Transforming a Tragedy Into an Opportunity

Tommy McKearney with his analysis of the controversy surrounding the Mairia Cahill abuse case. The article first appeared in Socialist Voice November 2014

Readers could be forgiven for feeling that little more of value can be said about the Maria Cahill case. The Sunday Independent (26 October 2014) devoted sixteen pages of one issue to the question, and it was not alone among the media in conducting this type of frenzied investigation. Broadcast and print journalists, internet trolls and a medley of commentators joined in what was cast as a defining moral issue.

The choice offered was strictly limited, to the point of being Manichean: one either joined unreservedly in the condemnation or was practically deemed guilty of condoning rape and rapists.

No civilised person countenances rape. It is a vile and terrible crime, and there can be no ambivalence or equivocation about it or any excuses for protecting those who commit it. Nevertheless every person is entitled to a hearing, and this applies also to those accused of rape.

This remains a crucial point to bear in mind when looking at this case. No-one has been found guilty, and the most that anybody can say is that the charge remains unproved. Nevertheless, opinions and condemnations are being delivered with scant regard for this important fact.

Moreover, it is undeniable that a determined effort is being made to transform a tragic situation into an opportunity to inflict damage not just on the Sinn Féin leadership and party but on the widest possible number of republicans. The debate is skewed in one direction, ignoring several pertinent aspects of the general issue.

These strident commentators are giving little consideration, for example, to what they believe the organisation in question should or indeed could have done, especially in the light of existing reality in the North at the time. Are they suggesting that the accusation should have been accepted at face value and the accused punished without ceremony? Are they realistic when saying the accused should have been handed over to the same authorities that conducted undercover intelligence operations through its Kincora paedophile ring? Could that community have depended for help from a police force that valued the recruitment of agents as more important than prosecuting wrongdoing?

Of course there are many questions that should be put to those who took it upon themselves to examine this case in the first instance. Why was the investigation of a Belfast person entrusted to people from his home city? Why did the investigators not seek the advice of a qualified social worker? There were, after all, many within that movement who would have assisted. Undoubtedly there are people in Belfast who have questions to answer, and should be made do so. However, it remains important to emphasise that any such inquiry has to be carried out in order to uncover the truth and not to conduct a political vendetta.

Moreover, this case has to be viewed holistically. There is the question of how a young woman has been mistreated by the several institutions involved. And it should not be overlooked that there is more than one institution, and none emerge with great credit. However, there is also the question of how this undoubtedly traumatised woman has been used to further an agenda that has very little to do with seeking justice for the abused.

A witch-hunt has been launched, and it is not focusing directly on the person accused of the crime but on an entire constituency and community. This is not just about Gerry Adams or even his Sinn Féin party: the onslaught goes much wider and is not so much aimed at a party and its leader but is being extended to include a strong current in Irish political life — a current, no matter what view one has of it, that in the recent past has dared to challenge the ruling order and tried to subvert the status quo.

Several sections of the left maintained a consistent, trenchant and principled critique of the Provisional IRA campaign while it lasted. Their criticism focused on the limitations of the use of force or on its counter-productive potential. They viewed the IRA campaign as misguided, albeit having a desirable objective. In more recent times, sections of the left have criticised Sinn Féin for being opportunist or for entertaining social-democratic illusions.

On both counts the commentary was meant constructively, even when robust, biting, or indeed subject to debate.

On the other hand, right-wing supporters of the free market and neo-liberal consensus had and have a different objective when criticising republicans. In the past they feared that IRA success might pitch Ireland into socialist revolution and thus deprive them of their many advantages and assets. More recently this element is concerned that the apparent rise and success of Sinn Féin may leave a lasting impression that challenging the state does not inevitably bring defeat, isolation, and rejection. However compliant or conformist Sinn Féin may be or may become, its electoral rehabilitation risks setting a bad example as far as the forces of right-wing conservatism are concerned.

To paint an entire generation of radical republicans as morally degenerate, corrupt and brutally desensitised would be an achievement for Conservative Ireland and its allies abroad. What is at stake is not just the future of a Sinn Féin party that is gradually becoming centrist but of a much wider constituency that makes up one of the great radical forces on this island. What the right wing is seeking is not only the head of Gerry Adams but the heart of Republican Ireland.

