Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Feins Mary Lou under fire for hailing ex-protege's torture conviction by court she wants to abolish

By Niall O'Connor

Sinn Fein's deputy leader in the Republic, Mary Lou McDonald, is standing by her call to scrap the country's Special Criminal Court - just days after publicly welcoming her former protege's conviction for torture.

Ms McDonald found herself at the centre of controversy following the conviction of former Sinn Fein politician Jonathan Dowdall, who waterboarded another man.

The Special Criminal Court heard last week how the ex-councillor threatened to feed his victim, Alexander Hurley, to dogs and burn his head at the stake.

During the shocking interrogation, Mr Hurley, who has prior fraud convictions, pleaded for his life as Mr Dowdall covered his face with a cloth and doused his head with water, while his father Patrick Dowdall threatened to cut his fingers off with a pliers "knuckle by knuckle".

The court heard how the ex-Sinn Fein man told his victim he was a "stupid dumb f*** to mess with the head of the IRA."

He also claimed to be a friend of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and Ms McDonald.

The father and son, who pleaded guilty to threatening to kill their victim, are due to be sentenced later this month.

Dowdall (38), was elected a Dublin city councillor in 2014, left the party, rejoined the next year and then quit for good.

But Ms McDonald has now found herself at the centre of a political row after she released a statement welcoming the ruling of the Special Criminal Court in Dublin, despite repeatedly calling for it to be scrapped.

Last night, Ms McDonald said the sentence handed down to her former colleague "must reflect the seriousness of the crimes for which he has been convicted".

But the Dublin Central TD is standing behind her claim that the no-jury court - similar to Northern Ireland's Diplock courts that deal with terrorism cases - should be abolished.

Ms McDonald is one of a number of Sinn Fein politicians who have called for the abolition of the Special Criminal Court, which administered the convictions and jailing of some of the country's most dangerous criminals, including IRA members.

Despite her party's demand for its scrapping, Ms McDonald released a statement backing last week's verdict in relation to her former close ally.

"I welcome the conviction of Jonathan Dowdall in court today," she said. "The details of the attack perpetrated by him are deeply shocking.

"I hope the sentence delivered by the court reflects the seriousness of the offence and the trauma endured by his victim."

Last night, Fine Gael TD Noel Rock said the case illustrated Sinn Fein's links to criminality and accused Ms McDonald of hypocrisy. "It's incredible that Sinn Fein now find one of their former councillors in the dock for waterboarding and torturing a member of the public," he added.

"He's on trial, in fact, in the very same Special Criminal Court that Mary Lou McDonald's Sinn Fein wanted to abolish. It's quite clear that with Sinn Fein past and Sinn Fein present, you are not far from criminality.

"It's simply unbelievable that they wanted, and still want, to abolish the Special Criminal Court."

Last night, a Sinn Fein spokesperson responded: "Deputy Rock is playing cheap politics with a serious crime.

"Sinn Fein's concerns with the operation of the Special Criminal Court are shared by Amnesty International, the ICCL and the UN Commission on Human Rights. Perhaps Deputy Rock opposes these groups as well."

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