Last Friday morning the journalist and writer Paul Larkin highlighted on Twitter some evidence that a “Mairia Cahill” from Belfast had formerly served as the chairperson of the RNU or Republican Network for Unity, a republican pressure group – and later political party – founded in 2007 by several former members of Sinn Féin in opposition to the latter’s support for the PSNI or British paramilitary policing in the north-east of Ireland. The Irish and UK news media, referencing anonymous “security sources”, have claimed that the RNU subsequently became the de facto political wing of Óglaigh na hÉireann (ÓnaÉ), a Republican Resistance grouping established sometime between 2005 and 2009 by veterans of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army who had grown disillusioned with the faltering political progress of the “peace process”. Since 2009 ÓnaÉ has been associated with scattered attacks on the British forces and authorities in Ireland as well as random economic targets. On Friday afternoon I linked to Larkin’s claims in an article condemning the online and social media attacks on Maíria Cahill, a former Sinn Féin activist, following her allegations that she had been subject to repeated sexual assaults by a senior Volunteer of the Belfast Brigade of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army in 1997-98. At the time I made it clear that Cahill’s suspected association with the RNU was unproven since she herself had made no comment on the matter (nor was it overly relevant to the issue in hand). On Sunday the “Ireland” edition of the British Daily Mail newspaper, as well as the Detail, an Irish news and current affairs website, made enquiries into the RNU story with both running it as an article.
Late last night growing speculation on the matter prompted Maíria Cahill to release a statement to the media, featuring prominently on the SF-sceptic news site Slugger O’Toole and a handful of others but largely ignored by the wider press establishment in Ireland who are busy pursuing their own ideological narrative in relation to the Cahill case. I give the relevant passages below (some spelling/grammar corrected):
“It is very strange to see myself being described as a dissident republican, when I would not even consider myself a republican anymore.
The Irish Mail On Sunday story correctly states that I was, involved with a group going by the name “Republican Network for Unity”. The story however, was inaccurate and slanted. I was indeed the National Secretary of RNU – for a period of a few hours in 2010, until I resigned the position. This can be confirmed by the former chair, Danny Mc Brearty. I did continue to attend a series of meetings for a period of a few months. I was opposed to “outside influences”, in what was a perfectly legal pressure group, and was extremely vocal in this regard. Indeed, this was the reason that I left. I am on record consistently as being opposed to illegal armed actions. I am taking robust legal action against the people who have printed or posted this information in relation to me – it is inaccurate, and based on dubious information at worst, and at best, a mistake on a website.
I have never denied my involvement, even though I have long moved on from involvement in any political activism. I did not hide it from the BBC Spotlight makers, and have been open and upfront about all of my experiences in life.
There was nothing illegal about RNU. It was not involved in any armed action. It was a long time after I left the group, that they were publicly associated with supporting one particular grouping. My opposition to violence has been consistent throughout my life, even, though some people might find this strange, when I was in Sinn Fein.
To say that I am opposed to the police in Northern Ireland is equally ridiculous. I completely support the rule of law and order, North and South. The proof of this is that I made criminal complaints in 2007, and 2009 in relation to two matters concerning me. I also acted to call police in my role as a community worker in Belfast – and crucially, I attended a meeting with a solicitor and a barrister in 2009 to give information in relation to a suspected republican money laundering operation in West Belfast. I have continued to work alongside them in matters of community policing. I did not, as has been suggested by Sinn Fein, leave the party over their stance on policing. I left the party as a card carrying member in 2001. I did work on three by elections in years afterwards as a favour to a friend who was within the organisation. I continued to sit with Sinn Fein members – and with members of other political parties on various community organisations.
I have a clear, unblemished criminal record. I have never been involved in violence, of any sort. In fact, I campaigned alongside IRA victim Ann Travers to bring in the SPAD legislation in the Northern Assembly, which ensures that no one with a criminal record can hold a job advising any member of Government. I am proud of my involvement in that campaign.
I don’t however support bad policing – I suspect nobody does, and I feel badly let down by the criminal justice system in relation to my recent court cases. That does not change my stance however – all criminal activity should be reported to the police. Full stop.
