The Irish prime minister has accused the leadership of the IRA of a conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse, likening the group’s actions to that of the Catholic church.
Gerry Adams was also challenged to reveal if IRA rapists and paedophiles were exiled to the Irish Republic.
During the course of the discussion in the Dail, the Sinn Fein president apologised to any sex abuse victims who had been “failed by the IRA’s inability to resolve these issues”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny demanded the republican leader answer allegations that alleged sexual abusers were secretly expelled to safe houses in Dublin, Louth and Donegal.
The Taoiseach challenged Mr Adams directly: “Are those people still here? Is this true? Do you know of any activities they are involved in now?”
Amid deepening controversy over the case of Belfast woman Mairia Cahill, who claims Sinn Fein covered up her allegations of rape by a suspected IRA member, Mr Kenny said her story will have serious consequences.
Mr Kenny spoke after an hour-long meeting with Ms Cahill .
As her case garnered increased publicity over the last week Ms Cahill claimed she is aware that the IRA moved abusers out of Northern Ireland into Co Louth – Mr Adams’ constituency.
Ms Cahill, 33, from west Belfast, and a former Sinn Fein member, has alleged she was raped by a suspected IRA member when she was a teenager in 1997.
Mr Adams insisted neither he nor Sinn Fein were involved in a cover-up of her allegations and went on to describe people alleged to have been involved in the IRA’s internal investigation into her claims as “decent”.
In an extraordinary 15 minutes in the parliament, Mr Adams did not address the specific question of exiled abusers.
Mr Kenny claimed Ms Cahill’s story involved the leadership of the Provos and he offered to meet the republicans identified by her in the documentary.
“The most powerful people in the IRA conspired in this and I think it is reprehensible that a young woman of this courage and bravery should be kicked about in the last week,” he said.
He compared the IRA’s handling of abuse cases and moving suspected abusers to other jurisdictions with past practice in the Catholic Church.
“These very much mirrored what has happened here with IRA sexual abusers who were members of Sinn Fein,” he said.
Mr Adams repeated his assertions made earlier this week that the IRA sought to deal with some allegations of abuse in some areas when the organisation was approached by families.
“I am acutely conscious that there may be victims who were let down or failed by the IRA’s inability to resolve these cases ... I want to apologise to these victims,” he said.
Mr Adams appealed for anyone with allegations to go to the authorities.
“To cover up child abuse is to deny the basic humanity of the victim and to shield the perpetrator, it is an unthinkable act of cruelty. Sinn Fein has not engaged in a cover-up of child abuse,” he said.
Ms Cahill has questioned why the producers of the BBC Spotlight programme that aired her grievances were forced to fight an injunction in the courts before it was broadcast.
The man she accused of rape was acquitted of criminal charges in court last April after Ms Cahill withdrew from the trial in dispute with the direction the police investigation and the Public Prosecution Service had taken in not calling a witness. Ms Cahill reiterated her allegations of abuse at the time.
Charges were dropped against those allegedly involved in the IRA’s internal inquiry.
In the wake of the controversy surrounding Ms Cahill’s allegations, an independent review of three criminal cases linked to the alleged abuse has been ordered by Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory.
Mr McGrory said the independent review will look at the “prosecutorial systems and processes” in relation to the three interlinked cases involving sex abuse and terrorist-related charges.
Ms Cahill said: “I felt badly let down by the justice system.”
The Irish parliament is to debate the controversy and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will hold talks with Stormont Justice Minister David Ford over the case.
A parliamentary committee has also signalled it may inquire into Ms Cahill’s case and call her and Mr Adams.
In a statement last night, Gerry Adams said: “I want once again to reject in the strongest possible terms, entirely malicious and spurious allegations by the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fail leader that I have any information regarding abusers being moved from the north, across border to this jurisdiction or anywhere else”.
He added if anyone had information “regarding the whereabouts of anyone who is a potential threat to members of the community” they should contact the Garda.