Slut-Shaming Maíria Cahill Is Not A Republican Response

Maíria Cahill at an anti-RUC demonstration organised by Ógra Shinn Féin in the 1990s
Maíria Cahill at an anti-RUC demonstration organised by Ógra Shinn Féin in the 1990s

So the controversy in relation to the allegations made by 33 year old Maíria Cahill, a former national secretary of Ógra Shinn Féin (SF’s formerly titled youth wing), continues to rumble on. Understandably the general public has been shocked by Cahill’s forceful claims that from August of 1997, when she was 16 years of age, she was subject to a series of sexual assaults in the Belfast home of her uncle-in-law, a senior volunteer of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army, assaults that lasted into the autumn of 1998. At the end of that period she informed her female cousin and others – all republicans – that she had been repeatedly raped by the (P)IRA member (who was also active in the wider movement). In October-November 1999 the organisation began a formal inquiry into the matter during which Cahill was vigorously interviewed on several occasions, a process culminating in a distressing face-to-face confrontation with her alleged attacker in March of 2000. Though a number of conflicting claims have been made subsequently it seems that the members of the (P)IRA court of inquiry were unable to reach a judgement on the accusations and no further action was taken. Some time later Cahill learned that the individual was again in (P)IRA custody at a house in the city after two women in her extended family came forward with fresh allegations against him. A more complex, and at times contradictory series of accounts now follow, but it seems that her uncle-in-law was allowed to “escape” his house-arrest and disappear from the north-east. However it soon became known that he was in fact hiding in County Donegal, almost certainly with the connivance of some (P)IRA colleagues.

Maíria Cahill argues that this represented an internal cover-up of the offences by the (Provisional) Republican movement at a time when it was still tentatively negotiating a final peace with the parties committed to the Belfast Agreement of 1998 and subsequent accords, principally the British government. According to current press claims she then spent several years lobbying the leadership of the party, and Gerry Adams in particular, seeking some form of redress for the matter. Following Sinn Féin’s controversial decision in 2007 to formally support the operations of the PSNI, the British paramilitary police force in the north-east of Ireland, Cahill quit the party, it has been claimed in apparent opposition to the policy (Cahill herself has now stated that she quit the party around 2001, though she continued to campaign for individual SF candidates in subsequent elections). While no confirmation has been given by Maíria Cahill herself it has been suggested that in later years she later joined the Republican Network for Unity (RNU), an organisation opposed to the 1998 Belfast Agreement and the PSNI in particular. Certainly one Maíria Cahill from Belfast was temporarily listed as a party secretary of the RNU.

In early 2010, for reasons which remain unclear, Cahill made a statement to the PSNI laying out her allegations against her attacker and several named members of (P)IRA who had investigated the events of 1997-8 over a decade earlier. In April of this year a court case against the accused rapist collapsed when Maíria Cahill refused to testify, while the case against the claimed (P)IRA investigators came to an end in May due to a lack of evidence. In October Cahill made her now well-publicised appearance on the BBC news documentary “Spotlight” where she aired her accusations once again.

That leads us to the present feeding-frenzy in the media and the rhetorical contortions of Sinn Féin’s political opponents, both nationally in Dublin and regionally in Belfast. SF has dealt with the controversy in a particularly insensitive manner, more often than not adding fuel to the fire, and certainly the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army must take the blame in the first instance for its poor handling of the initial investigation. Had that been dealt with correctly some fifteen years ago it seems likely that Maíria Cahill would never have come forward (though whether that in itself is a good or bad thing is up to others to decide). Guerrilla armies make for poor police and an even poorer judiciary. And while it should be noted that two “trials” – one by an ad hoc (P)IRA court of inquiry and one in front of a controversial British-administrated court – failed to reach a verdict that does not imply that Maíria Cahill’s accusations have no validity. On the contrary she has cogently argued her case and certainly cannot be accused of simply being an “anti-republican” stooge as some online critics are suggesting. Not only was Cahill a committed SF activist in her youth but her family included such noted republican stalwarts as Joe Cahill, the one-time Chief-of-Staff of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army and honorary vice-president of Sinn Féin (himself the subject of a recent British media propaganda smear).

By anyone’s standards Maíria Cahill is a formidable, intelligent person with a convincing case to argue, one that is deserving of attention. She is certainly not deserving of what amounts to little more than “slut-shaming” and slanderous accusations by anonymous internet critics. No woman – or man – willingly makes public the sexual abuse they may have endured unless driven to do so by the need to see the truth exposed and justice done. Throwing wild allegations about, however much some may stem from contradictory claims to do with the controversy, do no favours for those seeking to contextualise the failures of (P)IRA to deal with the criminal activities of its Volunteers during the Long War (and to deny that such activities did happen is deceitful in the extreme). The only people it shames are those making the allegations and those spreading them. This is not how one treats the victims of sexual abuse, no matter the circumstances.

