Unionist fury as Sinn Fein MLA says axing border in Ireland would cut crime
An outspoken Sinn Fein MLA has been lambasted after suggesting on Twitter that the best way to stop cross-border smuggling and criminality would be to "get rid of the border".
Fermanagh and South Tyrone politician Phil Flanagan's comments prompted a barrage of criticism on social media.
The MLA was commenting on an article in the Sunday Independent about Garda investigations into cross-border smuggling rackets and massive money-laundering operations believed to be controlled by the Provisional IRA.
Twitter users wanted to know what his plan to end criminality was ahead of any potential future changes to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, something only possible through referendums.
And Mr Flanagan sparked the row when he wrote to his followers: "The best way to address cross-border criminality and smuggling in Ireland is to get rid off the border.
"If it wasn't here, all that illegal c*** would stop. Partition [was the] worst thing to ever happen Ireland."
Sinn Fein critic Mairia Cahill responded by asking: "How about... 'Best way is to report those involved in dodgy diesel and counterfeit goods? And murder of Paul Quinn."
Mr Quinn, from Cullyhanna, Co Armagh, was 21 when he was killed in a horrific attack in 2007. His family believe IRA members are to blame and have accused Sinn Fein of shielding them.
Another user asked Mr Flanagan: "So we get rid of border and those smuggling will get into bird watching or something?"
Mr Flanagan responded: "No they'll still probably carry on as criminals, but without a porous border, they'll have to make money some other way."
In a statement to this paper, Mr Flanagan said: "The solution to eradicating cross-border smuggling in Ireland, as Independent News & Media seem to be fascinated with highlighting, is to remove the border and introduce a single unitary state. In the interim, the harmonisation of taxation and duties on fuel and cigarettes on this island would go a long way to removing the attractiveness in smuggling legal products across the border.
"Dealing with illegal and counterfeit products is a completely different matter and needs dealt with collectively by the PSNI and An Gardaí, regardless of who is behind this criminality, where they are or what their own personal political ideology is."
Mr Flanagan has been involved in Twitter controversies on a number of occasions.
In October 2013, he called Tom Elliott - who was then an Ulster Unionist MLA but has since won the Fermanagh and South Tyrone Westminster seat from Sinn Fein - a "clampit".
Earlier this year on Twitter, he described William of Orange as a "terrorist." The MLA has also suggested that roads in Kesh were resurfaced for the Twelfth.
While unafraid of courting controversy, Mr Flanagan has also issued a series of apologies since his election.
He was also banned from speaking in the Assembly by party colleague Mitchel McLaughlin after his contribution to a discussion on the use of Union flags on Northern Ireland driving licences was deemed to be provocative.
He was additionally forced to apologise to Ms Cahill - who was raped as a teenager by an IRA member and later interrogated by the terror group about the claims - after he publicly attacked her over an article she wrote about the links between the party and the IRA.
Ms Cahill suggested a public inquiry was needed to examine links between Sinn Fein and the IRA. He replied: "Some irony in @mairiac31 arguing that a cross-examination in court is needed to get to the truth."
Later, he issued an apology via Twitter, writing: "I'm sorry if my tweet earlier caused any upset or offence. This was not my intention & I apologise."
And the politician also apologised after sharing a vulgar tweet about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on Twitter after the birth of the royal couple's first child.