A campaigner and politician who says she was sexually abused by an alleged IRA man called for more support for sex crime victims in courts as she addressed a rally in Belfast at the weekend.
Mairia Cahill spoke at the ‘Reclaim the Night’ rally in Belfast on Saturday and urged people to share their views on a review of the handling of serious sexual offences by the criminal justice system.
The review was launched in May, two months after a high-profile rape trial in which former Ulster Rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were found not guilty of rape.
Retired judge Sir John Gillen has made a range of preliminary recommendations about trials involving serious sexual wrongdoing.
Mairia Cahill, a great-niece of prominent Belfast republican Joe Cahill, says she was sexually abused as a 16-year-old by alleged IRA member Martin Morris. Mr Morris, who denied all wrongdoing, was acquitted of rape when the case against him collapsed.
Ms Cahill, a former Labour senator in the Republic of Ireland and now an SDLP councillor in Lisburn and Castlereagh, told the News Letter she has contributed to the Gillen Review and is now urging others to take part.
“I was very pleased to address the Reclaim the Night rally,” she said.
“These rallies have been going on in Britain and Ireland since the time of the Yorkshire Ripper.
“In light of that Belfast trial and the trial in Cork recently, we felt that it was important to continue to do it.”
Asked what she told those in attendance at the rally, Ms Cahill said: “The Gillen Review is out for public consultation at the minute and I was encouraging everyone who has an interest in shaping the way the criminal justice system handles rape victims to engage with that.
“The way the criminal justice system is designed at the minute fails rape victims.”
She continued: “I have my own experience with the criminal justice system and it was horrendous to say the least. And I don’t want anyone else going through that. We wouldn’t accept it in any other type of crime.”
Ms Cahill has made a series of suggestions to the Gillen Review, including a call for specialised courts to deal with serious sexual offences, denying entry to the public for trials of that nature, and for the cross-examination of complainants during preliminary enquiries to be disallowed.
The rally was the fifth Reclaim the Night event to take place in Belfast.