Irish Independent

No fudge, no budge on IRA crime

Out in the cold . . . Gerry Adams at Government Buildings yesterday. Picture: Martin Nolan

Hint of exclusion as Ahern tells Adams: Go away and think about it

THE Government yesterday gave Sinn Fein's leaders a blunt warning that the party must end its links to crime and violence if it wants to stay a player in peace process negotiations.

The stern bottom line was laid down by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and two senior ministers, Michael McDowell and Dermot Ahern.

The Government's determination was underlined by Mr McDowell when the Justice Minister later told journalists there would be "no fudge, no budge".

The Taoiseach did not go so far as to threaten Sinn Fein's exclusion from negotiations on the restoration of government in the North. But there was a strong hint that a recommendation for a spell in the sin bin may come from the Independent Monitoring Commission, the body charged with supervising the activities of paramilitary groups.

Foreign Minister Ahern warned: "There may well be consequences for (Sinn Fein) in the next Independent Monitoring Commission report."

Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness met the Taoiseach and his two ministers at Government Buildings.

The Taoiseach's team repeated its belief, based on Garda information and assessments, that not only was the IRA responsible for the €38m Northern Bank robbery but that the Provisional leadership gave "sanction and approval" for it.

Setting down their hardline stance in trenchant terms, the ministers left Sinn Fein in no doubt that they would not tolerate any level of criminality. The Taoiseach said: "There must be absolute clarity. We cannot continue with criminality being the order of the day, whether that be the Northern Bank robbery or anything else. We cannot have those issues affecting the peace process all the time - and they are."

Dermot Ahern said they had not been assured by anything the Sinn Fein leaders had said on ending criminality.

The Sinn Fein leaders, who meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair tomorrow, were asked to "go away and reflect" and consider their position before coming back with answers.

For their part, the Sinn Fein leaders were sticking to the line that the Taoiseach had no evidence for his claims about republicans and the bank raid. "We asked him to stand up those accusations today and he could not stand them up," Mr Adams said. "There can be no intelligence or no evidence because we simply didn't have any knowledge."

The Taoiseach said he stood by his earlier claims and said they had never intended that yesterday's meeting would be for "sharing intelligence" or about "giving explanations".

Mr McDowell said: "An Garda Siochana has clearly stated and briefed me that, in their professional assessment of the present situation, the Northern Bank robbery was carried out by the IRA and that the nature and skill of the operation was such that the carrying out of that operation must have had sanction and approval by the leadership of the Provisional movement."

He added: "There is no mandate for Sinn Fein to pursue a political path with violence."

Mr McDowell said: "Sinn Fein in victim mode isn't helpful to the process. This was not a meeting for intelligence or information to be shared with them. We made it clear that they would have to go away and consider their position - for as long as it takes."

While the ministers said political sanctions had not been ruled out against republicans following the December 20 heist, the Government did not want to exclude them or to impose any sanctions.

Mr Adams said the Taoiseach "sought to assure us and he said a number of times in the course of the meeting that the Government is against exclusion, is against trying to criminalise, demonise any party and is against sanctions".

The Taoiseach also met delegations from the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP and will meet the Alliance tomorrow.

Gene McKenna
and Senan Molony

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