Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has admitted that the IRA acted as a police force in many nationalist areas of Northern Ireland during the Troubles - and was ‘singularly ill-equipped’ to deal with rape and sexual abuse allegations.

Adams has also refuted the claims by Belfast woman Mairia Cahill that Sinn Fein covered up her allegations against the IRA.

Cahill told the BBC last week that she was raped in 1997 while a teenager and was later interrogated by the IRA about her claim.

In response, Adams admitted in an online blog that the IRA had ‘shot alleged sex offenders or expelled them’.

And he confirmed that the IRA acted as a police force for the nationalist community during the Troubles.

He wrote: “The recent allegations made by Maíria Cahill are of serious concern to myself and Sinn Féin.

“While I refute completely Maíria’s allegations against myself and Sinn Féin, it does raise the significant issue of how allegations of abuse had been handled in the past by republicans.

“The IRA came to become involved in policing in the north after nationalist communities turned away from the RUC.

“After the pogroms of 1969, Internment in 1971 and Bloody Sunday in 1972 the vast majority of nationalists withdrew any consent to be governed from the Northern state, its institutions and agencies.

“The conflict itself caused widespread hurt and suffering, but so too did the absence of the structures and institutions which are the norm in peaceful, democratic societies.

“These citizens never had a policing service. Policing and the Legal process were subverted to the primary objective of defeating republicanism at all costs.

“The RUC was a quasi-military arm of the state which acted against nationalists and republicans as if we were the enemy.

“The reality of course is that a professional, accountable and impartial policing service was absent and unattainable in a society that was manifestly unjust.

“In many republican areas the community put pressure on the IRA - which sprang from and was sustained by the community - to fill this policing vacuum.

“The vast majority of IRA members involved in this had high standards and decency.

“However, the IRA often punished petty criminals, car thieves, burglars and drug dealers. The IRA, inevitably also made mistakes.”

The Irish Independent reports that Adams, now a deputy for Louth in the Irish parliament, admitted that IRA members were ‘ill-equipped’ to deal with such matters - and that offenders were often shot.

He added: “IRA personnel were singularly ill-equipped to deal with these matters.

“This included very sensitive areas such as responding to demands to take action against rapists and child abusers. The IRA on occasion shot alleged sex offenders or expelled them.

“Victims were failed by this system - as it left them without necessary supports.

“Victims were left without the necessary social service support and abusers without supervision. It ultimately failed victims and the community alike. That is a matter of profound regret for me, and many other republicans.

“But these actions were of their time and reflected not only a community at war but also an attitude within Ireland which did not then understand or know as we now do, how deeply embedded abuse is in our society.”

Adams said that although it was not ideal for abuse allegations to be dealt with in this manner, the nationalist community were reluctant to approach the RUC,

He said: “Many victims or families of victims were reluctant to bring cases of child abuse forward. This was part of the larger problem all society and particularly victims faced at that time.

“But where a case emerged there was the added problem for some about reporting this to the RUC. They wanted the community or the IRA to take actions.”

Adams has called on anyone with information on abuse to either approach the police on both sides of the border – including Cahill, the grand niece of former IRA leader Joe Cahill.

He wrote: “Maíria alleges she was raped, and that the IRA conducted an investigation into this.

“The IRA has long since left the scene so there is no corporate way of verifying this but it must be pointed out that this allegation was subject to a police investigation.

“Charges were brought against some republicans who strenuously denied Maíria’s allegations. They insist they tried to help her. They were all acquitted by the court.

“Maíria has also accused Sinn Féin and me of engaging in a cover up. That is untrue. When I learned of the allegation that Maíria was the victim of rape I asked her grand-uncle Joe Cahill, a senior and widely respected republican, to advise her to go to the RUC. He did this but Maíria did not want to do so at that time.

“Anyone who has any information whatsoever about any child abuse should come forward to the authorities North or South and they will have the full support of Sinn Féin in so doing.

“That includes Maíria Cahill, who says that there are perpetrators at large who are a danger to children at this time. Whatever information she has on this she should give to the appropriate authority.”