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IRA abuse claims show – once again – how the institution is always placed before the victim

There are parallels between Sinn Féin’s reaction to allegations by Paudie McGahon and Maíria Cahill and the Catholic Church’s pursuit of its own institutional safety.

Donal O'Keeffe

THE ISSUE OF abuse, known and unknown, has traumatised Ireland for generations and, without exception, victims of abuse have been further and deliberately hurt to protect the institutions which failed them.

Whether it has been the Magdalene Laundries, the Mother and Baby Homes, forced adoptions, clerical and institutional abuse or all of the other ways in which the vulnerable have been let down, exploited or defiled, there has always been one constant. That constant unites Church, State and, it turns out, those who decided, against the express wishes of the vast majority of people on this island, that they were the legitimate government of Ireland.

Whatever the institution, that institution always places its own survival above those who have been abused by its agents. This is not an exclusively Irish problem. When allegations of abuse by Jimmy Savile were first made, the BBC closed ranks to protect itself. Only last week, Britain’s Home Secretary warned the British public that it has no idea of the sheer horror the resultant Godard Inquiry into sexual abuse is about to expose.

The fallout from clerical child sex abuse revelations 

An elderly friend told me he lost his faith over Father Brendan Smyth and Father Sean Fortune. A whole life of devotion to the Catholic Church – six decades – a faith which defined not just a religion but, for him and for many like him, a nationality as well and it died at the thought of demons pretending to be angels, rapists who would use the name of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to feed their own obscene appetites.

For him the idea of the abuse carried out by those men – and “abuse” is a word that has lost its power now: they raped little children and their apologists should never be allowed to obscure that fact – was a body blow, but what killed his belief, not just in the Church, but in a just God, was the fact that Church authorities, to protect the institution of the Church, had moved these monsters from one parish to another, from one jurisdiction to another, where they were free to begin again their predation.

His wife’s faith was affected badly too, but she took a more pragmatic approach. She decided it wasn’t she who had betrayed God and she would not let the monsters take her faith in God or humanity. She became an a la carte Catholic, albeit one who picks and chooses the more traditionalist bits she likes. For her, the influence of the clergy shrank to the point that she feels her own opinion of God is at least as important as – or more so than – theirs.

The parallels are striking 

The subject of child abuse has been propelled back into the headlines in recent weeks by Paudie McGahon’s allegation that he was raped by a member of the Provisional IRA and subsequently subjected to an IRA kangaroo court – brave testimony which echoes and supports that of Maíria Cahill. It has been striking to see the similarity of Sinn Féin’s wagon-circling reaction to these allegations and that of the Catholic Church, when it too tried to put its own institutional safety before the wellbeing of abuse victims. The parallels are sickening.

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Paudie McGahon. Source: BBC Spotlight

At the height of their respective power, the Catholic Church and the IRA could both make any life a living Hell and if it was only the Church which claimed to control the actual direction in which a soul went in the afterlife, then the IRA certainly had few qualms about sending souls to that afterlife.

It should be noted that Sinn Féin is not the IRA – even if it has been its political wing until 1998, 2002 or 2009 or whenever it is they’re now claiming they have gone away you know. Gerry Adams was never in the IRA either, of course, although it’s baffling to some of us that a young man who grew up in West Belfast and came of age at the height of the Troubles did not become involved in The Struggle.

It’s hard, though, not to recall that time when Brian Cowen, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, was told mid-negotiation by Martin McGuinness “We’ll have to consult the IRA Army Council on this”. Cowen, exhausted after weeks of interminable Peace Process talks, reportedly replied “Yeah, well, there’s a mirror in the toilet if you want to go in there and talk to them”.

Not one member of Sinn Féin has broken ranks on this issue

It seems unlikely Sinn Féin will find itself fatally damaged as the Catholic Church was when it put institution before victim. There were priests and religious who spoke out against the Church, brave men and women who knew right from wrong. It has been striking to note that not one member of Sinn Féin has broken ranks on this issue.

Francie Molloy MP wandered initially off-message in his tweet that Paudie McGahon was talking rubbish but that was only because Francie failed to anticipate the nuance of Sinn Féin’s “We believe him but” position. For Sinn Féin, when cornered, the real issue is not whether some of its members were abusers (they were) but rather whether the IRA sheltered those abusers and/or moved those abusers from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, just as the Church did with its abusers. Another awkward question is the precise date Sinn Féin and/or the IRA started accepting the legitimacy of the Irish Government, the British Government or indeed the Stormont Assembly. Answers on a postcard, please.

Mairia Cahill abuse allegation Source: Brian Lawless

Maíria Cahill. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA

An abomination which leaves its victims traumatised for life

So no, no break in the ranks. No sign of Sinn Féin developing an Awkward Squad, like every other political party has. No grassroots members getting cross. Then again, does Sinn Féin even have grassroots members? It seems to me that Sinn Féin’s lowest rank is “Party Activist” and those all seem to come pre-programmed with cookie-cutter, party-line sound-bites.

Sexual abuse is an abomination which leaves its victims traumatised for life. You would think that anyone with a heart or a brain would know better than to deny – or add to – the suffering of those who have been abused. A quick look at the online behaviour of some so-called Republicans would cure you of that illusion.

In the wake of Maíria Cahill’s allegations, Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty memorably told the Dail she would “not believe the Lord’s Prayer” from Gerry Adams. Some Catholics lost so much faith at their Church’s mishandling of abuse cases that they stopped believing the Lord’s Prayer full stop. Shinners’ faith is obviously made of sterner stuff.

Donal O’Keeffe is a writer, artist and columnist for TheJournal.ie. He tweets as @Donal_OKeeffe.

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