The state of profound misogyny gripping Northern Ireland which survives the “armed patriarchy” of the Troubles is well summed up by Susan McKay in the Guardian. While concentrating on the unionist side and the state,, no comfort is available for nationalists and republicans from the Maria Cahill rape saga, a notably egregious example but hardly an outlier. Susan’s piece begins with the lamentable story of the monster David (“larger than life “) Tweed a former Irish rugby international, whose reputation among some unionists survived an 8 year conviction for child abuse until his death in a motor bike crash in October.
. After serving four years on conviction in 2012 his conviction was quashed in October 2016, due to issues around presentation of evidence of bad character. The judge stated legal reform was needed to deal with this problem. As Tweed had served almost 4 years in prison he was not retried. More’s the pity. if only family evidence had come to light the outcome could surely have been different.
The quashing did not take into account the evidence of his daughters who, liberated by his death and presumably fearful of his actions in life, spoke out to reveal the real Tweed only weeks after his death.
In 2012 the loyal orders expelled him but the quashing of his convictions leaving him technically innocent allowed the DUP’s Ian Paisley and Mervyn Storey and the TUV leader Jim Allister to offer fulsome condolences on his sudden death.
Local DUP politician Mervyn Storey said he had known “Davy” and his family for most of his life and could not begin to imagine the sorrow they must have been plunged into. “Just on Sunday past he sat in front of me in church,” he reminisced. “He was a larger than life character and not just only in his physical presence.”
A “service of thanksgiving” for the life of David Alexander Tweed was held at Ballymoney’s Hebron Free Presbyterian church. The order of service had a photograph of him in his Orange sash and bowler hat. Although the Order had expelled him when he was convicted of child abuse, some of the Orangemen present wore their sashes as a sign of respect.
Tweed’s courageous and furious daughters immediately came forward to challenge what they described as a false narrative based on “blind loyalty”. His stepdaughter Amanda Brown put it starkly. “He was a predatory paedophile and a violent thug who smashed our mother’s face to a pulp,” she told a Sunday newspaper. She was eight when he first sexually abused her. He ruined her childhood. Five of his daughters spoke of horrific years of rape, physical and emotional abuse, of constant dread and terror. Victoria Tweed said he was a monster. His sister, Hazel McAllister, said he should have been in prison.
Last Tuesday, Paisley and Storey issued a statement. They would want nothing in what they had previously said “to take away from the subsequent powerful and distressing words of his daughters who have bravely told of the horrific abuse they suffered”. They had never intended to add to any hurt. Members of the family acknowledged the retreat. However, Tweed’s violence against women and children was publicly exposed years ago. He was sent to jail for eight years for child abuse in 2012. The (Orange) Order’s grand secretary, Presbyterian minister Mervyn Gibson, said of the controversy: “We have no comment to make.”
On the wider context
Mid-way through the UN’s 16 days against violence against women, it should be noted that Northern Ireland is the only region in the UK and Ireland that has no strategy to tackle gender-based violence, that it has the highest rate of domestic murder in Europe (sharing that dishonour with Romania). The latest rape statistics show that out of more than 1,000 cases reported to the Police Service in 2020-21, only eight led to convictions. Many recommendations made in a report by retired judge Sir John Gillen after the notorious “rugby rape trial” in 2018 have not been implemented.
Earlier this month, Sinead McGrotty, who worked as a civilian in the police, told her disquieting story. She said a male detective subjected her to sexual assaults and rape threats which left her feeling violated and suicidal. She felt vulnerable as “a young Catholic girl” in a largely Protestant workplace, but reported him in 2012. The Public Prosecution Service found insufficient evidence to prosecute. An internal disciplinary process ignored most of the complaints. The detective admitted one incident of inappropriate touching and was fined £250. He was not suspended and kept his job. In August, nine years after her complaint, she got an apology from the chief constable for the way the situation had been handled.he
BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback carried William Crawley’s long and riveting interview with Ms McGrotty on 3 November ( also available on BBC Sounds) Here is the BBC ‘s news story based on the interview . The consequences have yet to be fully played out north and south
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has welcomed a statement by a member of the Policing Authority expressing regret over his handling of an alleged workplace sexual assault.
Stephen Martin, who was formerly deputy chief constable of the PSNI, continues to face calls to step down from the authority over the matter.
Mr Allister has stated that any assertions that he has no empathy with victims of crime are false and he seriously repudiates that, but accepts that Mr Tweed was acquitted on appeal in respect of criminal charges and that under the rule of law such does matter.
As a former lawyer, I understand Mr Allister being legally cautious, despite knowing that Tweed’s convictions were overturned not because of the evidence but the judge’s direction comments to the jury. A legal technicality.
When Mairia Cahill bravely waived her right to anonymity, Mr Allister made numerous statements about her abuse at the hands of a member of the IRA — a man who also faced allegations of abusing two other children.
Mr Allister was right to believe Ms Cahill, despite there never being a conviction in her case.
I would like to think he would extend the same courtesy to the victims of a man who was a member of his own party — a man who used his loyalist paramilitary connections to threaten his victims and ensure their fearful silence.
It must be noted that DUP members Ian Paisley and Mervyn Storey also paid tribute to Tweed after his death.
Those girls put themselves through the trauma of talking about their abuse at the hands of man who, in their own words, was a “large black shadow” in the corner of their bedrooms so they could speak their truth.
The fear of not being believed is a large part of why many child abuse victims, both male and female, never come forward, instead living with misplaced guilt and shame heaped on them by a societal attitude that judges victims more harshly than abusers.
Tweed was also a domestic abuser who brutalised and battered his wife — it’s hard to think of a more loathsome character.
Are we really, in all honesty, going to allow sex abuse of children to be moved into green and orange lines, decide if we believe the victims based on the background of their abuser?
Any person who has defended Tweed knowing what we now know should be asked to explain their reasons for that and judged accordingly.
For those brave girls who found their voice to speak out about the man who brutalised and terrorised their childhoods, I believe you. I will always believe you.
I hope you can now find peace.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London