IRA activity 'bar to settlement'

Mr Ahern and Mr Blair met at Downing Street

Ongoing IRA activity is the "obstacle to a lasting and durable settlement in Northern Ireland", Tony Blair has said.

He was speaking after meeting Bertie Ahern at Downing Street on Tuesday to assess their political options in the wake of the £26.5m Northern Bank raid.

Chief Constable Hugh Orde and Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy updated them on the latest security assessments.

This included the state of the investigation into the Belfast robbery, which has been blamed on the IRA.

Ceasefire report

The Independent Monitoring Commission's report on the robbery is expected to be sent to the governments this week.

The ceasefire watchdog's report is expected to confirm the police assessment that the IRA was behind the raid, and to recommend certain sanctions.

The two prime ministers' meeting was seen as their most significant since they launched their joint proposals for the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland in December.

After the meeting, Mr Blair said: "The obstacle now to a lasting and durable settlement in Northern Ireland is the continuing paramilitary activity and criminal activity of the IRA."

"It has got to stop and it has got to stop in its entirety. There cannot be any compromise with that.

"If it is given up definitively and completely, the process can move forward on an inclusive basis."

More than £26m was stolen from the Northern Ban

He added: "For several years, people were prepared to see a process of transition take place.

"That is now over, as far as everybody is concerned - north and south of the border, everybody is of the same view."

SDLP leader Mark Durkan will also hold talks with Mr Blair on Tuesday, while the DUP has met Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy.

The two governments are considering their strategy for the coming year.

It is understood they believe an all-inclusive executive is impossible without a complete end to IRA activity.

Mr Orde - who blamed the raid in December on the IRA - and Mr Conroy are updating both governments on the investigation.

Garda intelligence

The four Independent Monitoring Commissioners have held recent meetings with the chief constable and the garda commissioner, as well as extensive high-level meetings with British and Irish Government officials.

There has been speculation that their report will be published next week.

BBC Northern Ireland political editor Mark Devenport said some form of sanctions appeared likely in the short term.

He added: "But so far as the bigger picture is concerned, most observers would be sceptical about the chances of any real movement this side of the next general election."

Last week, the taoiseach held his first face-to-face meeting with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams since the chief constable's assessment.

Speaking after those talks, Mr Ahern said he believed garda intelligence which suggested the IRA was responsible for the raid.

Mr Blair said he accepted the chief constable's view that the IRA was behind the raid.

Mr Blair also met Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at Chequers where he reiterated his demand that all IRA paramilitary and criminal activity must end if Sinn Fein were to be part of an inclusive political process.

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