Maíria Cahill And The Republican Network For Unity

A republican guard of honour at the recent funeral in Belfast of former RNU (and previously prominent Sinn Féin) member Tom Catney. At the time of his death Catney was no longer active with the party

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”
A Republican honour guard fires a volley of shots over the coffin of Jim Gallagher, a prominent member of the Republican Network for Unity or RNU, 2010
A Republican honour guard fires a volley of shots over the coffin of Jim Gallagher, a prominent member of the Republican Network for Unity or RNU, 2010

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.

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20 comments

  1. Sionn,

    Interesting stuff – good summary.

    Just a query regarding your use of the term ‘PSNI, the British paramilitary police force in the north-east’ – of course that can be described as entirely accurate but is also the terminology (of choice of those (dissers and supporters amongst others) who are opposed to the PSNI. Are you a non supporter of the PSNI? Knowing how (well and) carefully you write your blogs it seems somewhat pejorative language given the sensitivities of the Policing situation unless you are an opponent.

    Not criticising just pondering.

    1. No probs on the query, Sammy. Fair question. Given that we are in Ireland, given that the PSNI is funded and part-controlled by the British state, given that it is armed, then a “British paramilitary police force” seems strictly accurate to me. The so-called Dissidents prefer archaic terms like the “Crown Forces” etc. so the terminology I employ is – I might suggest – more advanced and less loaded in some ways than theirs.

      The only legitimate police service in Ireland is Garda Síochána na hÉireann, an unarmed civilian police service. The PSNI is a compromise/interim/transitional service. However it cannot fulfil that duty while being an armed paramilitary force. It should have been unarmed from the get-go. That SF, SDLP and others did not press for an unarmed civilian police service in 1998 and subsequently is a disgrace. No guns in politics means all the guns: British, Irish and the disputed in-betweeners.

      I support a reformed, civilianised and unarmed PSNI. Or a Garda Síochána na nUladh! 😉

      1. Sionn,

        Don want to sidetrack the thread but being armed is if anything a very ‘British’ way of doing policing – we inherited their legal system and arguably that tradition also.

        re. “However it cannot fulfil that duty while being an armed paramilitary force.”

        Suggesting the PSNI is not legitimate on that basis does not make a great deal of sense to me – arguably they should have greater ‘military’ powers i.e. bomb defusing and intelligence gathering if we (realistically) want our friends from MI5 hiding in the bushes and the BA out of the place.

        1. Exactly. Armed police in Ireland is a British way of policing our country, a historic colonial way. The Irish way is unarmed police, a civilian service answerable to the citizenry. That is what we successfully established in the 1920s, despite the horrors of civil war.

          Policing in the north-east must be unarmed and civilian in nature not quasi-military. Enough with gendarmeries.

          Bomb defusing and intelligence can all be carried out by a civilian police service, if carefully structured and scrutinised. It does not require guns.

          By retaining a paramilitary force “Dissidents” were provided with military targets, targets an unarmed force may have perhaps removed through policing reforms. Certainly it would have made justifications of attacks on civilian police much more problematic.

          Of course one could also suggest two types of independent police services, an unarmed local or community one and then a separate regional one which would conduct operations like bomb disposal, etc. It was the fear of “infiltration” that stymied that idea (and no, I do not mean a return to SF’s previous “restorative justice” style policing, a euphemism for party enforcers in some cases).

          1. re. “civilianised and unarmed PSNI”

            ‘civilianised’ – so even without guns are you saying there would be an issue. I really think the arming of the PSNI as an issue is pretty irrelevant – they are under Irish political control – I suspect that if/when we have a United Ireland and loyalists are taking pot shots at the cops(North or South) there will be few quibbles.

            The real issue is the continuing use of MI5 and the army for some operations – the PSNI should have the capability to be as heavily armed as the situation requires provided they operate under IRISH political direction and the dissers would have absolutely no qualms shooting unarmed cops – and arguably fear of getting shot is keeping their activity level down.

