Mairia Cahill: I was in dissident party but it's all a smear campaign
The woman at the centre of a sex abuse scandal which has convulsed Sinn Fein last night revealed she was once a member of a dissident republican group opposed to the PSNI.
But Maíria Cahill insisted she was against violence and that the "leak" about her past involvement with the Republican Network for Unity group was part of a "smear campaign" against her.
The 33-year-old, who claims the IRA tried to cover up sexual abuse within its ranks, confirmed she was the National Secretary of the RNU. However, she insisted that she only the held the post for "a period of a few hours".
Last night she took to Twitter to say that she would "not be silenced" by a Sinn Fein "smear campaign". Ms Cahill said: "I am pro-peace, pro-justice, pro-accountable policing, pro-criminal justice, pro-truth. I am anti-cover-up of abuse."
She added: "So here is the main issue. I was abused. IRA forced an investigation and made me confront my abuser.
"SF are covering up. That's the issue."
Several politicians rallied to defend Ms Cahill following the revelations of her past involvement with the RNU. The SDLP's Dolores Kelly said: "Politics of abused is irrelevant, like saying she wore a short skirt and so deserved to be raped."
Ms Cahill has said she was fearful of returning to Belfast after a series of abusive online messages.
It has emerged that the IRA member accused of raping Ms Cahill was suspected of sexually assaulting another two teenage girls. The victims pressed charges against the suspect alongside Ms Cahill, but withdrew statements of complaint made to the PSNI in 2013. The women told police officers they were interrogated by republicans.
It has also been alleged that as many as 10 men were moved across the border following allegations of rape and abuse against boys and girls. It is understood that one man was moved south and escaped punishment by an IRA 'court martial' after he allegedly raped a 12-year-old girl in west Belfast.
The man is believed to have been subsequently appointed to a senior position within the IRA's Southern Command and was responsible for organising and carrying out armed robberies and kidnappings.
Gerry Adams has faced a political backlash over his handling of the Cahill case. On Saturday Sinn Fein insisted that Ms Cahill did not disclose her alleged abuse to the Sinn Fein president. Ms Cahill has insisted that she sought his help over a lengthy period.
SDLP Leader Alasdair McDonnell said it had become apparent that the approach of Sinn Fein was to "face down the truth, not face up to it".
"This is an appalling way to treat Maíria Cahill who has revealed her understandable fear of returning north," he said.