Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams’s credibility is in tatters after an incredible intervention to defend tax evader and former IRA godfather Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy.
Mr Adams cast a slur on our legal system as he paid glowing references to Murphy, who is widely seen as a major smuggler who has managed to stay one step ahead of the law for years.
The Sinn Féin president’s comments in a statement over the weekend were met by incredulity in political circles and caused major embarrassment within his own party but followers were reluctant to criticise their leader.
Adams variously said that:
■ Murphy had been “treated unfairly”;
■ he had had his rights “denied”;
■ the former IRA chief of staff was a “good republican”, repeating earlier remarks, and;
■ his party was opposed to the existence and operation of the Special Criminal Court which convicted Murphy.
Sinn Féin itself went into lockdown, with nobody in the party breaking ranks to comment on the Murphy tax evasion judgment in the Special Criminal Court.
Opposition parties said his comments showed how Adams would act in power, opposing the anti-terror courts and giving unquestioning loyalty to the Sinn Féin and IRA hierarchy.
Opponents also pointed how Adams's statement was in stark contrast to the deafening silence from his party colleagues.
Senior politicians from all sides last night rounded on Mr Adams following his extraordinary claims that Murphy, now a convicted tax cheat, has been "treated unfairly" and had his rights "denied".
And in a move that has infuriated members of the garda force and relatives of IRA victims, Mr Adams said he did not believe the country's Special Criminal Court was necessary.
The claim was contradicted last night by senior security sources who said there was growing concern about witness intimidation in the Border region. The family of IRA murder victim Paul Quinn said the comments were "typical" of Mr Adams's disregard for "law and order".
Last night, Tánaiste Joan Burton said Mr Adams's reaction to the court's verdict "speaks volumes" about his party's claims of being committed to democracy and the rule of law.
"Yet again, the mask has slipped and Sinn Féin have revealed how unsuitable they are for government," the Labour Party leader told the Irish Independent.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin pointed out that the decision to try Murphy in the Special Criminal Court had been dealt with through the legal system.
"He faces a simple question now - does he or does he not accept the authority and judgment of the Irish Supreme Court?"
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald assured the public that gardaí would not be deterred from bringing criminals to justice. "Without commenting on a particular case, I can assure people that the gardaí and other law enforcement agencies will continue to pursue crime whatever the background of those who commit it and irrespective of who might purport to vouch for them," she said.
And in a stinging attack on Mr Adams, former Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the party would give "impunity to terrorists and criminal gangs by facilitating jury intimidation".
"No one should be fooled by Sinn Féin's false theatrical concern expressed for the rule of law during the lifetime of the current Dáil. It was nothing more than cynical attention-seeking and headline grabbing," he said.
On numerous occasions since Thursday's verdict, Mr Adams has swooped to the defence of Murphy, who is facing up to five years in prison when sentenced for tax fraud next month.
Yesterday, Mr Adams launched a desperate attack on Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and the media for its reporting on the controversy.
"Let me be very clear, Sinn Féin is strongly opposed to tax evasion. Everyone has a duty to pay their taxes and there can be no equivocation about this," he said, adding that his party supported the gardaí and the law. But Mr Adams claimed Murphy should have been tried before a jury.
"Let me be equally clear that Sinn Féin is absolutely opposed to the existence and operation of the non-jury Special Criminal Court.
"As I have already remarked, there was nothing ordinary or routine about the trial and conviction of Tom Murphy who was denied the right to be tried before a jury of his peers and this raises serious concerns."
Gerry Adams has a talent for periodically playing the victim. He is at it again now, insisting that his friend and colleague, Thomas 'Slab' Murphy, did not receive fair play, mainly because he was dealt with before the non-jury Special Criminal Court.