            Arguing against arming the PSNI allows the status quo (with British service personnel) to look like it is the only solution in town.

            ps How many dissers have been shot by police? 1 or 2 perhaps – and not a ‘controversial’ shooting I can remember since SF started supporting and (partly) controlling them.

            1. The PSNI is a paramilitary force in form and function. The arms are a manifestation of that. The presence of former-RUC personnel, whether serving officers or clerical staff, reinforces that.

              A civilian police service would be different. (The recent reforms of the Gardaí are moving us towards a more accountable and community-based service, though these have been off-set by failures elsewhere. There remains far too much political influence and middling levels of (political/white collar) corruption as we witnessed in the recent controversies).

              I oppose armed police – outside of specialist units – whatever the circumstances: “Armed Gardaí, An Unwelcome Echo Of The Past”.

              A wholly unarmed police service since 1998 might have led to a different outcome viz. rump insurgent attacks, especially one free of any association with the “Northern Ireland” statelet in terms of now being perceived as one of the institutions/public manifestations of the statelet. The argument that the PSNI was simply RUC Mark II had some validity, even allowing for the hyperbole.

      1. Because she was a committed supporter of the (Provisional) Republican movement until events reached some sort of breaking-point in the early to mid-2000s. It is widely stated that she finally abandoned Sinn Féin because of its official support for the PSNI, hence why she migrated to the RNU, which remained opposed to the half-hearted reforms in policing witnessed since 1998 and the Belfast Agreement itself. From there she claims to have moved to a position of being a non-republican, if I understand her statements correctly. Personally I believe that if the crimes against her had been dealt with properly by the (P)RM she would still be a member or at least an active supporter of that movement. There is no reason to believe otherwise. However they weren’t, hence her justifiable anger and desire for justice. Though some might argue that this has been now transformed into a form of political opposition to SF on principle, albeit through the manipulation of interested parties.

        Whatever the case, she has my sympathies.

  2. I would say that it does affect SF in the 26 counties. One it makes a future coalition deal harder ( since I oppose coalitions with any of the Troika parties, a good outcome). Second it affects the possibility of transfer voting. Sf is still quite transfer toxic.

    1. Yes, however I expected – given popular sensitivity to issues of historic sexual abuse – for SF to take a hefty hit in any new polls. Gerry Adams showed a fair drop but nothing actually too dramatic and SF’s overall percentage is pretty much the same as before the controversy. So there is something of a disconnect between a fifth of the electorate and the media establishment.

      That in itself is interesting. It’s almost as if, no matter what, 15%-20% of voters are determined to vote SF. Not a huge number on the face of it but significant in an Irish context of increasing electoral fragmentation.

      Overall one could almost argue that SF’s uncertain or soft position on Water Taxes is a greater threat to its electoral potential than any events relating to the northern conflict. Hence in part the visible exasperation of the news media with the electorate and the risible manner in which the press tried to spin the two polls as bad news for SF.

      Agree, SF remains transfer unfriendly. That will impede even a relatively high first preference vote in a number of constituencies.

  3. is about a quarter of the gardai armed? Dangerous lot with or with out them. Can destroy a man with a lie in the court. but you are right they are a british police force. Their job is to enforce british law in this country. Maybe they are nicer about it now but they are what they are.

    interesting case this one. a few flags going up on the subtleties of language and context.

    1. Shea, I had a lengthy discussion before on ASF examining the importance of language and terminology, especially in relation to the north-east. Capture the language and you capture the argument. That is why the likes of Eoghan Harris, etc. were and are so obsessed with using the term “Northern Ireland” in the media and vigorously attacking those who do not do so. They understood very early on the psychological importance of imposing their favoured language on both supporters, opponents and the non-partisan. Derry has become a new battlefield already half-won with the use of “Derry-Londonderry” while the apologist columnists write simply “Londonderry”, even in the Irish press. I’ve noticed lately the creeping use of “the province” and the “mainland” in some columnists’ articles.

