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Mairia Cahill is refusing to talk about her past dissident links

The Labour Seanad candidate is coming under pressure over her refusal to debate.

Mairia Cahill
Mairia Cahill
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

MAIRIA CAHILL’S REFUSAL to take part in Seanad by-election media debates or speak publicly about her brief involvement with a dissident organisation which opposes the PSNI has been criticised.

The Labour Party Seanad candidate is set to win the support of the majority of TDs and Senators and take the seat vacated by the retired Jimmy Harte when the results of the by-election are announced this Friday.

Cahill, a victim of abuse and a subsequent cover-up within Republican movement, confirmed last year that she had once been the National Secretary of the Republican Network for Unity (RNU), an organisation which opposes the PSNI, in 2010.

But she said she only held the post for “a period of a few hours” and continued to attend “a series of meetings for a period of a few months” that same year. She said she has always been opposed to violence and never opposed the police in Northern Ireland.

Cahill’s refusal to comment in recent weeks has been criticised by Catherine McCartney, the sister of the late Robert McCartney, who was allegedly murdered by the Provisional IRA ten years ago.

McCartney emailed all Oireachtas members yesterday and said Labour needed to provide a “credible explanation” for Cahill’s RNU past. She called on Tánaiste Joan Burton and her party to reflect on their nomination of Cahill for the Seanad Industrial and Commercial Panel seat.

Labour said that Cahill had addressed her “brief involvement with RNU on numerous occasions in the past, and on the public record”. A spokesperson said:

Mairia Cahill is fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement, to peace, to democracy, and to the rule of law. If elected to Seanad Eireann on Friday, she will use her position to promote these issues, alongside her own priority areas of youth unemployment and continuing to campaign on behalf of victims of abuse.

Media debates

Independent Seanad candidate Jerry Beades also made a number of claims about references to Cahill’s links to the RNU in an email sent to all Oireachtas members last week. Labour said it was taking legal advice on foot of the email.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Beades criticised Cahill’s refusal to take part in media debates, saying: “A number of media organisations have asked for engagement and she has refused.”

Cahill declined an invitation to appear on RTÉ Radio One’s Late Debate last week. Labour said the candidate’s focus was on meeting TDs and Senators – the only people allowed to vote in the by-election. She also turned down a recent invite to a Tonight with Vincent Browne debate on TV3.

“As a candidate in the Seanad by-election, Máiría’s focus is on speaking directly to by-election voters, ie TDs and Senators, and that as a result, she’s not geared up to do media debates,” a Labour spokesperson said.

Sinn Féin, which is running Meath councillor Sinead Burke in the by-election, said that candidates “should take part in debates and discussions around their candidacy and the role of the Seanad generally”.

Sinn Féin has campaigned for democratic reform to the Seanad and believes that those of a similar mind should welcome the opportunity to bring the Seanad into a greater public light – it is after all funded by taxpayers and those standing for election should make their positions and views known to the public.

Fianna Fáil is running Mayo-based GP Keith Swanick who said it would have been more inclusive if “all candidates had the opportunity to put their arguments in front of the public”.

Last Saturday, Cahill received a standing ovation when she was honoured at the Irish Tatler Women of the Year Awards. Labour said her “courage, bravery, and determination were widely acknowledged” at the event.

A spokesperson added: “The Labour Party is proud that she is our candidate in this bye-election.”

Read: Labour is taking legal advice over an email about Mairia Cahill

Read: Everything you need to know about the strangest election in Irish politics

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