Campaign weary Mary Lou throws a wobble over her 'dear friend' Slab
Sinn Fein deputy leader loses the plot when asked about securing the vote of former IRA chief, writes Philip Ryan
Spare a thought for poor old Mary Lou McDonald who is beginning to feel the strain of the seven-day-a-week campaign trail.
Yesterday, while launching Sinn Fein's 'charter for young people', the clearly overworked politician threw an unprecedented wobble over a simple question about her dear friend and tax cheat, Thomas 'Slab' Murphy.
Ms McDonald, who many believe could be the next leader of SF, was asked by the Sunday Independent if she hoped Slab, the good republican that she believes him to be, would make time to vote for Gerry Adams in Louth before his sentencing trial on February 26.
But Ms McDonald - who, remember, believes the former IRA commander described as a "mass murderer" in a recent BBC documentary is a "very nice man" - dodged the question and resorted to personal insults.
"I think in the long litany of really, really stupid questions that is now the prize winner," she said.
Now, now Mary Lou, I know you may be tired of having to take responsibility for the choices your party made in the past, but if you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound.
Nonetheless, curiosity got the better of me and I asked why is it a stupid question?
"Who [someone] votes for is entirely a matter for themselves," she said.
OK, but surely you would hope a 'good republican' like Slab would vote Sinn Fein?
"Philip, it's 11 o'clock, or is it 11 o'clock yet, on a Saturday morning," the election-weary Shinner whinged.
Bless. We're not even halfway through the campaign and 11am is hardly the crack of dawn, but Ms McDonald seems to be feeling the pace catch up with her.
Even before the press conference, the worn-out politician seemed to forget what constituency Sinn Fein's Cork South Central candidate Donnchadh O Laoghaire represents.
Anyway, she went on to say: "Whoever anyone votes for is their own business".
And then added this: "Obviously, I want the maximum number of people to vote for Sinn Fein and the courts, not the Sunday Independent and not you Philip, and not I, will deal with all the matters pertaining to Tom Murphy."
I pointed out to her they've already convicted Slab.
"Well, they haven't concluded their business and I think you should have a bit of respect for the judiciary," McDonald responded
A Sinn Fein media chief then interjected and shut down any questioning on whether the party can count on a number one first preference vote from Slab after all the support they've shown him during his recent troubles.
But returning to Ms McDonald and her plea to show a "bit of respect for the judiciary" - the judiciary in this case being the three judges presiding in the Special Criminal Court on the case of Slab and his €190,000 unpaid tax bill.
The three judges - Justice Paul Butler, Judge John O'Hagan and Judge Ann Ryan - are currently mulling over the intricacies of the complicated tax evasion case before agreeing on a sentence.
They have already decided he is guilty.
It is this same court, which McDonald insisted we should respect, that Sinn Fein wants to do away with.
Gerry Adams, her boss, plans to abolish the entire Special Criminal Court, along with a central piece of legislation which protects us from criminals and terrorists.
Sinn Fein will rip up the Offences Against the State Act and throw it out if in Government.
It has yet to tell us what it will replace it with but Adams is understood to have searched 'what do I replace the special criminal court with' in Google.
Now, I'm not suggesting Ms McDonald does not agree with her party leader. Heaven forbid.
But demanding that everyone else respects the court you intend on abolishing is a bit rich even by her own high, privately schooled, standard.
It seems to have escaped her memory that the party line is to rattle on about the injustice of non-jury courts without referring to the fear experienced by jurors forced to adjudicate in cases of ruthless criminals and terrorists.
Only yesterday, former defence minister Willie O'Dea told how constituents confided in him that they would prefer to take their own lives rather than serve as jurors on the trials of vicious and lawless criminal gangs in Limerick.
"Everybody in Limerick, from one end to the other, were absolutely terrified out of their wits, of serving on a jury, whether those people would be able to identify them," he said.
These gangs, who had absolutely no respect for the judiciary or any form of law and order for that matter, were eventually dealt with through the hard work of the gardai and the Special Criminal Court.
The judges in these cases and the ones involved in sentencing Slab abide by the same rule of law used in jury trials.
Perhaps after a good nights' sleep - something not enjoyed by jurors involved in gangland trials - a rested Mary Lou will be better equipped to deal with questions on her party's associations.