Irish republicans are only too quick to condemn the misdeeds and hypocrisies of others. However they cannot do so without being prepared to hold themselves to the same high standards that they expect of others. It is why we are republicans, why we are Fenians, in the first place.

UPDATE 27.10.2014: Maíria Cahill has issued a lengthy statement on her association with the Republican Network for Unity (RNU).

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15 comments

  1. A Chara.
    One thing puzzles me. Why do you think Maíria withdrew her evidence from the trial? Has she stated her reasons for doing so ?
    Regards Niall.

      1. the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army must take the blame in the first instance for its poor handling of the initial investigation. what exactly does this sweeping statement mean? How would you have had them handle it given the complexities of the situation?

  2. Well this whole story is a big mess for sure.
    As usual the whole thing reeks of hypocrisy.
    During the war of Independence the IRA ran their own courts with their own laws.
    According to the Book . Ireland: The 20th Century by Charles Townshend.
    This policy of operating a seperate court system was one of the main reasons why the British felt the need for a truce. Their courts were empty and it brought it home to the Brits that their law and their order no longer applied.

    Now, If it was good enough for the “old” IRA to have seperate courts why not in the wee 6?

    Second, the Oirish Independent, found some other story.
    Where two young teenage boys from Louth were abused by a volunteer.
    The IRA secret courts interviewed the abuser who confessed.
    The IRA offered 3 choices.
    Shoot the abuser.
    Expell him.
    Or make him leave the country.
    The two victims chose the option of exile.
    Now, the “oirish” media would compare this scandal to the catholic church when abusers were moved between parish.
    I am sorry. I don’t remember the RC church offering to shoot abusers.
    Shooting abusers is a policy I would support.
    And the fact that, When the IRA had evidence this is what they did.
    I can think of plenty of people who’d support the shooting of self conessed abusers or abusers where there is evidence against them.
    Unfortunately for Maria, The alleged abuser did NOT confess.
    BTW.
    The chances of the regular police gaining convictions against rapists is very poor.
    And in England police cautions are used against Rapists. A truly dreadful record ( see below)
    From Press TV.


    Figures also indicated that there were about 10,000 recorded rapes of adults in England and Wales in the 12 months to March 2013, from which only 18 percent led to a sanction detection, where an offender was charged or cautioned for the offence.

    Director of the Centre for Crime Prevention Peter Cuthbertson said, “It’s extremely worrying how many of the most serious offences aren’t recorded properly.”

    The charity Rape Crisis also raised concerns over the high levels of “no-criming” and the huge disparities in statistics between different police forces.

    An earlier report by Solicitor General Oliver Heald in response to a parliamentary question revealed that British police had sent only 5,404 rape cases out of the 17,061 reports they received in 2012-13 to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).”

    http://www.presstv.com/detail/2014/01/31/348577/uk-police-ignores-1-in-3-rape-reports/

    1. AMS, I would say that the times were very different in the 1920s when the Republican or Dáil Courts operated (and with remarkable success it must be stated). Outside of Unionist strongholds or garrison towns they were more or less accepted. In Dublin on the other hand Republican Courts were largely absent (rural north and south Dublin did have them of course). The level of technology, communications, population dispersal, military presence, local support, etc. made Republican Courts viable in historic Occupied Ireland in a way they were not in the Occupied North of Ireland. One cannot imagine such quasi-judicial sessions taking place in West Belfast or even Tyrone.

      Yes, there is a bizarre double-standard or expectation in the media in relation to (P)IRA responsibilities. On one hand they condemn (P)IRA for not dealing with criminals in their ranks while also complaining about (P)IRA dealing with criminals in their ranks. It is a loose-loose situation for (P)IRA. However that is the nature of the conflict, which is still being fought albeit in popular imagination and culture. The fact that someone who is now a media-heroine was until recently an apparent opponent of the PSNI shows what unlikely allies the conflict can make for. The Maíria Cahill of 2010 would never have been allowed anywhere near Government Buildings or featured in the pages of the Sunday Independent, unless condemned and pilloried for her political beliefs.

      Politics is drama in action…

      1. I don’t really want that PIRA or any other criminal organisation forcefully include me in their “jurisdiction” and then “prosecute” me (kidnap and kneecap or kill me) just because they suspect that I’m breaking their “law”.

        Because they have done that many times in the past.

        1. Yes Janis.
          We Irish should just accept that British Rule was great, altogether.
          And Shure didn’t they leave behind some grand buildings altogether.
          I I hope you feel the same about Russia and your country.
          Shure why should any country stand up to their bigger bullying neighbour.
          Ukraine was so nice to have 20 years “free” of Russia and they should let their croppies lie down.
          And who needs borders we should all become a new super Euro State..
          I am so sad for you that you can’t make an omlette without breaking eggs. But you are so right all the same.
          P>s If you love Britain so much, Why didn’t you choose to move there?

