Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has rejected allegations that she used the Hutch family for money and votes, claims which emerged in a high profile gangland trial in Dublin.
Former Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan Dowdall was secretly recorded making the claims and criticising Ms McDonald for not attending the funeral of the brother of murder accused Gerry “The Monk” Hutch.
The claims emerged in the Special Criminal Court where Hutch is on trial for the murder of David Byrne, who was shot dead at the Regency Hotel in February 2016.
Ms McDonald has rejected the allegations.
She told BBC NI Sunday Politics show: “That is absolutely not true. Let me further say that that case is ongoing in Dublin.
“This case is as a result of incredible, sterling work by the gardai over many years, and I’m certainly not going to say anything that would in any way jeopardise or undermine or influence the outcome of that important trial.
“But let me tell you, and repeat again for the avoidance of any doubt, that I have stood resolutely on the side of the community and against exactly the type of individuals who find themselves now in the courts on these charges for my entire life.
“Any suggestion that there has been anything improper is entirely wrong, that is simply not the case.”
Unionists have called for an investigation into the allegations, and Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie wants a cross-border police inquiry.
Ms McDonald said: “I have no link, alleged or otherwise. I’m unclear how you investigate something that didn’t happen.
“As to people attacking me or taking this as a golden opportunity to have a go, as they say, I’m not surprised by that. I’m not surprised at all because the reality is that across the island, the mood for change is obvious.
“Those who are very attached to the status quo, and frankly want to keep things as they are, those who don’t share our ambition for an Ireland that’s free and equal and based on social justice, will do what they can to hold back that tide of change.”
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has also requested a meeting with the PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne about the allegations.
Mr Donaldson told party members and supporters that he will seek further information to “inform our next steps”.
He added: “Let’s be in no doubt, given the gravity of the allegations about Sinn Féin being in cahoots with major international crime gangs, this matter cannot be swept under the carpet.
“We all have a right to know whether gangland money is being used to influence politics, and there must be full transparency.
“We will not be deflected from pursuing this but will always seek to shine a light on the murky underbelly of republicanism.”
It comes as a new opinion poll revealed Sinn Féin has lost support but remains the Republic’s most popular party.
The Red C Poll for the Business Post shows support for the party dropped four points, while support for Fine Gael has increased by three.
The poll shows Sinn Féin on 31 per cent, Fine Gael on 24 per cent and Fianna Fáil down one point on 15 per cent.
The Green Party, according to the poll, increased by one point to 5 per cent.
Meanwhile, Ms McDonald condemned an incident in which a woman chanted a pro-IRA slogan during an encounter with Arlene Foster.
In the video, a woman poses for a selfie with the former Northern Ireland first minister before starting to chant “Up the Ra!”, a pro-IRA lyric from the Celtic Symphony by The Wolfe Tones.
Ms Foster’s father, a reserve police officer, survived after being shot in the head by the IRA in 1979, and she was a teenager when a school bus she was travelling on was targeted in an IRA bomb attack in 1988.
Ms McDonald said the incident was not acceptable.
“I think it was deeply disrespectful and I think at all times our interactions with each other need to be guided by civility and respect and certainly that fell far short of those standards,” she added.
Chanting of ‘ooh ah up the Ra’ at Dublin Airport c…
“I suspect, for what it’s worth, although I don’t know, that the woman in question perhaps belatedly realises the error of that particular approach to Arlene Foster.
“Arlene was right to call it out.”