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After finding a voice, nobody will silence me

Last October, just as the trailer for the Spotlight programme A Woman Alone With The IRA ran, the car I was in crashed. Although I am not superstitious, at the time I thought it was a sign of things to come.

On Saturday of this week, just as the announcement I had accepted a nomination from within the Labour Party to run for the Senate was going out, a car crashed into mine outside my house.

A wry smile passed my lips as I thought "typical". I'm treating it as a good omen, and a reminder that life is fragile, and that when opportunities come along they should be taken.

There are many positive things which have happened since Spotlight, and for which I am deeply grateful. All of the support and goodwill that has come my way from right across the political spectrum, and other victims coming forward and getting help.

None of that would have been possible had it not been for that programme giving me a voice to talk about my experiences, and the subsequent media interest that followed. As a result all of the political parties were united on one issue - with the exception of Sinn Fein.

People like Jim Allister worked hard on my behalf, and was responsible for the Sir Keir Starmer review, for which he never sought credit. Mike Nesbitt has consistently kept in contact, as have members of the DUP and Alliance, and the SDLP have been very good to me personally.

Parties in the Republic were good also: Micheal Martin, Enda Kenny and Joan Burton all took time to listen, and the agreement to hold the Dail debate put Sinn Fein firmly on the hook. The truth was half-dragged kicking and screaming out of it. No one will forget its initial denial of "unfounded and untrue", when Sinn Fein was asked in 2013 whether the IRA had ever investigated cases of abuse. It was forced to eventually admit it. For me, the Labour Party is a natural move for a young woman who is politically minded. Its stance on issues of social democracy - such as marriage equality - has hugely shaped politics, and it continues to lead the way on uncomfortable topics for some, such as the 8th Amendment. I look forward to working with it on issues which will help to empower people to have choice over their own lives and which are important.

Standing in a by-election for the Seanad (subject to Labour approval) is a powerful reminder of how it is possible to rebuild your life. It's been a hell of a journey from that young 16-year-old lying on a settee in Ballymurphy wanting to die while an IRA man got a sick kick out of abuse; and, it has been tough. I've been honest about my past difficulties with how I tried to cope.

This last year has been a test of my personal resolve, and I have had good, close friends and immediate family to help me through. But it has also been a stark reminder of just how far I have come and the difference in personal strength and resolve between then and now.

There's a long tradition of powerful people from NI sitting in the Senate. People like Gordon Wilson and Sam McAughtry to Brid Rogers, Seamus Mallon and Martin McAleese have all contributed positively to political life north and south. I hope to be able to do that with issues which are hugely important, such as rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

The elephant in the room is the issue of speaking rights under privilege, and may explain some of the ratcheting up of online attacks on myself in the last 24 hours from Sinn Fein supporters.

I might remind them at this juncture that anything I've needed to say has been said outside the realm of privilege, and I've invited them to sue me often enough. They have not done so. I will respect the use of privilege, and the institution, and will only use it if it is in the public interest to do so.

Sinn Fein's response to me in the last year was nothing short of shameful and shocking, but for every swipe or attack aimed my way I dug my heels in further. And, if there is a lesson to be learned there for anybody, it is that if you continue to stand up for what is right, no one can destroy you.

And, once you find your voice and use it, no one can keep you quiet. Unwittingly, those attacks on my character had the opposite effect - they've not only produced a formidable opponent, but one who will rise above and use the platform for good.

So, the first thing that I intend to do if successful is to see what can be done to help those agencies providing front line services for rape and domestic violence. I know first-hand how important these services are, and I want to be able to give something back for all of the help I have received.

It's a daunting challenge, but one that I'm confident I'll meet head-on. I'd like my time in the Senate (if I get there) to be a positive force for change. I hope it will be.

Belfast Telegraph