Irish Echo editorial: Put up or . . .

Posted By: March 29, 2013

Saturday, January 28, 2004

The allegations by Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell that Sinn Fein benefits from the proceeds of IRA racketeering, smuggling and robbery have cast an ugly shadow across the Northern peace process.

His claims, so far unsubstantiated, have further fueled unionist intransigence. The Democratic Unionist Party, quite rightly, points out that if members of Bertie Ahern’s coalition government harbor suspicions about the integrity of Sinn Fein and refuse to countenance sharing government with republicans, then they cannot expect unionists to enter Stormont with the party.

So far McDowell has refused to back up his claims with hard facts. As the minister whose job it is to preside over the administration of justice in Ireland it would not be too much to expect that allegations that appear to be party political in nature would be more firmly rooted in the rules of legal evidence. This is an extraordinary position for a justice minister to take. Not only this, but McDowell has apparently won the tacit approval of the taoiseach in pursuing this attack on Sinn Fein at a most crucial political time in the North.

Ahern went so far this week as to berate Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, for daring to point out that planning corruption was rife among the Southern parties — not least Fianna Fail.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum, Ahern, while unable to clarify McDowell’s vague claims, said one Sinn Fein office in the North employed 18 people — more than any party in the 26 counties. Was Ahern attempting to undermine Sinn Fein and thus deflect legitimate criticism of his own party?

With members of Fianna Fail expected to be called before the Mahon Tribunal just before the onset of the European and council elections, Ahern may be hoping to dampen criticism from wherever it might emanate.

Ahern and McDowell would do well to clear up the issue of Sinn Fein finances once and for all. They are doing their own reputations little good by issuing cloaked statements about Sinn Fein without any apparent willingness to back them up. The Irish electorate is fully aware that it is an election year, both Euro and local. It will not fall for anything it suspects to be party politicking. Nor will it appreciate the pursuit of short-term political gain to the detriment of the Good Friday agreement in the North.
This story appeared in the issue of January 28-February 3, 2004