18 December 2003 Edition
Ahern says no evidence of McDowell's claims
There were heated exchanges in the Dáil during leaders' questions on Tuesday as Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin rejected accusations against Sinn Féin during which Bertie Ahern conceded that he does not have any evidence that the party is being funded by illegal activity. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny had called for the government to halt alleged IRA funding of Sinn Féin, if it had such evidence.
The questions were raised in light of Justice Minister Michael McDowell's spurious remarks last week that Sinn Féin was being funded by IRA activity. McDowell, speaking on Today FM, said the party was "morally unclean" and added: "It ill behoves Sinn Féin to point the finger at anybody when they have close connections to the IRA and organised crime in Ireland. I have no doubt that senior figures in the IRA are engaging in crime to fund the republican movement."
Kenny said he could not accept that the Minister could say publicly, based on his own evidence, that he was absolutely certain an illegal organisation was funding a party that has contested elections successfully and not take any action.
Ahern avoided answering any questions about his Justice Minister, neither confirming nor denying his allegations. He did say, "I do not have evidence that a political party in this House is funded by illegal activity. I do not have that evidence and I am not going to say that. Senior people in Sinn Féin have made it clear to me that this is not the case and that they reject these accusations."
However, he went on to say that the matter was being investigated by the gardaí.
Ó Caoláin responded by accusing Ahern of fuelling McDowell's remarks with his answer to Kenny.
"Rather than stating he does not have such evidence, he should affirm quite categorically that there is no such evidence, because there is no such linkage," he replied. "Sinn Féin has not just met the statutory requirements to furnish annual accounts, it has voluntarily submitted these accounts to the Revenue Commissioners. It submits to the requirements of the Standards in Public Office Commission and to the electoral office in the Six Counties. Will the Taoiseach agree that Sinn Féin is one of the most scrutinised parties in the country?"
In his reply to the Sinn Féin group leader, Ahern said that he had spent most of his nine years as leader of Fianna Fáil defending his party in regard too investigations, and that Ó Caoláin should not get too upset.
Responding angrily, Ó Caoláin said, "Given its seriousness, the issue requires a focus. I do not agree with the Taoiseach. It does not come with the territory. I reject the sourcing of funding through criminal activity of Sinn Féin or any other political party. This is not acceptable under any circumstances.
"It is no coincidence that following Sinn Féin becoming the largest nationalist voice north of the Border this attack has been launched on the integrity of our party. It is not just an attack on the name Sinn Féin, it is an attack on each individual member of the party and the supporters it enjoys throughout the country. Does the Taoiseach not recognise that this represents an undermining of confidence in terms of both the peace process and the political process, with Sinn Féin seeking at this point to move forward from the electoral result north of the Border?"