Indeed, the weeks that I was involved with RNU actually coincided with the weeks between my first interview with Suzanne Breen in the Sunday Tribune and the time I finally found the courage to report what had happened to the PSNI.
I believe that this story has been deliberately circulated by people whose only desire is to draw attention away from the fact that, when IRA/SF learned that I had been raped by a senior republican volunteer, they forced me into a brutal investigation against my will before engaging in a systematic cover up to silence me and members of my family.
Sinn Fein and those out to defend their handling of my case – and the many other cases involving the moving around of sex offenders to safe houses in the Republic and elsewhere to abuse again – are trying to paint me as some sort of dangerous Dissident with a capital D who supports criminal organisations such as Real IRA and Continuity IRA in order to tarnish my credibility. I reject all such groups root and branch and will swiftly take legal action should anyone wishing to allege or imply that I have any support for violence. I absolutely do not.
Simply. I was abused. An illegal internal investigation was conducted into that abuse. I was forced to attend a confrontation by the IRA as a traumatised 18 year old in a room with my rapist.
That is the issue. I raised it very publicly, at great personal cost to myself. I am now homeless and in debt. Nothing about this has brought me any personal benefit. I have been attacked for doing so and have made a complaint to the Gardai. All manner of false rumour and innuendo and completely ludicrous allegations, including the fact that I supposedly had an affair with a male dissident while I was heavily pregnant (not true), enticed my rapist (not true), and had an affair with a female victim of the IRA (not true) have been peddled about. All of this is designed to increase pressure on me to go away and stop publicly raising the issue of child abuse.
It won’t work. It is very distressing at times, and frustrating, more so for my family – but I know that the people who matter know the truth. And if someone wants to peddle libellous information about me, then there is little I can do to stop it being written – but I most certainly will pursue it through my solicitor, and the police.
It says more about the motivation of the peddlers of inaccurate and in most cases completely untruthful information, than it does about me.
And I won’t be silenced because of it.”
To summarise Maíria Cahill’s points:
- She officially resigned her membership of Sinn Féin in 2001
- Despite that resignation she continued to campaign on behalf of Sinn Féin candidates in 3 subsequent elections
- She remained active in various community groups that contained members of Sinn Féin
- Sometime in 2010 she temporarily served as the national Secretary of the Republican Network for Unity (RNU), a rival political party to Sinn Féin founded by former SF activists opposed to the latter’s policies, particularly in relation to justice and policing
- She subsequently resigned from the RNU though she gives no time-frame for her membership beyond a passing reference to “weeks”
- She does not support military resistance to the continued British Occupation of the north-east nor any force engaged in such activities
- She supports the functions of the PSNI, the British paramilitary police force in the north-east
- She no longer considers herself a “republican”
In relation to this matter an anonymous – and heretofore inactive – blog attacking so-called “Dissident Republicans” has published an email transcript relating to internal debates in the RNU which seems to partially back Cahill’s version of events. This is the first time the blog has made public “insider” information in relation to any of the non-Sinn Féin groupings, up to now only posting copies of mainstream news reports. At the same time the RNU has released a strongly-worded statement supporting Maíria Cahill’s case against SF and Gerry Adams.
Meanwhile two recent opinion polls, both taken in the wake of the Cahill furore, have shown that the scandal has had a (remarkably?) negligible effect on Sinn Féin’s electoral support. In the The Sunday Business Post poll SF support has dropped from 23% to 20% (almost within the margin of error) which still leaves it as the second most popular party in the country. In contrast a survey by the Sunday Times has the party unchanged at 19%, though again holding on to that psychologically important second place. That same poll shows that Gerry Adams’ popularity has dropped by a significant 7% to 40% – which puts him in second place and just 1% behind the table leader. Bizarrely both polls have been presented in the press as “bad news” for Sinn Féin. Which takes spin to a whole new level.
If it weren’t for the very real – and very distressing – allegations convincingly reported by Maíria Cahill, and the dreadful empathy-free reaction of SF’s leadership and some of its supporters, it would be an almost surreal week. Though one that provides plenty of insight for non-political folk into how Irish politics and the media work. For good or for ill.