Republic of Ireland news

Answers demanded after IRA chief facing child abuse charges skips bail

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris is to investigate his force's handling of the case. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association

THE Garda Commissioner is believed to be launching a probe into how a former senior IRA man from west Belfast managed to skip bail in Dublin while facing charges of sexually abusing a child.

The 68-year-old, believed to be a senior figure in the IRA ‘Southern Command’, which oversaw units in Leinster and Munster, has been on the run for more than two years.

Justice minister Charlie Flanagan has contacted Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to ask him to investigate gardaí’s handling of the case.

Campaigner Máiría Cahill, who has helped to raise public awareness of the case, said Mr Flanagan contacted her on Sunday to say he was ordering Mr Harris to review the case.

The 68-year-old man, who retains close links with Belfast, was living in Dublin when the alleged abuse of the young girl happened in the early 1990s.

The man had been living in Spain when the alleged offences came to light and was extradited to the Republic 2016 to face four charges.

He was subsequently granted bail but disappeared two days before the trial was due to begin in June 2017.

News that he had skipped bail only emerged after it was revealed by RTÉ last week.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice last night said: “This case is subject to an ongoing criminal investigation, the department does not comment on individual cases.”

The PSNI was asked when it became aware that the man had absconded. A spokesman said it was “not in a position to comment”.

Ms Cahill, a great-niece of prominent Belfast republican Joe Cahill, has previously said she was sexually abused as a teenager by an alleged IRA member.

The former Labour TD and SDLP councillor said many questions need to be asked about how the man was allowed to abscond.

“For a justice minister to intervene is significant,” she said.

“I think there are lots of questions that need to be asked about this case, including how it took two years before it was made public that he had absconded.

“I think it behoves the Garda Commissioner to make a statement on it. This is a huge embarrassment for them.”

She said the man must be found to allow justice to take its course.

“He is entitled to a fair trial,” she said.

“I would call on him to give himself up and I would call on Sinn Féin to ask him to give himself up.

“I hope that he is found and found soon.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said it was “a scandal” that the man was allowed to skip bail.

“He must have been deemed a flight risk,” he said.

“An alert was put out through Interpol so this man may have fled the country.

“If he has fled then someone would have had to get him a false passport. It is not difficult for the gardaí to find out what name was used on this passport.”

A Sinn Féin spokesman said: “These are very serious offences and must be dealt with by the courts and the criminal justice system.”

“If anyone has any information they should bring that forward to An Garda Síochána.”

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