Political activists blinded by distaste for the Sinn Féin leadership might well ask themselves whether the Irish Independent, Fine Gael, DUP and Daily Mail are acting as disinterested players. What, they might ponder, are the consequences of contributing to a campaign led by the most reactionary elements in the country, a campaign that has as its primary objective the destruction of a powerful anti-establishment current?

What if this carefully crafted offensive can dislodge Sinn Féin from its present position. Would it pave the way for a progressive breakthrough, or would it merely strengthen the ruling order? What would be the implications in the future for a genuinely socialist republican movement if a template for its destruction is being created now?

Distrust, dislike or even downright antipathy for Gerry Adams and his party should not cloud anyone’s judgement or mislead them into assisting a reactionary agenda.

Moral outrage not supported by proof is a destructive tool that has been used all too often in Ireland, and never in a progressive cause. We should be careful not to follow the piper before finding out where he is leading us.


  1. I'm rather confused here. Is Tommy genuinely suggesting that Adamsism is a force for the good?

    If so he need only look at the state they are leaving the North in, even with 10 Downing Street to run to. What would they do if they got their hands on power down South?

    Tommy should realise that this no longer the RM we left behind but something controlled at the highest levels by Britain, even down to the vast amounts of money they pump into it as funding. Tommy the Brits don't pay for something which is not useful to them.

    This leadership had sacrificed men on hunger strike to get where they are today. They have covered up rape and abuse in alarming numbers.

    In fact Tommy they recently promoted someone they knew was accused of 3 rapes. One case was before the PPS for 18 months. The SDLP knows about it, as do the Unionists and it was talked about after the recent Stormont debate.

    Adamsism might be on the rise down South due to people's anger but that will without doubt change and the quicker the better.

    Up here McGuinness is calling on the SDLP to join him in playing the Green Card come the next election thus ensuring sectarianism keeps his party in power and not what they do for the working classes.

  2. "No-one has been found guilty, and the most that anybody can say is that the charge remains unproved. Nevertheless, opinions and condemnations are being delivered with scant regard for this important fact."

    You have some doubt about the young woman's claims then Tommy?

    "However, there is also the question of how this undoubtedly traumatised woman has been used to further an agenda that has very little to do with seeking justice for the abused."

    So what traumatised her do you think?

    "To paint an entire generation of radical republicans as morally degenerate, corrupt and brutally desensitised would be an achievement for Conservative Ireland and its allies abroad."

    Ah right. The important thing here is that the reputation of Irish republicanism is at stake. People might think that murdering working class, minimum wage postmen was morally degenerate.

  3. 'We should be careful not to follow the piper before finding out where he is leading us'.

    Bit late for that Tommy, is it not? I'm afraid SF don't represent the 'heart' of Irish republicanism but the merely the manifestation of the drive of one particular individual for self advancement at any cost. Bolstered up by a wee gang of young fresh faced and 'unblemished'opportunist careerists SF has left a trail of destruction in its wake from John Hume and David Trimble for nothing more than whatever HMG was willing to give them. Surrender of the 'heart' of Irish republicanism is well nigh complete as far as that outfit is concerned; anyone in it at this stage, in fact for some time now, are all too aware of that fact and happy to accept it.

    The only thing Adams said that rang true in the Dail the other day was that Kenny has some nerve talking about putting Irish people in danger in the north as leader of a party, FG, whose forerunner abandoned the entire nationalist people of the 6 counties. This was a 'throwback' and totally out of sync with the SF of today. They almost sounded republican again and must have had to give their collective heads a serious shake immediately.

    The establishment and its media, as with Miliband in England, will always consolidate its position by concerted and prolonged 'onslaught'. It is a 24/7 process. At times subtle, at times vigorous.

    Should Adams and his baggage lead to the eventual demise of SF that has nothing to do with the heart of Irish republicanism, his Belfast mafia have played their games and had their moment in the lime-light. Republicanism now rests with the likes of the 1916 Societies now. Where that ends up only time will tell. SF are now merely another partitionist party temporarily riding high on the wave of an ugly recession. Nothing more.

