Two Mayo Sinn Féin representatives have hit out this week at what they described as a calculated campaign to use an alleged sexual abuse victim as a political pawn to stop the rise of their party.
Cllr Rose Conway Walsh and Cllr Gerry Murray also said they believe the electorate will see through such actions.
Sinn Féin is once again battling a storm of controversy and criticism, this time over Belfast woman Mairia Cahill’s claims that she was abused by an IRA member when she was just 16 years old and that the IRA subsequently tried to cover up the alleged crime.
Ms Cahill says she was cruelly subjected to repeated questioning about the abuse from IRA figures, and forced to meet the alleged abuser in a face-to-face ‘kangoroo court’ setting.
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny met with Ms Cahill on Wednesday.
Later that day, he challenged the Sinn Féin leader in the Dáil to answer specific questions about the case, such as whether or not Ms Cahill had been repeatedly questioned on the abuse and then sworn to silence by senior IRA figures, who told her not to report it to police.
Deputy Adams has denied Sinn Féin tried to silence Mairia Cahill.
Belmullet representative Councillor Rose Conway Walsh told the Mayo Advertiser on Thursday that she hopes Mairia Cahill and all victims of sexual abuse get the justice they deserve. However she said she does not believe the concern shown by senior political figures for Ms Cahill is genuine.
“I do think there’s alot of political opportunism being played around this,” said Cllr Conway Walsh.
“Unfortunately we have thousands of victims of abuse, including sexual abuse, up and down this country, who have been looking for justice for years.
“Anything that can be done to raise awareness and provide better services and supports for those victims has to be welcomed. However I do think this case is being used by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Labour to stop the rise of Sinn Féin.
Cllr Conway Walsh said she didn’t want to be “arrogant” in assuming whether or not the controversy will harm the party’s chances of returning a representative from Mayo to the Dáil after the next General Election.
“It is for people to judge themselves and it would be arrogant of me to assume either way. However I do think, in terms of some of the response I’ve been hearing, that people will see this as political opportunism at work.
“I think the electorate are very discerning in relation to all these things,” said Charlestown Sinn Féin representative, Cllr Gerry Murray.
“First and foremost, people will see this [controversy] is politically motivated. It is based on the false premise that you had a normal and functioning democracy in the six counties during those years and a normal and functioning policing and judiciary system. That was not the case.
“The reason why the IRA were sucked into all of these issues was that the RUC and the rule of law was not acceptable in the vast majority of nationalist and republican communities. Rightly or wrongly, justice was being administered by the IRA.
Cllr Murray said Sinn Féin, and its leader, has been subjected to a long-running campaign by a number of factions within the Irish media to put the party down.
“Despite all of that, our mandate has increased,” he said.
Asked if Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams should step aside to allow the party to distance itself from its past in Northern Ireland, Cllr Murray said if that were to happen it would “not be at the behest of Enda Kenny or Michéal Martin”.