By Steven McCaffery and Douglas Dalby
MAÍRIA Cahill, who has demanded Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams resign over claims of a cover-up of her alleged rape and subsequent interrogation by the IRA, has confirmed she briefly held a senior role in a dissident republican political group.
In documentation from 2010 that allegedly came from an ard chomhairle meeting of the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) obtained by The Detail, Ms Cahill was named as Secretary of the political organisation, which since then has been linked to the dissident paramilitary faction Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH).
There is no allegation linking Ms Cahill to violent or illegal activity, but more than 24 hours after questions were sent to her by The Detail, Ms Cahill released a statement confirming she held the role but rejected any allegation of support for violence.
She said: "I was indeed the National Secretary of RNU – for a period of a few hours in 2010, until I resigned the position.
“I did continue to attend a series of meetings for a period of a few months.
“I was opposed to ‘outside influences’, in what was a perfectly legal pressure group, and was extremely vocal in this regard.
“Indeed, this was the reason that I left. I am on record consistently as being opposed to illegal armed actions.”
She added: "I have never denied my involvement, even though I have long moved on from involvement in any political activism.
“I did not hide it from the BBC Spotlight makers, and have been open and upfront about all of my experiences in life.
“There was nothing illegal about RNU. It was not involved in any armed action.
“It was a long time after I left the group, that they were publicly associated with supporting one particular grouping.
“My opposition to violence has been consistent throughout my life, even, though some people might find this strange, when I was in Sinn Féin.”
There has been widespread public sympathy for Ms Cahill following the harrowing accounts she has given of the personal trauma she said began in 1997.
The BBC was contacted by The Detail but was unable to comment on her case tonight.
Her abuse allegations, however, are not affected by the emergence of her former RNU membership, which the documents date as coming more than a decade later.
But her previous connections to the RNU have not featured in the huge political furore that her case has sparked.
Senior figures including Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, and Northern Ireland’s DUP First Minister Peter Robinson, have all been highly critical of Sinn Féin and in particular its leader Gerry Adams.
The Republican Network for Unity group is a strident opponent of Sinn Féin, but it has previously claimed it is not a formal political wing for the paramilitary ONH. In 2011 the RNU did however reportedly issue a statement sending “comradely greetings” to the armed dissident republican group.
The ONH dissident group is violently opposed to the peace process and is responsible for a string of gun and bomb attacks. Government reports linked it to the infamous January 2010 booby-trap that seriously wounded Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer Peadar Heffron.
RNU statements spell out the group’s opposition to the Sinn Féin strategy.
A press release issued by the RNU in February 2009 brands police “the corrupt and ineffectual RUC/PSNI” and hits out at the justice system and the “Crown ‘selective’ prosecution services”.
Ms Cahill is seen as coming from a strong republican background and was related to Joe Cahill who was one of the founders of the Provisional IRA.
But she said tonight she has always opposed violence. She also said she did not oppose new policing arrangements in Northern Ireland.
“To say that I am opposed to the police in Northern Ireland is equally ridiculous.
“I completely support the rule of law and order, North and South.
“The proof of this is that I made criminal complaints in 2007, and 2009 in relation to two matters concerning me.
“I also acted to call police in my role as a community worker in Belfast – and crucially, I attended a meeting with a solicitor and a barrister in 2009 to give information in relation to a suspected republican money laundering operation in West Belfast.
“I have continued to work alongside them in matters of community policing.
“I did not, as has been suggested by Sinn Féin, leave the party over their stance on policing.”
She added: "I left the party as a card carrying member in 2001. I did work on three by-elections in years afterwards as a favour to a friend who was within the organisation.
“I continued to sit with Sinn Féin members – and with members of other political parties on various community organisations.”
Ms Cahill has said that in 1997, aged 16, she suffered abuse and rape over 12 months by a man she believed was an IRA member.
She said the IRA subsequently investigated the case and forced her to face the man in early 2000.
Ms Cahill later reported her allegations to the police and trials were planned.
But those alleged to have been involved in the IRA inquiry, and the alleged rapist, were acquitted after Ms Cahill withdrew her evidence.
In a subsequent television account of her experiences, Ms Cahill detailed her allegations against the republican movement.
She further claimed that in a separate meeting with Gerry Adams to discuss her case, the Sinn Féin president said of sex abusers: “sometimes they’re that manipulative, that the people who have been abused actually enjoy it”.
Mr Adams has denied the claim.
The Sinn Féin leader addressed a party event in Belfast on Saturday where he again commented on Ms Cahill’s case, but also attacked his political critics.
The Sinn Féin President said: "While I am very mindful of the trauma she has suffered, I and the others she has named reject these allegations.
“These allegations have been seized upon in the most cynical, calculated and opportunistic way by our political opponents.”
Such comments have been persistently rejected by the political parties that have criticised Mr Adams.
Sinn Féin’s political opponents have insisted the allegations of abuse against republicans, together with claims that other people may have been abused, are of the utmost public importance.
Sinn Féin has urged anyone with information on any such incidents to go to the police.
Ms Cahill tonight said the RNU link was being used to smear her.
She said: “I believe that this story has been deliberately circulated by people whose only desire is to draw attention away from the fact that, when IRA/SF learned that I had been raped by a senior republican volunteer, they forced me into a brutal investigation against my will before engaging in a systematic cover up to silence me and members of my family.”
She said people opposed to her public campaign to highlight her experiences “are trying to paint me as some sort of dangerous Dissident with a capital D who supports criminal organisations such as Real IRA and Continuity IRA in order to tarnish my credibility. I reject all such groups root and branch and will swiftly take legal action should anyone wishing to allege or imply that I have any support for violence. I absolutely do not”.
Ms Cahill said: “I would not, nor could not lend my support to any illegal organisation. It is not relevant to my own sexual abuse, nor my forced investigation into that abuse – nor my forced confrontation by the IRA into that either.”
She said her previous political affiliations were irrelevant to the allegations she has made.
“Simply. I was abused. An illegal internal investigation was conducted into that abuse. I was forced to attend a confrontation by the IRA as a traumatised 18 year old in a room with my rapist.”
She cited a series of online rumours about her case which she rejected as a continued bid to undermine her campaign.
She added: “And I won’t be silenced because of it.”