McDonald says 'IRA court' must be scrapped, but backs its verdict
Sinn Féin's deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald is standing by her demand for the abolition of the Special Criminal Court - despite publicly welcoming the conviction of her former protégé.
Ms McDonald has found herself at the centre of fresh controversy following the conviction of ex-Sinn Féin politician Jonathan Dowdall, who "waterboarded" and "tortured" another man.
The all-judge Special Criminal Court was originally set up to hear cases involving suspected IRA members, but in recent times has been used to deal with a wider range of charges.
Last week, the court heard how the former councillor threatened to feed his victim, Alexander Hurley, to dogs and burn his head at the stake.
Mr Hurley, who has prior fraud convictions, pleaded for his life as Mr Dowdall covered his face with a cloth and doused his head with water, while his father Patrick Dowdall threatened to cut his fingers off with pliers "knuckle by knuckle".
The court heard how Jonathan Dowdall told his victim he was a "stupid dumb f*** to mess with the head of the IRA".
The victim claimed Mr Dowdall told him he was a friend of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and Ms McDonald.
The father and son, who pleaded guilty to threatening to kill their victim, are due to be sentenced later this month.
But Ms McDonald has now found herself at the centre of a political row after she released a statement welcoming the ruling of the Special Criminal Court - despite repeatedly calling for it to be scrapped.
She has also been accused of "a new low" after she tweeted pictures of Mr Dowdall in the company of her constituency rival and former lord mayor Christy Burke.
Ms McDonald is one of a number of Sinn Féin politicians who have called for the abolition of the juryless Special Criminal Court.
Despite her party's demand for its abolition, Ms McDonald released a statement backing last week's verdict in relation to her former close ally.
"I welcome the conviction of Jonathan Dowdall," she said. "The details of the attack perpetrated by him are deeply shocking. I hope the sentence reflects the seriousness of the offence and the trauma endured by his victim."
Last night, Fine Gael TD Noel Rock said the case clearly illustrates Sinn Féin's links to criminality. He accused Ms McDonald of hypocrisy.
"It's incredible Sinn Féin now finds one of its former councillors in the dock for waterboarding and torturing a member of the public. He's on trial, in fact, in the very same Special Criminal Court that Mary Lou McDonald's Sinn Féin wanted to abolish," Mr Rock said.
"It's quite clear that with Sinn Féin past and present, you are not far from criminality. It's simply unbelievable that it wanted, and still wants, to abolish the Special Criminal Court."
Last night, a Sinn Féin spokesperson said: "Deputy Rock is playing cheap politics with a serious crime. Sinn Féin's concerns with the operation of the Special Criminal Court are shared by Amnesty International, the ICCL and the UN Commission on Human Rights. Perhaps Deputy Rock opposes these groups as well."
Ms McDonald's statement last week was followed by a tweet which showed Mr Dowdall in the company of Mr Burke.
Cllr Burke accused his constituency rival of stooping to a "new low" and said he has been approached by Sinn Féin supporters who expressed their disgust at her actions.
Ms McDonald yesterday defended the tweet and reiterated her backing for the court's decision.
"It is a matter of public record that Mr Dowdall left Sinn Féin, went on to support and work for Cllr Burke and campaigned against Sinn Féin.
"The photographs I posted reflect those facts. Cllr Burke needs to make clear his position on the actions of Jonathan Dowdall," she said.