During the speech, Lord Laird of Artigarvan, an Ulster-Scots enthusiast and regular visitor to the US, made accusations that would be highly libelous, if repeated outside parliamentary privilege.
Ulster Unionists and the DUP regularly name people as alleged members of the IRA Army Council and make other potentially libellous claims at Westminster for which they cannot be sued.
In the past, Lord Laird opposed the Sunningdale power sharing proposals and supported the Ulster Workers’ Council strike that destroyed them. He was also a Ulster Unionist member of the old Stormont regime and opposed reforms proposed by the then Northern Ireland prime minister, Terence O’Neill.
He was recently criticized for using taxis to travel from Belfast to Ulster Scots meetings in Dublin. Laird explained that, as he habitually wore a kilt, he could have been subject to republican attack on trains or buses.
In his speech to the House of Lords, Laird queried the Taoiseach’s judgment in appointing financier and businessman, Phil Flynn, as an industrial affairs trouble-shooter and adviser on decentralizing the Irish civil service.
Flynn, a former vice president of Sinn Fein, recently resigned his government posts, as well as his chairmanship of the Irish branch of the Bank of Scotland and the Voluntary Health Insurance board, after the police investigated a business colleague for money-laundering.
He has not been arrested or questioned by the Gardai in relation to the association and has promised to “run naked up and down the street” if proved guilty. He has described Laird’s claims as “lies” and challenged him to repeat them outside parliament so they could be legally challenged.
The Taoiseach told reporters in Dublin this week that he didn’t want to give too much prominence to “someone with whom I disagree on everything he says”, but went on to say the claims were “entirely untrue”.
“They are entirely disingenuous”, said Bertie Ahern, “Phil Flynn has worked hard over many years, both in the trades union movement and in many other areas. The activities that he has now been accused of are under criminal investigation.
“Everybody should await the outcome and not use parliamentary privilege to make such allegations”, he said.
Laird said, however, that “known republicans” had been watched by Gardai spending time at Flynn’s home but that the government had not moved against him. He also asked why the British government had not demanded that Flynn be fired from his jobs.
“In 2004”, claimed Laird, “Flynn became a management consultant to Sinn Fein, the IRA’s partner in politics and crime and still no one acted. It seemed to matter not that a man handling billions of pounds of public money was also reconstructing a criminal organization”.
After the Northern Bank raid, he said, “panic set in” and the Irish government finally acted. He claimed that the police then launched a series of raids without the Taoiseach’s knowledge.
Laird said he had asked the chairman of the Bank of Scotland, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, to comment and had been told that Flynn “was well thought of in Irish financial circles”.
He also claimed that the Irish Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, had “in code, accused his own Prime Minister of associating with criminals and subversives”.
“His covert accusation was factually correct. Mr Ahern was socializing with Flynn”, said Laird, asking if there had been a government “deal to allow the IRA to buy its way into respectability with stolen money?”
“What is the link”, he asked, “between Sinn Fein and Mr. Ahern that allows some in the Irish Government to turn a blind eye to the ‘state within a state’?”
Answering his own question, Laird went on to claim, “The only explanation possible for Mr Ahern’s refusal to act on his police force’s advice about Flynn is that Sinn Fein has undue influence over Fianna Fail through a combination of money and blackmail”.
“I think that history will show that Mr. Ahern betrayed his own country; he knew what was going on and allowed it to happen. Is it any wonder that the Belfast peace process is dead?”
In response, Sinn F