Sinn Féin

FG and FF upping pressure on Sinn Féin to clarify past dealings with Jonathan Dowdall

McDonald insists Dowdall would would not have been near Sinn Féin had they known about involvement in crime.

PRESSURE IS MOUNTING on Sinn Féín to clarify its links to the party’s former councillor Jonathan Dowdall.

Dowdall was a party councillor in 2014, but stepped down that year amid claims of bullying. In 2018, he was jailed - along with his father – for torturing a man, in January 2015.

Dowdall is now in prison for his involvement in the 2016 Regency Hotel murder, with reports today that he has now been officially accepted into the witness protection programme. 

Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch, 60, was found not guilty on Monday of David Byrne’s murder after evidence from the state’s key witness – Dowdall – was largely dismissed as unreliable without corroboration.

Dowdall was due to stand trial for Byrne’s murder alongside Hutch but pleaded guilty in advance of the trial to a lesser charge of facilitating the murder.

He was being assessed for the Witness Protection Programme when he gave evidence for the State against Hutch.

Audio recordings

During the trial, the three-judge panel heard secret Garda audio recordings of a conversation between Hutch and Dowdall from March 2016. 

The recording includes audio of Dowdall criticising Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald for not attending the funeral of Edward Hutch, Gerard’s brother, after he was murdered.

With the conclusion of the trial, Government TDs have sought to return the political focus to Sinn Féin. 

One particular section of the recording is coming under the spotlight – a snipper where Dowdall can be heard telling Hutch that he was asked about links to criminality by the party’s then Dublin director of elections, Brian Keane, during a vetting interview before the 2014 local elections.

Sinn Féin, including party leader Mary Lou McDonald, have repeatedly denied having any knowledge about Dowdall’s links to criminality at the time.

However, the recording now raises the question of whether party officials had suspicions about Dowdall’s involvement in criminality before his selection. 

The party’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that Dowdall wouldn’t have been allowed near Sinn Féin if they knew his background.

“We simply didn’t know,” he said. When asked about whether a party official questioned Dowdall about a gun attack on his uncle’s home, Ó Broin replied: “They didn’t.” 

He described it as just another lie uttered by Dowdall in the trial. When asked why he would make up such a thing, Ó Broin said the question would have to be posed to Dowdall. 

The party’s director of elections held a number of meetings with Dowdall, said Ó Broin. However, he claimed it was Dowdall who raised the issue of the attack on the family member’s home, not the Sinn Féin party official.  

“We have no truck with organised criminals,” he said. 

Donohoe says SF position not credible

When questioned by reporters at a press conference yesterday, Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe, who represents the same constituency as McDonald, said it is not credible for Sinn Féin to hold the position that it did not know anything of Dowdall’s dealings. 

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The Fine Gael minister was also asked if he had heard anything in the constituency about Dowdall’s behaviour. The minister said he had not, but added that Dowdall was not a representative of his party. 

He said Mary Lou McDonald was “aspiring to be Taoiseach” one day and that she had important questions to answer. 

Donohoe said McDonald must answer if she was involved in the selection of Dowdall as a Sinn Féin candidate.

He also questioned why it took McDonald and her party four months to confirm that she had received a personal donation from Dowdall. 

“What happened to that money,” he asked, questioning if it has been returned.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has continually maintained that she knew nothing of Dowdall’s past criminal dealings when joined the party.

She told The Journal in November at her party’s ard fheis that she was “profoundly shocked” to hear that Dowdall was involved in gangland crime.  

McDonald told The Journal at the time:

Had we known that he was involved in any form of criminality, and I have to say, I was profoundly shocked, as were many, many others, to discover his criminal activity, he wouldn’t have been anywhere near Sinn Fein. He wouldn’t have been anywhere near me or anybody else.

She issued a statement after the Regency verdict on Monday to say Dowdall “should never have been a member of Sinn Fein” given what he “would become involved in”.

sinn-fein-party-leader-mary-lou-mcdonald-and-sinn-fein-vice-president-michelle-oneill-right-speak-to-the-media-at-the-sinn-fein-ard-fheis-at-the-rds-in-dublin-picture-date-saturday-november-5-2 McDonald answering questions about Jonathan Dowdall and his involvement in her party back in November at the Sinn Fein ard fheis in Dublin. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

McDonald also appeared on RTÉ’s Six One News on Monday where she insisted that if she knew what Dowdall would “go on to do”, he would not have been “near me, he would not have been near Sinn Féin and certainly, he would not have been running for public office”.

She said that at the time Dowdall stood for Sinn Féin at the local elections, he was a “regular person”. 

“He was a very successful businessman from the inner city. He was married to a woman who was a serving civil servant. He had a lovely family. He was a regular person. He came from the inner city but he was a person who had done well.

“There was nothing to suggest to me that he would go on to carry out the kind of criminal actions that he did. I did not know that, how could I know that? 

“Let me reiterate, had I known, clearly had I any inkling of what his future behaviour would amount to, he would not have been anywhere next, nigh or near us.”

The Journal asked Sinn Féin for a response to Donohoe’s latest comments but had not received a reponse by the time of publication. 

In a statement to RTÉ’s Prime Time issued last week McDonald said that the donation she received from Dowdall – which was given in 2011 before he ran for the party – “was properly recorded as required by law and was spent to cover election expenses incurred during that 2011 election campaign”. 

‘No guilt by association’

Speaking in the Dáíl yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said:

“I do not think for a second that Sinn Féin is in any way responsible for Jonathan Dowdall’s actions. I know it can be difficult to vet candidates and I do not believe in guilt by association. 

He added that many convictions would not have been possible without the non-jury Special Criminal Court, and called on Sinn Féin to emphatically support it.

“I do want to call on Sinn Féin, to call on the leaders of Sinn Féin in particular, to affirm that they will vote for the renewal of the Special Criminal Court in June – not an abstention, not not turning up – that you will vote for the retention of the Special Criminal Court.”

‘Difficult to comprehend’ 

Tánaiste Micheál Martin told reporters in Belfast yesterday that the suggestion that Sinn Féin officials may have known about a 2011 gun attack on the home of Dowdall’s uncle – as suggested in the evidence heard during the murder trial – undermined McDonald’s claim that the party had no knowledge of Dowdall’s involvement in criminality.

“It is very difficult to comprehend the lack of knowledge of what Jonathan Dowdall was up to at the time when he was elected Sinn Féin councillor in Dublin,” he said.

“Sinn Féin need to clarify that point.”

Asked yesterday for her response to claims that Sinn Féin knew about Dowdall’s links to criminality nine years ago, the party’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said:

“That’s absolutely not true. I think Mary Lou set the record straight on that.”

“Of course, if we ever knew that someone of that character was joining our membership he would not have been allowed.”

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