Questions for Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin to answer in response to Maíria Cahill

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It was clear that the organisation had an “obsessive concern with secrecy and the avoidance of scandal”, with protecting the organisation above all, and “little or no concern for the welfare of the abused child”. It elevated its own procedures above the law and those of the state, had become a law unto itself. Its members operated a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The organisation in question is the Catholic Church, the findings, those of Judge Yvonne Murphy’s inquiry into the Dublin diocese which also emphatically rejected pleas in mitigation that the church was surprised by or on “a learning curve” in relation to revelations of sexual abuse.

What we know now, however, of the way the brave and utterly plausible Maíria Cahill was treated by the IRA following her rape and abuse by one of its members has uncanny echoes of the church’s response to abuse. The methodology, the denial, the internal secret inquiries, the arrogance of those who did not believe the law should apply to them.

And then the pleading of ignorance – Gerry Adams in his blog yesterday insisting that “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.” Yet this was not the 1950s – by the time in 2000 that Adams met Cahill about the issue, child abuse and responses to it were widely discussed.

His regret that “the IRA on occasion shot alleged sex offenders or expelled them,” is mealymouthed. “While this may have been expedient at the time it was not appropriate. Victims were left without the necessary social service support and abusers without supervision. It ultimately failed victims and the community alike”... “Not appropriate”. Not to mention, brutal, illegal and immoral.

Adams’s claim that there was “absolutely no cover up by Sinn Féin at any level”, is worthy of the most cynical bishop. It appears to be based on the fact that the IRA came to accept that she had indeed been abused. But its response was not to assist in bringing the culprit to some external forum of justice, or to counsel and assist the victim, but to offer to shoot him. That way the organisation wouldn’t have to face the opprobrium of guilt by public association or suggestions of tacit complicity. No cover up? That Adams’s party colleagues should selectively accept some of what Cahill claims but not any imputation against their leader’s word is hardly surprising. They all have form in this regard, not least in their loyalty to his insistence that he was never in the IRA. But being willing to ask tough questions of your own leader, demonstrating that you are not just dupes of the Sinn Féin machine, may be as important in making the party a credible force for government as any airbrushing of a paramilitary past.

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