DUBLIN (Reuters) - Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams apologised on Wednesday for how members of his party and the Irish Republican Army once treated victims of sexual assault during Northern Ireland's conflict, saying they were ill-equipped to investigate cases.
But he denied what he said were accusations from rivals that Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing until it effectively disbanded in 2005, had engaged in a cover-up of child abuse.
His remarks followed accusations from Mairia Cahill, a Belfast woman who told the BBC in a documentary aired last week that she was raped repeatedly in 1997 when she was 16 by someone she believed to be a member of the IRA.
She said she was traumatised by IRA members who forced her to confront her rapist and asked repeatedly about details of the assaults. Cahill is a member of one of the Republican movement's best-known families and her great-uncle Joe Cahill was one of the founders of the Provisional IRA.
During its three-decade armed campaign against British rule the IRA became the de facto police force in certain communities in Northern Ireland, trying and punishing alleged criminals, including those accused of child abuse and sexual assault.
After the 1998 Good Friday Agreement ended the IRA's guerrilla campaign, Sinn Fein joined a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland and, in the Republic of Ireland, has ridden popular opposition to austerity to become the second largest opposition party in parliament.
Adams told the Irish parliament on Wednesday he thought IRA members were acting in good faith when they investigated allegations of sexual abuse, but were "ill-equipped to deal with such matters.
"IRA actions against sex offenders failed victims. That is a matter of profound regret for me and other Republicans. As Uachtaran (president of) Sinn Fein, I want to apologise to those victims," he said.
Adams was responding to accusations by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and the leader of the opposition Fianna Fail that he was withholding information about how Sinn Fein members dealt with sex abuse cases.
Kenny, who met Cahill for over an hour on Wednesday morning, asked Adams whether she had been required to attend a meeting with the alleged rapist and three other men to discuss the assault and was prevented from contacting the police.
Kenny also asked whether IRA or Sinn Fein members found guilty of sexual crimes were moved to the Republic of Ireland without alerting the local authorities.
"I have already refuted the allegations made," Adams said.
(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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