Martin McGuinness has called for the establishment of an all-island initiative to ensure victims and survivors of abuse have access to professional support services.
Speaking in the Assembly, the Deputy First Minister hit out at a DUP motion and an accompanying amendment from the SDLP which, he said, were “not about helping or supporting victims of sexual abuse.”
The motion arose from a BBC Spotlight programme in which Belfast woman Mairia Cahill claimed she was subjected to an IRA “kangaroo court” after she alleged she was raped by a member of the organisation.
During today’s debate at Stormont, the DUP’s Paula Bradley called on Sinn Fein MLA Jennifer McCann – a Junior Minister at the Office of the Minister and Deputy First Minister – alleging she knew about abuse claims by Ms Cahill but did nothing.
He said those behind the motion were “solely and singularly” interested in attacking Sinn Fein and were “blatantly politicising this very sensitive issue in the most crass and self-serving way.”
Describing the motion as a “disgrace,” Mr McGuinness said it was a “wholly unjustified and unfounded” attack on the integrity and sincerity of “one of the most dedicated and capable members” of the Assembly.
And he hit out at the “disgraceful collusion” between the SDLP and the DUP in their “combined and cowardly” attack on Ms McCann.
He added: “The SDLP have sunk to new depths in this cynical exercise. The SDLP are attempting to exploit the difficult issue of sexual abuse for the most selfish and self-serving political reasons.
“The SDLP amendment is a disgrace and the SDLP members who proposed this amendment should be ashamed of themselves.
“What has to be remembered is that the allegations at the centre of this debate have been tested in court and those accused acquitted.
“Members of this house are now arguing that due process should be set aside or ignored. They are doing so – not out of concern for an individual victim – but because they see her suffering as their political opportunity.
“That is a sad reflection of the priorities of some within this chamber.
“Let me be absolutely clear on this point. I have no tolerance whatsoever for abusers. And nothing but empathy and sympathy for those who have been abused.
“But there is a duty on all of us to confront the issue of sexual abuse within Irish society in a responsible way.
“And to do so in such a way that enables all victims and survivors to access the support and justice they need and are entitled to.
“That is why I am proposing the establishment of an all-island initiative, resourced by – and under the remit of – both the Irish Government and Northern Executive through the North South Ministerial Council which will ensure that victims and survivors have access to the professional support services they need and, crucially, a channel through which complaints can be made to the appropriate statutory agency or police service.
“But let me be very clear, in her contact with Mairia Cahill, seven years after the abuse occurred, Jennifer McCann acted at all times with care and compassion in attempting to support and assist a work colleague who she believed was the victim of serious sexual abuse. Jennifer McCann did nothing wrong then or since.
“There is absolutely no basis or substance to any suggestion that she is in breach of the Ministerial Code.”