Belfast Telegraph

Mairia Cahill: Republicanism closes ranks over the case that threatens to shatter its myths

Abuse survivor Mairia Cahill speaks to the media at Government Buildings, Dublin
Abuse survivor Mairia Cahill speaks to the media at Government Buildings, Dublin

By Malachi O'Doherty

Sinn Fein members line up to defend Gerry Adams' handling of the Mairia Cahill case. Because lose this argument and the entire republican legacy lies in tatters.

No matter what damage is done to their reputations by the disclosures of Mairia Cahill, and to the wider republican movement, they will go on thinking that they have done their best in this life.

They are, as Gerry Adams put it, “decent people”.

Seamus Finucane does not think of himself as a bad person. He is grateful and even humbled by the support he has been getting from friends.

These include someone who is terminally ill and therefore has bigger things to worry about than the maligning of old republicans in social media.

The friends include some who, like himself, have campaigned for the Palestinians. These are people of conscience and sensibility. They have a global perspective and they are intelligent.

The bloggers sneering at Mairia Cahill and attacking her credibility all think they are good people, too.

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Seamus Finucane and other bloggers directed followers to an obnoxious blog which suggested that any 16-year-old with a few cans of Harp in her might have fancied the musically talented IRA man who allegedly raped Mairia.

Some bloggers sneer with relish, others treat the credibility question as nothing more than a logical conundrum.

It is hard to credit that some people of intelligence and education would suspend all consideration of the hurt they might be causing to a traumatised woman in order to defend the reputation of a political party.

Did they stop and think about that before writing their carefully crafted pieces. Did they argue with others who suggested they lend their polemical wit to a cheap cause? Or do they just enjoy being clever? Who knows?

But they show no signs of burdened conscience and retain their humour and dexterity in crafted jibes, so they appear to be enjoying themselves.

Goretti Horgan, a terrifically articulate campaigner on women’s issues in Derry, attacked one Sinn Fein member for promoting the blog, though didn’t name her. The woman retorted that she had just been relaying an alternative view of the Cahill case, not necessarily a view of her own.

So, she would appear to be capable of thinking one thing about Mairia Cahill, but not letting that get in the way of promoting the views of those who traduce her.

This is interesting. It is what George Orwell called Doublethink, a skill he recognised the value of to the totalitarian mind.

The bloggers point to the fact that prosecutions of an alleged rapist and of those accused of IRA membership and organising an IRA court, have failed. Republicans are now depending on arguments they would never have allowed to anyone else.

Suddenly the courts really are the arbiters of right and wrong, of guilt and innocence.

You have to wonder why they didn’t discover that 30 years ago.

This is another skill that Orwell spotted in the political automaton, serving the party, accepting that yesterday’s inviolable principle is today’s heresy, or the other way round.

An IRA man who interrogated a raped woman for months to find out if she was telling the truth, so that he might know how to deal with another IRA man accused of the rape, might rightly think he was in a difficult situation.

He might be wondering how he could complete a project like this without having to kill either the woman or the alleged rapist, or perhaps both.

He might think he had done rather well by everybody if he wrapped up the whole mess without having to kill anybody.

And for him, then, as someone who had neither raped nor accused anyone of rape, to find himself in the dock, treated like a mere criminal himself — well he’d know what a few bishops have felt like.

It’s not as if we can’t understand the IRA’s problem here.

The alleged rapist, allegedly a member of the IRA, had no grounds for complaint. He had joined the IRA — allegedly, of course — and submitted himself to its disciplinary procedures.

He accorded to the IRA, for instance, the right to try and execute him for offences like informing. For an IRA member, the interrogators would have had greater, not lesser, legitimacy than the State.

Indeed, the IRA man under investigation would have had counsel appointed to him within the system, according to the rules of the Green Book. We have yet to hear suggestions of who that counsel might have been.

The IRA must be wishing now that Mairia Cahill had been a member, too.

That way they could have simply ordered her to do their bidding. They slipped up when they failed to recruit her, not least because she is so gifted.

One is tempted to wonder if the republican movement prefers docile women who are not very bright and to speculate that Mairia would never have been their type. Much too clever, much too inclined to think for herself, something none of the others have shown any capacity for.

Certainly, all the vigour and courage and compassion are on one side of this argument and the entire array of Sinn Fein members, men and women, lines up to hear the argument it is instructed to purvey, not to discuss nuances. Party members are staying loyal, whatever the cost to their future credibility. And they feel good about themselves doing that.

They are standing by the party in hard times, and that isn’t just about preserving their career ambitions; it’s about defending the legacy. Lose the party and you lose the argument that the IRA campaign was a good and honourable thing, for no one else will defend it.

Concede that the IRA was wrong to conduct its own investigations into rape and you concede that it hadn’t much right to do all the other things it did either, for no campaign was possible without laws and enforcers. Lose Gerry Adams now and you lose the lot; Bobby Sands, the pogrom myth, everything. And Gerry Adams regards himself as a good person doing the right thing. He feels maligned and misrepresented when quoted saying that the manipulated victim sometimes take pleasure in the abuse, which is something he might have read out of a textbook on the subject.

As the grown-up child of an abusing father he was entitled to his insights. But he didn’t say that, he says.

Gerry has for years been the lightning rod for criticism of the IRA. All of that opprobrium, all of the distaste for the bombing, the torture, the killings, the disappearings and the cleaning up afterwards lands at his feet and virtually at his feet alone, though thousands of people have been in the IRA.

You’d think sometimes that that was his job, to take that hit, deflect that energy and make that sacrifice.

Good man that he is.

Belfast Telegraph


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