  4. I watched Tommy on TV a little while ago discussing the Mairia Cahill case, and I felt very disappointed by his distance on the matter. It was inevitable that this would become political. It is also inevitable that others who dissented from the provisionals would see it as a small opportunity. We all know how ruthless republican and provisional politics are. But many people truly believe that Gerry Adams is the greatest risk to the republican heart within its contemporary history. An end to Adams and the Belfast corporate control of Sinn Féin and its global business enterprises, and British redirections of public monies towards Sinn Féin would be the detoxification that is necessary to put an end to this British moulded non-ideological monster that simply eats up votes on empty promises made to an ill-informed electorate. Sorry electorate! An entity that has lost all of its foundations. A party that has implemented eye watering Tory austerity onto the same people they germinated from.

    Does it really matter who starves your family? Maybe some of us would prefer to be starved, unemployed, marginalised and despised by the enemy we always knew, the Brits. Its very painful knowing that your Sinn Féin neighbour actually plays a part in your own deprivation. I really dont believe that Republicans need to be warned about the destruction of Sinn Féin, or even the fall of Gerry Adams. 'Nothing' worse awaits the republican family or cause that has been more detrimental than the cruelties inflicted onto thousands by the British Sinn Fein Nua.

    And, after saying that, of course it is correct that every person on this earth should be afforded the right to innocence until their guilt can be proven. Republicans know that more than anyone. So yes, taking a side on the Mairia Cahill case can be hypocritical.

    I was concerned that John Coulter was calling for a witch hunt. I was instantly alarmed by the notion that Sinn Féin could seize from it. Imagine Sinn Féin investigating themselves? I doubt they would give up anyone over the rank of £40k a year. It's not a very plausible idea. It's almost as ridiculous as Scappatici shooting touts. And, it's not exactly the typical political party that can be held accountable or investigated by independent entities. But for that matter, not many parties are held accountable, if any. Empowering Sinn Féin to weed out paedophiles? You will have to open a new prison. Maybe two. All their 'alleged' bullroot enemies (curtesy of a Bobby Storey inquiry) from every dissident to those in the media, will have the prisons overflowing. They might even find cells for Eilis O'Hanlon and Ed Moloney.

    But those of us who have some understanding of the republican mechanisms must be in no doubt about one thing. That one thing was not about the rape, it was the treatment of the young girl, who was terrified. And, anyone during those times who found themselves under scrutiny from the IRA were naturally terrified. We all know how internal security operated, and that life was cheap. If someone in the right position, or wrong position, disliked you, it was possible to end up as another statistic or disappeared. The Mairia Cahill investigation does have similarities to internal security investigations. I don't know how Mairia Cahill found the courage to face the IRA investigation. In fact, I am shocked that the IRA put so much resource into it. But their resources went in the wrong direction. I've met many hard men in my time, as I'm certain we all have, and many of them would have ran to a priest in despair during such an investigation. She bravely met these bullies, and I believe she probably endured PTSD because of it. She was treated abysmally. So, to me, the rape, although paramount to most, is secondary. The actions of the IRA, the so-called IRA, was absolutely wrong and sick.

  5. Mckearney is spot on. People in their haste to bring down adams or failing to notice that republicanism is the main target of the establishment. And I have said before that the shinners are viewed as the main republican body in the eyes of the electorate, like it or not. If all those lining up to crush the growth of this party succeed will they then claim that RNU,RSF etc are the true republicans? Will they be demanding the media give the true chucks airtime? Not on your nelly.
    As an opponent of Sinn fein policy in the north I do realise there is a different game being played in the south and I am strangely enjoying watching all those great allies of Northern republicanism over the years,ie FF,FG,Labour etc pooling together to protect all we believe in by sabotaging the rise of the shinners. Fascinating. Their passion is so heartwarming and I regret not noticing it during the conflict!
    We have always complained and pondered why the irish people were not as interested in the national question as us northerners were. Do you think that will improve any if Kenny,Martin,Burton succeed? Is their a some sort of chance that the free state electorate could be educated more about the national question if shinners got more established down there? In case you havnt noticed the free state govt released a pathetic plan to commemorate the 1916 rising the other day......republicans should be directing most of their venom at the people who are continuing to ensure that the republican message never gains traction to the majority of the irish people. Continuos free state governments have failed the 1916 signatories and will continue to do so if the current set up prevails. The current regime will ensure any whiff of republicanism is demonised and pushed to the margins lest there is a chance that the Irish people might wake up and realise they have been cheated for decades by pro british people masquerading as proud irish people.

