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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 January 2005, 11:10 GMT
IRA raid claims: what happens now?
Mark Devenport
By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

Northern Ireland's chief constable had been accused by unionists of staying silent because of political pressure.

Hugh Orde met key figures in the Policing Board
Chief Constable Hugh Orde blamed the IRA for the raid
Now that Hugh Orde has broken his silence, he stands accused by republicans of politically biased policing.

The chief constable could not have been any clearer in pinning the blame for last month's 26.5m Northern Bank raid on the Provisional IRA.

So far, the kind of hard evidence admissible in court is lacking.

As Mr Orde gave his opinion, his officers had no-one under arrest and no charges pending.

This has enabled republicans to repeat the IRA's denials of involvement and demand to see the police's proof.

However, almost every other part of the local political spectrum, from the SDLP to the unionists, appears ready to concur with the chief constable's judgement.

Given that there is no shadow assembly in existence and no restoration of the executive in prospect, it is hard to know what immediate consequences will follow.

If Sinn Fein were in government, they could be thrown out, but it is hard to exclude someone from an institution which does not exist.

The Northern Bank's headquarters in Donegall Square West, Belfast
Millions of pounds were stolen from the bank on 20 December
The body which monitors paramilitary activity is due to produce its next report in April.

Perhaps the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) will be asked to make an early report concentrating on the bank raid.

Last April, the IMC fined Sinn Fein, removing 120,000 of the party's annual allowances.

They would have to maintain those fines for 220 years to make up the 26.5m shortfall.

So perhaps we can look forward to a restored executive in the year 2224.

Obstacles

Unionists have called on the government to move ahead without republicans, but there are two immediate obstacles.

It is impossible to conceive London and Dublin supporting a government without nationalist participation, and the SDLP have shown no great appetite for becoming nationalist "Uncle Toms" in a unionist-dominated executive.

Moreover, the government still seems fixated on a solution which would include Sinn Fein and thereby deliver on the promises of complete IRA disarmament and an end to IRA activity.

The likeliest scenario appears to be a period in which Sinn Fein might - in relative terms - be cold shouldered, followed by some desultory discussions before the Westminster election.

A new push might begin again in the autumn, but the prospects for progress later this year or even next spring seem bleaker than they did before Christmas.

The peace process has been derailed before by controversies over Colombia, Castlereagh police station and the Stormont spying allegations.

However, this crisis is different as it will have a direct impact on the shoppers and retailers, workers and employers, spenders and savers who will have to exchange their old Northern Bank currency for the new notes which are soon to be printed.

Will the people who have to change their notes in the spring change their votes when it comes to the election expected in May?

I wouldn't bet on it - not unless, of course, you have 26.5m to spare.





SEE ALSO:
IRA bank raid claims 'damaging'
08 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland
Police say IRA behind bank raid
07 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland
Northern Bank withdraws its notes
07 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland
Police deny 'bank robbery botch'
23 Dec 04 |  Northern Ireland
Gang in '20m' bank raid
21 Dec 04 |  Northern Ireland


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