then leader of Fine Gael, raised two alleged incidents during a debate in the Dáil on the murder by IRA members in Belfast of Robert McCartney.
“I understand [a person] was previously expelled by the IRA for attempting to rape a woman in her own home, only to be readmitted soon afterwards, having been given some minor flesh wounds to bolster his street credibility,” Mr Kenny said.
“In a second case, a person who had sex with a 14-year-old was expelled from the IRA but readmitted later. This is the measure of IRA expulsions.”
No further details were given by Mr Kenny to authenticate the two cases but the details of both are different from other cases retrieved from archive searches.
Eamon Collins was a former intelligence officer for the Provisional IRA in Newry who later fell out with the organisation after almost becoming a supergrass informer. Afterwards, he became an outspoken critic of the Provos and was assassinated by them in 1999.
In his book Killing Rage, about his time in the IRA, Collins told of how a senior IRA figure in Newry had been dismissed from the organisation for allegedly raping a woman in 1983. The married woman alleged the IRA man had forced himself upon her in a room at a party in Dundalk, according to Collins.
He said it was consensual but her husband threatened to kill him if he was not disciplined. An IRA court martial dismissed the accused from the organisation and expelled him to Dublin, Collins wrote.
Three years later, the Sunday Times claimed a member of the IRA was the "Shantallow Fox", who had carried out a string of sexual assaults and rapes in that area of Derry.
It reported that the man, whom it did not name, had subsequently fled. It is not stated if he was expelled by the IRA. The incidents came to a halt after his departure, it was reported.
Shot and beaten
The most extreme documented action taken by the Provos against a sex offender was the savage killing of 36-year-old
in 1992. From Shantallow in Derry, Collett had a conviction for indecent exposure and a reputation as a serial abuser.
An IRA punishment squad broke into his house with a sledgehammer. A .38 Magnum revolver was used to shoot him in both legs. The high calibre of the gun meant he bled copiously before emergency services arrived. He died five days later in hospital.
In another case in May 1998, the IRA abducted a 79-year-old man in north Belfast and shot him in the legs and ankles. The innocent pensioner had been mistakenly identified as a sex offender. The IRA later apologised.
Some of these cases hover on the margins of being war crimes.
One incident of which there is little doubt is a punishment beating on the loyalist side. A UVF punishment squad in north Belfast entered the house of David Templeton, a 43-year-old Presbyterian clergyman. They were carrying nail-studded clubs and inflicted severe injuries on him.
His crime? The previous year he had been stopped by customs bringing in a gay video on a flight from Amsterdam. There was no conviction but the incident was reported in local media. He died six weeks after the attack.
In another attack in late 2010, a Continuity IRA gang based in Ardoyne carried out a punishment shooting on a man who had been recently released from prison.
He had served eight years after being convicted for raping a woman in 2000. They shot him seven times in the legs and groin. While he survived, such was the extent of his injuries surgeons had to remove his genitals.
Other action and no action
The wholly arbitrary and summary manner in which allegations of sexual assault and rape were dealt with meant paramilitaries often used other methods. Among the other methods used was public pillory or shaming of alleged abusers.
In 2003, a 24-year-old man from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, was accused of sexually assaulting a teenage boy.
The IRA made him walk around the town for a day wearing a placard with the legend: “I am a rapist, please do not help me”. His mother said he had been found guilty “by rumour”. A local SDLP councillor described it as a completely unacceptable kangaroo court.
In 2000, a man accused of indecent exposure in west Belfast was reported to have been taken by CRJ officers to the woman to whom he allegedly exposed himself. He was forced to apologise.
Sinn Féin was unwilling to support the PSNI until 2007. In some cases the party encouraged victims to make statements to the social services, but that did not automatically trigger a police investigation.
Up until the 1990s there was good reason for suspecting the motives of the police.
Áine Tyrrell was abused by her father Liam Adams, Gerry Adams's brother. Her mother said the RUC was more interested in recruiting her as an informer than in investigating her daughter's allegations.