Sinn Féin's stance that it would appoint people with Troubles-era convictions as Government advisers is "astonishing", Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has said.
Speaking in Dublin today, Mr Harris said he was taken aback at the suggestion someone with a criminal conviction could be appointed to advise the Government.
On Monday, Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said a ban on people with criminal convictions becoming advisers "would depend on the circumstances". The party's housing spokesman Eoin O Broin told the Irish Daily Mail on Wednesday that someone's history of being "involved in conflict-related activities won't be relevant to me".
Party TDs have said the issue is unlikely to come up, but Mr Harris said on Thursday: “This is quite an astonishing thing that the main opposition party, a party that wishes to lead the Government of this country is not willing to say clearly that it doesn’t believe hiring people with criminal convictions to take up sensitive roles in Government is something that should be ruled out.”
"Would they be an adviser at the Department of Justice, would they be an adviser in the Department of Defence, would they be an adviser in the Department of Foreign Affairs?," he asked. He dismissed the suggestion that the past was in the past and the Belfast Agreement provided a break to convictions handed down during the Troubles.
“I’m more concerned about the future. I’m very concerned about the policies that would be pursued by an alternative government and also the individuals that would pursue those policies,” he said.
“We live in a democracy, these are matters for the people of this country to assess,” he said, adding that he did not believe the outcome of the next election was a foregone conclusion in favour of Sinn Féin.
“I think there will be a real clash of ideas, and clash of policies, and clash of perspectives and that’s healthy and the people of this country will adjudicate then,” he said.
Mr Harris was speaking at the announcement of a €5 million investment in a new Skillnet Ireland initiative to connect Irish SMEs with global businesses. He said the initiative would "Provide an opportunity for partnership between Irish Small and Medium Enterprises and large, multinational in many cases, companies, where you could have a lot of agile small companies in Ireland with innovative solutions to some of the challenges bigger companies face".