SF faces sanctions

03/02/2005 - 18:22:02

Sinn Féin is facing new sanctions after paramilitary watchdogs today blamed the IRA for the Northern Bank robbery.

As security chiefs insisted the Provisionals were not set to go back to war despite withdrawing a disarmament offer, the Independent Monitoring Commission delivered its report on the £26.5m (€37.8m) raid.

The specially prepared dossier, which London and Dublin are due to publish next week, has backed the North's Chief Constable Hugh Orde’s assessment that the terrorist organisation plotted the stunning December 20 heist on the Northern’s Belfast HQ.

Even though Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government has been suspended for more than two years, the three-member IMC is believed to have suggested banning Sinn Féin from any executive cabinet for six months.

Secretary of State Paul Murphy must now decide whether to invoke the punishment should devolution be restored at Stormont, although any revival looks impossible before the British General Election.

It is the second time the Commission has recommended sanctions against Sinn Féin.

Last April the party was fined for alleged IRA violence, including the abduction of a Belfast dissident republican.

But the latest move will do nothing to improve the mood among republicans which led the Provos to take their decommissioning offer from the table.

The IRA said British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had tried its patience to the limit by claiming its alleged criminality was the sole obstacle to peace.

And Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams warned the process was now in a deepening crisis because of the two governments’ attitude.

He said: “We have told them both that confrontation is not the way forward.

“Otherwise the peace process could be as transient as his (Mr Blair’s) time in Downing Street.”

Both Mr Murphy and Mr Orde stressed, however, the IRA was not on the verge of a renewed campaign of violence.

The Northern Ireland Secretary ratcheted up the pressure on republicans to halt all crime operations.

He said: “They (the IRA) have to accept that is what is dealing a great blow at the moment, both to the peace process and the political process in Northern Ireland.

“We told Sinn Féin that they are to go back and reflect upon the points that the governments have made to them – in many ways the ball is in their court – to stop the criminality which is associated with the IRA.”

Mr Orde was briefed by his anti-terror officers before declaring a fresh wave of terrorism was not imminent.

“We are clear the IRA has the capacity, it has the capability, but I don’t think they have the intent to go back to war or armed struggle,” he said.

In Dublin, Mr Ahern called for time to try to hammer out the political impasse threatening the Good Friday Agreement.

“I don’t read the IRA statement in a negative fashion,” he said.

“They are saying what is a fact, that negotiations have broken down.

“Everything is off the table and that’s the normal course of negotiation.”

But unionists were outraged by republicans’ tactics, with pressure growing for Sinn Féin to be blocked from attending any US St Patrick’s Day events being organised for next month by the White House.

Peter Robinson, the Democratic Unionists deputy leader, revealed he has been in talks with President George Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mitchell Reiss.

He said: “Sinn Féin’s access to the States and fund raising should both be tackled.

“Is Gerry Adams going to be allowed to walk in and have tea with the President on St Patrick’s Day or is it going to be cancelled?”

Ulster Unionist chief David Trimble emerged from Downing Street talks with Mr Blair to hit out at any future IRA violence.

He said: “I do not believe it, and I think even if there is something coming from that direction it should be treated with contempt and disdain.”

The Upper Bann MP also claimed Mr Blair acknowledged the process had changed.

He said: “The Prime Minister is clearly saying to us we are now in a different situation to where we were before.”

Mark Durkan, leader of the nationalist SDLP, accused the IRA of arrogance in its statement.

He said: “The reality is that the IRA carried out the Northern Bank robbery.

“Instead of facing up to that fact and the huge damage they have done to the peace process, they have thrown a huff at the two governments.”

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