Whilst the actions themselves are serious and need to be addressed, and the guilty parties need to be duly punished, the puzzling question is 'why are these things suddenly coming to light now?'
If the DUP's trouble – Iris Robinson – is looked at first, the time-line is hard to comprehend. Northern Ireland is a small place, and nothing that happens to a well-known public figure can easily be concealed. And yet Robinson managed to have at least one affair, and probably several, without word escaping. Her sexual affairs were apparently known to police guarding her house – and yet not a whisper was heard on the grapevine. More unbelievably, she attempted suicide almost 10 months ago, and yet carried on in the public gaze – as did her husband Peter. And then, all of a sudden it all spilled out into the public arena, and Peter Robinson then took on the appearance of a broken man – despite not appearing remotely 'broken' even on the day after her apparent suicide attempt when, according to his own account, he had just discovered that she had cheated on him with a teenager!
On the Sinn Féin side of the divide the revelations are even odder. Yesterday's Sunday Tribune reveals a shocking story of abuse suffered by the 10-year old girl at the hands of an elected Sinn Féin representative. In this case, though, there is no doubt whatsoever that the story was well known to those 'in authority'. As the Sunday Tribune describes it:
"The abuse took place for over a year in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when social services took her, battered and bruised, into care.
She was examined in Lissue Hospital, Co Antrim, by Dr Oliver Shanks. The Sunday Tribune has seen his report. Shanks noted that she had a cut under her left eye, two bruises on her face, and four on her trunk. Her upper thighs were covered in bruises as were the backs of her hands."
"There was sexual abuse too. Her teachers at Ardoyne's Holy Cross school had noted her "abnormal sexual behaviour and general behaviour problems". The Sunday Tribune has seen their statements to social services. Her GP referred her to a psychiatrist in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children "because of abnormal sexual interest".
"Official reports seen by the Sunday Tribune show that neighbours in Ardoyne contacted social services about X's treatment of the victim."
So the victim's suffering had, over long periods of time, been known about by or reported to, the Eastern Health and Social Services Department, Lissue Hospital, her teachers, her GP, the school health visitor, the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, her neighbours, Belfast Juvenile Court, Nazareth Lodge children's home, the PSNI, Public Prosecution Service, and Sinn Féin. And yet, despite the public profile of the alleged abuser (named, at present, in comments on the Slugger O'Toole website) the issue was entirely absent from the media. Amongst the numerous bodies and individuals with knowledge of the issue – right back to 1984 – no-one ever leaked a word. No shady 'security' organisation used the facts to blacken the image of Sinn Féin. No political opponent tried to use the case to gain political advantage.
And now, almost simultaneous with the Iris Robinson revelations, the world is treated to two separate Sinn Féin-related scandals – one concerning Liam Adams, and the other concerning the unfortunate 10-year old.
Both cases are shocking, and both should be followed up vigorously. But neither case is new, and dozens, perhaps hundreds of people were familiar with the facts of one or other case. And yet, for most of the time that the abuses were going on, no attempt was made to stop them by the bodies with responsibility to do so.
The coincidence of these cases, and Iris Robinson's affairs, being revealed now, rather than at any time over the past generation is extremely puzzling. That both leading parties – the DUP and Sinn Féin – are being simultaneously hobbled by the ongoing drip-feed of allegations and revelations is strange and unusual, to say the least.
Some might see these as mere coincidences, but others may question whether external actors are not involved. In both the Robinson and Sinn Féin cases the facts must have been well known to the security services of all of the interested parties – the PSNI, London, Dublin and Washington. If the facts were suppressed – and they were – then this suppression must have suited the interested parties. In other words, they did not want the 'peace process' derailed by the release of inconvenient facts about the players. If that was the case then, it seems no longer to be the case now. The coincidence of damaging stories affecting both main players accidentally coming to light at almost the same moment is simply too hard to believe.
Has a point been reached in the 'peace process' where the two main parties are now seen as expendable? Could the revelations have been timed to weaken the two parties at a sensitive moment, as they face into a 12-month season of crucial elections? Or could there be an intention to simply cripple the parties in order to keep Northern Irish politics petty, parochial and pliable for another decade or so?
Damaging the DUP clearly could hand an advantage to the UUP – now the bed-mate of the English Tories – but on the nationalist side Sinn Féin is increasingly dominant, so damaging them gives little advantage to the SDLP. Perhaps the goal here is simply to demoralise the nationalist population. One thing, of course, is certain – no evidence of a hidden hand will ever be made public, leaving many people to question what really happened during the winter of 2009-2010.