Sinn Féin criticised for observer role in Venezuelan election
A SINN Féin MP has hit out at accusations of being complicit in vote-rigging after acting as an observer to a disputed Venezuelan election.
Mickey Brady, MP for Newry and Armagh, was invited by the Venezuelan government to be an observer and declared the election "fair and equitable".
And he branded comments by a Fianna Fail TD who hit out at Sinn Féin's involvement as "a disgrace" saying it called into question international best practice for elections.
The controversial poll last Sunday gave president Nicolás Maduro powers to abolish Venezuela's parliament and rewrite the constitution.
The vote for a new assembly has been branded corrupt, dismissed as a sham by the US and condemned around the world.
On Wednesday voting machine provider Smartmatic said turnout figures had been manipulated, with at least one million less votes cast than claimed by the government.
At least 10 people were killed in clashes and demonstrations that took place during the vote.
Mr Brady was part of a delegation invited to oversee the poll in the absence of internationally recognised independent observers.
In a statement the Sinn Féin MP said: "I was in Venezuela for four days and I and other international observers went to a number of voting centres.
"The electronic voting system was very efficient and the election system was fair and equitable.
"International reports on the election made me think I was in a different place. The election was fair and turnout was substantial. I thought that the process was fair and transparent."
Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O'Brien, the party's foreign affairs spokesman, however condemned Sinn Féin's involvement.
"It is perplexing that the Sinn Féin party continues to give cover to an underhand regime that is actively interfering in elections and over-inflating turnout figures. In my opinion, no party which believes in democracy and the rule of law can stand over what is currently happening in Venezuela," he said.
"The Maduro-led regime in the South American country has caused a dramatic plunge in living standards, food shortages, triple-digit inflation, high crime and endemic corruption at all levels of the state.
"Sinn Féin has continually expressed its support for this disastrous autocratic administration through motions at its Ard Fhéis in both 2014 and 2015. It is actively assisting the Venezuelan dictator attain sweeping powers by trying to cover up fraudulent elections such as Sunday's.
"A string of Sinn Féin MPs have all been previously hand-chosen by Maduro to play along as non-independent election observers.
"It is time for the Sinn Féin party to recant their support and join the growing number of voices who unreservedly condemn those who are pursuing an anti-democratic agenda in Venezuela."
Venezuela's 30 million citizens have been suffering from shortages of basic goods and medicines amid a weakening economy, while more then 120 people have died in a wave of anti-government protests in recent months.