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No one bigger than the law, says Arlene Foster, as Provo Thomas 'Slab' Murphy gets 18 months for tax evasion

By Ed Carty

Published 27/02/2016

Thomas Murphy arriving at court
Thomas Murphy arriving at court
A Garda van takes him from court after sentencing

First Minister Arlene Foster has welcomed the jailing of alleged former IRA leader Thomas 'Slab' Murphy in the Republic, saying people will "celebrate" his incarceration.

Murphy was sentenced to 18 months for tax evasion.

The First Minister and DUP leader said: "While some people refer to Murphy as a 'good republican', the people of this area know him to be a criminal.

"Setting aside the length of the sentence, this man who evaded prosecution for so long, has at long last been put behind bars.

"Most people will celebrate seeing justice done. If you break our laws, regardless of who you are, expect to go to jail."

The bachelor farmer and self-confessed republican protested his innocence, claiming he was a victim and denied being at the head of a property empire.

The 66-year-old was found guilty of nine charges at the high-security Special Criminal Court in Dublin.

Murphy, from Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, Co Louth, on the border, was found to owe the Irish exchequer taxes, penalties and interest of almost £147,000 for tax-dodging from 1996-2004.

In a statement from a prison cell, the former Provo chief said he would appeal and criticised investigations into him, the trial and the media.

"I am an Irish Republican and have been all my life," Murphy said. "For many years now, I have been the subject of serial prejudicial and wholly inaccurate commentary and media coverage. There have also been repeated assertions that I have amassed properties and wealth.

"This is utterly untrue. I do not own any property at all and I have no savings."

Dressed in pink shirt, brown jacket and slacks, Murphy showed little emotion in the dock as sentence was delivered.

He acknowledged family members and friends as he was led out of a side door of the court.

Murphy was jailed for 18 months for each of nine counts of tax evasion, with the terms to run concurrently, meaning he could be eligible for release in a year. He has no previous convictions.

Judge Paul Butler, presiding in the three-judge court, noted the publicity around the trial but insisted reports of Murphy's republican links did not sway the verdict or the sentencing.

"It has no bearing whatsoever upon the Revenue charges," the judge said.

"This court must and does treat the accused as a farmer and cattle dealer with no other connections, past or present."

The judges said they took into account Murphy's age, his clean record, that he had been on bail for several years, which would have impacted his life, and that he had continued in steady employment as he awaited trial.

Judge Butler also said the total proven tax evasion was "relatively small for such a long period".

Murphy was sentenced in a non-jury court, which normally deals with terrorist and gangland trials, as Ireland voted in the General Election yesterday.

And the decision of the three-judge court demanded more answers from Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams over his description of Murphy as a "good republican".

After voting in Co Louth, where he is a TD, Mr Adams was asked if he thought the sentence would have any influence on voters' choices.

"It shouldn't have, but we'll see," he said. Mr Adams also declined to comment on the timing of the sentencing.

The penalties for Murphy's tax offences could have been as much as five years in jail or fines of up to £77,800.

The farmer, who works as a yardsman for a business in Crossmaglen, south Armagh, did not give evidence during the 32-day trial.

The trial heard that the total tax bill for the nine years was about £30,000, and interest built up on those unpaid bills was about £117,000.

Belfast Telegraph

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