  6. Regardless of motives we ought support those who seek to speak truth to power.

    And regardless of consequences also we ought similarly support those who speak truth to power.

    Tommy's piece does highlight some possible consequences of Maria Cahill's speaking truth to power, though that ought not, and does not invalidate supportive responses of themselves nor undermine her allegations.

    That the motives for some of Maria's supporters may be suspect should not be used to diminish the 'rightfulness' of her courageously speaking truth to power.

    Such attribution perhaps a mere avoidance of a more fundamental debate that ought address the veracity, legitimacy, efficacy and potentiality of Irish Republicanism itself in any of it's many and varied forms .

    Bearing in mind that it was itself a manifested reaction to cultural violence, Irish Republicanism finds itself in a bind insofar as it can only achieve it's fulfilment by perpetuating similar cultural violence (inevitably drawing a similar response) on an unwilling and significant section of the population.

    Continued pursuance of an 'Irish Republic' for many is almost like a neurotic fixation which enmeshes adherents in an ongoing struggle with their fellow citizens; an ongoing struggle which gives shallow meaning to impoverished lives?

  7. Amonrosier. I am in total agreement to your entire post.

  8. This is the best article i have read on this issue Tommy is spot on in many of the points he makes. Especially when he asked Adams most strident critics what the PRM should have done, given the existing reality in the North at the time.

    The biggest problem with this current brouhaha is, its everything about destroying SF electoral prospects in the south and nothing to do with seeing the young women get justice.

    When all this dies down, as it will eventually, does anyone here truly believe the FF, FG and LP scoundrels and the mainstream media, will even give Mairia Cahill a backwards glance, she will be left to pick up the pieces of her life alone, apart from some true and loyal friends.

    Its not only former members of the PIRA army council who have questions to answer.

  9. I think those who believe that Adamsism is about to upset the apple cart in the South are, quiet frankly, deluded. What has happened is that the people have grabbed the nearest available stick with which to beat the established parties and that so happens to be the Adamsites.

    Adamsism has proven in recent times that they change direction at the drop of a hat and once they get into government they'll fuck the place up just as badly as have any before them. Then the people will break the stick in two and cast it back as a handful of TDs.

    Polls can be wrong and we've seen this in Dublin SW where the Adamsite candidate was a clear favourite to win and look at what happened there.

    As I pointed out elsewhere, if victims of rape and child abuse can be treated as they are by Adamsism how can we ever trust them in government with real power in their hands?

  10. Being fair, I have to agree with Tommy, the case remains that the same governments who used special powers to convict Tommy and many of ye, also attempted to convict those Maria Cahill claimed sexually abused her (an horrendous crime) but failed to secure a conviction.
    God bless the lassie but, she is being used by the most repugnant elements in Irish politics to further their failing political ends, rather than promote hers, and others, rights to justice.
    I said before on TPQ, once it emerged Maria was still involved in furthering Republicanism, via Red, they would drop her, they have shied away a little and will continue to do so, how much support, emotionally and socially will Maria Cahill receive from these gougers when they have obtained their 'pound of flesh' and we have Mary Los Mr Middleclass as president of Sinn Féin and Tainiste Éireann?

  11. "made to an ill-informed electorate"

    One of the main weaknesses down the years of Irish Republicanism cries out from the above.

    When it failed to gain mass support it is not the movements fault but the electorates or the core community. If only the people would heed the republican leaderships all would be fine and dandy.

