SF fury at funding allegations

Dublin's Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, has maintained his verbal offensive on Sinn Féin by repeating that IRA criminal activity is being used to help fund the party.

There were no ``Chinese walls'' between IRA and Sinn Féin finances, he said yesterday.

The remarks are seen as an attempt to increase pressure or the disbandment of the IRA ahead of talks on the troubled Good Friday peace agreement next month.

Sinn Féin again rejected Mr McDowell's claims, accusing him of ``crude posturing'' and pursuing an anti-republican agenda. McDowell has again failed to produce evidence for his allegations.

Mr McDowell, however, said he was confident that his allegations were correct and that the issue would be raised by the Dublin government during next month's review of the Belfast Agreement.

The IRA was engaged in criminality on both sides of the Border, he insisted.

``What I am saying is that the republican movement is single and indivisible at the moment, and that is one of the problems that we have to overcome. There are no Chinese walls between IRA money and Sinn Féin money, and when push comes to shove the resources of one of those organisations is available to the other,'' he added.

In the British Parliament on Wednesday the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, also said it was important to make clear during the review that ``there cannot be a situation in which a political party is being funded by anything other than purely democratic and peaceful methods''.

Mr McDowell said there was ``an abundance of evidence that the IRA has engaged consistently in criminal activity to fund the broad purposes of the republican movement.''

He claimed he was ``confident about the correctness'' of what he was saying, and that he should not be required to produce evidence to back up the statement.

``I speak on the basis of what I know as Minister for Justice, and am quite confident about what I am saying. I think that some of the people who in public are querying what I am saying in private know in their hearts that I am right.''

However, Conor Murphy said McDowell was abusing his position to smear Sinn Féin and his comments were prompted by fear of the party's growing electoral strength in the Republic.

The Assembly member for Newry and Armagh said Sinn Féin published its accounts, which were not challenged by the Minister. This further proved the political motivation behind his attack.

``Michael McDowell's crude posturing exposed his real political agenda, his concern about Sinn Féin's increased electoral support and our work in bringing about change in Irish society. Mr McDowell needs to start accepting that Sinn Féin is here to stay,'' said Mr Murphy.

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness has warned that allegations about the source of Sinn Féin's funding could jeopardise talks on reviving the institutions in the North.

Speaking in the exclusive surroundings of the World Economic Forum, Mr McGuinness said that the remarks were aiding opponents of the Good Friday agreement.

``Many people in the North are asking why some politicians in the South are trying to jeopardise the success of the process. It is interesting to hear unionist politicians echoing these remarks. I think some of the statements can be used by unionist politicians to jeopardise the talks,'' he said.

Mr McGuinness claimed that those who accused Sinn Féin of using illicit funds were motivated by ``fear and trepidation'' of the gains his party could make in June's European and local elections.

Dismissing the allegations as ``windbaggery'', he said it was important to note that no member of Sinn Féin had been called before any tribunal investigating corruption by politicians.

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