Does it really matter if someone who was a newspaper editor, columnist and journalism professor has now admitted to being an unapologetic supporter for the ‘physical force’ carried out by the IRA? In short, yes it does, very much.
You might not have heard of Roy Greenslade until the story this weekend that the former Daily Mirror editor, and Sun executive outed himself as an ardent IRA supporter. But we now know that, while Greenslade had platformed himself in some very powerful publications as commentator and champion of media ethics, he was, arguably, a master of cognitive dissonance when it came to his own profession. As one of the targets of his pen, let me tell you about the grief he caused me.
Aged 16, I was repeatedly raped and sexually abused by an IRA man who lived with my father’s sister. Although IRA members were not unusual to see in west Belfast (my great uncle Joe had been its former chief of staff), this man was particularly depraved: he had been a member of a ‘civil administration unit’ in Ballymurphy, which was a grand title for carrying out so-called punishment attacks on young men involved in petty crime.
Shortly before he started the abuse, he tried to recruit me to move guns for the IRA. I was petrified, and refused. Growing up in Belfast was far from normal. Child abusers in other countries use a variety of grooming methods to keep their victims quiet; I had an implied threat of violence hanging over my head. The abuse was insidious, as all abuse is, and I was so scared I pretended to be asleep throughout.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, when I eventually disclosed separately to three females, one of them passed on the information to the IRA, without my knowledge. A year later I was blindsided by an IRA woman who instructed me to meet later that evening. What followed was a forced ‘investigation’ by the IRA where I was repeatedly taken away and questioned. The IRA allowed my attacker to go back to his membership of the republican movement.
In 2010, I made a police complaint and five people were arrested, leading to charges and three separate trials. These collapsed in 2014 when I withdrew support for the prosecution, citing failings. A Diplock judge had little option but to find all of the defendants, who contested the charges from the outset, not guilty.
Some months later, I was interviewed by BBC NI Spotlight’s Jennifer O’Leary about the ordeal. What followed was shocking: I received threats online, graffiti was painted on a wall in the area where I was raped. There was support, too, and my case was discussed in Westminster, the NI Assembly, and the Dail. Sinn Fein were under pressure, and their callous response made it worse.
And then, two weeks after I waived my lifetime right to anonymity, Roy Greenslade decided to attempt to throw a cloak of caution around my credibility. In a Guardian article, headlined ‘BBC Programme on IRA rape allegations flawed by lack of political balance’, Greenslade questioned why the programme did not disclose my brief membership of a political dissident group – 13 years after I was abused.
‘Critics suggest that Spotlight’s presenter and producer were too willing to accept Cahill’s story and did not point to countervailing evidence,’ he wrote. ‘That is not to say that she was not raped. Nor does it negate her view that the IRA handled her complaint clumsily and insensitively.’
After attacking the ‘lack of balance’ in the BBC NI piece, he then took it upon himself to list my political history – some of it inaccurate – which he viewed as highly relevant when discussing my brutal experience of abuse, and of the IRA and Sinn Fein’s treatment of me as a result.
Strange (and some would say hypocritical) that he did not disclose in the same piece, his own secret long-held support for the IRA. I appeared on countless live TV and radio programmes, and answered all questions put to me, which is more than any of the IRA members involved in my case did. Women’s Aid, the Rape Crisis centre, and countless editorials provided public support. Greenslade chose instead to bemoan the media treatment of Gerry Adams.
The BBC programme and its acclaimed journalist went on to win a plethora of prestigious accolades, including two RTS awards for its programme. Meanwhile, Greenslade flogged a dead horse and continued to criticise it in a number of subsequent blogs.
My previous political affiliations, long gone by the time of the programme, had no more bearing on my rape than my later position as an Irish Labour senator when in Government, or my time as an SDLP councillor. That Greenslade chose to conflate it illustrated for me the depths to which some would plunge in attempting to deflect attention from the real issue: my treatment at the hands of the IRA and Sinn Fein.
In 2015, Sir Keir Starmer investigated the NI Prosecution service and found failings, leading to the then DPP, Barra McGrory stating: ‘No fault or blame attaches to Mairia Cahill… the public prosecution service let you down, and for that I am sorry.’
A NI Police Ombudsman investigation later found evidence that the police had intelligence 20 years ago that my abuser was abusing children, and the IRA had investigated it. It also cited police failings. The then NI Chief Constable apologised. Even Sinn Fein issued a mealy-mouthed apology after that.
That Greenslade chose the angle he did is not surprising, but it is disgusting. No abuse disclosures should be weighed against victims’ previous politics. That the Guardian chose to print it is extremely questionable, given that by that time it was widely known that he had written anonymously for the Sinn Fein IRA supporting publication, An Phoblacht.
I contacted the Guardian through a solicitor in 2014. They backed their man. In light of the recent disclosure, I have contacted them again. I await their reply.
Despite lecturing in media ethics at City University (who have now reportedly parted ways with him) and contributing to the Leveson inquiry, Roy Greenslade did not have the gumption to apologise for the hurt caused by his vile piece. It is all the more disturbing now that he has publicly declared his support for the IRA – the very organisation that I had exposed for its appalling treatment of abuse victims. Media ethics, indeed.