SF call for information on ex-IRA man who vanished before sex abuse trial
Sinn Fein has called on those with information about a man who skipped bail while awaiting trial on child sex offences to bring it to the gardai after the Republic's Justice Minister ordered an urgent review into the case.
The party was facing mounting pressure to issue a public comment about the case of the accused, who fled bail two days before his trial was due to begin in Dublin in 2017, after an RTE programme aired last Thursday night.
A Sinn Fein spokesman said last night: "These are very serious offences and must be dealt with by the courts and the criminal justice system.
"If anyone has any information they should bring that forward to An Garda Siochana."
Former SDLP councillor Mairia Cahill was personally contacted by Charlie Flanagan, the Irish Justice Minister, yesterday afternoon.
It came after she wrote an opinion piece for the Sunday Independent in which she said Sinn Fein's response to the issue "goes to the very heart of public confidence with regards to their commitment to the rule of law on alleged child abuse cases".
The individual in question, understood to be a 68-year-old former IRA member and Sinn Fein party activist originally from Belfast, was extradited from Spain in 2016 and charged with four counts of sexual assault against a then minor.
The accused was subsequently granted bail, but disappeared before the trial got under way.
Details of his disappearance only emerged last week after it was revealed by RTE.
Since then, calls were made for Sinn Fein to urge the man to make his whereabouts known to gardai.
Speaking after her conversation with the Irish Justice Minister, Ms Cahill said: "He [Mr Flanagan] expressed his deep unease at the situation and told me he had contacted the Garda Commissioner to let him know how unhappy he is and that he wants a number of urgent questions over this matter answered.
"It does beggar belief that this can happen and you have to wonder that if people had known more quickly about what happened, then we would not be in the situation we currently are."
Ms Cahill added: "Given the fact that the republican network is so extensive, it is hard to see how a former Sinn Fein activist can just flee bail like this and no one thinks to call on him to give himself up."
Ms Cahill said Mary Lou McDonald and the party's former leader Gerry Adams needed to "stand with justice and ensure that anyone accused of these crimes is made accountable".
"Sinn Fein have a pretty poor record on that," she continued.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie, meanwhile, denied that his and others' calls for Sinn Fein to act in the matter were "political point-scoring".
"It is absolutely shocking that this individual is able to skip bail, when such a serious charge is waiting for him to answer," he said. "The fact that he is also a known member of a proscribed organisation and that this happened two years ago but is only coming to light now, is incredible.
"I think an alert could be put out through the PSNI so that people are aware that he could be in the country.
"People will whinge and say this is only political point-scoring but they [Sinn Fein] have the ability, as an all-Ireland party, to complain to the Department of Justice about this case."