AN ELECTION PANEL debate descended into name-calling today as Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald launched an attack on Brian Hayes of Fine Gael, labelling him a “gurrier” in the wake of his repeated questions about republican Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy.
It stemmed from a debate about the Special Criminal Court, which Sinn Féin wants to abolish. Party members have come in for renewed questioning for their stance on the non-jury court in the wake of Friday’s fatal gangland shooting at a Dublin hotel.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said Fine Gael will establish a second Special Criminal Court if re-elected to government, to clear a backlog of cases. Justice minister Frances Fitzgerald made the announcement back in October.
Speaking on Shane Coleman’s Newstalk show this morning, McDonald noted that “this murder and others – events like this have happened whilst we have a Special Criminal Court”.
The TD said that due process was imperative in an open society and that she didn’t believe “you put up the white flag to these thugs and gurriers by suspending that”.
Hayes, as the debate continued, referred to the “republican underworld” and said Sinn Féin had come from a “legacy of 40 years of criminality when it comes to paramilitary organisations – not just in Northern Ireland but here in this Republic as well”.
And there is a sense that for whatever reason the Sinn Féin position on this isn’t just about protecting those organisations but about protecting the finances of those organisations right the way across the country.
A squabbling match then developed as Hayes asked over and over whether Murphy, who was found guilty of tax evasion at the Special Criminal Court in December, was a “good republican”.
McDonald said the Fine Gael director of elections was “out of order” and accused him of taking a cheap shot, before the host called a time-out and went to a commercial break.
Back on mic, the Sinn Féin deputy leader went on the offensive, saying:
If anyone is in any doubt about what a gurrier Brian Hayes is, they’ve just had an exposition of it there.
A good republican?
On the issue of Murphy, she said everyone had to pay their taxes and observed that her Sinn Féin colleagues had referred to him as a “good republican” in reference to his support for the peace process.
I think it is good that Tom Murphy and everybody else who has ever been involved in republican politics, in any form of republicanism, supports the new peaceful and democratic dispensation. I think that is a good thing, yes.
She said her party didn’t believe tax issues should be addressed by the Special Criminal Court.
McDonald had declined to answer questions on Murphy at a press event this week, in the wake of a BBC documentary on the republican leader’s past.
Murphy, from Hackballscross in Co Louth, has long faced allegations of being the former chief of staff of the IRA.
In 1998 he sued the Sunday Times for defamation after the paper accused him of leading the importation of weapons for the IRA from Libya. He lost the case.
A jury of his peers found that the article meant Murphy was a “prominent member” of the IRA. Asked before Christmas if Murphy was the IRA’s chief of staff, Gerry Adams said he didn’t know who the IRA chief of staff was.
Both the Sinn Féin leader and Martin McGuinness have praised Murphy as having been crucial to the peace process.
Murphy is widely considered to have got the bulk of the IRA based in south Armagh to agree to the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Alongside Sinn Féin, human rights group the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the UN Human Rights Committee have criticised the government over plans for a second Special Criminal Court.