Is the IRA really beyond answering? – Brian Rowan on the Cahill case and the Adams Blog

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A line jumped out at me as I read through a Blog written by Gerry Adams just a few days ago.

In it, the Sinn Fein President was responding to interviews given by Mairia Cahill, the grandniece of the late Joe Cahill, a senior IRA figure whose name reads back through the many decades of conflict here.

Mairia’s story – told last week to the BBC Spotlight programme – has become a political storm.

It includes an allegation that she was raped by a suspected IRA member when she was a teenager in 1997.

And that the IRA conducted an investigation and forced her to confront her alleged attacker.

The man she accused of rape was later acquitted of criminal charges in court, and charges were dropped against those allegedly involved in the IRA investigation.

But after the Spotlight film, Sinn Fein faces more questions about the role of the IRA in investigations and justice and alleged cover-up.

And in his Blog on Sunday Adams wrote the following:

“Following the IRA cessation in 1994 and the developing peace process, legacy cases of abuse emerged.

“Many of these are in the public domain. Some involved republicans. My father was an abuser. Some also may have involved IRA volunteers. Those who wish to have these cases dealt with have that right.

“The recent publicity surrounding the case of Mairia Cahill has brought this particular issue to the fore in public consciousness,” Adams continued.

“Mairia alleges she was raped and that the IRA conducted an investigation into this.

“The IRA has long since left the scene so there is no corporate way of verifying this, but it must be pointed out that this allegation was subject to a police investigation, charges were brought against some republicans who strenuously denied Mairia’s allegations.

“They insist they tried to help her. They were all acquitted by the court.

“Mairia has also accused Sinn Fein and me of engaging in a cover-up. That is untrue,” Adams wrote.

What jumped out at me was the line that the IRA had long left the scene and that there is “no corporate way of verifying” if an investigation had been conducted.

Am I reading that line correctly?

Is that what Adams meant?

That the IRA and its corporate knowledge disappeared in some wave of a magic wand and an order given in 2005?

Is that meant to be a credible explanation?

Why not just speak to those who were about at the time, those who were in positions of leadership, those who would still know, those who can still easily be contacted?

And what does “no corporate way of verifying” mean in relation to the wider questions of the past – not just on alleged abuse cases dealt with by the IRA but the bombs and the bullets?

Does it mean that the IRA no longer has to answer in a way that is still expected of others?

Those words “no corporate way of verifying” need to be clarified in relation not just to the Mairia Cahill case but  the many other cases that were part of a bloody and violent past.

A process on the past is pointless if there is “no corporate way of verifying”.

And a process on the past will go nowhere if people can’t remember that they were in the IRA and what investigations were or weren’t conducted by that organisation.

On the past, the IRA still has to speak and answer for itself if those are the rules expected of others.

There can be no hiding behind a sentence or a position that the IRA has now gone away.

Today (Tuesday) Mairia Cahill tweeted that she welcomed the announcement by the Public Prosecution Service that the handling of her court cases is to be independently reviewed.

And that announcement was also welcomed by Sinn Fein.

But with the Executive parties due to discuss the past in all-party talks on Thursday, that line in the Adams Blog should also be considered.

What is meant by “no corporate way of verifying”?

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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at


  1. Brian,
    It is one in a long line of unchallenged spin and doublespeak from a man who has, for me, lost credibility. The case is also shocking. The Mairia Cahill case and story which she bravely shared recently is horrific. Horrific and depraved in the sense that a local woman was not just subjected to sexual assault but then repetitive and demeaning trauma by the very people that she had family associations and ties with and whom she trusted from within her own republican community. The veiled threats, secrecy, omertà, double standards, farce, hypocrisy and shocking insensitivity shown to her is completely unacceptable from an organisation who claim to adhere to core principles of equality, justice and truth.

    The republican movement however interrogated her for months and then they had the audacity to force her to confront her alleged abuser in 2000. Control, coercion and a demoralising episode that seemed to be oblivious to the victims feelings and the seriousness of the matter is not a promise to cherish all the children of the nation equally.

    This is a shocking case of interference on many levels and the fact that a political party are at the very heart of this case means that they have serious questions to answer. The fact also that Sinn Féin have offered to meet Maíria Cahill – the party that has questions to answer on this crime, its mishandling and the cover-up is repugnant to say the least. Adams has a great deal to explain – shifting timelines and technical jargon to explain lack of involvement don’t wash I’m afraid.

    Purity in our hearts, Strength in our arms, Truth on our lips – shame on those who covered up sexual abuse and intimidated Maria Cahill – they are not republicans and Adams knows this only too well.

  2. Brian, Nice piece and raises the questions that need to be answered, however it is worth putting a context into all of this, I believe that is what is missing. You of all people remember the IRA structure, it was from the mid eighties a cell structure with a need to know basis….is it inconcievable that one cell carried out the “investigation” without any knowledge of the rest of the IRA. The other context that is more worrying is that even in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s there was a lack of legitimate policing that could be bought into by the ordinary people, to me that is a screaming issue that has not been addressed by any of the commentary and is a damning indictment of all involved. There is, to my simple mind anyway, a solution that is a comprehensive Truth commission supported by all sides and open to all victims to tell their stories, while this will not guarantee justice it will at least shine a light into areas that remain too murky for most.

    • I agree a process on the Past is needed. But what also needs to be known before any Legacy Commission or Independent Commission for Information Retrieval is established is participation across the board. Who will take part and under what terms? If it’s going to be a play or a farce it’s not worth

  3. Brian, – You mention ‘participation across the board’.
    Ask Naomi Long about her success in following up the Kincora situation and how much ‘participation across the board’ she is receiving from the British government and our SOS.
    We have suddenly found out that we are not really part of the UK – it is just when it suits Westminster.
    You also mention ‘no corporate way of verifying’. Surely by that he means there is no paper trail such as the British government have concerning Kincora.
    Mairia might have evoked more sympathy had it not been clear that her strings are being pulled by her journalist cousin Eilis O’Hanlon who knew about the allegations 14 years ago and apparently did nothing until it now suits FF, FG and Labour in the south, and the agenda of the Irish Independent, which Eilis works for.
    The mix of a rape victim and political opportunists can only work against Mairia’s credibility in the long run, and if it comes to a situation where the original court cases are reinstated, if the defendants were again found not guilty, how many of Mairia’s erstwhile ‘friends’ would stick by her and still be happy to be photographed with her.
    I can only think that this unfortunate girl is going to be retraumatised again and again until she has outlived her political usefulness. I pity her.

    • Maria seems well capable of speaking for herself and it seems to me that she is leading the charge rather than having her “strings pulled” by anyone.

  4. Brian,
    My reading of his comment is the fact that the IRA is no longer structurally organised means that it would be impossible to influence people to co-operate with enquiries etc. If an organisation exists then it is possible to take an agreed structured approach to co-operation. Now days it is simply appealing to the ‘good nature’ of people to do so. Many of whom are still are still with SF but others have just walked off stage and want a quiet life or may have jumped ship all together into different organisations.

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