THE ALLEGATIONS of Maíria Cahill have been at the centre of the media and political system, North and South, in recent times.
Nobody doubts that Maíria has been through great distress. I have never doubted that she suffered abuse. And, like every citizen, she is fully entitled to truth and justice.
Over the course of the past week, Maíria Cahill has made serious allegations against myself and named Sinn Féin members.
While I am very mindful of the trauma she has suffered, I and the others she has named reject those allegations.
The allegations made by Maíria Cahill have been seized upon in the most cynical, calculated and opportunistic way by our political opponents.
Their aim has little to do with helping victims of abuse but everything to do with furthering their own narrow political agendas.
The serious and sensitive issues of abuse should be dealt with in a victim-centred way by the appropriate authorities. Instead, they have been politicised in the Dáil, the Assembly chamber and in the media.
I am very conscious that a young woman is at the centre of this controversy.
So, let me be very, very clear – abuse is wrong; it cannot and must not be tolerated.
Let me be equally clear – Sinn Féin has not engaged in any cover-up of abuse at any level of this party.
This accusation is a vile slur on thousands of decent, upstanding republican people right across this island.
Those Sinn Féin members to whom Maíria Cahill spoke have said that they believed that she had been a victim of abuse and that she had suffered trauma.
They assure me that they did all that they could to support her.
That is what I did also.
The Taoiseach, the Fianna Fáil leader and some media commentators have also tried to draw comparisons between the actions of Sinn Féin representatives in this case and that of the Catholic Church in dealing with abuse allegations.
A cursory examination of the facts gives the lie to that ridiculous assertion.
The Catholic Church Hierarchy and the state presided over institutional abuse for decades.
It was a systemic and deliberate practice. In stark contrast, Sinn Féin has encouraged victims to speak out.
All the Sinn Féin members who spoke to Maíria Cahill acted in good faith to support her.
They advised her to speak to her family, to seek counselling or to approach social services.
Her uncle, Joe Cahill – at my request – asked her to go to the RUC.
Now even Joe is shamefully depicted as a sex abuser by some of the media. This has been deeply hurtful to his wife Annie, their children and grandchildren
Whose agenda is served by this despicable rubbish?
Some sections of the media – and in particular the Independent Group – have taken these allegations against Sinn Féin, added to them, and reported them as fact.
They speculate with ill-concealed glee about how much damage this controversy will do to me and to Sinn Féin.
While rightfully criticising the idea of ‘kangaroo courts’, they have set themselves up as judge and jury on this issue.
This is not journalism in the normal sense but a campaign with a clear political agenda.
This society is still emerging from decades of conflict.
That conflict caused widespread hurt and suffering, as did the absence of the structures and institutions which are the norm in peaceful democratic societies.
There are many legacy issues arising from the conflict. Sinn Féin accepts our responsibility to help bring about the resolution of these issues. That is not our responsibility alone. The governments and others must deal with the past also.
Victims include a wider category than those killed or injured.
They include those badly served or mistreated by the forces of the state or by armed groups, including the IRA.
How the various protagonists dealt with the issue of sexual abuse is clearly one of the legacy issues which needs to be resolved as part of the necessary business of dealing with the past.
However, there is an onus on us all to meet the needs of victims of abuse and the concerns of the community in the here and now, to do what we can today.
To the maximum extent that this can be dealt with now, it should be dealt with.
I have already set out the circumstances in which the IRA sought to deal with some cases of abuse when asked to do so by families and victims.
I have acknowledged that while IRA Volunteers were acting in good faith, the IRA was not equipped to deal with these difficult matters.
But the clock cannot be turned back. Sinn Féin cannot change what happened in the past. But we can acknowledge failure.
That is what I have done.
Everyone, including us, has a duty to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. That is not the responsibility only of Sinn Féin.
IRA actions failed victims of abuse. As Uacharáin Shinn Féin I have acknowledged that. I am sorry for that. And I apologise for that.
This week in the Dáil, the Taoiseach disgracefully twisted and sought to misrepresent what I have said on this issue.
He and the Fianna Fáil leader have shown a callous disregard for the facts as they turned the Dáil chamber into an episode of reality television.
Neither the Taoiseach nor the Fianna Fáil leader has ever sought to meet with me to address the false allegations that they have levelled against me and others in Sinn Féin.
Instead, they have rushed into media with their vindictive claims.
Mr Kenny and Mr Martin have done the very thing they accuse republicans of – they have set aside the judicial process and the rights of citizens before the law; they have ignored the acquittal of those they have accused.
The Taoiseach has claimed that sexual abusers were ‘moved’ – his words, not mine – to “Dublin, Donegal, Louth”.
The Taoiseach has repeatedly claimed that he has knowledge of alleged child abusers from the North but living in the South.
He says that others have given him information identifying these alleged child abusers. He has raised alarm and concern on this issue.
Has the Taoiseach gone to the Garda with this information?
Has he insisted that those who gave him this information go to the Garda?
If not – why not?
It is up to the Garda or the PSNI to investigate and to prosecute anyone they suspect of child abuse, irrespective of who they are, where they come from or what organisation they may belong to.
I have no knowledge of the claims that the Taoiseach is making.
I have already called on anyone who has any information whatsoever about any case of sexual abuse to come forward to the authorities, North or South.
They will have the full support of Sinn Féin in so doing.
No one should be living in fear and no child should be at risk.
I am calling on any former IRA Volunteers who may have any information about any allegations of sexual abuse to pass this on to the appropriate authorities – the PSNI, An Garda Síochána, Social Services, the HSE or any of the advocacy groups or helplines which deal with sexual abuse cases.
This could also be done through any of the statutory and voluntary organisations which offer confidential 24-hour helplines.
These agencies are properly equipped to pursue these matters.
Secrecy has surrounded abuse in Ireland.
It was taboo to discuss and some victims were very fearful to disclose.
The only way to face this problem is to support victims and to empower them to speak out.
Republicans are reflective of wider Irish society. Abusers can be found in all walks of life. Any abuser within republicanism has done grievous wrongs to their victims and sullied our cause.
But they are not in any way representative of the thousands or tens of thousands of republican activists who served the republican cause in the ranks of the IRA and Sinn Féin.
They are not representative of the tens of thousands of republican prisoners who served hard time for the republican cause. Or of our patriot dead.
There are republican families in every parish in Ireland. Good men and women who have kept faith in hard times.
There are ten thousand citizens in the ranks of Sinn Féin today representing hundreds of thousands of republican voters the length and breadth of this island.
The politicisation of this issue by An Taoiseach and the Fiánna Fail leader comes at a time when we present a real alternative to the conservative parties that have failed citizens since partition.
When challenged by me in the Dáil, Mr Kenny conceded that there are many decent people in Sinn Féin.
Let me tell you, Taoiseach, we don’t need you to tell us that.
We know that.
We also know that we are not part of any conspiracy to protect child abusers or to cover up abuse.
So the difficult issues raised by Maíria Cahill must be addressed.
But there are processes for doing this. They should be applied and respected.
Let us be clear – this is not achievable by exploiting her story in a blatant effort to demonise Sinn Féin.