In taking the very public stance that she did it is hoped that she has become a source of great inspiration to those many bearers of the effects of double torture; first tortured by what happened to them and tortured for a second time by the silence they have been forced to undergo.
In her appeal to the wider republican community to dismantle the protective wall of silence that rapists and paedophiles have sheltered behind she has again stepped into the breach. Forcing the issue into the open makes it harder for any conspiratorial cabal to deal with to its own advantage and to the disadvantage of those who have been attacked by sexual predators.
Ms Cahill’s appeal, carried in a number of web outlets, is a very strong entreaty to people to do the right thing. In pointing out that ‘no one is blaming the republican movement for members of that movement who inflicted sexual abuse on others’ she is properly measured. As she states, the crux is ‘how the republican movement dealt with the issue’. What confronts the Provisional movement is not its involvement in systemic sexual abuse but its systemic cover up of sexual abuse. At the same time it cannot be denied that the systemic culture which gave rise to such cover ups was maintained from the top down by people who thought the poser of an awkward question was more of a threat than a molester.
The republicans I knew over the years and worked with struck me as despising rapists and paedophiles. But it seems that many of them were more ready to believe that one of their comrades might be an informer than to accept that he may have been a rapist. Ms Cahill’s attacker was hardly subject to the ‘South Armagh treatment’ - as a tough and often prolonged interrogation procedure was colloquially known within the Provisional movement. There was no sense of urgency to deal with the problem.
Like most other institutions, most notably the Catholic Church, the Provisional movement proved chronically incapable of properly investigating its own. This seems abundantly clear from the case of Ms Cahill and others who have recently emerged as having being attacked by abusers. The Louth TD, Arthur Morgan, alone seems to be the one party figure who despite a very shaky and inauspicious start has publicly stated that his party’s behaviour, and that of its leader, in respect of the Liam Adams case was somewhat less than glorious. Everyone else in the party, the leader included, seems to believe that both he and the party he presides over have done no wrong.
Almost certainly, Ms Cahill is right in suggesting that that there has been a lot more abuse inflicted by Provisional movement members either not properly addressed at the time or covered up since. Her call for this to be justly dealt with is one deserving of all backing.
However there has to be some concern about moving forward on the strength of ‘suspicion’ or what meanders through the ‘grapevine.’
The vagaries of suspicion for which the grapevine is fertile ground are not something that can be readily measured or easily categorised. Those of us who have had grounds to be suspicious of whoever for whatever reason over the years, only to find that our suspicions later proved as groundless as the grapevine was barren are mindful of a suspicion-based approach to anything. In today's climate members of Sinn Fein might just make an easy target. But where would it lead? A witch hunt of Sinn Fein members would be not only be wrong but also counter productive.
While there is nothing in Ms Cahill's appeal that would in itself necessarily serve as a catalyst for a witch hunt there remains a need when talking about a suspicion based approach to specify clearly what constitute grounds for suspicion. The bar must be raised very high. Too often suspicion has been indivisible from dislike.
No person who was ever abused should sit silent. Theirs is an evidence based claim, the evidence being their own experience at the hands of their attacker. They deserve justice. But justice is only secured when the case against those accused of abuse is justly made.
Ms Cahill is proving her emotional resolve and stamina by providing real leadership in the battle against systemic cover up of wide ranging sexual abuse. She has the determination to excise this malignancy from republican culture. If she is successful she will give a fresh impetus to the laughter of our children and scourge those who laughed at them.