IRA arrests `soon' on robbery

Liam Clarke
Sunday Times
23 Jan 2005

NORTHERN IRELAND'S police plan to arrest a number of IRA members as
part of their investigation into the £26m Northern Bank robbery.
Several raids are expected, with some along the border requiring the
co-operation of gardai.

The British and Irish governments are convinced that the £26m
(€37.5m) heist was carried out by the IRA because of a briefing from
Hugh Orde, the PSNI chief constable, in which he gave the names of
the suspects. Both the PSNI and gardai observed meetings between
republicans they suspect planned the robbery and senior Sinn Fein
figures, including Gerry Adams.

Security sources will not give details of these meetings, although
they coincided with negotiations last month between the governments
and Sinn Fein on a complete end to IRA activity. "It is reminiscent
of the 1996 negotiations during which the Canary Wharf bombing was
being planned," one British source said.

The PSNI has studied reports from informants, tapes taken from
listening devices and telephone taps that indicate IRA involvement.
In a briefing, the chief constable said that intelligence gathered
before the robbery gained new significance when viewed with the
benefit of hindsight and left him in no doubt as to who was involved.

On the basis of this analysis, and of fresh intelligence gathered
since the robbery, police have briefed the two governments that it
was carried out by the Provisional IRA as an organisation. They have
ruled out the heist being the work of a faction or a collection of
disgruntled individuals.

It is said to have been sanctioned in detail by the IRA's general
headquarters staff, and that the IRA army council is believed to have
been aware that a huge robbery was to occur close to Christmas. Both
Adams and Martin McGuinness have been accused under parliamentary
privilege of membership of the IRA army council and, though the Sinn
Fein MPs deny it, police believe they are members.

The governments have been told that the robbery was organised by the
Belfast brigade of the IRA with support from other areas, including
south Armagh. Southern command, based in the republic, supplied the
van used to transport the cash to premises in west Belfast, where it
was moved to other vehicles before being transported to south Armagh
and north Louth.

The adjutant of the Belfast brigade of the IRA, a relative and friend
of Adams, is believed by police to have taken part in the heist along
with John Trainor, the intelligence officer of the Belfast brigade.
Both men's houses were raided, along with the home of Eddie Copeland,
a senior north Belfast republican, after the robbery.

Police have said the raids were not speculative but based on
intelligence. They are confident their operations could be justified
if there was an inquiry by the police ombudsman.

Bobby Storey, named in parliament as the IRA's most senior
intelligence officer and a planner of the robbery, is another close
Adams associate. Storey was instrumental in quashing dissident
opposition to the peace process and is regarded by the police as the
brains behind the raid on Special Branch headquarters in Castlereagh.
He is also believed to have planned other robberies, including one
that netted more than £1m at Makro retail centre in Dunmurry last

The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), which monitors
paramilitary ceasefires on behalf of the two governments, is expected
to recommend sanctions against Sinn Fein in a report within the next
fortnight. The IMC met last week and was given much of the police's

Possible sanctions against Sinn Fein include the ending of government
support, such as the money paid to the party in allowances at
Westminster and the Dail, and suspension from public office for up to
a year.

Last April, following the IRA's abduction of Bobby Tohill in Belfast,
an IMC report recommended the suspension of some Northern Ireland
assembly allowances. This has cost Sinn Fein £120,000 and last week
it challenged the decision in the High Court in Belfast.

A verdict may be delivered this week.

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