      Approach these things with a grounding in political psychology and the importance of imposing your language on the debate soon becomes apparent.

      So I very deliberately use the terms “island nation”, the “north east”, etc. as well as “paramilitary police”. You make the argument your own, framed in your language, and that is half the battle.

      Some Republicans seem stuck in a time-warp of archaic terms that no longer have resonance in popular culture or that actively repulse/confuse listeners: “Crown Forces”, “Six Counties”, etc.

      What person under the age of 25 in Ireland would be readily familiar with these or use them in regular conversation?

      So you adopt popular or accepted terms to your own needs. If you wish to make a political point then the “British Occupied North of Ireland”, “British Occupied North”, “Occupied North” all assimilate a familiar term, “the North”, to an unfamiliar concept (c.f. “Occupied Territories”, “Occupied Palestine”, “Occupied Iraq”, “Occupied Europe”, “Occupied France” etc.). Likewise using a term like the “British Occupation Forces”, “British Forces” speaks more to current media-shaped phrasing than “Crown Forces” (people understand “Occupation Forces” from WWII, events in Iraq, Israel-Palestine, etc.).

      “Paramilitary police force” fits into that same category of phraseology shaping understanding and perception.

  4. Sionn,

    re. “while the apologist columnists write simply “Londonderry”, even in the Irish press”

    That is its proper name is it not. Not a term I would use but the correct term nevertheless. If we look at it from the Unionist point of view RTE I think I’m right in saying never uses the L word, and never speaks of the North as part of the UK – it generally uses the term Britain and the North. Listening to RTE you would never guess from the nomenclature that there were 2 jurisdictions on the island.

    I wonder if a freedom of information request could force RTE to disclose its ‘Republican’ language agenda – I cant remember it ever even being discussed.(Although I’m totally in favour of what seems to be their ‘policy’).

    Perhaps I missed it?

    1. “Proper name”? “Correct term”?

      By whose judgement? Or imposition? As well argue that Judea and Samaria is the “proper name” for the West Bank. These are political and cultural terms reflecting political and cultural positions. When Moscow refers to Ukraine as “Little Russia” is is not out of affection. It is staking territory. Derry vs. Londonderry is much the same.

      I generally believe that objecting to minor symbols of Britishness in Ireland is rather petty – and less than open-minded. Live and let live, history is history, etc. For instance attacking British statues or monuments etc. is spiteful, offensive and just plain wrong-headed. However the name of a city and region is more than a minor matter.

      RTÉ does use the term “Northern Ireland”, especially in current affairs programmes. I would actually contest that RTÉ treats the island as one nation, even if only in reporting. It is very mixed and certainly does not extend beyond the news room.

      The “republican language” of RTÉ is of course Eoghan Harris’ favourite bugbear (and RDE too). It is a red herring. You set up a controversy in order to impose absolutely your point of view, close down alternative views and thereby claim victory. It is a self-creating orthodoxy. Harris et all play a far more sophisticated game than they are given credit for. But then most are 1970s’ era ex-WP or WP wannabes. Infiltration and entryism are second nature, even in the sphere of popular culture.

  5. Sionn,

    ‘Proper’ name as in official name e.g. Londonderry is the second largest city in Northern Ireland and is part of the United Kingdom. That is something (apart from just now) I would never say or write and as an individual that is a policy that I can implement quite easily. It is a different matter for a ‘National’ broadcaster or indeed for matters of state protocol. The fact is that the British don’t really care if we call things by the ‘wrong’ names as evidenced by their ceding some limited constitutional control of Green Field Number 4 to ‘us’ under the GFA – and so they don’t complain. It is left to our fellow islanders of a ‘British’ disposition in the (as you would call it?) North east corner and the disgruntleds’ (is that a ‘proper’ word?) of D4 to worry about such things.

    I don’t read the independent (except occasionally for the Ruggerball) or yer man Eoghan H- I’m actually not interested in what he has to say- not because I don’t agree with him – but rather because what he writes didn’t seem worth the effort. (Kevin Myers, of whom I am a big fan – as a writer – is a different matter).

