DUNDALK, Ireland—While Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams celebrates St. Patrick’s Day at the White House on Tuesday, accusations that his party and the IRA covered up that child rapists were in their ranks have erupted back home.
The main allegations come from members of two families with strong ties to the IRA; families who would normally go by a fiercer code of silence than the Italian mafia.
Adams has long denied that he was ever an IRA member, but Sinn Fein is closely allied with the notorious paramilitary organization and some current party officials admit their past involvement. The scandal comes at a bad time for Adams, who The New Yorker named in a devastating, 15,000-word article this week as the person who ordered the IRA’s 1973 bombing campaign of London.
One Irish newspaper, the Independent, reported Sunday that there may be up to 100 abusers in the IRA ranks, though that claim has been denied by a member of Sinn Fein.
In an eerie parallel to Ireland’s clerical sexual abuse scandal in which pedophile priests were shuttled from parish to parish and sometimes overseas to remove them from their victim but shield them from the law, the alleged rapists were reportedly moved between Northern Ireland and the south or sent to Britain or the U.S., according to media reports.
Speaking out is extremely complicated for these alleged victims because they have been betrayed by the organization they once believed in so strongly. Now, some are doing what was once unthinkable: publicly turning on the IRA and Sinn Fein and exposing what they describe as a system of thuggish internal justice. They say they were warned not to go to police.
Last week, a married father of three from a town a few miles from Dundalk rocked the country when he went on national TV to say that he was raped by a senior IRA member from Belfast in his own home in around 1992.
Paudie McGahon, 40, came from a family whose home served as a hideout for IRA members during “The Troubles,” the 30-year conflict pitting the IRA against British-run Northern Ireland.
McGahon lives in County Louth, a rough region bordering Northern Ireland where the IRA often “disappeared” its enemies from the north and buried their bodies on local beaches during the conflict’s bloodiest years. Guns and ammunition are still hidden in the forests and mountains that dot the Cooley peninsula. Adams now represents the area in the Irish Parliament.
“It takes a lot of guts to go up against the IRA here of all places,” Francis McArdle, a 42-year-old man who lives just outside Dundalk, told The Daily Beast. McArdle wanted to be identified by his middle name. “Everyone’s been glued to the TV wondering what’s going to happen next.”
McGahon said he was 17 when a senior IRA member being sheltered in his home sexually assaulted him. After the attack, McGahon said his attacker warned him, “Listen, if you ever open your mouth about this to anybody, you’ll be found on a border road.”
McGahon said he told a local leader in Sinn Fein about the rape in 2002 and had to endure what he called a “kangaroo court” in his own home. He wrote in an article for the March 14 Independent that he was “quizzed by shadowy men from the IRA.”
McGahon said he planned to go on TV in silhouette with an actor dubbing over his distinctive Louth brogue but then decided not to hide anything.
“I was all too aware that I was taking on a powerful monster with limitless resources and a record of burying anyone who has ever tried to expose the truth at the centre of its rotten heart,” McGahon wrote.
“Sinn Féin and the IRA are one entity; a cross between the mafia and a cult. So a few sad childhood rape victims would be easily swatted away and silenced. It has one leader, Gerry Adams, who has remained untouched in that position for well over 30 years, unlike any other democratic political organization. And no one dares question the leader who is looked on as God.”
In McGahon’s case, he said IRA members eventually told him that his attacker had admitted to the abuse. McGahon was given options as to how he wanted him punished.
“The first one was for them to deal with it—put a bullet in the back of his head,” McGahon told the BBC. “It was said with such ease you knew that it wouldn’t be a problem.” In the end McGahon opted for another choice: the expulsion of his attacker to Britain.
But the Independent also reported that McGahon’s attacker was a serial rapist who attacked a number of children while he was moved around IRA safe houses.
The paper said it had obtained a “secret document” about an internal investigation by Sinn Fein in 2006 into alleged IRA sex abusers that showed the same man who assaulted McGahon allegedly raped a 12-year-old boy in an IRA safe house in Dublin and two teenagers in Derry at some point after his attack on McGahon.
McGahon said he was inspired to come forward after he watched Mairia Cahill tell the BBC in October 2014 that she had been raped at age 16 by a man alleged to be a senior member of the IRA.
McGahn said Cahill’s story sounded a lot like his own. Cahill, 33, said she was subjected to years of interrogations by IRA members about her allegations in internal investigations. As part of the IRA’s inquiry into her claims, she was asked to confront her abuser as part of a process to see who was telling the truth.
Cahill told Newstalk radio that there may be as many as 60 people who were abused by up to 40 IRA members who are still at large.
In a firsthand account of her ordeal for the Independent, she spoke of conducting her own investigation after a prosecution of her alleged rapists and the four people she said tried to cover it up fell apart in a North Ireland courtroom.
“I learned of people who the IRA moved to safe houses, who then went on to abuse children,” Cahill wrote. “Of young children who made allegations against prominent republicans of unwanted sexual contact, who were told they were lying by family members to stop social services being told because it created an embarrassment for the IRA. I heard first-hand of allegations that victims were raped at gunpoint, or threatened with being killed so they wouldn’t disclose their abuse. I was told of people who went ‘on the run’, who attacked children, and who were then moved on and attacked them again.”
Adams admitted last week that he had been informed on McGahon’s rape in 2009 but said he did not learn the identity of his abuser until contacted by the BBC two weeks ago. The scandal has become a political free-for-all in Ireland as Prime Minister Enda Kenny accused Adams of not being truthful about what he knows about the IRA sex abuse. Adams branded Kenny’s charges “despicable.”
Adams came under fire in 2013 for not telling authorities that his niece Aine had been sexually abused for years by her father, Adams’s brother Liam, until Aine went public with her story in 2009. Adams, who claimed to have distanced himself from his brother, was later seen with him in family photographs and helped him secure a job at a youth center in West Belfast and even helped him run for a political seat in County Louth.
Adams revealed in 2009 that his father, a revered IRA leader, sexually abused members of his own family.