A prominent republican convicted of tax fraud was “invaluable” in building support for the peace process, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister has said.
Pledging support for Thomas “Slab” Murphy, who was found guilty of failing to comply with the Republic’s tax laws, Martin McGuinness described the fraudster as a “good republican”.
Speaking in Dublin, following a meeting with British and Irish Government ministers, Mr McGuinness said: “I do not think we can dismiss the contribution that people make, particularly when it is a very dangerous occupation to be involved in building support for the peace process.
“I think the work that was done by Tom Murphy in that area was good work and that makes him, in my opinion, a good republican.”
Murphy, a 66-year-old, from Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, Co Louth, a farm that straddles the border with Northern Ireland, was convicted of nine charges of tax evasion following a 32-day trial at Dublin’s non jury Special Criminal Court.
The prosecution alleged he did not furnish authorities with a return of income, profits or gains or the sources of them over eight years from 1996 to 2004.
Murphy denied all counts but the court rejected defence claims that it was his brother Patrick who ran the farming operation and controlled the finances.
Allegations that some of the documents purported to have been signed by Murphy had been forged were also dismissed by the three judge panel.
Mr McGuinness said everyone had a “duty and responsibility” to pay their taxes but voiced opposition to Diplock courts.
He also accused political rivals of “mind-boggling” hypocrisy and exploiting the veteran republican’s links to Sinn Fein for electoral gain.
He added: “Over the course of the last number of days we have seen people politicking on this issue. Why are they doing this? It’s the election, stupid.
“Let’s get real here. Let’s understand what we have achieved in the north of Ireland over the last 20 years is nothing short of amazing. That’s what the world tells us.
“That amazing (outcome) would not have happened without the support of people like Tom Murphy.”
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has previously described Murphy as a “good republican” and said his non jury trial was unfair.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson welcomed Murphy’s conviction and said it would have been “sheer madness” to have used a jury in his case.
The Democratic Unionist said: “It is essential it is seen that no one is above the law.”