Belfast Telegraph

Mairia Cahill: Sinn Fein leader’s statement is woeful and cowardly

Mairia Cahill had demanded an apology from Mary Lou McDonald in the wake of a damning police watchdog probe into how her case was handled.

A woman who was allegedly subjected to sexual abuse by a republican has slammed an apology from Sinn Fein leader Mary-Lou McDonald as “woeful”.

Mairia Cahill had demanded the apology from Ms McDonald in the wake of a damning police watchdog probe into how her case was handled.

Ms Cahill has claimed Sinn Fein covered up her allegations against one of its members.

Ms McDonald unreservedly apologised to Ms Cahill, but Ms Cahill has criticised the Sinn Fein leader’s statement, saying she did not go far enough.

“I think Mary-Lou’s statement was cowardly and woeful, and that is me being kind to Mary-Lou,” Ms Cahill said.

“Mary-Lou McDonald has failed to admit that there was an IRA investigation into my abuse.

“She has failed to admit that Martin Morris was a party member and that Sinn Fein suspended him three years after the first senior Sinn Fein people became aware that I was being abused, and that’s what she needs to do.”

On Friday Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire delivered a scathing critique into police failings, and also noted that Sinn Fein did not act when Ms Cahill originally made her allegations to senior party figures in 1997, instead waiting for three years to suspend her alleged attacker.

Ms Cahill, a grand-niece of prominent Belfast republican Joe Cahill, claimed she was sexually abused as a 16-year-old by alleged IRA member Martin Morris.

Mr Morris, who denied all wrongdoing, was later acquitted of rape when the case against him collapsed.

Ms Cahill had alleged the republican movement’s response to her claims was to subject her to an IRA interrogation.

She also accused Sinn Fein of engaging in a cover-up and waging a campaign to question her integrity ever since she waived her right to anonymity.

In response, Ms McDonald said Sinn Fein now had “robust procedures in place” for mandatory reporting of abuse allegations.

“I deeply regret that these procedures were not in place at the time of Mairia Cahill’s disclosure,” she said.

“For this I unreservedly apologise.”

I welcome the publication of the Ombudsman's report and the fact that the PSNI have accepted and will implement the recommendations of that report Mary Lou McDonald

The attempted prosecutions of Mr Morris for alleged sex abuse and IRA membership – and four others accused of IRA membership linked to Ms Cahill’s claims of a republican internal inquiry – never got to trial.

As well as Ms Cahill, there were two other alleged victims in the case.

The prosecutions collapsed in 2014 when the women withdrew their evidence.

Dr Maguire blamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and its predecessor the Royal Ulster Constabulary, for a litany of failings linked to the cases.

Ms McDonald added: “I welcome the publication of the Ombudsman’s report and the fact that the PSNI have accepted and will implement the recommendations of that report.

“I have no doubt that the three women at the heart of this report have been through an ordeal.

“I want to commend their bravery, in particular the bravery of Mairia Cahill for waiving her anonymity.”

Dr Maguire said four officers should be disciplined over shortcomings in the police response.

Ms Cahill’s allegations shone a light on how the IRA dealt with alleged sex abusers during a time when co-operation with the police in republican communities was extremely limited.

The Ombudsman found no evidence that anyone had been protected from prosecution or that the PSNI investigation became subject to adverse political interference.

Three of the officers recommended for action have been disciplined. The fourth has retired.

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said the three women were failed by the police.

“I apologise unequivocally for the hurt and distress caused to them and for the failures in the police investigation,” he said.

Ms Cahill met with Mr Hamilton on Thursday. Speaking afterwards, she said she was satisfied that Mr Hamilton “told the truth in relation to his organisation”.

“I fully accept the Ombudsman Report and we discussed how the organisation, and the criminal justice system, today is very different as a result of Mairia’s courage and strength in speaking out. We discussed how the Ombudsman noted that the previous intelligence failures would not occur today,” Mr Hamilton said after meeting Ms Cahill.

“We also discussed the improvements driven by reforms in the PPS and PSNI, with investigators and prosecutors working more closely together to better support victims.

“This has been enabled by the formation of PSNI’s Public Protection Branch and the PPS’s Serious Crime Unit.”

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