Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has directly asked whether Mary Lou McDonald takes direction from “senior republicans” in her role as Sinn Féin leader.
The comments came during terse Dail exchanges which also saw Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, combine with the Taoiseach in criticising Sinn Fein for failing to provide a nationalist voice in Northern Ireland in the Brexit crisis.
The Taoiseach said he had followed proceedings of the Northern Ireland inquiry into the so-called “cash for ash scheme” which caused the collapse of the Belfast power-sharing government in January 2017.
Mr Varadkar said he was surprised to learn that Sinn Fein had a greater role than was earlier realised. He pointed to emails, unearthed in the inquiry, from then Sinn Fein finance minister in Belfast, Mairtin O Muilleoir.
The Taoiseach said Mr O Muilleoir had at one point emailed “a senior republican,” Ted Howell, who did not hold any elected office, seeking clearance to sign-off for a business plan related to the heating scheme by Wednesday.
“That is documentary evidence that Sinn Fein ministers seek approval and consent from ‘senior republicans’ when it comes to major decisions in government,” Mr Varadkar told the Dail.
“I’m just curious to know if Deputy McDonald would want to comment on that, or expand on that, and maybe inform us of the extent she and her front bench require approval from senior republicans for decisions,” the Taoiseach added.
The Sinn Fein leader said the Taoiseach should await publication of the full report on the controversial Northern Ireland heat scheme. She said it would record “the central role of the DUP in the affair.”
“At that stage you can make your assessment on an informed basis,” Ms McDonald said.
Ms McDonald accused Fine Gael and Fianna Fail of “playing politics” with Northern Ireland's current problems and said the Government had an obligation under the Good Friday Agreement to be impartial. She also argued that Sinn Fein continues to represent the people in Northern Ireland, unlike the other two parties which are confined to the Republic.
“There is a split in the executive over Brexit. The DUP are pro-Brexit,” Ms McDonald said. She added that the party is ready to try again to get the North’s power-sharing up and running, and the party was very disappointed when a near-agreement with the DUP last February failed.
Mr Martin criticised Sinn Fein for not taking its seven Westminster seats as Ireland faced the biggest economic challenge in 40 years, while the absence of a Northern Ireland power-sharing government and parliament left Northern Ireland without a voice. He added that Sinn Fein was more involved in the “cash for ash” than earlier thought.
The Taoiseach said Sinn Fein’s absence from Westminster was about more than parliamentary numbers for a crucial vote for next month. He said there was nobody present in Westminster to voice the will of the majority in the North, including farmers and business leaders, who are opposed to Brexit.