Belfast Telegraph

Cross-border aid call for abused

An all-Ireland support service should be established to deal with victims who were sexually abused during the Northern Ireland Troubles, Martin McGuinness has urged.

Sinn Fein's Deputy First Minister has written to his partner in government at Stormont, First Minister Peter Robinson, and Irish premier Taoiseach Enda Kenny asking them to back his proposal.

The move comes in the wake of intense political focus on the high profile case of Mairia Cahill, a west Belfast woman who has accused the republican movement of covering up allegations she was raped by an IRA man.

In the letter to Mr Robinson and Mr Kenny, Mr McGuinness wrote: "The recent public discussion around sexual abuse has brought very sharply into the public focus the fact that, some victims of abuse sought to have their allegations dealt with through mechanisms other than the established, statutory channels. Others felt unable to seek support or justice from any channel.

"There is very clearly a need for this society to deal with this issue."

Ms Cahill has been fiercely critical of Sinn Fein's handling of her, as have the party's political rivals north and south of the border. Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and Stormont Junior Minister Jennifer McCann have both resisted calls to quit over their handling of the matter.

Ms Cahill, now 33, alleged she was raped by a suspected IRA member when she was a teenager in 1997.

She has further claimed that the IRA conducted its own inquiry into her account, subjecting her to interrogation and forcing her to confront her alleged attacker.

The man she accused of rape was later acquitted of criminal charges in court after Ms Cahill withdrew her evidence. Charges were dropped against those allegedly involved in the IRA's internal inquiry.

But the case has shone a light on how the republican movement dealt with such allegations during the Troubles - a time when co-operation with the police within nationalist communities was extremely limited.

Ms Cahill has claimed many victims remain too scared to come forward with their stories for fear of what republicans would subject them to.

Mr McGuinness said a support mechanism should be set up through the auspices of the cross-border governmental body - the North South Ministerial Council.

"This initiative must be fully resourced by the Executive here and the Irish Government," he said.

The Sinn Fein veteran said the objective would be to:

:: support victims of abuse in all communities,

:: to ensure greater access to counselling and other supports for victims

:: and to facilitate victims and survivors in accessing the justice system and making official complaints.

In his letter to his political counterparts, he added: " Survivors must be empowered to access these services and all parties should do everything possible to ensure those survivors who want to come forward feel safe in doing so.

"The anonymity and confidentiality of victims and survivors who may not wish to be identified must be acknowledged and protected.

"Thus in addition I believe consideration should also be given to promotion of either existing help lines to deal with this matter, or the establishment of dedicated 'hot lines' North and South to facilitate victims and survivors who wish to come forward.

"Survivors of sexual abuse and rape deserve acknowledgement, support and justice. Perpetrators of abuse need to be subject to the law and brought before the courts.

"Victims and survivors have a right to truth and justice.

"I hope that you will support me in this call for such a cross-border initiative to be established as a matter of priority."

Stormont's justice committee today voted to hold an inquiry into how the criminal justice system handled abuse cases involving the republican movement.

The decision comes less than 24 hours after a majority of Assembly members also called for a probe into the issues, and in particular whether Ms McCann breached the ministerial code of conduct.

The Stormont junior minister has acknowledged that Ms Cahill made her aware of her allegations in 2005, when she was not an elected representative, but she did not report the claims to the authorities.

Ms McCann has rejected the suggestion that she did anything wrong.

DUP chair of the justice committee Paul Givan welcomed the latest probe.

"It is vital there is public confidence in the justice system, but this has been seriously undermined by recent revelations," he said.

He added: "Victims deserve to know that those who have carried out such horrendous crimes will be pursued. There must be maximum transparency and that is what the committee will be seeking to achieve."

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