McDowell: Adams, McGuinness 'run the IRA'

20/02/2005 - 18:06:50

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness tonight stood accused by the Government of being members of the IRA’s ruling Army Council.

Justice Minister Michael McDowell said the Sinn Féin President and party chief negotiator – both MPs – and Martin Ferris were three of the members of the seven-man council.

Others have suggested the three men were involved at the top of the IRA but Mr McDowell was the first to make the direct accusation.

“We’re talking about a small group of people, including a number of elected representatives, who run the whole [Republican] movement,” he said.

“We are talking about Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams, Martin Ferris and others,” said Mr McDowell.

Consistently the harshest critic of the IRA and Sinn Féin within the Government, Mr McDowell spoke out as the republican movement reeled from the worst crisis it has faced in years following the Garda raids which netted over £2.3m (€3.3m) they linked to an IRA money laundering ring.

Tests are still being carried out to see if the money came from the £26.5m (€38m) Northern Bank raid in Belfast, which the IRA has been accused of carrying out.

Mr McDowell said many professions – solicitors, accountants and financiers - were also connected to the criminal operation north and south of the border.

“Many people are sucked into it, some wittingly and some unwittingly,” he said, adding there was a “deep, deep dishonesty that goes to the very heart of the republican movement”.

Martin McGuinness made an immediate denial that either he or his party colleagues were on the IRA Army Council.

“Its not true. I reject it completely. What he has alleged is totally and utterly false.

“I’m not a member of the IRA. I’m not a member of the IRA Army Council,” he insisted but admitted his past again saying “I was a member of the IRA many years ago”.

Conceding the current situation was serious, he said Sinn Féin would not tolerate any criminal links within its ranks.

“Neither Gerry Adams nor I would have anybody near us who was in anyway involved in any criminality of any kind,” he said.

But he was caught in an Government pincer movement. Soon after Mr McDowell made his accusations Foreign Affairs Minister, Dermot Ahern, said it was time the leadership of Sinn Féin came clean about their links to the IRA.

He said: “We are absolutely satisfied that the leadership of Sinn Féin and the IRA are interlinked…they are two sides of the one coin.”

He reaffirmed Mr McDowell’s statement that Irish police intelligence had revealed that prominent Sinn Féin members had seats on the IRA Army Council.

“It was quite obvious to us from all of this intelligence that, in particular in recent times, that there was an interlinking and inter-weaving of the situation from a decision point of view,” said Mr Ahern.

He also hit out at IRA links to cross-border smuggling and robberies and said it was inconceivable to think the IRA was not involved in the Northern Bank robbery.

Gerry Adams, meanwhile, speaking at a commemoration in Co Tyrone for three IRA men shot dead by the SAS 20 years ago, continued to paint a picture of republicans as whiter than white.

“No republican worthy of the name can be involved in criminality of any kind. If they are they should be expelled from our ranks. We are not involved in criminality and we will not tolerate such behaviour,” he said.

Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy and Mr McDowell meet tomorrow to discuss their joint drive against the IRA 24 hours before Mr Murphy tells the House of Commons what sanctions he will take against Sinn Féin over the bank robbery.

His statement follows a report from the Independent Monitoring Commission that the IRA carried out the robbery and leading members of Sinn Féin knew of and sanctioned the heist.

Mr Murphy is being pressed by unionists to set in motion the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly and exclusion of Sinn Féin. But he is more likely to take financial sanctions.

Removing parliamentary allowances from Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness and their two fellow Sinn Féin MPs could hit them to the tune of £500,000.

Mr Murphy and Mr McDowell meet when they attend the signing of a ground-breaking agreement between the Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde and Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy which will herald in the exchange of officers.

Under the joint protocols they sign – first proposed in the Patten Report on the reform of policing in Northern Ireland – personnel exchanges and secondments will be introduced.

The exchanges increase the high level of collaboration which currently exist as the two police services investigate the Northern Bank robbery and allegedly massive IRA money laundering in the Republic of Ireland.

Mr Orde said today he was unimpressed by the planting of £50,000 from the robbery at a police sports club in Belfast and branded it nothing more than a minor distraction from the main investigations into IRA activity.

The IRA had started to responded to his request that they give the £26.5 million stolen before Christmas back, he said .

The Chief Constable spoke out following confirmation that the firs money from the robbery had been recovered.

It was in five shrink-wrapped £10,000 lots – found hidden in the toilets of the Newforge Country Club in south Belfast and discovered during a search after a call to the Police Ombudsman from a man claiming to be a police officer.

Mr Orde said the money had clearly been planted by the IRA to try to divert attention from the money laundering investigation being conducted in the Republic and his own robbery investigation.

The money recovered was “a small amount of money in terms of the bank robbery,” he said.

“It‘s a distraction, it‘s people trying to take the focus of the key issue which is the operation run by the Garda and the major crime inquiry we still have ongoing.”

Amid some concern about the ability of the IRA to get inside a sports club run for serving and retired police officers and their families, Mr Orde said it had been easy to do.

“Places like sports clubs have become far more open, it was an easy thing to do.

“I’m not particularly impressed by it, but I did ask them to give the money back … they have started to listen.”

The Chief Constable said it was still too early to say with certainty whether the money seized across the border in Cork on Thursday was from the robbery.

Examination of over £2 million is being conducted by Irish police to see if the money they seized as part of their drive against IRA money laundering was from the Belfast raid.

Meanwhile the last person be be detained in the Garda operation – a man reported to police for allegedly burning sterling in the back garden on his home outside Cork – has been released without charge.

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