Irish Independent

Showdown as angry Ahern goes gunning for Sinn Fein

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern is heading for a showdown with Sinn Fein tomorrow. He will tell its leaders that, much as he wants to get the peace process back on track, there can be no progress unless they abandon their criminal ways.

The party said yesterday that its president Gerry Adams and chief negotiator Martin McGuinness would be seeking "explanations" from the Taoiseach of his assertions that its leadership had advance knowledge of the €38m Northern Bank robbery.

But the Government is having none of it. Four of Mr Ahern's ministers made separate public appearances to insist: "The questions will be coming from our side."

Ms Harney, together with Michael McDowell, Willie O'Dea and Seamus Brennan, indicated the Taoiseach will be pursuing a tough line and demanding answers.

The Tanaiste took the strongest stance. She said she believed the plot to rob the bank was known in advance to Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness. "I don't think anything happens in that organisation that they aren't well aware of," she said bluntly.

And she further infuriated the party by saying that its Kerry North TD Martin Ferris "may well be a member of the IRA Army council".

He immediately denied the charge and said he was not a member of the IRA.

Mr Ahern will also have separate talks tomorrow with the SDLP and Ulster Unionist Party in a first move to try to re-build trust and to get talks re-started on restoring a power-sharing government at Stormont. He will meet the Alliance Party in Dublin on Thursday.

He is expected to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair within the next week or so to plan a joint strategy.

He is also to meet with the International Monitoring Commission (IMC), at their request, "in the near future". The IMC is responsible for monitoring the activities of paramilitary groups.

The Tanaiste, in particularly trenchant comments on RTE's This Week programme, repeated her view that Sinn Fein and the IRA are the same organisation and that "many of the key personnel are the same".

They were treating the Irish public as fools, she said, adding that the statement released by the IRA denying involvement in the Belfast robbery could not be accepted.

Ms Harney also expressed concern that before Christmas the IRA would not state its commitment to upholding rather than endangering personal rights and safety. "It is about time now they made it clear that paramilitarism in all its forms and criminality is not acceptable and not compatible with democratic politics," she said.

Defending the outspoken views of Justice Minister Michael McDowell on Sinn Fein and the IRA, she said : "The Justice Minister has a duty to put pressure on those that are supportive of criminality."

Responding to Ms Harney's comments, Mr Ferris said :"I am not a member of the army council of the IRA. I am not a member of the IRA. I have said this before. They don't listen." He added: "Mary (Harney) and Michael (McDowell) are saying some crazy things lately."

Gene McKenna
Political Editor

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