Irish Independent

SF rejects IRA heist role and demands evidence

SINN Fein's Martin McGuinness has angrily rejected the police assessment that the IRA carried out the Northern Bank robbery last month, dismissing the comments as "nothing more than politically-biased allegations".

Speaking at a press conference in West Belfast, Mr McGuinness said the announcement was just another attempt to undermine the peace process with "not one shred of evidence" from PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde to back up his claims.

"This is more to do with halting the process of change which Sinn Fein has been driving forward than with anything that happened at the Northern Bank," said the MP for Mid Ulster.

Mr McGuinness said he had "absolutely no idea" who masterminded the massive bank robbery, but insisted that it was not the IRA.

He challenged Mr Orde to produce the evidence that proves the IRA was involved.

"We live in a society where people are innocent until proven guilty. I would like to see the evidence," he said. "An allegation does not prove guilt in my opinion."

When he was questioned about the trauma which had been suffered by the bank officials and their families who had been held hostage during the raid, Mr McGuinness said he was "horrified" that any family should suffer such an experience.

He said that Sinn Fein would not condone any such behaviour.

But speaking from New York, Northern Secretary Paul Murphy immediately said that the revelation of IRA involvement in the multi-million Northern bank heist had "virtually destroyed" any chance of political agreement being reached before the next British General Election takes place.

Expressing his disappointment following Mr Orde's briefing at a press conference held in Belfast, Mr Murphy said the damage to the peace process in the North had been very grave.

The matter had pushed back the efforts which had been made to break the current deadlock until after the election, which is expected to take place during May.

"I think it is unlikely that we will be able to get a resolution along the lines of what we agreed back before Christmas. I do not think that is realistic between now and the election," he said.

"It is deeply damaging for the process, I think mainly because of the problem of trust and confidence that is necessary between the parties, (which) has been affected by this," he continued.

Mr Murphy said the announcement had created "enormous difficulties" for the British and Irish governments as "that sort of paramilitary activity flies in the face of the Good Friday Agreement".

"The feeling I have, which I guess is shared overwhelmingly by the people of Ireland, north and south, is one of great disappointment," he said.

"We were hoping before Christmas for a real breakthrough, we were nearly there, and this has obviously affected the possibility of that very seriously indeed."

Mr Murphy rejected any suggestions that the process in Northern Ireland was being undermined by elements within British intelligence.

"I know Hugh Orde does not want to thwart the peace process," said the Northern Secretary.

"This was a bank robbery. The idea that you invent a bank robbery to stop the peace process is not realistic.

"It is a criminal act, but because it has been committed by the IRA, which has committed itself to the Good Friday Agreement and the process - this goes against the principles of the Good Friday Agreement," he concluded.

Louise McCall

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