The DUP has defended the ‘Fresh Start’ deal it agreed with Sinn Fein last month to tackle paramilitarism after criticism that recent Sinn Fein statements indicate the party still views the IRA as a legitimate entity and does not trust the courts.
This week has seen Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Mary Lou McDonald come to the defence of Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy, after he was convicted in Dublin last week of major tax evasion.
Mr Adams praised Murphy as “a good republican” and said that he did not believe people connected to the IRA were criminals.
“I don’t believe that people who were involved in the IRA, if he was involved in the IRA, are criminal,” the Sinn Fein president said.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and TUV leader Jim Allister have questioned the value of last month’s deal if one of the two main signatories don’t agree that the IRA is criminal.
But DUP minister Simon Hamilton insisted that his party had “stayed the course and got a good deal” which he said will “help remove the blight of paramilitaries from our streets”.
The Strangford MLA said: “The conviction of Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy is welcome and we trust this is a sign of what’s to follow with all forms of criminality, whatever the source, tackled head on.
“Tax fraud is a very serious crime and should be dealt with decisively. That’s why under the Fresh Start Agreement there was an additional £200m with a focus on tackling financial crime.
“In many cases paramilitaries can be put out of business by following the money. That’s what we want to do.”
However, Mr Nesbitt said: “The Ulster Unionist Party swam against the tide during the latest talks, insisting paramilitarism and associated criminality was at the top of the agenda.
“We were initially rebuffed by the British and Irish governments when we suggested more could be done to tackle organised, cross-border crime, but we persevered and secured the Joint Agency Task Force.
“In that context, Sinn Féin’s reaction to Mr Murphy’s conviction undermines public confidence in their commitment to deliver a proper peace.
“The cover of the self-styled ‘Fresh Start’ document promises to ‘offer hope’ to the people. That is an empty promise given this week’s events.”
However, Mr Hamilton hit back: “Whilst Mike Nesbitt is worried about what Sinn Fein says, I want to see more action like that taken against Murphy.
“Sinn Fein claims about ‘good republicans’ hold as much water as Adams’ ‘I was never in the PIRA’. Whilst Mike might settle for warms words from Sinn Fein we will hold for convictions in courts.
“Mike is clearly struggling for relevance and is now rummaging around looking for any issue to get a headline, claiming credit for standing up to paramilitaries yet, as someone who was at the talks, I can only remember Mike walking out rather than making any proposals.”
Mr Allister said: “Commenting after announcing his retirement Peter Robinson said: ‘Getting this agreement which incorporates bringing paramilitarism to an end, getting all parties to sign up to ending paramilitary structures and putting paramilitarism out of business is a major achievement’.
“We haven’t even got to the end of the year and we have undeniable proof that the deal achieved nothing of the sort.”
• The Garda said on Wednesday that it had seized 4,400 litres of laundered fuel from a filling station in Co Cavan, on the border with Northern Ireland.
The Garda refused to say exactly where in the county is was found.