Mairia Cahill case embodies long history of abuse

That a politician who has made the remarks that Cahill alleges Adams to have made should become one of the coalition leaders of any republic, let alone one with Ireland’s past of abuse, is unconscionable.

comment1On November 25th, Mary Lou McDonald pulled out of a talk she was scheduled to give to the Trinity branch of Ógra Shinn Féin amid a protest in support of Mairia Cahill, who has accused Sinn Féin’s president, Gerry Adams, of covering up her sexual abuse at the hands of an IRA member. Why has Mary Lou McDonald become linked to the media furore surrounding the Cahill case? She has yet to be in any way connected with the alleged events of the rape, IRA trial and subsequent cover up, yet she remains subject to a lot of the media’s recent attention around the case.


This is due to two reasons. The first is that McDonald has become the face of the southern branch of the party, due to being from the south herself and the vice president of Sinn Féin. As well as this, she is notable for her public condemnation of sexual abuse by the Catholic church. She is on the record as saying that, ”Anyone, including Gardaí, found to be complicit in the cover up of child abuse must be arrested and made to face the full rigours of the law.” The Cahill case has led members of the media to draw parallels between Sinn Féin and the Catholic church in covering up abuse. McDonald has rejected any such parallels. Her recent Dail sit in, which she says was in protest to Joan Burton’s failure to satisfactorily answer her question is claimed by Labour and Fine Gael as being an attempt to draw attention away from Cahill’s allegations. McDonald refused to take her seat leading to the Ceann Comhairle suspending the Dail. Yet for all of the attention focused on McDonald she has no substantial link to the case. The real political issue here for the Republic is what the Cahill case says about the people’s perception of Sinn Féin and its leader Gerry Adams, and Irish politics itself.

Cahill claims to have been sexually abused by Martin Morris over a prolonged period and that afterwards she became subject to a series of kangaroo court trials by the I.R.A. in response to her allegations about Morris coming to be known to them.

In terms of what actually happened, nothing has been proven in a court of law. Three trials were scheduled to go to court. One for the charge of IRA membership against Martin Morris. the second for the charge that Martin Morris raped Mairia Cahill when she was 16. The third that Seamus Finucane, Briege Wright, Padraic Wilson and Agnes McCrory were charged with a number of offences including membership of the I.R.A. and conducting an investigation for the IRA. The only trial that went ahead was over Morris being a member of the I.R.A. It collapsed after the prosecution stated that they would be giving no evidence against him. Following that, Cahill then pulled out of the other two trials leading to all charges being dropped. How this could link to Sinn Féin in the south takes shape in the form of Gerry Adams. Cahill claims that she met Gerry Adams and discussed her abuse with him.

Among the insensitivities attributed to Adams is that he insinuated that Cahill may have enjoyed the abuse that happened to her. Cahill quotes him as allegedly saying, “Abusers can be extremely manipulative, you know, sometimes they’re that manipulative that the people who have been abused actually enjoy it.”


In the latest Irish Times poll, Sinn Féin’s popularity has taken a minor hit due to the Mairia Cahill case. Around 10% of Sinn Féin voters say that it would impact the way they voted. However, 15 percent say that it has actually made them more likely to vote Sinn Féin. This is probably due to die-hard Sinn Féin supporters feeling that the case is either untrue, or unfairly represented in the media, rather than due to their being pro the abuse of women.

The Cahill case highlights the voter divide in this country. If you already consider yourself anti-Sinn Féin then you will proudly declare that the Cahill case is a mark against the party. If you are pro-Sinn Féin then you can fall back on the ambiguity and ignore it. Yet is there not something rotten in the republic when political allegiance governs how the people think about a case of sexual abuse against a minor?

The Mairia Cahill case embodies two of the most insidious problems on this island: the treatment of children and of women. Cahill alleges to have been sexually abused as a child and then harassed as a woman for standing by that allegation. That Cahill blames not just alleged members the IRA but members of the Sinn Féin party including its leader Gerry Adams makes this case not just one relevant to Northern Ireland but to the Republic as well. Sinn Féin are currently the most popular party in the country. It is foreseeable that even if they do not receive a majority share of the votes come the general election that they will be the smaller coalition party to Fianna Fail.

Cahill’s allegations do seem to have affected Gerry Adams’ popularity. Adams has taken a fall of 9% in leader satisfaction yet is still the most popular party leader in the country with a 26% percent satisfaction rate in the MRBI poll.

That a politician who has made the remarks that Cahill alleges Adams to have made should become one of the coalition leaders of any republic, let alone one with Ireland’s past of abuse, is unconscionable.

The case remains murky. Mairia Cahill is an outlier, the first in what could be a series of alleged victims coming forward. Adams himself has said that he has received a list of names of others who claim to have been abused by members of the IRA and that he has passed this on to the authorities. What political implications this will have for Sinn Féin, if any, remain to be seen. What is clear is that there remains a link within the public consciousness between Sinn Féin and the IRA. As long as this link remains, Sinn Féin will always be haunted by it.

Illustration: Emer Ó Cearbhaill