  3. ASF: By using fashionable ideologically loaded language like “slut-shaming” you are skewing the argument. There may be online critics accusing Mairia Cahill of being an anti-Republican stooge but that is irrelevant. The real issue, which you, along with Mary Lou McDonald and most of the corporate media, fail to address, is the presumption of innocence. Like Mary Lou your argument seems to be that because Maria Cahill is “formidable” and “cogent” her accuser must be guilty. That is not logic, but pure emotional reaction. If she were an inarticulate, nervous, badly dressed, badly groomed, unattractive woman would that make her case less persuasive for you? Your whole piece is also based on the premise that Mairia Cahill must be telling the truth simply because her allegations relate to sexual abuse. Again, would you be so willing to believe the allegations if they had been of an entirely non-sexual nature? Or, to put it another way, do you believe that all allegations of sexual abuse are by definition always true? There is abundant evidence that this is not the case – many folk have been successfully prosecuted for making false accusations of abuse. In other words you’re doing exactly what you accuse Cahill’s critics of doing – “throwing allegations about”. It’s completely irrelevant what you or I or anyone else thinks about the allegations made by this woman. If she has a case let it be heard in court. After all Sinn Fein Republicans have long since accepted the British court system, and as I understand it the principle of Double Jeopardy was abolished by the Blair government, so there’s no legal or political bar to this man being retried. And, lest we forget, Mairia Cahill has also made very serious allegations against Gerry Adams. I’m no fan of the man but he too has the right to the presumption of innocence – a principle the poisonous Sunday Indo/RTE/BBC axis are only too happy to dismiss when they’re trying to stir up fire in the bellies of the revisionist neo-Unionist lynch mobs.

    1. Agree completely. The presumption of innocence is key for any society to function correctly. It has been abandoned completely in this case which is quiet remarkable. The main story here is that the most powerful person in a country has condemned a man who is presently innocent before the eyes of the law of being a rapist. He has done so on national TV. Others from other parties as well as the entire Irish media north and south have done likewise. This to my mind has serious implications for our country. I am left baffled by the failure of our journalists to point out this glaring fact!!!

      1. John C, all true however take the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, etc. All found guilty in courts of law, all done by due process, all eventually exonerated after a long campaign where their innocence was vociferously argued. And where the guilt of police and prosecutors was argued with equal passion.

        There are accepted exceptions to the rule.

    2. Colm J, I am fashionable, and ideological!

      Ok, on the issue of Maíria Cahill’s claims of sexual assault. Though studies give differing estimates the percentage of so-called “false rapes” (itself a heavily loaded term) is certainly well less than 10%, probably as low as 5% (the oft quoted 2%/2.5% may be too low). Simple truth: the vast majority of rape claims are genuine. Second simple truth: the vast majority of rapes are never reported.

      If a woman makes a claim of rape I tend to believe it first and question it second. In many societies police and prosecutors follow the same policy, however unspoken or unrecognised.

      On the Neo-Unionist types and anti-republican media, yes they are making political capital out of this and Cahill may be playing along with them but then why shouldn’t she? My enemy’s enemy, etc. SF is the rival for FG, FF, etc. so of course they are going to exploit a rival party’s weaknesses. That’s politics. And she wants redress.

      If, as she now claims, she is no longer a republican then perhaps even more so given some of the company she keeps. Again, that’s politics. We can point out these things without questioning her basic charge.

      1. ASF: I think your analogy of the Guildford Four, Birmingham Six, etc., works against your argument etc. – these trials were held in an hysterical atmosphere very similar to that being deliberately generated by the Whiggish Revisionist media and political class, ie., “Believe first, question later”. Also I think there’s more than an element of Jeremy Kyle “The lie detector sez you’re guilty mate!” style justice in your citing of statistics. Anyone who bets knows that 20 to 1 is by no means beyond the range of reasonable possibility. Your logic seems to be that if one in 20 people get falsely convicted of rape due to media generated outcry it’s no big deal so long as the other 19 are guilty. Yes, there’s no absolute guarantee that a trial of this man would reach a just verdict, but it’s surely better than having the truth of these allegations decided by Enda Kenny, hacks in the Sindo, RTE, and the rest of the Anglo-Irish media, all of whom clearly have a massive axe to grind.

        1. Colm J, fair points. Yet the statistics and studies still indicate that false rape allegations are incredibly rare. You may argue that this is one of those rare cases but when the person investigated by (P)IRA for offences was named by other victims, and in circumstances where (P)IRA clearly believed something was wrong, then Maíria Cahill’s claims become all the more credible.

          Set aside the obvious anti-Sinn Féin axis or the noxious alliances that have emerged to exploit this situation, and the case still stands. To my mind there was a cover-up.

          A more interesting question would have been what if there had been no cover-up, what then? The historical record indicates that the result would have been a punishment beating or possibly a summary execution. How would people have reacted to that if it was revealed now?

  4. A correction to my comment above – “her accuser must be guilty” should, needles to say, read, “the man she accuses must be guilty”

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