UTV carries a Press Association report Senior Sinn Fein members ‘sanctioned £26.5m bank raid’
“Senior members of Sinn Fein sanctioned the £26.5 million Northern Bank robbery in Belfast, a new report claimed today.
They were also part of the IRA leadership which gave the go-ahead for three other raids last year which resulted in the theft of more than £3 million worth of goods, the Independent Monitoring Commission said.
Police investigating the December bank heist are continuing searches in Beragh, near Omagh in Co Tyrone.
The commission, which monitors paramilitary activity, did not identify Sinn Fein members in senior positions in the IRA.
But its report, which recommended financial penalties against Sinn Fein, said the party now faced a stark choice over the future direction of republicanism.
“In our view Sinn Fein must bear its share of responsibility for all of the incidents,” the IMC said.
“Some of its senior members, who are also senior members of the Provisional IRA, were involved in sanctioning the series of robberies.”
During the political fall-out following the bank robbery, which effectively wrecked any hopes of restoring power sharing at Stormont soon, Irish Premier Bertie Ahern enraged Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams with his claim that party negotiators must have known about the robbery plans during talks last year on a political settlement.
The four-member IMC said today: “Sinn Fein cannot be regarded as committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means so long as its links to PIRA remain as they are and PIRA continues to be engaged in violence and other crime.”
The report continued: “The leadership and rank and file of Sinn Fein need to make a choice between continued association with and support for Provisional IRA criminality and the path of an exclusively democratic political party.”
The Northern Bank robbery had the same characteristics as a series of heists last year involving the Provisionals, the IMC`s report said.
The commission said the IRA was responsible for:
A raid on the Makro cash and carry outlet in Dunmurry on the outskirts of west Belfast which resulted in around £1 million-worth of goods being taken on May 23 last year;
The abduction of people and theft of goods from an Iceland supermarket in Strabane on September 26;
The kidnapping of people and stealing of cigarettes with a market value of £2 million from a bonded delivery vehicle in Belfast on October 2.
The IRA has consistently denied Northern Ireland chief constable Hugh Orde`s assertion that it carried out the heist.
Sinn Fein`s Martin McGuinness also claimed he asked the IRA directly if it was responsible and accepted the denial.
The IMC said today it regretted Sinn Fein had rejected an invitation to discuss Mr McGuinness`s comments.
The commission insisted the Provisional IRA had gained very significant resources through a series of robberies.
“Violence or the threat of violence has been a feature of all these incidents,” the report said.
The commission also warned republicans that if an Assembly had been sitting in Northern Ireland, it could have recommended the exclusion of Sinn Fein from devolved ministries.
Police investigating the bank robbery raided republican homes in Belfast around Christmas.
The inquiry has been switched to west Tyrone where new searches were being carried out today with no sign of the missing money nor the van used. No arrests have been made.”