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Taoiseach claims Sinn Féin 'will never criticise Russia' in latest attack on party

He said he found it 'extraordinary' that Mary Lou McDonald’s party had been 'absolutely silent on the massive Russian military build-up on the Ukraine [border]'
Taoiseach Micheal Martin (Julien Behal/PA)

Taoiseach Micheal Martin (Julien Behal/PA)

Hugh O'Connell

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has claimed Sinn Féin “will never criticise Russia” and has attacked its “notable silence” over the Putin regime’s build-up of military forces on the Ukrainian border.

In a new attack on the main opposition party, Mr Martin questioned why Sinn Féin was never critical of Russia, including over its annexation of Crimea seven years ago.

He said he found it “extraordinary” that Mary Lou McDonald’s party had been “absolutely silent on the massive Russian military build-up on the Ukraine [border]” in recent weeks.

Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops along the border , but Russian president Vladimir Putin denies planning to invade the country, insisting the troops are there for military exercises. The move has sparked the threat of sanctions from the US and the EU, which Putin warned against last week.

Despite his strong criticism of Sinn Féin, Mr Martin refused to categorically rule out the possibility of Fianna Fáil entering a future coalition with Ms McDonald’s party — as he did in the run-up to the last general election — saying: “I’ll rule nobody out.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has assembled thousands of troops on the Ukraine border

Russian President Vladimir Putin has assembled thousands of troops on the Ukraine border

His latest comments are likely to draw attention to Sinn Féin’s foreign policy, which have been at odds with Irish positions in recent years.

Sinn Féin did not respond to a request for a comment this weekend.

In 2018, Ms McDonald accused then-taoiseach Leo Varadkar of showing “flagrant disregard for Irish neutrality’’ by expelling a Russian diplomat over the poisoning of a former Russian agent and his daughter in Salisbury, England.

Three years ago, Sinn Féin MEPs voted against a resolution that criticised Russia’s annexation of Crimea and interference in European elections. The same MEPs abstained on a European Parliament resolution in 2015 that condemned human rights abuses in Russia.

Mr Martin told a pre-Christmas briefing of political correspondents that Sinn Féin was in “a very destructive, resolute opposition mode, opposing everything that moves”. He added that its policies, including those on housing, “don’t add up”.

“The other aspect of it that worries me a bit is their international policy. I think at heart they’re still an anti-European Union party,” he said.

“I was struck in the Dáil last week, in the debate leading into the European Council, for example, that they were absolutely silent on the massive Russian military build-up on the Ukraine [border]. I found that extraordinary.

“This was the big issue at the European Council last week — big concern, big worry, what’s going to happen with over 100,000 Russian troops on the border of Ukraine .

“Yet the Sinn Féin contribution last week was three-quarters attacking the EU on vaccines. I thought it was very strange. They spent the entire Dáil debate attacking the European Union, which has the best record, and not just in exporting vaccines around the world.

“ Europe has manufactured and exported 1.4 billion vaccines across the world — the largest exporter in the world , way above the US, way above India, way above China and way above Russia  — yet the Sinn Féin impulse was to have a go at Europe.”

The Fianna Fáil leader refused to be drawn on his view as to why Sinn Féin did not criticise Russia, but said the party should be asked.

“ Maybe someone should ask Eoin Ó Broin to go through their speeches for the last 10 years on international policy,” he said.

Despite leaving the door open to dealing with Sinn Féin, Mr Martin outlined key policy differences, not just on foreign and EU policy. He claimed Sinn Féin  would “tax the small- to medium-sized sector out of existence”.

“There would be a very high-tax economy that would undermine our enterprise base, and they would be a cold house for multinationals, of that I’ve no doubt,” he said.

Sinn Féin does not have a “coherent policy on free trade”, he added, noting it had been “virulent” in its attacks on Ceta, the EU’s free-trade deal with Canada.

However, when asked if he could do a deal with Sinn Féin based on policy — as he did with Fine Gael, whom he also ruled out before the last election — Mr Martin said: “ I’ll rule nobody out. I was simply pointing out that there are very substantive policy issues that go to the heart of what this country has been about for 50 years

“And when I listen to Mary Lou, she damns the last 50 years.

“This country has made a lot of progress. You look at any global index . I believe that with their current policies, Sinn Féin would fatally undermine the enterprise base of this country.”

Mr Martin added that Sinn Féin in government would “mean less jobs” and “would have a very negative impact on our enterprise economy”.

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