Sex abuse victim Mairia Cahill delivered the Gerry Conlon summer memorial lecture at the West Belfast Féile an Phobail festival in which she criticised Sinn Fein. Ms Cahill talked about the sequence of events in 1997 in which, while working for a radio station linked to the Feile festival, she alleges she was raped by a member of the IRA. The organisation allegedly later conducted a “kangaroo court” bringing her face to face with her abuser against her wishes.
Delivering the talk at St Mary’s University College, Ms Cahill said she disclosed the abuse to a Sinn Féin MLA between 1997 and 1998 but that subsequent to that the alleged abuser was still a member of the Féile management committee. However, Ms Cahill said that not all members of the committee were aware of the abuse.
Ms Cahill also said the First Minister had told her that if the MLA had not later resigned from the Assembly the Sinn Féin representative could have been investigated by Stormont’s Standards Commissioner. Ms Cahill said it was “unforgivable” that the man she alleges abused her was still involved in the Féile management committee after she had disclosed the abuse and added that as a result “children were put at risk”.
A court case against the alleged abuser collapsed after Ms Cahill withdrew her co-operation as a result of failings in the handling of the case by the Public Prosecution Service, who later apologised to Ms Cahill. In October 2014 Ms Cahill’s allegations were aired on the BBC (NI) ‘Spotlight’ programme.
In the lecture, Ms Cahill also claimed that the alleged abuser was able to go on a community group residential with children after senior Sinn Féin figures were aware of her disclosures. Around 150 people attended the Féile event, where Ms Cahill, a relative of the late republican Joe Cahill, said she would not back down to pressure from lawyers.
It has been reported that the organisers of Feile an Phobail were advised that some of those allegedly involved in the “kangaroo court” would hold the festival liable for any defamatory or abusive remarks against them.
Sinn Féin later replied to the News Letter that “anyone who has any information whatsoever about any child abuse should come forward to the authorities North or South and they will have the full support of Sinn Féin in doing so.”