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Last Updated: Friday, 14 January 2005, 18:19 GMT
Prepare to apologise, warns Adams
Mark Devenport
By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland political editor

Gerry Adams challenged members of the press gathered at Stormont this week to be prepared to apologise if it turned out that the Northern Bank raid was not carried out by the IRA.

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams challenged the media to be prepared to apologise
However, he did not appear to be too keen to pledge a similar apology should events take a similar turn to those which followed the Adare robbery in County Limerick in which Garda Jerry McCabe was killed.

The IRA initially denied involvement.

But after the Garda Commissioner pointed the finger of blame, the organisation admitted its members were responsible but the operation had not been authorised by the IRA leadership.

Mr Adams rejects comparisons with the Adare robbery, although it is unfortunate for him that the Northern Bank raid came so soon after the controversy over Sinn Fein's attempts to secure the early release of Garda McCabe's killers.

The Sinn Fein president says it should be noted that when the attempted robbery took place in June 1996, the IRA was not on ceasefire and its members "presumably had some instructions".

This begs the question of what instructions IRA members follow when the organisation is - as now - on ceasefire.

Sinn Fein's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness told reporters those responsible for the Northern Bank robbery were hostile to the peace process and to the party's agenda.

However, the IRA cessation covers only so-called "military operations", a definition which presumably never included bank raids.

Even if the IRA had accepted paragraph 13 of the British and Irish Joint Declaration - a requirement for so long seen as an "act of completion" - then engaging in a bank raid would not necessarily have been precluded.

Nothing in the paragraph which talks about an end to targeting, intelligence gathering, punishment beatings and so on specifically rules out taking 26.5m from a bank vault.

Just as the National Australia Bank - the Northern Bank's owners - will have been dismayed to discover that the government's terrorism compensation rules do not cover them for the loss of their cash, so British and Irish officials may feel disenchanted that the IRA - if the chief constable is to be believed - has slipped through their declaration's fine print.

Hugh Orde met key figures in the Policing Board
Chief Constable Hugh Orde blamed the IRA for the raid
The former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre may well have a point when he argued in the Irish Times this week that continual crises serve Sinn Fein's agenda.

Mr McIntyre says these episodes maintain the special transitional nature of the republican movement and therefore guarantee it a regular place in the headlines.

Why make historic moves on IRA disarmament and disbandment on a timescale to satisfy Ian Paisley and the DUP, when you can save them for a date much closer to either the 2007 Irish Dail elections or the 2011 Irish Presidential election in which Gerry Adams may well be a candidate?

Longer term

British and Irish ministers may well call for an early Independent Monitoring Commission report which is likely to back Hugh Orde's assessment and point towards some sanctions against Sinn Fein.

But that will not help them in their longer term calculations.

If Sinn Fein is genuinely interested in cutting a deal with unionists at Stormont, it is possible that talks on the other side of the Westminster election may make some slow and painful progress, with some results possible in 2006.

If not, and with perpetual crises and north-south expansion being the real republican game plan, then ministers could be struggling with an apparently never-ending process for at least the next five years.

After all, that is not a long time set beside the century of struggle for Irish unity which Sinn Fein is currently celebrating in such a high profile manner.

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07 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland
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21 Dec 04 |  Northern Ireland

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