Blair warning over IRA activity

Tony Blair made the comments during a news conference

Sinn Fein cannot be part of the government of NI unless the IRA gives up paramilitary and criminal activity, Prime Minister Tony Blair has said.

He said the refusal of the IRA to give up such activity was the reason for the current political stalemate.

Sinn Fein is facing sanctions after a £26.5m Belfast bank robbery was blamed on the IRA. The IRA has denied this.

Mr Blair said the impasse had arisen because the governments had not got the commitment and action from the IRA.

"This has now got to happen. It's the only way to move this situation forward, he told reporters at his monthly news conference at Downing Street on Friday.

The prime minister added: "The overwhelming view now in the whole of the island of Ireland, north and south, is there cannot be a place for Sinn Fein in an inclusive government in Northern Ireland unless there is a complete end to all forms of paramilitary activity and criminality by the IRA.

"That's what the Good Friday Agreement said."

Sinn Fein could face penalties of more than £500,000 a year following the accusations about December's Northern Bank robbery.

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy has given the party until next Tuesday to defend itself before a final vote is taken on the sanctions.

Poll indicates satisfaction with Gerry Adams is on the wane

Meanwhile, the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern appears to have toughened his position on republican demands for the early release of the IRA killers of a police officer.

Detective Jerry McCabe was shot dead by the IRA during a robbery in County Limerick in 1996.

Last December, Mr Ahern said the men would be recommended for early release as part of a political deal in Northern Ireland.

However, Mr Ahern told Radio Limerick on Friday that it would not happen on his "watch" and that the killers' release was "no longer an issue".

The comments come on the same day a poll in the Irish Independent newspaper suggested support for Sinn Fein was almost unchanged, despite claims about the Northern Bank raid.

The new Millward Brown IMS poll indicated that support for the party stood at 9% - down just one point on the last comparable poll in November.

However, the poll of 1,000 people in Ireland, also suggested a big drop in satisfaction with Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

Satisfaction with Mr Adams stood at 31%, down 20% since November.

Three out of every five people questioned also believed the IRA was responsible for the Northern Bank raid, while 62% said Sinn Féin and the IRA were "one and the same".

It also indicated that 46% believed the claim of Irish Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, that senior Sinn Féin leaders were in the IRA.

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