Adams seeks answers as public backs talks
Adams seeks answers as public backs talks

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams is to demand an explanation from the head of the Dublin government, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, over his recent allegations linking the Sinn Féin leadership to a major bank robbery in Belfast before Christmas.

Mr Adams’ is to hold a meeting with Mr Ahern in Dublin next Tuesday. He is also expected to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair soon.

Speaking in Belfast, he said remarks by the Taoiseach that the Sinn Féin leadership knew of plans to rob the Northern Bank were untrue, highly offensive and profoundly damaging.

Mr Adams said: “What the Taoiseach has accused me and Martin McGuinness of doing is being involved in a conspiracy, to be involved in the prior knowledge of the largest bank robbery in the history of these islands.

“That is what he has accused us of being involved in and I find that highly offensive.

“I believe in straight talking on these issues.

“When such an allegation is made with nothing to back it up and is totally wrong, we need and we deserve both an explanation and some sense of where this path takes us.”

He said all sides had arrived at a “defining point in the entire process” and he accused parties in Dublin of bashing Sinn Féin and discriminating against his party.

The Sinn Féin president said: “I want the Taoiseach to explain to me, man to man... the basis for him making this totally unfounded, offensive and wrong allegation.”

Mr Adams also firmly predicted that the truth would come out about the Northern Bank raid.

“When the truth does come out there will be red faces. The red faces will not be red Sinn Féin faces,” he said.

He was also asked if there was any chance of the North slipping back into conflict following the latest and deepest crisis in the peace process.

He replied: “Not in my view should it be contemplated. But who could have foreseen Omagh [the dissident bombing in 1998].”

In a statement earlier this week the Provisional IRA said they were not involved in the Northern Bank robbery. Mr Adams welcomed the IRA statement, which he said was quite clear.

The PSNI police chief Hugh Orde, however, has said he will resign if it is shown that the IRA were not responsible. He was speaking in a meeting with the Policing Board, during which he outlined suspicions that prominent republicans were behind the heist. However, no evidence has yet emerged connecting any group to the raid.

Unionist hardliner Ian Paisley has insisted that a fresh attempt to broker a power-sharing agreement with Sinn Féin was off until cast-iron guarantees are given that all IRA activities were over.

“There’s no chance of a deal until the IRA are brought to heel and made amenable to the law,” he said.

Yesterday, Mr Blair declared that he could no wait forever for all sides to “make up their minds” about the peace process.

Mr Blair said it was no longer possible to have a situation where political parties were linked with paramilitary groups.

Mr Blair called on all sides to abandon “terrorist offences and ordinary criminality”.

“Unless or until it is absolutely clear that things have changed, fundamentally, then it’s difficult to see the way forward on that inclusive basis.”

Senior Sinn Féin negotiator Gerry Kelly will be in Washington next week as US officials consider their approach. However, they are believed to have rejected unionist demands for visas to be denied to Sinn Féin leaders.

Meanwhile, a poll published today shows a large majority of voters believes that the Dublin and London governments should continue to negotiate with Sinn Féin for a deal in the North.

Some 62 per cent believe the governments should continue, while just over a quarter believed negotiations should be suspended over the recent allegations.

A majority of voters also said they did not believe that the IRA was responsible for the Northern Bank robbery, or said they didn’t know or had no opinion.

Those polled by MRBI were equally divided about Sinn Féin’s participation in a coalition government in the South, with 39% in favour and 39% opposed.

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