Maíria Cahill And Gerry Adams

Maíria Cahill and Gerry Adams in former times

One of the rarely discussed facets of the generational war which disfigured the north-east of Ireland from the mid-1960s to the late 1990s (or early 2000s) was the widespread – if not quite common – sexual abuse or exploitation of women. Those engaged in such activities included members and supporters of all the belligerent parties to the conflict, British and Irish, regular and irregular. It is perhaps not surprising that such dreadful incidences occurred given the general breakdown in society and societal norms as a consequence of the failure of the Irish civil rights movement to effect substantial change in the face of Unionist intransigence and British indifference during the period of 1968-71 and the rapid descent into open warfare. Anarchy and brutality by state and non-state forces bred attitudes that would be far from acceptable in any normal society. The conflict of course also spanned the period when gender equality was becoming the norm throughout western Europe. The old localised cultures of male supremacism were being replaced by a transnational culture of equal rights between the sexes. Unfortunately Ireland lagged at the back of that socio-cultural revolution, and the partition-isolated north-east of the country even more so. What was unacceptable in Germany in the 1970s was still acceptable in Ireland in the 1980s, and what was nationally unacceptable in Ireland in the 1980s was still regionally acceptable in the north-east of Ireland in the 1990s.

While the historic abuse of men, women and children by elements of the British Occupation Forces and their counter-insurgency allies in the British terror factions are well documented, notably the Kincora Scandal, the sexual exploitation of women and children by individual members of the (Provisional) Republican movement is less so. That can be partly attributed to the movement’s commitment to a form of left-wing ideology that encouraged women’s rights and activism, and which institutionally discouraged discriminatory attitudes. That included the often brutal punishment of those found guilty of transgressing expected modes of conduct. However just as important was the need to maintain the movement’s image, both internally and externally, and worries about the security implications of investigating and dealing with misdeeds by activists (even when those making complaints were themselves fellow activists). More than once the benefit of doubt or undue leniency was shown towards malfeasant individuals because of military or security concerns (or the guilty party’s “position” and connections within the movement). Courts-martial dealt less with upholding army standing orders than upholding the army’s organisational integrity.

This of course is common to guerrilla forces throughout history when they are in opposition to a foreign or domestic power. The activities of partisan groups in Occupied Europe during World War II do not bear too close a scrutiny (France being a good example), while insurgents (terrorists or freedom-fighters) sponsored by the United States during the 1970s and ‘80s turned regions of Latin America into a virtual bloodbath. Simply put when guerrillas have need of professional criminal investigations and prosecutions they can hardly turn to the police forces and justice systems they are at war with. Shooting paramilitary police officers at night while availing of their law enforcement services during the day is a recipe for disaster (and history is replete with examples of that). Those battling insurgencies rarely view such cases on a human level but instead see them as simply another exploitable advantage in an ongoing struggle. The testimonies by victims of crime from the Irish Nationalist community in their interactions with the old, infamous RUC make for very depressing reading indeed as police interviews turned on questions relating to military intelligence not to the offences being reported.

The latest allegations in relation to the 1997-98 misdeeds by a claimed member of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army illustrate the dilemma of a resistance movement when forced to act as an alternative policing and criminal justice system, and the consequences of the failure to do so adequately. Maíria Cahill was betrayed by those she trusted, by a movement she was committed to both personally and through her family and community. Her treatment during the initial investigations by (P)IRA was reprehensible, the crude needs of army and party placed above the well-being of a vulnerable young woman (a woman who looked, in her own words, to “the Army” for some form of restitution). Sinn Féin’s reaction so far has been egregious, Gerry Adams immediate recourse to threats of legal action more than a little distasteful. While he has every right to place on the record his interpretation of the reported events he could do so with far more sensitivity than has been shown so far. Indeed the traditional tactic of offense being the best form of defence is looking increasingly tired and threadbare.

Given the option between believing the account of Maíria Cahill and that of the Sinn Féin leader, as much as I am a critical admirer of the latter, I am more inclined to believe the former. As I have consistently argued only a general amnesty will permit the participants to the northern conflict, from Ireland and Britain, to give a full account of all the events of that period, and not just the military ones.

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10 comments

  1. The tip of a very large iceberg, one suspects. But Gerry denies it, so she must be lying…..

  2. Whether people like it or not to these people the republican movement has to be protected at all times and just like other organisations and establishments the people tasked with upholding that criteria would be failing in their duty if they didn’t do exactly that.
    I don’t see how they failed this young girl as it seems they did believe her but had no proof bar her word. Now if they had a Brit agent like scapaticci within their ranks perhaps he could have did a bit of torturing to obtain a confession? But then the movement would have been condemned for that too. So it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
    They may have failed her by not involving the British police but it is against all they stand for and even if they did I don’t see how they could have done any better bar interrogating the suspect and forcing a confession.
    These people take an oath to their movement and whether it’s palatable or not they tend to adhere to that oath. Just like most British forces swear allegiance to the queen etc and protect her and hers. Funnily enough some would argue there’s plenty of abusers and abuses being stifled and silenced among that crew too.
    Btw some victims would have taken the hand off the offer, the IRA gave to that young lady. Some even through the state judicial system would welcome an offer like that.

