Wednesday, 11 November 2009

'Sound republicans' - exempt from justice?

I don’t suppose that I was the only one reminded of Stuart Neville’s novel ‘The Twelve’, when I read newspaper reports detailing SOCA’s seizure of a South Armagh republican’s assets, which took place yesterday. Newsline featured pictures of Sean Gerard Hughes’ farm, and I almost expected to hear the whine of an injured bull terrier.

Sinn Féin’s response has, thus far, only exacerbated the sense of déjà vu. Neville’s book was a work of fiction, but the Republican movement which provided its backdrop hardly required a painstaking imaginative effort.

For the uninitiated, or those outside Northern Ireland, the Serious Organised Crime Agency was granted a court order to seize assets belonging to Hughes, on the grounds that they are suspected to come from laundering the proceeds of mortgage fraud, evading tax and fiddling the benefit system. He has previously been convicted of fraudulently claiming income support.

Sinn Féin’s MP for the area, Conor Murphy, who is also Regional Development Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, has responded angrily to SOCA’s investigation.

“Sean Hughes is a sound Republican. He has spent his entire adult life engaged in the struggle for Irish unity and Independence. He has championed the peace process and the campaign to end political policing. There have been numerous attempts over the years to smear Sean’s character. …… The raids today on Sean’s home and those of a number of his relatives have caused deep anger in South Armagh. There is no justification for the deliberate targeting of Sean and his family today….As in the past when political unionism gets itself into difficulties, as the DUP have in recent weeks, the faceless opponents of Irish Republicanism who are still in prominent positions will seek to come to their rescue with operations like we have witnessed today.”

For clarity’s sake, we should set aside the many accusations of cold blooded murder and causing explosions which have been levelled at Hughes. Though they will colour many people’s perception of the type of man whose character Conor Murphy clearly believes impeccable.

Here we have a minister of the Northern Ireland Executive, purportedly supportive of policing and justice, interfering directly in its procedure, on the basis that a convicted fraudster is a ‘sound republican’. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

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