Tensions rise over claims SF 'in denial' of IRA connections
Senior Sinn Féin figures are in complete denial of the party's connections with the IRA, a Fine Gael minister has claimed.
Housing Minister Paudie Coffey heightened tensions between the two parties last night, as Sinn Féin struggles to deal with the fallout from the arrest of its influential strategist Bobby Storey.
In remarks clearly targeted at Sinn Féin deputies Dessie Ellis and Martin Ferris, Mr Coffey said there are serving Sinn Féin TDs with "strong past IRA connections and prison records".
Mr Ellis, a deputy for Dublin North-West, has served time in prison for explosive offences.
And his Dáil colleague, Mr Ferris, has also served jail time and was named in the Dáil as being a member of the IRA Army Council.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Coffey said Sinn Féin has displayed double standards in its response to the re-emergence of the IRA.
And he rounded on deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who he said was in "real denial" of Sinn Féin's connections with the IRA.
"Mary Lou McDonald's assertion regarding the Government and media 'hatching' a plan to undermine Sinn Féin is astonishing, given the murder of a man in Northern Ireland, and shows she is in real denial of SF/IRA connections. Let her not forget that there are Sinn Féin TDs with strong past IRA membership and prison record connections," Mr Coffey said.
"It's welcome they have changed their ways to democratic means of achieving their objectives. However, it is now obvious, and Sinn Féin cannot deny, some SF/IRA members continue in criminal activity like racketeering, diesel laundering and money laundering and sadly engage in threats to life and murder."
The remarks were made just hours before the release of Bobby Storey, known within the party as Big Bobby, from a police station in Antrim.
Just minutes before the release, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness tweeted that it was in the pipeline.
"As I confidently predicted yesterday, our colleague Bobby Storey is due to be released imminently," he said.
Mr Adams also welcomed the release at a public meeting in Ardee, in his constituency of Co Louth.
"The unconditional release of Bobby Storey underlines the contrived nature of the current crisis in the political institutions in the North," he said.
"I want to reiterate my grave concern about the nature in which the murder of two men has been exploited and also at the way the current difficulties have developed in the last few weeks, including the arrest of Bobby Storey."
Other senior Fine Gael figures were reluctant to speak publicly, due to the ongoing investigations into the Kevin McGuigan murder.
But privately, the party is desperately hoping that the events of recent days and the re-emergence of the IRA will damage Gerry Adams's party in the opinion polls as the General Election nears.
But tensions were also heightened between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, after Micheál Martin called for the suspension of Stormont early yesterday.
Mr Adams quickly released a statement attacking Mr Martin, whose remarks he labelled as "incredibly stupid".
"Not content with a series of offensive, untruthful and inflammatory statements recently which have contributed directly to the current crisis in the North, Micheál Martin has now called for the political institutions to be pulled down," Mr Adams said.
"Mr Martin's remarks are incredibly stupid and irresponsible," he added.