    As I mentioned above, I am delighted with RTE’s policy – I just find it rather surprising that they can ‘get away with’ referring to, what is our closest neighbours territory using the ‘wrong’ names.

    I’m not sure RTE’s Republican nomenclature would survive public debate but I would nevertheless like to see the guidelines in print – if they are available?

    1. Sammy, I don’t think RTÉ news and currents affairs has a “style bible” though if did I would certainly want a peek. Of course I have one of my own – albeit confined to my head 😉

      1. Sionn,

        I have never heard RTE utter the L word for example – even though they must receive reports referring to ‘Londonderry’ – I don’t believe this is just relying on ‘political awareness’ by its staff – but rather a directive from above. Equally, I don’t know the limits of Freedom of Information – but I wonder are we ‘allowed’ to know what ‘political coaching’ staff receive. RTE broadcasts for the ‘nation’ and again I presume their definition of this is a 32 county Nation – and surely that is written down somewhere (it certainly pre-dates the GFA).

        In relation to Ms Cahill, a story that becomes murkier by the day, I heard her very convincingly claiming that the boul Gerry was claiming that he told her that she should go to the RUC at a time when Gerry and Co were not supporting the police – although I think there was an unspoken rule that for non ‘political’ stuff Nats could go to the police.

        I think that this point is potentially very tricky for Gerry – wondering if he dealt with it convincingly or not, any idea?

        1. Sammy, it was my understanding that there were (many) circumstances where seeking the assistance of the RUC was a given. And when members of SF and (P)IRA advised it. As always with the “Long War” everything existed in shades of grey.

          The Maíria Cahill case has been more complex from the start than any of her more vocal supporters were willing or comfortable admitting. I tried to indicate that through my posts. A few readers spotted my deliberate highlighting of Cahill’s description of (P)IRA as the “Army” and challenged me on that through email messages (including one lady who was particularly aggressive about it). Hopefully the now public revelation of the existence of Maíria Cahill’s letter to the Army Council will explain the facts behind my claims. The full text of all communications and statements must be made public.

          All that said I still believe she is telling the broad truth of the events of 1997/98-2000 and is deserving of far more respect than she has so far received from SF supporters or members. There has been a lot of shameful stuff disseminated online and off.

          Someone assumed I was being referred to by Malachi O’Doherty in this. I seriously doubt I have ever featured on his horizon. I think he had a far better known blogger, writer and regular SF defender in mind.

          “Some bloggers sneer with relish, others treat the credibility question as nothing more than a logical conundrum.

          It is hard to credit that some people of intelligence and education would suspend all consideration of the hurt they might be causing to a traumatised woman in order to defend the reputation of a political party.

          Did they stop and think about that before writing their carefully crafted pieces. Did they argue with others who suggested they lend their polemical wit to a cheap cause? Or do they just enjoy being clever? Who knows?

          But they show no signs of burdened conscience and retain their humour and dexterity in crafted jibes, so they appear to be enjoying themselves.”

          1. re . “Sammy, it was my understanding that there were (many) circumstances where seeking the assistance of the RUC was a given. And when members of SF and (P)IRA advised it. As always with the “Long War” everything existed in shades of grey.”

            The question is – whether Gerry’s claimed advice to Ms Cahill is credible – I’m not sure it is. Telling her to ‘shop’ a member of the IRA to the RUC seems pretty unlikely – especially when the IRA had a court of its own (which she had chosen) investigating the issue.

            Not sure why (even if it is true) that Gerry felt the need to say this – it smacks of trying to show he hadn’t in way covered anything up and or avoid being charged?

            1. Unlikely he would advise that. Then again when exactly is he claimed to have advised it? When the individual was no longer with (P)IRA? Even then a former and disgruntled Volunteer in RUC hands, perhaps liable to temptations of revenge? Seems improbable.

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