As stated in a previous post, I have largely avoided commenting upon the complex Maíria Cahill controversy, due in no small part to the levels of partisan sentiment and animosity it brings up. A rational discussion of the matter seems all but impossible. Furthermore I have no wish to add to the Belfast woman’s undoubted emotional pain and discomfort by teasing apart aspects of her life which are nobody’s damn business but her own. Simply put, I see no reason to disbelieve her general account of the dreadful investigation by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army and SF into serious accusations of sexual abuse brought by her – and others – against her uncle-in-law, a former senior volunteer in (P)IRA’s Belfast Brigade. There was undoubtedly a failure of institutional responsibility within the (Provisional) Republican Movement towards Cahill, formerly an activist with SF’s youth wing, and at least two other women. That much is clear.
However the decision by the Labour Party to nominate Maíria Cahill to a seat in Seanad Éireann makes her campaign for election a legitimate subject for analysis, particularly with rumours running rife in the Dublin commentariat of threats of legal action or unemployment being made against her political critics, rivals and even inquisitive journalists. When media darlings like senator David Norris, no friend of Sinn Féin or republicanism in general, raise questions over the lack of accountability in the Labour campaign, and the refusal of the LP candidate to appear for interview, you have to wonder if the whole election, risible as it may be, is descending into a form of democratic fraud.
Updated 11.11.2015: From Catherine McCartney, a prominent critic of Sinn Féin, whose brother Robert was murdered in 2005 by individual members of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army in Belfast.
“Catherine McCartney Press Release.
I have stayed silent up to now about my disgust regarding the nomination of Mairia Cahill to the Seanad because of outstanding civil proceedings I am taking against her.
Reservations I have surround her alleged senior position in RNU (the political wing of the terrorist organisation, Óglaigh na hÉireann) which, it appears, was as recent as 2011. I have today written to Oireachtas members outlining my concerns.
It is vital for victims’ families, fighting for truth and justice to be entitled to work with elected representatives who should operate from a position of integrity and independence.
I am asking the Labour Party and Ms Cahill to provide a credible explanation regarding emerging revelations of her involvement with RNU and to do so before the Seanad election.
Without an explanation, the appointment appears to be made solely for political purposes. This undermines the campaigning work of victims’ families, from all backgrounds who campaign for justice for their loved ones.
I am calling on Joan Burton and the Labour Party to reflect on their decision to nominate Ms Cahill to the Seanad position.
Dear Senators and Deputies,
I am writing to express my concern of, and my objection to Ms Cahill’s nomination to the Seanad. This is on the grounds of her involvement in the dissident group RNU, as highlighted by Mr Beades and others over the weekend. Furthermore, the outright refusal of the Labour Party to provide a comprehensive explanation in relation to this matter only adds injury to families such as my own.
As you will be aware my brother, Robert, was murdered by the IRA and Sinn Fein members in 2005, and in the aftermath the IRA embarked on a cover up, which rendered any prospect of justice impossible. A key and essential factor in our campaign was pressuring republicans to cooperate with the PSNI and due to this stance my family suffered greatly.
- A picket held outside my brother’s house (causing my 4 year old nephew to vomit with anxiety)
- Robert’s friend was badly beaten
- We were issued with death threats
- My sister and brother’s fiancé (and two children had to leave the area)
- We were vilified and condemned
- Our lives were completely transformed due to his murder and our campaign.
This did not deter us in our quest for justice however; a quest we continue to this day. When SF did sign up to policing some of those involved in Robert’s murder moved to the dissident groups in protest.
If the revelations regarding Ms Cahill are accurate, then she also moved to the dissidents in opposition to SF’s shift on policing. It has been cited in the press that Ms Cahill was the National Secretary of RNU from 2010-2011, a very senior position. This cannot be regarded as a minor issue or an irrelevance to the appointment to a political office.
I would also like it noted that Ms Cahill did not inform me of her involvement in RNU when I brought her into my home in 2011. On the contrary, she claimed not to be involved and to be in fear of them. It now appears that at this time she was National Secretary.
Ms Cahill’s nomination to the Seanad, in the absence of any full explanation for her involvement in a group which was actively discouraging people to engage with the police, is unacceptable and a gross undermining of victims of the IRA and dissident republicans. I fail to understand how a family like our own can ask political parties to hold SF to account regarding matters of truth and justice, (issues which remain at the forefront of peace process) whilst at the same time those parties ask no questions of Ms Cahill, and provide no answers to the public.
I have been silent on the issues surrounding Ms Cahill’s case. This is due to civil proceedings in process regarding a harassment case I have taken against Ms Cahill.
In 2011 I invited Ms Cahill into my home, because I believed her to be a woman facing a similar experience to our own (i.e. coming up against the Provos). I supported her as a woman, a feminist and a justice campaigner. I did not allow her previous involvement in SF to cloud my judgement of her experience or need.
I am now aware that I was not given the full facts and circumstances of Ms Cahill’s position and activities. I have decided to write this letter because I believe the same now applies to the public, who deserve better from democratic politicians. Also, I believe that as a family seeking justice this appointment will leave us isolated from those political parties who support this nomination (without providing a full explanation acceptable to victims of the IRA and dissidents). The duplicity inherent in the lack of transparency and honesty relating to Ms Cahill’s role would make it difficult for me to engage on basis of integrity and independence.
I will leave it to your judgement regarding her suitability in the light of the revelations, but would ask that you demand a full and comprehensive explanation to be provided and published. This would be with a view to protecting the integrity of victims of republican violence, past and present.
I feel I must mention one more thing. In a message to me, Mairia Cahill claims to have recorded me without my knowledge and expressly infers that she will use this material to damage me in some way. It is my view, and I’m sure the public would agree, that this behaviour is not befitting of a member of the Seanad and should also be addressed.
I would hope that you receive this on the basis upon which it is sent- a genuine and proven concern for matters relating to the rule of law, justice and truth.
Catherine McCartney (sister of Robert McCartney).”
Updated 12.11.2015: In response to several enquiries let me state, yet again, that I have no particular criticism to make of Maíria Cahill’s membership of the leadership of the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) during the period of 2010-11, any more than I have of her previous membership of the leadership of Ógra Shinn Féin, the formerly-titled youth wing of SF, or her campaigning on behalf of Sinn Féin candidates prior to 2005. I don’t believe that any of those things should impede her candidacy for election now or in the future. Nor, as a republican of no party affiliation, do I see them in the reprehensible light that some partitionist or quasi-unionist ideologues claim to see.
I merely find it amusing that the Labour Party, under the rabidly SF-hating leadership of Joan Burton and some former OSF-WP colleagues, find themselves so willing to embrace a one-time committed republican activist from the city of Belfast. Furthermore the willingness of Labour to accept a northern citizen of Ireland into their ranks while denying that same right to other Irish men and women who continue to live in the north-east of our island nation smacks of the deepest, most cynical hypocrisy. As I asked before: if a woman of Belfast is good enough for the Labour Party, why is the Labour Party too good for the women and men of Belfast?