IRA activity only barrier to power sharing

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British PM Tony Blair say the only thing now holding up power sharing in Northern Ireland is “the continuing paramilitary activity and criminal activity of the IRA”.

Meanwhile, The British government should consider giving the Northern Ireland Assembly a role which just falls short of full blown devolution, according to Democratic Unionist deputy leader Peter Robinson, who says the British government is considering interim measures for the Assembly.From

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair today warned the IRA that it must give up all criminal activity if there was to be any return of power sharing in Northern Ireland.

Following talks in Downing Street the two men said the IRA’s continuing criminal and paramilitary activity was the sole remaining obstacle to a peace settlement in the North.

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern were briefed by Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde and Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy on the £26.5m (€38m) Northern Bank raid.

They said they accepted the conclusion of both police forces that it was the work of the Provisional IRA.

“The obstacle now to a lasting and durable settlement in Northern Ireland is the continuing paramilitary activity and criminal activity of the IRA,” Mr Blair said.

“It has got to stop. It has got to stop in its entirety. There cannot be any compromise with that.

“If it is given up the process can move forward on an inclusive basis.”

His words were echoed by Mr Ahern who told reporters in No 10: “The reality of the situation is that until we have got an end to criminality we cannot win the trust and confidence of the collective parties to move forward.”

Mr Blair acknowledged that the bank raid may have been the result of divisions within the republican movement.

However, he said Sinn Féin and the IRA were now alone in not accepting that there must be a commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means if the process was to move forward.

He said the unionist community now accepted the principle of power sharing with nationalists provided they abandoned criminality and paramilitary activities.

“There cannot be any going back on that,” he said.

Mr Blair said he hoped there would be a period of “hard and difficult reflection” by the republican leadership.

“There is almost a simplicity about the present situation,” he said.

“There is no way forward by compromise, fudge, ambiguity on this issue any more.

“There is only one way forward. Everybody gets on to the democratic bus and goes forward on that track or not.”

Mr Ahern added: “The questions are very clear. They are very simple. If they (republicans) are prepared to engage and are prepared to move forward we can get on but we need that response back from them.”