Mairia Cahill: Gerry Adams' credibility is at zero... he has no decency left
The grand-niece of a leading republican, Mairia Cahill tells Adrian Rutherford how she's been vilified and subjected to internet trolling since she came forward with her allegations of a sex attack.
Q. A second alleged sex abuse victim has come forward - how big a problem is this becoming for the republican movement?
A. It's a huge issue, not least because the subject matter is something which is so distressing for people. There are obviously other cases, and they haven't admitted the IRA involvement and they haven't admitted senior Sinn Fein members' involvement, and that's what they need to do.
Q. To be abused at 16 must have been horrendous.
A. It was, because you are locked into a silence that is not of your making. It's an horrendous thing to happen to anybody, and victims tend to go into shock. What makes it even more horrendous now is that even as a 33-year-old I'm watching people deny my experience and tell me it didn't happen.
Q. You were summoned to a meeting with the IRA when you were 18. Tell me about that.
A. I knew I was in big trouble. When the woman came to me and said, 'we need to see you tonight', she wouldn't tell me what it was about. Immediately you worry.
It is that cloak-and-dagger modus operandi of the IRA. I panicked. I racked my brain - what had I done? Had I had a row with someone? What was this about?
I left a note under my pillow for my parents saying the IRA did this and I left the name of a woman and said she knew who did it.
I arrived at the flat and a woman put the kettle on.
I thought she was going to pour the water over me. She was just making a cup of tea. But it tells you the level of fear I had.
Q. This investigation went on for some time?
A. The first one started around October/November 1999 and finished in March. Then there was a gap, and in that gap Sinn Fein profiled the man in An Phoblacht as the public face of CRJ (Community Restorative Justice).
I believe that was done to make sure that, as his profile raised, it was much more difficult for me to speak out about it. In July that year another young child came out and said she had been abused.
Someone came and got me from work and brought me to a house in Ballymurphy.
On the way they informed me that the child had made an allegation and [the alleged abuser] was under house arrest.
Then two days later another girl said she had been abused. [The alleged abuser] disappeared. He was facilitated out by the IRA a week or so later.
Q. You came face to face with this man during the IRA's so-called investigation?
A. That was the worst part. They decided they would have a confrontation. There were three members of the IRA there.
[The alleged abuser] was able to rip you to shreds for a number of hours and call you a liar to your face. It was, and still is to this day, very distressing to recall.
I don't know what planet Gerry Adams is on when he thinks these people are decent, or that this was a decent thing to do.
In that case my version of decency, and most people's version of decency, would be worlds apart.
Q. Yet you have managed to rebuild your life. How did you manage that?
A. I went into auto-pilot for a number of years. Because of the trauma, my body just shut down where I couldn't feel anything at all, and that probably protected me for the first few years.
I found it very, very difficult to deal with, but I was able to function. I don't think it ever goes away but you just learn different coping mechanisms to deal with it.
Q. You have no regrets about speaking out?
A. None whatsoever, no. I wanted two things - first, to name the abuser, and also to hold accountable the other people who were involved.
The second thing was that if it helped one person out there then the whole thing would have been worth it and Paudie McGahon has indicated that he feels it has helped him.
I also think it lifted the lid on the wider issue because I had been trying for a long time to get people to listen to me and see that this was an issue of concern, and Sinn Fein were denying it.
But I think we're at the point now where they can't deny it any more.
They have already admitted the IRA investigations, albeit in a kind of piecemeal way.
I think most of it at this point has been exposed and it's the scale and extent of it that we need to find out.
Q. Did you feel in danger after doing the interview?
A. Yes, I moved out before the programme aired and I went south, across the border, and I was too afraid to come back. I left with a change of clothes for two or three days and I wasn't back for a few weeks. I had threats on the internet from anonymous people and I had the usual whispering campaigns and graffiti went up on the walls.
There were things on the internet which said I should be shot, and that I was an informer - the usual stuff.
Q. The unionist family has been quite supportive - do you feel you've got more support from them than your own community?
A. I don't think so, across the board everybody has been very supportive.
I think they realised that when it came to an issue of child abuse and a political party that stood accused of a cover-up, they had to raise it. What happened to me, even though it is a political issue now, started with an act of rape and abuse.
Q. Some in Sinn Fein have suggested you've been used politically - do you agree?
A. No, I disagree completely. What else were people supposed to do? If it was a unionist accused of covering up child abuse, people like Martin McGuinness would be calling for their head.
I think when it comes to the protection of children, anything that can be highlighted should be done in whatever quarter that is helpful.
In this instance it was helpful and right and proper that political parties would scrutinise another party in the absence of them doing it themselves.
Also, the parties didn't approach me - I approached them.
Q. You have suggested there may be over 60 other republican sex abuse victims.
A. What I said was I couldn't put a figure on the number of people abused. But, if you take it that 34 to 40 names of alleged perpetrators were passed to the gardai, and no person only abuses once, if every single one of those people was an abuser, they probably didn't just abuse one person.
The least figure of victims I would put on it would be 60.
Q. Similarly, is it possible to say how many abusers there were?
A. My case and Paudie's case both happened in peace time, after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, at a time when the IRA shouldn't have been involving themselves in cases at all.
