Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness was today in contact with senior Irish government officials after a party member tipped to win a seat in the Republic’s parliament was arrested as part of an investigation into a vigilante attack.
Minister McGuinness last night appealed to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to intervene in a ‘‘campaign of political harassment’’ by gardai against Sinn Fein in Kerry North.
Former IRA gun runner Martin Ferris was arrested at his home in Ardfert, Co Kerry, yesterday morning and taken for questioning about the abduction and beating of a man in the county in December last year.
He hopes to take one of Kerry North’s seats at the Republic’s general election, expected to be held in May.
The arrest came after eight other Sinn Fein figures, including Mr Ferris’s campaign director, James Sheehan, were arrested at the beginning of the month in connection with the same inquiry.
Several files have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether to press charges.
A garda spokesman said: ‘‘As part of the ongoing investigation into allegations of false imprisonment a man was arrested in the Ardfert area of Co Kerry. He is presently detained at Killarney Garda Station.’’
Sinn Fein said that Mr McGuinness was in touch with senior officials at the Taoiseach's department and at the Department of Justice.
In an earlier statement the MP for Mid-Ulster said police in Co Kerry were ‘‘orchestrating a campaign of political harassment against Sinn Fein members’’.
He said: ‘‘The arrest of Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle (national executive) member Martin Ferris is an outrageous politically motivated attack on Martin personally and Sinn Fein in general and he should be released immediately.
‘‘Clearly there are questions to be answered in terms of the timing and motivation of these arrests, particularly as they are occurring less than eight weeks out from an election.’’
He appealed to Mr Ahern ‘‘to personally intervene to bring an end the campaign of political harassment’’.
The arrest is related to the abduction of a man in Castleisland on December 7, 2001 by a group naming itself Concerned Parents Against Drugs.
The man’s six-year-old daughter was left on the roadside as her father was bundled into the back of his own car and driven to a remote part of Lyracrumpane, where he was beaten and his car burned.
A spokesman for the group contacted a local newspaper after the attack, claimed responsibility and explained where a cache of cannabis resin could be found. It was later seized by police.
Following the arrest of his campaign director on March 1 Mr Ferris said Sinn Fein was ‘‘entirely opposed’’ to vigilantes and the allegations against the party and individual members were ‘‘unfounded and unsubstantiated’’.
Mr Ferris is hoping to join Sinn Fein’s only deputy in the Dail, Caoimhghin O'Caolain, who represents Cavan/Monaghan.
Mr O'Caolain said last night he had ‘‘protested in the strongest possible terms’’ to both Mr Ahern and Justice Minister John O’Donoghue.
He said: ‘‘It is no coincidence that this is one of the constituencies where Sinn Fein is challenging the main government party, Fianna Fail, for a Dail seat.’’
He added: ‘‘I regard it as gross interference in the democratic process.’’