More and more pressure has been falling on the shoulders of the Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams after Belfast woman Maíria Cahill made claims that, shop having been sexually abused by a member of the Republican movement as a 16 year-old, she was brought in front of a secret IRA meeting, where she was made face her rapist in what she has described as a “kangaroo court”. Ms. Cahill claims this was done to keep the police force away and protect the Sinn Féin brand.

While the pressure on Sinn Féin had been intensified after polls from the Sunday Times and the Sunday Business Post had Sinn Féin’s standing with the public drop, this was mitigated when it was revealed in the latest Sunday Independent that the party had risen to a record high. Mr. Adams however still has many questions to answer.

Despite the fact that anger over Irish Water and water charges has reached boiling point over the last few weeks, the Cahill controversy had meant that Sinn Féin initially failed to capitalise on the that public rage, and had instead fallen by 3% in the Sunday Business Post poll. The party remained unchanged in the Sunday Times poll. While the party were still at second in both polls, they would have expected to have performed better as an anti-water charge party, a fact which underlined Ms. Cahill’s threat to their long-term electoral performance.

The voters that Sinn Féin would have been expecting to pick up seemed to instead be flocking to Independent candidates, who rose by 5% to 28% in the Sunday Business Post poll and 3% to 25% in the Sunday Times Poll. The flurry of claims from the Republican Party’s camp that Ms. Cahill’s allegations are groundless had not seemed to help matters.

However this narrative was changed when a Sunday Independent poll revealed that Sinn Féin had in fact risen to the top of the poll on 26%, ahead of Fine Gael who were on 22%. This poll seemed to reflect the party’s anti-water charge stance far more than the previous ones. Sinn Féin will now have to wait and see whether or not the Cahill issue has blown over, as it really all depends on whether the water charge issue or the rape court allegations have more political staying power.

However one person we can take for definite as having been damaged by Cahill however is Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. In the previous week, support for party leader Gerry Adams, who Cahill claims had knowledge of the incident and covered it up to protect her abuser and Sinn Féin, had fallen by 7% in both polls. One week later and there was worse news for the Louth TD, as his satisfaction rating fell by 1% and his dissatisfaction rating grew by 8%.

The revelations over the abuse of Ms. Cahill are not the first reports of sexual assault that have been linked to a cover up by Gerry Adams. Adams’ own niece came forward to the police in 2006 after she had been raped by her father Liam Adams, brother of Gerry Adams. While initially she was hesitant to tell her story, her realisation that her uncle was unwilling to deal with the issue, but rather hide it, forced her hand. “I realised it was all about PR and protecting his own image,” she stated at the time.

Liam Adams had remained active in the party in Dundalk, at one point he had considered running for the Dáil. Fears are abound that more sex offenders have been moved into the Republic to keep their crimes unknown, a practice many are noting has unsettling parallels to the Catholic Church’s treatment of paedophilic clergy.

Adams himself has admitted that the republican movement were not equipped to deal with such matters and has apologized to anyone who was made a victim of abuse because of IRA actions, but has also stated that there was no cover up involving him and that Ms. Cahill has gotten her facts wrong. He has also expressed his anger over opponents using an issue like sexual abuse to gain political points. Much was made over Ms. Cahill’s meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny last week, which Sinn Féin claim was a clear PR stunt.

What’s interesting to note here is that when Adams challenged Kenny to meet with those who were alleged to be part of the IRA court, the Taoiseach agreed to do so. However, those involved have stated they will not meet Mr Kenny, claiming that he will not treat them fairly. Adams has also called on any former members of the IRA to come forward with information regarding sexual abuse.

At the time of writing he has done little to address the fears of rapists being sheltered south of the border. Whether his actions will take some of the sting from the accusations remains to be seen, and it will be interesting to see whether the Sinn Féin party will view their leader with the same admiration as before, or whether there will be rumblings of removing him as a potential liability.

Diarmuid Burke