The lava from Tuesday evening’s volcanic BBC Spotlight continues to spew over Sinn Fein, calcifying the party in its tracks while the woman at the heart of the documentary is making all the running with agility and no shortage of dexterity.
The day after the programme broadcast, I along with my wife was at Leinster House pursuing an entirely unrelated matter. Spotlight was mentioned only in passing by someone who had yet to see it and was inquiring whether we had. The Budget from the day before seemed to be the pressing concern and as we had our own business to contend with, I mused that it was not something that was showing signs of eruption down here. How wrong that proved to be. Within days Máiría Cahill, the articulate Belfast woman at the centre of the latest Sinn Fein sexual abuse scandal was meeting Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin in Leinster House, speaking on TV including a detailed interview conducted by Vincent Brown where she delivered a compelling and flawless performance.
Not since Catherine McCartney emerged almost ten years ago has Sinn Fein faced such articulate withering criticism from one of its former female supporters who felt seriously aggrieved by the manner in which the party had conducted business over rights abuses. It does not mean that the party is a priori guilty of anything, merely that Máiría Cahill, is much more persuasive with her narrative than Sinn Fein is, streets ahead in fact.
Spotlight, facing down numerous attempts to place injunctions on it, used an extended presentation rather than the usual half hour or thereabouts to explore not the prolonged sexual abuse of Máiría Cahill, per se, but the manner in which both Sinn Fein and the IRA handled the matter in the wake of both bodies being made aware of Cahill’s circumstances.
For some strident unionist voices the opportunity is presented to delegitimise the IRA. There seems less concern about Mairia Cahill and more about fighting legacy battles. The focus is on what the IRA did or did not do but seems to ignore the insalubrious role of the PSNI. Had Máiría Cahill's abuser been a member of the RUC in 1997 rather than the IRA, there would be coughing and spluttering followed by plenty of concerned conversation about the proper amount of sugar to put in the vicar’s tea.
Conversely, much of the commentary in defence of Sinn Fein’s role has been equally as skewed, seeking not to grasp the issue but to seek refuge behind the verdict of the court. The usual suspects, replete with track records of having defended every conceivable Sinn Fein falsehood, are circling the wagons to collectively scream something that sounds like Abuse Victims against the Peace Process and label as “Adams haters” anyone raising a legitimate concern. What exists somewhere in between the Unionist and Sinn Fein positional posturing is a fixed truth, something that either happened or did not. Extracting that from the fog of fiction is a function of investigative journalism if it is up to the task.
What Spotlight has dropped in Sinn Fein’s lap courtesy of Máiría Cahill’s ‘shocking shocking devastating narrative ...’ is an image of its party leader looking every bit a moral monster prepared to go to any lengths, as suggested to him by the barrister Eilis McDermott during a recent rape trial, to save his political skin. According to Cahill, Gerry Adams said to her that abusers can be extremely manipulative, so manipulative, in fact, that the people who have been abused actually enjoy it.
Adams disputes this version just as he has disputed other narratives about his behaviour. Widely perceived as a serial liar he will have his work cut out to make Máiría Cahill, disappear. The Spotlight is on him, the neon light on her.