    Time and again the holy grail of republicanism trumps the needs of the Irish working classes. It explains why the current leadership of SF behaves as it does, and it explains why otherwise rational people could believe one more heave of the armed struggle, this time with a different leadership, could result in a different or better outcome than what Adams and co accepted.

    In many ways Republicans remind me of the Trots, its always a betrayal which lead it into the dead end of a cul-de-sac.

    The fact is the Southern working class electorate understands perfectly who is responsible for their penury and they turn to SF more out of desperation than hope. Its much the same in the north. They see the party as the only viable option to the parties which got them and the country into this sorry predicament.

    The majority of working class people are far from idealistic they reach out for the party which they hope might bring them some respite from the horrors of neoliberal capitalism.

    I would be interested to hear from the commentators here, whom they think workers people should vote for. (whether it be in the north or south?)

    While some of the indie's might be worth a punt, sadly they have not shown the cohesion and unity in the current parliament to make one believe they could act and maintain unity together as a solid left block which is capable of governing.

  12. Tommy said what needed to be put out there for people to think about. No point in reading what we agree with already. Not much to be learned from that.

    Apart from one snide poke the tone was not rancid. A vigorous debate that was not abusive.

    I think the responses in particular by Organised Rage and Amonrosier are worthy of pieces in their own right and hopefully don't end up buried in the comments section. Not because I agree with them but because they were well made arguments that invite further reflection.

  13. Rage,

    before revolution carry water and chop wood.
    After revolution carry water and chop wood.

    The working classes will be in much the same place, after Sinn Féin come to power, as they were before.

    'Fiscal constraints' and 'economic realities' will be forced upon them in the South in much the same way that they are forced upon them in the North. And apart from minor tinkering and repackaging things for most of us will remain pretty much the same.
    This is a well tested scenario ... just look at what McGiolla, Frankie Ross and Gilmore achieved for the working classes and you'll likely to get an indication of what Adams, Ferris and Dessie Ellis will deliver.

    And once they get the taste of power down here my guess is that they'll comfortably drift to the amorphous centre of Southern politics as so many from the left did before them.

  14. AM,

    Tommy's perspective is always welcome. His track record, like yours Anthony, is one of courage and integrity.

    And of course like all of us, despite best efforts, he will bring some bias too. Therefore all commentators' opinions must be placed under scrutiny.

    Tommy's piece is a worthy and useful contribution, though, as is often my wont, I am inclined to dissect his comments somewhat further in the hope of deepening my own understanding and learning.
    I present my own comments as merely reflecting my musings rather than offering any definitive conclusion or harsh criticism.

    In that vein I can't but wonder as to how people like Tommy having committed so much in terms of time and energy, having endured so much pain and suffering, can be expected to bring consistantly a critical objectivity to their thinking on matters in which they are obviously vested.
    This musing does not preclude the fact that valuable and useful input often comes from 'interested parties'.

    In this comprehensive article Tommy explores the implications and consequences of the Maria Cahill story from varied perspectives.
    Two concerns he speaks of captures my attention and those I'd like to address;

    Firstly, " To paint an entire generation of radical republicans as morally degenerate, corrupt and brutally desensitised would be an achievement for Conservative Ireland and its allies abroad."

    To tear the heart out of republican Ireland would indeed be an achievement Tommy. It's unlikely to happen.
    It may swing towards that in the short term but as with most such campaigns the pendulum will eventually come to rest in a more balanced place. Your proposal is somewhat alarmist, defensive and unsustainable.
    Though I can forgive, anyone with your history, that.

    Secondly, Tommy draws attention as to the effect that (cutting the heart out of republican Ireland) would have for "a genuinely socialist republican movement if a template for its destruction is being created now?"
    Not withstanding the hopeful thinking implicit in such commentary I don't see any real evidence in the immediacy of such a movement manifesting at any time in any effective form.

    In my opinion, the future here in Ireland, both north and south is evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

    Socialists and republicans would be well advised to acknowledge this.
    And in that light ought re-evaluate efficacy and potentiality of old ideologies. New strategies ought be developed if republican socialists are to have much relevance.