They should never have been involving themselves during the conflict but certainly not after they had signed up to peace.
If you go right back to the 1970s, and if you think about a period of 30 to 40 years when the IRA policed their own communities, I think you could be looking at a huge number.
Also, Paudie's experience was that he was abused in his family home, but the family home was a safe house.
The IRA moved people around the country all the time in safe houses and they had people unchecked, having access to children living in their homes.
I think potentially this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Q. Gerry Adams has been strongly criticised. Many people say his credibility is zero. Do you agree?
A. I think his credibility has been zero for some time, even before these allegations came out. When someone tells you that they weren't a member of the IRA for so many years, denies his involvement in Jean McConville, denies his involvement in other matters which his own comrades have put him in the frame for.
Now we come to this issue, and this is the third case in the public domain which Gerry Adams has failed to properly answer questions on.
I don't think he has any credibility left and I don't think he has any decency as a human being at all left about him.
He knew about Aine Adams's case, he said his brother confessed to him in 2000 - he never reported it.
He knew about my case in 2000 - he never reported it.
He knew about Paudie McGahon's case in 2009 - he never reported it.
He never even went to Social Services to put it on record. What type of person does that in case after case? This isn't Joe Bloggs on the street. This is a person with a statutory responsibility as an MP for West Belfast and a TD for Louth.
I don't think anybody else in a public position would get away with it.
Q. Enda Kenny said Gerry Adams' behaviour left children at risk - do you agree?
A. Absolutely. He had knowledge of sexual abusers in three cases that we know about, and he didn't report it.
It was his responsibility, he was a public representative with traumatised, vulnerable individuals in front of him, and he had a duty to report.
This is a party of adults, who are supposed to have a bit of wit about them.
We know they knew of a number of cases of serious abuse allegations levelled against members of their party or IRA members, and not one put any child first.
Q. You have also been disappointed with other senior Sinn Fein figures, including Mary Lou McDonald
A. Yes, her behaviour in my case was reprehensible. I think her tone has changed recently, and the penny might be starting to drop with her that she either was duped or decided, for whatever reason, to batten down the hatches and protect her party.
She defended Gerry Adams blindly over my case and she defended the IRA - a past which isn't hers.
She grew up in a middle-class area in Dublin, the leafy suburbs, a world away from the IRA and yet she found herself in a situation where she was in the media defending them.
I can't understand why someone would put themselves in that position and damage themselves, but more importantly damage other victims.
Q. No other party in Western Europe would get away with this?
A. I agree, but that comes back to the fact the republican view on what is morally right and wrong is slightly skewed compared to the rest of society.
They view the IRA's actions almost as honourable in investigating cases like this, rather than seeing them for what they were - a retraumatisation of very vulnerable people who had gone through very heinous acts of abuse. They don't see anything wrong with that, which is why they are defending it and refusing to admit it. It is almost a public flogging of the witch, and I mean that in relation to myself.
Their anger turned on me because they felt that I had disrespected the IRA by outing this in public. It's a very skewed logic, but that's the way they think.
Q. Watching the Spotlight interview with Paudie McGahon must have been very difficult.
A. I was hugely distressed for days and I didn't want to make myself any worse. I was crying, I was physically sick. It was only about a minute before it aired that I decided to watch it.
Q. And then you see Francie Molloy describe the programme as "rubbish"?
A. Vile - but then again that's the mask. That is what Sinn Fein people, some of them anyway, think.
He is an MP with a public profile who is supposed to be responsible and set an example.
We had a man on TV, clearly distressed, telling of his horrific experiences and the only thing that Francie Molloy can think to do is to rubbish him, his experience, and the programme-makers.
I think that's Sinn Fein's real view, and Francie articulated it.
Q. Do you think you will ever get justice?
A. I can never take my abuser to court for what he did. In that sense I will never see justice done in a court of law.
At this point the justice shifts, and the justice would be if Sinn Fein stop retraumatising other victims and that the IRA involvement is properly seen as a retraumatisation and that Sinn Fein admit that in some cases their members did help to cover up abuse.
That would be justice - when there is a final admittance that it happened.
Q. And do you think it's likely?
A. Who knows? I don't think they'll ever admit my experiences. I think they've entrenched themselves into a position that they can't get out of.
They know the truth, but at some point the truth always comes out.
Q. Do you still describe yourself as a republican?
A. No, and I haven't done so for a number of years.
I don't actually have any political affiliation.
I don't have any political differences with any party, but I do have a difficulty with the hypocrisy of the stance taken by Sinn Fein.
That isn't political for me, that comes right back to the abuse of children and the way they should be treated.
Q. But you want to be defined as more than an abuse victim?
A. I'm a human being first and foremost. I'm a mother, I work, I have a normal life, albeit I'm in an abnormal situation at the minute. I don't like the label survivor.
I use the label victim because it reminds people that an act was perpetrated.
My abuse doesn't define me, just as much as my surname doesn't define me.
It is always going to be a part of you, and at times it can be difficult to deal with, but it doesn't and shouldn't define anybody's life.