Gerry Adams has come under renewed fire for stating that he does not believe IRA members are criminals.
The long-standing president of Sinn Fein had already faced criticism for repeating his belief that Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy was a “good republican”, following his conviction for tax dodging in Dublin last Thursday.
Murphy – whose farm straddles the Armagh-Louth border, and who is widely alleged to have been a leading figure in the IRA – had been found guilty by three judges, rather than by a jury.
Mr Adams has now added to the ire of unionists by defending IRA members.
When speaking to journalists outside the Dublin parliament, he said: “I think judges can make mistakes.”
He added that the non-jury nature of the trial was “plain wrong”.
Asked about the fact the court had found Murphy to be a criminal, and the belief that he was involved in the IRA, Mr Adams replied: “I don’t believe that people who were involved in the IRA, if he was involved in the IRA, are criminals.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said that his remarks “will outrage the many victims of the IRA’s terrorism”.
The North Antrim MLA said: “Clearly Sinn Fein still believe that their controlling body, the IRA Army Council, is above the law.
“They are incapable of crime even when they have been tried and convicted in a court of law – a nicety which republicans didn’t of course bother with when it came to their many innocent victims.”
Sinn Fein had recently signed up to the ‘Fresh Start’ political deal, which included plans to tackle paramilitarism.
Mr Allister said: “We haven’t even got to the end of the year and we have undeniable proof that the deal achieved nothing of the sort.”
Kenny Donaldson, of Troubles victims’ umbrella group Innocent Victims United, said Mr Adams’ comments were an example of republicans’ “warped logic”.
He added: “They may have signed up to the rule of law in word but they have not accepted the rule of law in their hearts and DNA.”
Murphy had been charged in November 2007 but unsuccessfully fought the plans for a Special Criminal Court trial, first in the High Court and then the Supreme Court.
Previously, he had unsuccessfully taken defamation proceedings against the Sunday Times after they named him as an IRA leader.
Mr Adams’ comments follow a string of remarks which have caused widespread offence, including a statement in April that the IRA’s abduction and murder of widow Jean McConville was an example of something which simply “happens in wars”, and was the kind of thing both British soldiers and “Irish republican soldiers” carried out.
In 2013 he said IRA members had been “doing their duty” when they shot dead unarmed RUC men Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan.