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Cahill vow to support abuse victims

A Belfast woman who claims her allegations of rape were covered up by Sinn Fein and the IRA has vowed to support abuse victims she says are still too scared to come forward and tell their stories.

Mairia Cahill warned that abusers were still walking the streets because victims were fearful of contacting the authorities.

"There are perpetrators at the minute that have never been before a court of law because victims have been frightened into silence and haven't been able to report it," she said on a visit to Stormont to discuss her case with First Minister Peter Robinson.

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

In a BBC Spotlight documentary highlighting her story last week, she 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 the charges in court.

But the case has once more shone a light on how Sinn Fein and IRA dealt with allegations of sexual abuse during the Northern Ireland Troubles, when co-operation with the police in republican communities was largely absent.

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Last night Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who has denied any suggestion he was involved in a cover up of her case, admitted that the IRA on occasion had shot alleged sex abusers, insisting that its members were "singularly ill-equipped to deal with these matters".

Mr Adams said the IRA had now left the stage so there was "no corporate way of verifying" Ms Cahill's allegations about how the organisation handled her case.

Ms Cahill has accused Sinn Fein of treating her in a "despicable and reprehensible" manner and has called on Mr Adams to quit.

After their meeting at Stormont, First Minister Mr Robinson said the IRA had treated Ms Cahill like a "criminal".

"It is incredibly courageous for someone in Mairia's position to step forward so publicly," he said.

"No-one should underestimate how difficult it is to speak about these issues. Since making her statement to the media she has been contacted by others who have suffered a similar nightmare.

"I want to create the circumstances where no-one feels afraid to come forward and speak about the wrongs that have been committed towards them."

Earlier Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he expected to hear victims of abuse at the hands of republicans come forward.

"I think there has been despicable, utterly despicable, conduct by Sinn Fein to discredit Mairia Cahill over the last period," he said.

Ms Cahill said victims had been contacting her in "absolute turmoil".

"They need to be listened to, they need to believed, but more importantly they need help," she said.

Ms Cahill added: "I am saying to those victims, if you want to go and report your sexual abuse, I certainly will offer you my support and walk into a police station or Garda station to be able to do so.

"I don't see that support coming from Sinn Fein at the minute and I think Martin McGuinness in particular in the north and someone other than Gerry Adams in the south needs to be making the same offer available."

Mr McGuinness today urged anyone who had been the victim of abuse to report it to the authorities.

"The recent publicity surrounding the case of Mairia Cahill has again highlighted the issue of sexual abuse within Irish society and I would urge anyone who has any information whatsoever about abuse to bring it forward so that cases can be properly investigated and victims properly supported," he said.

Mr McGuinness added: "As a society, I think we all have to acknowledge that victims of abuse have been failed in the past.

"Only now is society beginning to accept and deal with the true extent and horror of what has been perpetrated across the island of Ireland.

"However, there are now support structures in place and the relevant agencies are properly equipped to pursue complaints and assist victims. I would again appeal to anyone with concerns about abuse to use them."

Mr Adams and other Sinn Fein members have offered to meet Ms Cahill to discuss her claims.

She insisted today that would only happen if the encounter was independently recorded.

"I don't trust them and that's as honest as I can be," she explained.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said Mr Adams' refusal to accept Ms Cahill's account of events compounded her pain.

Ms Cahill is from a well-known republican family in west Belfast.

Her late great uncle, Joe Cahill, was a founding member of the Provisional IRA.

Ms Cahill today dismissed a newspaper report alleging that he was a child abuser as "very hurtful".

Stormont's Justice Minister David Ford appealed for abuse victims to come forward.

He added: "If there are wider issues which emerge from that, then it may well be that there are appropriate issues to be considered by a public inquiry.

"But, the important issue at this stage is that any of us who have any influence should encourage anybody who is in that position to come forward."

He later said he was not in a position to commit to a public inquiry at this stage.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said women like Ms Cahill were left feeling abandoned and were like second class citizens compared to the victims of institutional abuse.

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