Sinn Fein is calling on people to come forward to the PSNI and Garda Siochana in cases where they have been sexually abused by anyone including members of the party and the Provisional IRA. Mary Lou McDonald was at pains to depict Sinn Fein’s position as crystal clear in a number of radio interviews today. She waxed sympathetic to those who find it difficult to come forward, but nevertheless stressed the “absolute necessity” of doing so.
But what is it that they are being urged to come forward about? It seems that they will have Sinn Fein approval to reveal to the PSNI and Garda the identities of the people they claim have abused them. What however seems as clear as mud is the party’s position in respect of people who might wish to reveal more than just their abuse; who may want - because they feel short changed, even cheated - to share with police the identities of those IRA volunteers who may have investigated and processed their cases within the IRA’s own rudimentary justice system.
On the face of it, for Sinn Fein this should be a straightforward criminal justice matter in respect of cases that were handled by the IRA post-1998. Party leader Gerry Adams has suggested that any law-breaking since the year that the Good Friday Agreement was born is a criminal act and presumably he will be reminded by political opponents that as a law maker, as he now describes himself, he is obligated to ensure that crime as he defines it is fully investigated without fear or favour and that no impediment will be placed in the way of any police investigation.
Such investigation, by necessity -- unless who is policed is to become a matter of political discretion -- would apply to post-GFA IRA courts. For cases before that date the matter is more complicated. Law breaking by IRA volunteers in the pre-GFA era was not considered criminal by Mr Adams and he has not yet indicated that he would approve information being revealed to police about IRA activities in that period. His party labels as informers people who have talked to universities about those activities. That leaves abuse victims who in one form or another were involved in IRA investigations prior to 1998 possibly reticent about what to reveal in case they incur the disapproval of Sinn Fein.
Beneath the face of it, the post 1998 era is more problematic than the demarcation line Mr Adams has drawn between legitimate and illegitimate IRA actions. Despite having a poor hand Sinn Fein has played its cards so close to its chest that potential witnesses are left wondering if it still holds the Ace of Spades. People raped by IRA members are left in the dark about just how much they can reveal. Sinn Fein leaders in stating forthrightly that they believe people like Mairia Cahill and Paudie McGahon when they claim that they were raped but in the same breath expressing reservations in respect of claims by the same people to have undergone IRA internal court procedures, have very much left the matter hanging.
It is tempting to see in this reticence a subliminal message that this is an area where abuse victims are advised not to go. Abuse victims have already witnessed how Sinn Fein responds to the arrest of its members for alleged involvement in post 1998 IRA investigations: with vociferous anger and public protests. Would a rape victim want to risk becoming the victim of the ire expressed at such protests?
Sinn Fein claims to believe only half of what they hear from rape victims. That invites the suspicion that the party is determined to head off at the pass any scrutiny of how the IRA handled abuse allegations. That may be because concealed behind that pass are the command and control figures who devised and oversaw the functioning of the IRA’s justice system. And like much else about the problematic past there is no reason to think that the Sinn Fein will want the author of the statement "The fact is that the IRA should not have been near any of these cases whatsoever -- that was inappropriate" identified as the person in whose hands sat the scales of a very rough justice.