Like the many other people who have taken the time to consider the BBC’s documentary on the harrowing experiences of MáiríaCahill – and the subsequent media that has followed – I am deeply disturbed by the implications of what Mairia has revealed.
With an air of grace and integrity, and merely by discussing the process of seeking justice for her abuse, Máiría Cahill has inadvertently raised a major question about the influence Sinn Féin exerts over the system it claims to struggle against.
Although SF try to claim that they are continually purged by the system here in Northern Ireland – as propagandized during Gerry Adams’ recent “arrest” – stories like that of Máiría Cahill tell a very different story.
- Note: My use of quotation marks is not to cast aspersions on whether or not Gerry Adams was arrested; their purpose is to question whether there was ever really a serious possibility of Gerry Adams being charged with anything.
Rather than being subjected to a genuine accountability – as the case with more “normal” political parties – it is becoming more and more obvious that SF are afforded a special status.
Publicly, like the instance of Gerry Adams’ arrest, the system is desperate to try and convince the public that SF are subject to the same standards of justice as anyone else. But as the case of Máiría Cahill clearly demonstrates, it simply isn’t true.
The disturbing truth is that events like Gerry Adams’ arrest are nothing more than a show. There is no substance to these supposed attempts at questioning the conduct of SF.
It is contrived.
In reality, the system we have here is absolutely petrified at the idea of SF no longer wanting to participate in the political process. The fear is that if SF suddenly decide that the political process is no longer playing to their interests, they will gradually (or perhaps even abruptly) leave the political stage. What you would have therefore, is a virtual state of anarchy – where everyone would be anxiously waiting on the Republican Movement’s next move.
The result of this is that SF have the political process here by the throat. Rather than being held to the standards of any functioning democracy, SF are freely able airbrush over glaring malpractice. The system has adopted a mentality that nothing is worse than SF removing its support for the political process, and so we have a scenario where SF can get away with anything. As long as the PIRA are being kept on the sidelines, the system is content. Everything else is secondary.
This systematic protection of SF’s role in NI, particularly during Tony Blair’s Labour government, was evidenced by bizarre the remarks of Shaun Woodward (which were revealed by fellow MP Mark Durkan during his segment in the Spotlight documentary). According to Durkan, Woodward stated that the British government couldn’t pursue the Republican Movement about issues of sexual abuse. The former Secretary of State was also alleged to have expressed concern about SF’s response to the arrest of Padraic Wilson.
For political and legacy purposes – with the NI peace process being Tony Blair’s “career piece” – the British Labour party had a vested interest in SF remaining part of the political process. They insisted on this mentality at the expense of victims like Máiría Cahill.
Although the Conservative party are much more contemptuous of SF, again, they are also very conscious of the fact that SF remaining part of the political process is in their interests. Figures like David Cameron and Theresa Villiers undoubtedly abhor SF on a political level, but they have weighed their personal animosity against the strategic value of a “peaceful” Republican Movement. Therefore we have a situation where the British government rhetorically question SF, but there is very little done in terms of raw actions.
Ironically, it is the Irish Republic which is much more forthright in its scrutiny of SF. While David Cameron has to carefully choose his words, and the actions he uses to substantiate those words, Kenny is much more blunt and unfiltered. Kenny says what he really thinks about Sinn Féin.
Unlike the Taoiseach however, Cameron gives snippets of what he thinks, but juggles that against maintaining SF’s interest in the peace process. Likewise, there is a gulf in difference in terms of media scrutiny. If you look at the sentiments of a newspaper like the Sunday Independent, they are far more scathing of SF than any northern newspaper.
In the south, they have no (or a very limited) culture of fear about SF. In contrast, the arrangement we have in the north is not a fully fledged democracy – because it is a democracy based fear.
Look at the way the figures involved in Máiría Cahill’s case have been able to avoid sustained judicial scrutiny. Are we supposed to believe that this is merely coincidence? Or is it another example of SF exerting undue influence over the system?
Fear exists at every level. Máiría was afraid of the consequences of bringing the IRA into a court of law. And the system itself was afraid of upsetting the Republican Movement by facilitating a genuine due process.
There is a situation at the moment where SF is able to influence who they are comfortable with going to prison (or at the very least, being rigorously questioned by the law). Republicans who oppose SF are frequently being sent to prison, and yet many SF republicans, themselves with serious questions to answer, somehow avoid the spotlight of justice. There is a major, major question in all of this that is being consistently neglected; and that question is why.
Again, it ties into the deep-rooted fear of the system. The system (i.e. the British government, the NIO, the PSNI etc.) are frightened of how SF will react to senior supporters being sentenced. If several key SF supporters (or players) are subjected to honest justice, does anyone seriously think that SF would continue to pursue the political process?
Hypothetically speaking, if the PSNI found that Gerry Adams had significant questions to answer in the case of Jean McConville, would there be any hope for continued SF involvement in Stormont? In an equally hypothetical light, how would they react to Gerry Adams actually being imprisoned? It just isn’t plausible to suggest that SF would recommit to the political process in the event of a senior figure being aggressively pursued about a crime.
Consider the rhetoric expressed by Bobby Storey in the aftermath of Gerry Adams’ arrest. SF are fully aware that they have an ace card constantly sitting in their back pocket. If they are unhappy with something – anything at all – then they can revert to the threatening rhetoric of the past.
And make no mistake, the system responds to that type of language. As I’ve argued throughout this article, nothing, not even the sexual abuse of a young girl, is worse than SF not being part of the political process.
This is a significant reason why Máiría Cahill has been denied justice for the deplorable abuse she suffered. Rigorously pursuing cases like hers poses too much of a threat to the happiness of SF.
If the system attempted to get beyond the guard of secrecy which surrounds SF – for the sake of justice – then that would be a significant step towards SF revaluating their attitudes towards NI institutions.
The system doesn’t want that. In fact, in their mind, there probably isn’t a worse scenario.
But I, and many others, do not want to see justice and truth subjugated for the benefit of a political strategy.
People like Máiría Cahill deserve due process – irrespective of who it might anger.