Sinn Fein's McGuinness says tax crook Murphy was man who 'did good work' for peace
Victims have reacted with anger after Martin McGuinness praised a prominent republican convicted of tax fraud for his "invaluable" role in building support for the peace process.
The Deputy First Minister followed Gerry Adams in pledging support for Thomas 'Slab' Murphy.
Echoing comments from the Sinn Fein president, Mr McGuinness described the fraudster as a "good republican".
But his support for the 66-year-old, who was found guilty of failing to comply with the Republic's tax laws, has angered unionists and victims campaigners.
Speaking in Dublin, following a meeting with British and Irish Government ministers, Mr McGuinness said: "I do not think we can dismiss the contribution that people make, particularly when it is a very dangerous occupation to be involved in building support for the peace process.
"I think the work that was done by Tom Murphy in that area was good work and that makes him, in my opinion, a good republican."
The comments have been described by unionists as outrageous.
Newry and Armagh UUP MLA Danny Kennedy said: "I think it is outrageous because a court of law has now determined the criminal guilt of Thomas 'Slab' Murphy. Yet somehow he can be beyond the law in Sinn Fein-speak in that he is a good republican."
Mr Kennedy said most outside Sinn Fein viewed Murphy as a criminal.
"Apparently it is now possible for people to be criminals and still good republicans," he added.
Kenny Donaldson from Innocent Victims United said: "Hot on the heels of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness's personal reference for Thomas 'Slab' Murphy demonstrates the 'godlike' figure that he is within the provisional republican movement.'
"Martin McGuinness's comments once again demonstrate the delusion which exists within Sinn Fein where terror and criminality are concerned."
Murphy, from Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, Co Louth, a farm that straddles the border, was convicted of nine charges of tax evasion following a 32-day trial at Dublin's non-jury Special Criminal Court.
The prosecution alleged he did not furnish authorities with a return of income, profits or gains or the sources of them over eight years from 1996 to 2004.
Murphy denied all counts but the court rejected defence claims that it was his brother Patrick who ran the farming operation and controlled the finances.
Allegations that some of the documents purported to have been signed by Murphy had been forged were also dismissed by the three-judge panel.
Mr McGuinness said everyone had a "duty and responsibility" to pay their taxes but voiced opposition to Diplock courts.
He also accused political rivals of "mind-boggling" hypocrisy and exploiting the veteran republican's links to Sinn Fein for electoral gain.
He added: "We have seen people politicking on this issue. Why are they doing this? It's the election. Let's understand what we have achieved in the north of Ireland over the last 20 years is nothing short of amazing.
"That amazing (outcome) would not have happened without the support of people like Tom Murphy."
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams previously described Murphy as a "good republican" and said his non-jury trial was unfair.
First Minister Peter Robinson welcomed Murphy's conviction and said it would have been "sheer madness" to have used a jury in his case.
"It is essential it is seen that no one is above the law," he said.