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Sinn Féin stumbles over tax as IRA murder casts shadow

Mother of 21-year-old victim warns against supporting party as it tops latest opinion poll with 25pc

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Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Sinn Féin's march towards Election Day faltered last night as Mary Lou McDonald struggled to explain how her party will finance its multi-billion euro programme.

Ms McDonald also floundered when questioned about her party’s links to the Provisional IRA, and in particularly its treatment of the family of murdered Paul Quinn. She refused to ask her finance minister in the Northern Assembly, Conor Murphy, to apologise to Mr Quinn’s grieving mother for suggesting he was involved in criminality.

An IRA gang is believed to be behind the brutal killing of the 21-year-old in Monaghan. Every bone in his body was broken after he was lured to a shed near Castleblayney.

Last night, Breege Quinn pleaded with voters: “I’m saying to the people remember Paul Quinn when you are marking your X.”

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Stephen and Breege Quinn hold a picture of their murdered son Paul

Stephen and Breege Quinn hold a picture of their murdered son Paul

Stephen and Breege Quinn hold a picture of their murdered son Paul

However, Sinn Féin was on 25pc in the latest opinion poll, the first time it has ever been ahead of Fianna Fáil (23pc) and Fine Gael (21pc).

The ‘Irish Times’/Ipsos MRBI poll results came after Ms McDonald was robustly interviewed by Bryan Dobson on RTÉ television.

She was forced to defend her party’s record in the North, including plans to increase the State pension age and massive hospital waiting lists.

And she admitted that her party’s plan to raise €107m through a Vacant Site Levy would see a large chunk of that windfall collected from local authorities.

She could not explain who would pay the €12bn subvention Northern Ireland receives from Westminster in the event of a united Ireland.

However, she said the British would “not walk off the pitch scot free”.

Ms McDonald also said a Border poll was not a "red line" issue for her in government formation talks, but added that whoever is in power after the election should prepare for a referendum.

The interview came shortly after RTÉ did a U-turn and invited Ms McDonald onto a televised election debate with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin tonight.

The move followed a surge in support for Sinn Féin in recent opinion polls and calls from the party to include Ms McDonald in the final debate.

However, she was under pressure last night over her grasp of her own election pledges and how they would be funded.

She was asked to explain how her plans to increase the vacant site levy from 7pc to 15pc would raise €107m when last year it only raised €882,000.

Ms McDonald responded: "I'm not the costing unit of the department concerned."

She said she was aware most of the vacant sites being charged the levy are owned by local authorities and that an increased charge could affect council services.

Under questioning from Mr Dobson, she also accepted the purpose of the levy was to release land meaning that, if it works, there would be less revenue raised in the long term.

However, she added: "It will be offset by the fact that as homes are being constructed people are paying their income, as homes are being constructed Vat is being paid on material on the construction of those."

She could not provide figures for how much she expected to raised from income tax or Vat on new homes.

She also admitted her party was given a free vote on increasing the State pension age to 66 in the North and decided to support the move due to concerns it would have on budgets.

She said keeping the pension age at 65, as Sinn Féin is promising in the General Election, would have "blown a hole of £70m" in the Northern Assembly's budget. She blamed the record high hospital waiting lists in Northern Ireland on the Conservative Party.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach said tonight's debate will be a chance to scrutinise Sinn Féin's policies. Mr Varadkar said the party's promise to abolish carbon tax, property tax, college fees and USC cuts would be funded by "massive taxes on business".

"So it will be a chance I think to expose some of those policies," he said adding: "They didn't work in East Germany, they didn't work in Venezuela. They're certainly not going to work in Ireland."

However, The 'Irish Times'/Ipsos MRBI poll has Ms McDonald as the country's most popular political leader, up seven points to 41pc.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar's and Mr Martin's personal ratings had both dropped and were level on 30pc. Satisfaction with the Government is down six points and now stands at just 20pc.

RTÉ has also offered to hold a debate for the smaller parties.

Irish Independent