Mary Lou: 'I've met Slab three times. He's a very nice man'
Tax dodger Thomas 'Slab' Murphy is "a very typical rural man" and "very nice", according to Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald.
The party's deputy leader has admitted that she met the former IRA godfather "perhaps twice or three times" and found him "very approachable".
As the controversy rages over Sinn Féin's defence of the south Armagh provo, Ms McDonald has put her own reputation on the line to defend someone who earned hundreds of thousands of euro without paying tax.
In a show of extraordinary allegiance to her superiors in the party, the Dublin Central TD said Murphy was not afforded the same rights as other citizens.
"As regards Tom Murphy, a case was taken and pursued - it was taken through the Special Criminal Court - I have said and I think Gerry and others have said that that is not the norm.
"Ordinarily, the normal practice in a democratic society is that a case is heard by jury trial," she told the Irish Independent.
At the end of Murphy's 32-day trial in Dublin, Mr Justice Paul Butler said the court was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he was guilty on nine individual counts of tax evasion.
The court heard evidence from Department of Agriculture employees, cattle mart and meat factory managers, Criminal Assets Bureau investigators and a Revenue Inspector that, although Murphy conducted dealings in relation to cattle and land, and received farming grants from the Department of Agriculture, he failed to make any returns to revenue for the years 1996/97 to 2004.
Murphy previously sued a newspaper that described him as a former chief of staff of the IRA who masterminded the importation of weapons, and lost his case. A witness at that jury trial in the 1990s said Murphy had the power of deciding who lived and who died in the Louth/Armagh border region.
However, Ms McDonald yesterday refused to accept that he should be "treated differently" from other people charged with serious offences.
"I see no reason why this case couldn't have been processed in the normal manner and, of course, where there are monies owing they have got to be recouped by the State. There is no ambivalence or equivocation on that point and I think myself that certain people have seized on this to try and brew up a political storm and that's what happens when elections are in the air," she said.
Asked whether she had ever met with Murphy, Ms McDonald replied: "I think I've met Tom perhaps twice or three times."
She described him as "very nice, very approachable".
"He's a rural farming man from South Armagh and he would be a very typical rural man of that age. I found him very nice," she said.
Pressed on whether he is a key figure in Sinn Féin, Ms McDonald said: "Well he has certainly been a very key figure in South Armagh over the years. He's a very high-profile, very well-known figure.
"He's a person that others within the party would know very, very well. I do understand that he has been absolutely staunch in his support of the peace process in advancing that, in promoting it, so I think that is a very good day's work by him."
Ms McDonald said Murphy had taken "not only a very republican stance to take but a very patriotic stance" in relation to the peace process in Northern Ireland "when the question is asked whether or not he is a good republican".
However, she said there was "no ambivalence on my part or on our part" when it came to tax evasion.
"People have to pay their tax, it's as simple as that, you've got to be compliant with revenue and irrespective of who is involved, that's just the way it is.
"I got questions from your newspaper yesterday relating to the Ansbacher dossier - comparing and contrasting … I am absolutely unequivocally of the position that people must comply with Revenue and the difference between Ansbacher is that the investigation has not been completed.
"That's the point. It's not me saying that - it's authorised officers who still work for the State. These aren't random persons, these are expert people in the employ of the State."