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DUBLIN(Reuters) - The alleged former chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) Thomas 'Slab' Murphy was sentenced on Friday to 18 months in prison for not paying tax in a embarrassing decision for close allies in the Sinn Fein political party on election day.
The 66-year-old, who runs a farm that straddles Ireland's border with Northern Ireland, was found guilty by the Special Criminal Court in December of failing to furnish a tax return between 1996 and 2004, charges he denied.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, whose party has been the third most popular in recent polls, has defended Murphy as a close friend and "good Republican". Sinn Fein was for decades the political wing of the IRA and its main mouthpiece, though Adams says the militants "left the stage" after a 1998 peace deal.
Rivals have repeatedly brought up Sinn Fein's IRA ties during the election campaign and pilloried Adams for calling for the scrapping of the Special Criminal Court, in which judges make rulings to prevent the intimidation of juries.
Murphy, who arrived at court wearing a pink shirt and brown flat cap, has denied he was a member of the IRA, but in 1998 he lost a libel case against Britain's Sunday Times with the jury deciding he was a prominent member of the organisation.
Several historians and journalists have alleged that he acted as the organisation's chief of staff, which Murphy has denied.
The court heard evidence of dealings in relation to cattle and land by Murphy and applications for farming grants, but no record of a tax declaration.
Part of Murphy's farm is in the IRA heartland of South Armagh, dubbed "Bandit Country" during the militant group's three-decade campaign against British rule, which ended after a 1998 peace deal.
The IRA was responsible for more than half of the 3,600 killings during three decades of violence between Irish Catholic nationalists seeking an end to British rule in Northern Ireland and the British Army and Protestant loyalists who defended it.
Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Catherine Evans