Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein summit as bank crisis deepens
Calls to leave party out in political cold.

By Jonathan McCambridge
08 January 2005

Sinn Fein's leaders were holding an emergency meeting today to discuss the deepening political crisis sparked by the Chief Constable's assessment that the IRA was responsible for the Northern Bank robbery.

Members of the party's national executive were meeting in Dublin amid growing calls for the political process to proceed without republicans.

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson today said the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) should produce an early report into Hugh Orde's assessment that the Provisional IRA stole £26.5m from the vaults of the Northern Bank cash centre.

He said if the IMC reached the same conclusion, then Sinn Fein should be excluded from government for 12 months.

Mr Robinson added: "Why should the whole of democratic society be held back because one party is so tied to criminality and terrorism that it isn't prepared to move forward?"

However, Sinn Fein figures have insisted the IRA was not involved in the robbery and have challenged the Chief Constable to produce evidence to back up his claim.

Ministers in Dublin and London have now conceded there is virtually no chance of a return to power-sharing in Northern Ireland for at least six months.

Secretary of State Paul Murphy said it was "offensive" that the IRA was planning the Northern Bank heist while political negotiations were going on before Christmas.

But he said there would be no rush to meet unionist demands and immediately exclude Sinn Fein from taking part in a power-sharing government.

"I believe all parties in Northern Ireland have mandates and we have to respect them. But all of us have to respect the mandate of the Good Friday Agreement which is a non-violent, peaceful Northern Ireland."

Mr Murphy is due to meet his Irish counterpart, Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern, next week to discuss London and Dublin's response to the raid. A meeting between Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern will follow.

The Secretary of State will address Parliament about the latest crisis on Tuesday. Mr Murphy said the Chief Constable had demonstrated there was "weighty evidence" that the IRA had carried out the world's biggest cash bank robbery.

But Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness accused the police of making "politically biased allegations".

He said: "He (Hugh Orde) has not produced one scrap of evidence.

"We are witnessing a renewed attempt to undermine the peace process. We need to think long and hard about who is setting this agenda and why."

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