Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Brave Mairia Cahill has every right to reject empty apology from the Sinn Fein leadership

Mary Lou McDonald ignored the facts of the abuse and subsequent IRA investigation, says Alban Maginness

Mairia Cahill fought a courageous campaign
Mairia Cahill fought a courageous campaign

It takes a lot of guts to be Mairia Cahill. Most people would run away before they would take on the intimidating power and strength of the provisional republican movement. But she did and, despite all the republican cover-ups and downright intimidation, she has succeeded in proving beyond doubt to the public that she was abused from 1997 to 1998, at the age of 16, by a senior republican.

After a persistent and courageous campaign by Mairia, the republican movement was forced some years later to initiate an investigation into her serious complaint of sexual abuse.

It is sufficient to say, without going into the harrowing details of that so-called investigation by the IRA, that she was subjected to an intensive interrogation process and, quite appallingly, made to confront her assailant in person.

In 2010, still deeply hurt and traumatised by her experience, she reported her sexual abuse to the PSNI.

Subsequently, whenever these allegations surfaced publicly, Sinn Fein brazenly dismissed them as scurrilous and despicable accusations.

That was despite the fact they knew that her allegations had been investigated by the IRA and found to be credible.

On foot of the IRA investigation, Sinn Fein belatedly suspended the perpetrator of the sexual abuse, so they knew quite well that Mairia's claims were true, yet chose to cover up and deny them.

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Unfortunately for Mairia, the police investigation into her case was inadequate.

Last week, Dr Michael Maguire, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, confirmed in a damning report that the force had failed her in a number of key areas.

Principally, the Police Ombudsman found that the police decision to divide the investigation across a unit dealing with sexual crime and another unit dealing with terrorist issues created a disjointed approach to the investigation.

He also found that the PSNI had an inconsistent approach in its investigation of some people suspected of IRA membership, which led to an individual not being arrested and questioned.

However, he found no evidence that anyone had been protected from prosecution.

It had been widely suspected that the police were reluctant to act in Mairia's case because of sensitive political considerations.

Shockingly, the Ombudsman discovered that in 2000 the RUC's CID received information that linked a named republican with the sexual abuse.

In addition, the RUC Special Branch received information that the same man had abused children and that the IRA were investigating this.

Outrageously, despite possessing very detailed information, the RUC did not investigate this criminal abuse at all.

While the PSNI investigation resulted in prosecution of the man accused of rape and those accused of involvement in the IRA investigation, these interlinked trials collapsed in 2014 when Mairia withdrew her evidence, citing a loss of confidence in how the matter had been dealt with by the police and Public Prosecution Service.

In 2015, Sir Keir Starmer QC - now a leading Labour MP - found that the prosecution had indeed failed and had let down Mairia, thus vindicating her decision not to proceed in those fraught circumstances in 2014.

The Chief Constable has wholeheartedly apologised for the policing failures in her case.

Mairia graciously accepted his apology, met with him and will meet with him once again in the near future.

She was rightly critical of the empty, ritualistic apology from the Sinn Fein leader, Mary Lou McDonald, which she has described as being "woefully inadequate".

She asserted that Mary Lou had failed to admit that there was an IRA investigation into her abuse.

She also stated that she failed to admit that her abuser was a Sinn Fein member, and that the party had suspended him a full three years after senior Sinn Fein people had become aware that Mairia was being abused.

In actual fact, Mary Lou's public statement of apology did not touch on any of these important factual issues, instead deliberately ignoring the IRA's direct involvement in all of these matters.

Doubtless Sinn Fein will continue to be in denial about the IRA's involvement and just hope that this scandal will die down.

But if Mairia stays the course, as she has done over many years, Sinn Fein will not have heard the last of this yet.

Mairia has had to endure a horrendous ordeal, not just of the sexual abuse itself, but also the fact she was so badly failed by the PSNI and the PPS - public bodies upon which she should have been able to rely.

Mairia's life has been an extraordinary political odyssey, starting within the republican movement, then being elected as an Irish Labour Party Senator and now working as an SDLP councillor in Lisburn.

It has been a truly remarkable journey marked by courage and a dogged struggle for justice.

Belfast Telegraph


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