    1. “Whether people like it or not to these people the republican movement has to be protected at all times and just like other organisations and establishments the people tasked with upholding that criteria would be failing in their duty if they didn’t do exactly that.”

      Exactly the mentality of the Catholic Church: the main point is to protect the institution rather than see justice done.

      Fair enough, complaining to the RUC circa 1974 would have been rather tricky if you lived on the Falls. I wasn’t there at the time, so I would be reluctant to judge. From what I understand, when Liam Adams’s daughter did complain to the police, they seemed more interested in using her as an agent against her uncle. But still….

      1. Exactly the same mentality of GCHQ and its various strands such as mi5/mi6 I may add. The main difference between the republican movement and the Catholic church is that republicans were fundamentally enemies of the groups that claimed to uphold justice. I don’t know what the Catholic church’s reasonings were.
        As far as I can see republicans were ready to instil their form of justice on the culprit but simply didn’t want their enemy to exploit it. They didn’t call the victim a liar.

        1. Yes, WT, but you know as well as I do what went on around the fringes of the (Provisional) Republican movement, and within it too at times. If we can’t be honest with ourselves, as Republicans, who can we be honest with? When I heard these allegations doing the rounds some years ago I didn’t bat an eyelid and I suspect neither did you. (P)IRA was a flesh and blood organisation, like its enemies, and we know what human beings are capable of, even in the best of situations.

          You are right that the (P)IRA investigation team were in a bind, as was Maíria Cahill. They could hardly just take the individual out and shoot him, not at that particular time and not for that reason. They couldn’t dismiss him from the army either. So, what? A punishment beating? Broken legs or blasted kneecaps? And then a week later he could be blabbing to the ever-eager RUC? Or send Maíria to the RUC with her case and risk bringing the RUC snoopers into (P)IRA ranks and secrets? It was a lose-lose situation.

          However the way they treated Maíria Cahill, the interviews, the confrontations, the post-conflict denials. That obviously distressed her and added to her pain. The perpetrator has escaped scot free. Justice has not been done. (The court case was a joke as you we all know)

          Again, as I said before, the only way to deal with 1966-2005 is a general amnesty for all events related to the conflict or the organisations of the conflict, Irish and British.

          1. To be honest I know very little of this case. I heard very few rumours about this but I tend not to bat an eyelid because that’s the nature of the beast ie there are plenty of rumours about various topics. I only believe what I see and I can honestly say from what I have seen and heard via spotlight etc I still couldn’t honestly say the allegations are true. If they are true then I can’t publish the treatment I would like to see him get. But I am also mindful that there is a continuous appetite from various agencies to demonise republicanism in general. Although I am no fan of adams etc I can’t stand idle and allow opponents to attack republicanism via the bearded one.
            Btw, how come mcguinness seems to be kept clear of these scandals? Surely he must be concerned and have an opinion on such matters? We are led to believe him and adams are two cheeks of the same ass and yet the media seem to absolve him of all responsibility? Surely at the very least he should be asked where was he when all this was going on? It would at the very least be remiss of him if he didn’t have some interest in this carry on, for the very the sake of the Movement’s reputation and all that.

  3. Sionn,

    Good review. I suspect the ‘truth’ lies somewhere in between both versions of events. Great bravery by Ms Cahill.

    Interesting question for FF is how do they think the insurgents of the 1920s (the boy Mick et al) would have dealt with such matters. (That would be a good subject for a stage play – if only I could write)

    Here in Ireland there has been a bit of an issue with ‘sex’ – we have not dealt with it well perhaps largely because of the church’s obsession with pretending it some sort of heavenly pursuit – even if the priests were behaving more the quarefellah himself(pog and rog spake). It is a feature of an agricultural(peasant) society (which Ireland largely was at independence) to be very conservative about sex – even communist countries – seem obsessed with denying the concept of female sexuality as on any sort of par with the male variety.

    Over on Broken Elbow – yer man seems delighted that Gerry is back in the firing line – stopped posting there as he has started making abusive remarks and not publishing any attempts to refute those remarks. He’s really, really bitter about SF and especially Gerry.

    ps Water charges still simmering away – very badly and unfairly implemented – but here to stay.

    1. Thanks, Sammy.

      The Dáil Courts seemed to have functioned in a much more open way but then the times were very, very different. And I suspect allegations of rape would have been swiftly – and quietly – dealt with (Ann Matthews touches upon this in “Renegades: Irish Republican Women 1900-1922 Paperback” though some of her opinions are quite contentious).

      Yes, I have kind of stopped reading the Broken Elbow. Fair enough, his blog his rules, and his opinions will always be to the fore. However blogging, I believe anyway, is as much about listening and debating as about spouting off. Those from a journalism background don’t get that. Readers can shout at newspaper columns but the columnists never have to hear it. And some prefer it that way. Even when online.

      1. Sionn,

        “though some of her opinions are quite contentious”

        in summary – what were the issues?

        re. Broken Elbow – the problem is that anyone who offers qualified support to SF (like me)is ‘accused’ of being a devotee – but somewhat more stridently put than that.

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