I was on RTÉ’s Prime Time last night. It was of course about the Mairia Cahill case and it was what you might call a learning experience.
Miriam O’Callaghan seemed focused on whether I found the story of Ms Cahill’s account of her meeting with Gerry Adams ‘credible’. In my view, that line of questioning was to pour petrol on what is a fire that’s burning in lively style already. I pointed out that my finding what Ms Cahill said credible or not was beside the point. Likewise in terms of Ms Cahill’s claims to have been raped over a twelve-month period by an alleged IRA man. Likewise in terms of Ms Cahill’s claims that Gerry Adams had made a remark – while stroking his moustache – that some victims are persuaded they enjoy rape. Likewise with her claim that republican rapists were many and were covered up for and moved on, in the style of the Catholic Church child abuse scandals.
All those are beside the point because to the best of my knowledge no evidence has yet been adduced to support Ms Cahill’s claims. She spoke a day or two ago about having been “dragged through the media” over the past week. From what I saw, that seems an odd choice of verb -”glided” might have been nearer the mark. Ms Cahill is a very effective presence when faced with cameras and microphones. But as I say, I’m not aware of any evidence for these deeply serious charges.
Which is bad enough. But when the leading political figures of Ireland – the leader of Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin, the leader of the DUP Peter Robinson, even the leader of the Fine Gael party An Taoiseach Enda Kenny – act as though Ms Cahill’s charges had been proved to the hilt, it’s even more worrying. As though to show the strength of his belief, there’s a picture of the Taoiseach embracing Ms Cahill, presumably to express sympathy for the vile crime that has been committed against her.
When I made this point last night, Noel Whelan in the RTÉ studio responded by saying that Mary Lou McDonald, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams himself had added their voices to the crediblity of Ms Cahill’s claims. Unlike Noel, I’m not a barrister. Or a former adviser to the Fianna Fail party. But I do know that questions of innocence or guilt depend on evidence. That’s what the judge based his verdict on when Ms Cahill’s claims came to court. Those who were claimed to have organised an IRA meeting were acquitted, as was the man whom Ms Cahill claimed had raped her. In short, they were declared innocent. As a barrister, Noel presumably knows that you need evidence if you make charge. That’s why the legal firm representing the men charged with holding an IRA meeting, and acquitted of that charge, issued the other day a statement deploring the unrelenting media onslaught against their clients over the past week. “In any normal society, the fact that the men were acquitted in a court of law – found innocent – would be the end of the matter”. Indeed. But not in Ireland.
Quite the reverse, in fact. Noel Whelan’s view, and presumably that of Enda Kenny, Micheal Martin and Peter Robinson appears to be that if enough people say something about an individual, then the belief becomes reality. It’s not exactly mob rule. It’s closer to the Roman emperor asking the mob at the Coliseum whether they think he should give the thumbs up or down to determine the fate of a gladiator. If enough voices urge thumbs down, that’s what happens and the man is killed.
But the fact is, we have courts in which innocence and guilt are tested. When Ms Cahill’s charges came to court, all those charged were deemed innocent. The political opponents of Sinn Féin north and south have acted as though the verdict of the court was an irrelevance and the demeanour of the accuser the deciding factor. If Mary Lou McDonald, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams have declared they believe Ms Cahill’s claims are true, they’re entitled (for whatever reason) to do so. I’ll do the same myself when and if convincing evidence is brought forward to support the claim. Rape is a particularly vicious and cowardly crime, and the perpetrator deserves severe punishment and the victim everyone’s sympathy and support. But we must use something other than a persuasive media presence as evidence that rape has occurred.
One final point: the case against Martin Morris and others has resulted in an acquittal. As I understand the law – maybe Noel could corroborate this – those accused and found innocent cannot be charged a second time for the same crime except fresh evidence is produced. Does Ms Cahill have fresh evidence? If she has she should produce it immediately and go to court. Otherwise some of us will begin to suspect she’s being used as a wrecking ball against Gerry Adams in a determined effort to damage Sinn Féin electorally. As Tommy McKearney told Mark Carruthers on the BBC’s The View last night (I watched it when I got home, Virginia), the real story of the past month is not Mairia Cahill but the infliction by the south’s coalition government of water charges on a population already on its knees. “The Maria Cahill case has come like manna from heaven for the coalition government”. Too true, Tommy. In deep electoral difficulties, Maggie Thatcher sent a fleet of warships to the Falklands. In a similar predicament, Enda Kenny flung his arms around Mairia Cahill.