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Raid blame 'scuttles disarmament'

Last year, the IRA said it would complete decommissioning

Blaming the IRA for the Northern Bank raid has "scuttled" the chance of the organisation disarming, says Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.

The paramilitary group has withdrawn its offer to scrap all of its weapons.

The IRA, which denies claims it was behind the £26.5m Belfast bank raid, said the British and Irish governments had "tried its patience to the limit".

A Downing Street spokesman said they were not surprised by the statement and that the IRA was behind the bank raid.

Mr McGuinness, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, said he did not see a threat in the statement.

"I don't read that in the statement, but the statement is obviously a direct consequence of what I think is a backwards stance of the two governments and I think it is evidence of a deepening crisis," he said.

Chief Constable Hugh Orde said he had read the statement in full and discussed any possible threat of an IRA return to violence with senior colleagues.

"We know they have the capacity. We know they have the capability. I am currently of the view that they do not have the intent," he said.

"I do not think the statement changes that. But I also make the point that this is an organisation that still exists, is well-organised and has not gone away."

Mr Orde, who is briefing the Policing Board on Thursday, repeated his belief that the IRA was behind the Northern Bank raid.

Last year, the IRA said it would complete the decommissioning process within weeks and move into what it called a "new mode".

The Downing Street spokesman said: "The fact remains that it was the IRA that did carry out the Northern Bank robbery and as the prime minister and the taoiseach said on Tuesday, therefore it is the IRA that is the sole obstacle to moving forward."

However, the spokesman made it clear the government does not interpret the statement as a threat to return to terrorism.

Wednesday's IRA statement, which was passed to the An Phoblacht newspaper, said: "Our initiatives have been attacked, devalued and dismissed by pro-unionist and anti-republican elements, including the British government. The Irish government have lent themselves to this.

"At this time it appears that the two governments are intent on changing the basis of the peace process. They claim that 'the obstacle now to a lasting and durable settlement is the continuing paramilitary and criminal activity of the IRA'. We reject this."

DUP leader Ian Paisley said the statement proved the IRA never had any intention of decommissioning in a credible, transparent and verifiable way.

Senior Ulster Unionist assembly member Michael McGimpsey said the statement was "a thinly veiled threat".

SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell said the statement offered nothing new from the IRA.

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