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Child sex abuse victims must not be collateral damage


Paudie McGahon has made an allegation of sexual assault by senior IRA figures

Paudie McGahon has made an allegation of sexual assault by senior IRA figures

Mairia Cahill

Mairia Cahill

Paudie McGahon has made an allegation of sexual assault by senior IRA figures

Over the years a handful of people, besides those I have written about, have disclosed alleged child sexual abuse to me. In all cases they were adults and the abuse was a long time ago. One in particular, a good friend, had chosen not to go to the police because he feared it would do him more damage and produce no closure.

He was in his 40s and his abuser, an elderly man, lived nearby. I didn't go to the police.

I felt it was up to my friend to do so and he had made a conscious decision to come to terms with it in other ways, counselling and meditation.

He said it was now becoming just something that had happened, much of the emotional charge was gone and he could speak to the person though he would never like him.

Should I have stepped in regardless of what he wanted? Or should I simply have been sympathetic and supportive.

Other victims take a different view than he did. One recent example the Kincora boys who spoke out so bravely.

They want the authorities to investigate as do many other victims of institutional abuse.

One consideration in going to the police if you are not the victim yourself is whether other children were still at risk. In the case I mentioned they weren't, the abuser was too old.

It was different for Paudie McGahon and Mairia Cahill who recently told their stories on Spotlight. The IRA and republicans generally cannot get away with the claim that they respected Mr McGahon's or Ms Cahill's wishes.

The perpetrator had, in Mr McGahon's account, admitted abusing him and other boys. The IRA, he claims, offered to shoot him. It then agreed to exile him to Britain but later let him back to Ireland. The Belfast republican had, he says, abused him while staying in his home, which was an IRA safe house.

This goes to the very heart of the problem, an IRA member had been abusing children in safe houses where he was allowed to stay while on "active service". The danger of details of who was involved in recent IRA actions and of perpetrator or victim being recruited as an informer were obvious.

It is easy to understand. It is also easy to understand from former military intelligence officers that they were told not to investigate child sex abuse at Kincora and other homes. It gave the intelligence agencies a way of controlling abusers; that is the increasingly plausible claim being made by former intelligence officers like Colin Wallace and Brian Gemmell as well as former Kincora inmates like Richard Kerr.

The actions of the IRA and the intelligence agencies can be understood but in this case the old adage that "to understand everything is to forgive everything" does not apply. To forgive you have to take into account frightened, abused children whose lives were scarred and marked forever. You have to forget about flashbacks and nightmares. You have to forget that, in the case of the IRA, abusers were being protected so that they could continue to be involved in violence and would not be tempted to become informers.

These children, now mainly adults, were collateral damage in our dirty war. The abusers were transported over the island of Ireland as well as to the UK and possibly further afield.

Combined with the secrecy of the IRA it is hard to think of a better way of protecting abusers from detection than moving them to pastures new.

We will only get to the bottom of this through a full inquiry. We need then to decide what we do with the facts we uncover and in that we must be guided by the needs of the victims, not our own interests or opinions.

Dealing with the past is a huge challenge for us all, when to move on and when to punish. First, though, we need the facts. Sinn Fein, not to mention the British and Irish governments, all have a duty not to come forward with the facts and stop beating about the bush on these issues.

We need an inquiry, but not necessarily one which costs hundreds of millions as participants fight to keep issues which concern them secret. We need one where people will tell the truth.

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