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Maria Cahill at Saint Mary's College on the Falls Road where Maria was speaking at a  Feile na Phobail organized event about being abused as a child.
Picture Mark McCormick 31/07/2015

'Sinn Fein can shake off spectre of IRA by providing closure to Breege Quinn'

Mairia Cahill

Sinn Fein has treated the many long-suffering victims of the IRA like dirt on the end of a shoe


Mary Lou McDonald speaks at a press conference in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Mary Lou McDonald speaks at a press conference in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Mary Lou McDonald speaks at a press conference in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

In 2007, a 21-year-old man was lured to a shed in Co Monaghan with the promise of work clearing up a farmyard.

Instead, 10 ''men'' beat him with iron bars while his friend was forced to listen. "You could hear the bars bouncing off him… he was screaming," he said at the time. Had he lived, as his mother pointed out last week, Paul Quinn would now be 34.

Everyone knows the IRA was responsible for killing him, except the recently appointed Northern finance minister, Conor Murphy, who said he had been given "solid assurances" that the IRA hadn't been involved.

He stated Quinn had been killed as the result of a "criminal feud". Paul's parents have repeatedly called for a retraction of this statement. Murphy has never done so. He has also never disclosed who he had spoken to that led him to form that opinion.

Paul was murdered nine years after the Good Friday Agreement by shadowy figures who have never been prosecuted for the crime. Shadowy figures protected those killers.

Life in Northern Ireland has never been normal, but the memory of Breege Quinn, Paul's mother, sobbing as she told me her son was beaten so badly that she couldn't even put rosary beads on his hands will haunt me forever. Such a simple ritual that couldn't be observed because the animals who battered Paul left, as a doctor told his family, "nothing to fix".

A few months ago, Mary Lou McDonald was asked about Paul Quinn and specifically if Conor Murphy would retract his "criminal" remark. "I will ask Conor Murphy to say and do things that give confidence and comfort to the Quinn family," she said. The Quinn family heard nothing after this interview, from Murphy or McDonald.

The situation with other victims of the IRA is similar. Sinn Fein have treated them like dirt on the end of a shoe, trodden into the carpet for good measure.

On whose instructions have they been acting over decades?

Sinn Fein has hit out at those who have said the party is controlled by unelected secretive figures, and even poked fun at the assertion, pointing out that its ard comhairle runs the party and they are elected at an ard fheis. Supposing we believe them, on this occasion?

It's a callous, non-compassionate ard comhairle which decides the party's approach to victims, if so. Has its ruling body decided, for whatever reason, that Conor Murphy cannot retract his words and finally provide comfort to a mother who quietly, and with dignity, daily nurses the hurt caused by the loss of her son? What exactly is the impediment to doing so?

The pledge that Sinn Fein requires all elected representatives to sign states: "...in all matters pertaining to the duties and functions of elected representatives, I will be guided and hold myself amenable to all directions and instructions issued to me by an ard comhairle of Sinn Fein." Pretty clear.

McDonald insists she takes "instructions from no one". Which is it? And shouldn't we all be calling on the ard comhairle to collectively direct its party representatives to act properly in respect of the Quinns?

Separately, who thought it was a good idea for Mary Lou to describe Slab Murphy (no relation to Conor) as a "typical rural man"? It's important to ask this question in the public interest, because either McDonald had appalling political judgement on this issue, given Slab Murphy's history, or her ard comhairle does.

For years, the party has had a policy concerning victims of the IRA, or indeed anyone, who has spoken out about the IRA. It is either to deny, or refuse to condemn atrocious actions, or indeed to cast a cloud of doubt on the credibility of those speaking. Where did this policy emanate from? It isn't an unfair question, as the party is mainly homogenous in the response of its representatives whenever a scandal emerges.

In the course of this campaign, it is something that journalists should be mindful of getting an answer on. Breege Quinn's devastation is not historic; it is very much a live issue. She has been begging Sinn Fein to do the right thing for the past 13 years. A simple phone call from McDonald to Conor Murphy - and an instruction from the ard comhairle - could sort the issue out quickly.

Who decided to trot out representatives on the issue of Sinn Fein's response to the IRA's handling of sex abuse? We all remember the party's disgraceful treatment of this sex abuse victim, in full view of the media.

We also remember, and I feel it acutely, that four years after insinuating there was an issue with my credibility, Sinn Fein was forced to issue a half-apology, when a police ombudsman report surfaced proving what I had said to be true.

Who in Sinn Fein made the decision to treat a rape victim like this? Did the ard comhairle decide this policy?

Sinn Fein records minutes of all of those leadership meetings. I know, because I have some. Let Sinn Fein publish the minutes of its leadership meetings between 2014-2018 and we can all examine if it was them, or some other entity, which decided the party approach on this particular issue.

The problem with denying that former IRA figures have any influence on the party is that Sinn Fein has a credibility issue in its response to IRA atrocities. There are people all over the country who wouldn't hesitate to say that breaking every bone in Paul Quinn's body from the neck down and killing him was beyond appalling, that the murder and disappearance of Jean McConville was a crime, that the strapping of Patsy Gillespie into his car, turning him into a human bomb in the process was abhorrent, or that the kangaroo courts which saw child sex abuse victims having to face their rapists is nothing short of vile.

Sinn Fein has not stated any of these things, and in fact has refused to suspend anyone alleged to have taken part in any of these actions in the past. Who decided the party's policy on its response to these issues?

There should be n problem for the party's ruling body to call it as everyone else in the land of human empathy sees it. If there are no shadowy figures holding the party back from formulating a response to individual victims which doesn't re-traumatise them in the process, then why isn't Sinn Fein just doing that?

I think we all know the answer to that one.

I spoke to Breege Quinn last week. She said: "Sinn Fein have refused to withdraw the slur they made against my child. I want them to do so."

Sinn Fein has a moral duty to shake off the spectre of the IRA by providing closure to Breege and others who it continues to hurt in word and deed. Let's hear its ard comhairle instruct that they do so.

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