Sinn Fein under fire over ‘soft’ approach to criminality

Sinn Fein leader Mary-Lou McDonald has faced criticism over its ‘soft’ approach to crime during the last leaders’ debate before the Irish Ge

Sinn Fein has come under fire over its “soft” approach to criminality during the final leaders’ debate of the Irish General election

The left-wing party surged into the lead in one recent opinion poll in the race to head the next coalition Government after this weekend’s poll.

A senior Sinn Fein member from Northern Ireland is to apologise for comments he made about the beating to death of Co Armagh man Paul Quinn in 2007.

The party’s attitude to IRA violence during the Troubles has been a frequent focus during previous Irish elections.

This year it has harnessed popular discontent over issues such as homelessness and its message of change appears to have resonated with the electorate, polls suggested.

Sinn Fein president May Lou McDonald said her party’s Stormont finance minister Conor Murphy was going to apologise over comments he made in 2007 about the killing of Co Armagh man Mr Quinn.

She said: “That is the correct and the decent thing to do.”

The leaders of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein are vying to be the next Taoiseach, Irish premier, after Saturday’s poll.

They were debating on broadcaster RTE’s Prime Time programme on Tuesday evening.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald during the final TV leaders’ debate at the RTE studios in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA) Credit: Niall Carson

Mr Quinn, 21, was beaten to death in a shed in Co Monaghan in 2007.

At the time Mr Murphy told the BBC he was involved in smuggling and criminality.

Ms McDonald said a family that has lost their son in such circumstances did not need the additional grief and hurt caused by her party colleague’s comments.

Earlier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reiterated that he would not go into a coalition government with Sinn Fein and accused his rivals of being “soft on crime”.

Ms McDonald said it was a “clarion call of desperation”.

She was pressed on the juryless Special Criminal Court, which deals with dissident republican terrorism but asserted she was for the courts and for special powers.

She added: “We have 21st century criminals, we need 21st century powers.”

The lengthy debate covered homelessness, lack of hospital beds and concerns over change to the state retirement age.

Fianna Fail was in power at the time of the collapse of the Irish economy, more than a decade ago. Micheal Martin is now the party leader.

Mr Varadkar said: “Putting Micheal Martin back in office would be like putting John Delaney back in charge of the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) in nine years.”

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA) Credit: Niall Carson

Mr Delaney resigned as a senior executive after it was revealed he gave the governing body a 100,000 euro loan (£84,800) in 2017.

Mr Varadkar challenged Sinn Fein on its record in tackling homelessness in Northern Ireland, where it recently returned to political powersharing after a three-year hiatus.

Ms McDonald said: “Fianna Fail was and is the party of property developers and Fine Gael is the party of landlords.”

She added Northern Ireland had endured a decade of Tory austerity, and claimed the Taoiseach’s figures on homelessness in Northern Ireland were wrong.

Mr Varadkar said he would focus on health if re-elected, and was putting more hospital beds in while investing more on primary care.

The Sinn Fein leader said there should be more investment in public medicine.

She added: “It is confused, it is two-tier.”