Irish Republican News · January 26, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

The Dublin government has effectively shelved the peace process until after the British general election by declaring political war on Sinn Féin.

Faced with the possibility of Sinn Féin soon becoming the largest party in the northern Six Counties and gaining the balance of power after the next general election in the South, the 26-County Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has made abundantly clear his intention to fight the party’s rise at the expense of peace efforts.

On Tuesday, Ahern was accused by the Sinn Féin leadership in their first meeting of the year of failing to back up his recent allegations linking them to criminality. But on Wednesday, in parliament, Ahern defiantly directed fresh allegations at Sinn Féin’s five TDs, accusing them of having knowledge of IRA actions, including alleged punishment beatings.

He claimed the attacks were being “turned on and off” to coincide with the progress of peace talks. Sinn Féin’s leader in the Dail, Caoimhghin O Caolain, fired back, accusing Ahern of seeking a distraction from the imprisonment this week of his onetime Cabinet ally, Ray Burke.

The public acrimony demonstrated the major deterioration in the relationship between the Government and Sinn Féin in the past year. This deterioration is being linked to the importance (in the view of the Dublin and London governments) of boosting the election prospects of the rival nationalist SDLP in the British Westminster election, which could be called as early as next month.

Mr Ahern also appeared to bemoan the fact that the peace process has moved Sinn Féin them to the centre of politics in the 26 Counties.

He said Sinn Féin used to be a party with 2 per cent support, but the “tolerance and encouragement” extended to them by his party and other parties in the House had allowed them to develop a significant electoral mandate.

The Minister for Defence, Mr O’Dea, accused Sinn Féin of funding election campaigns with stolen money.

And speaking directly to the Sinn Féin leader in the Dail, Caoimhghin O Caolain, the Taoiseach said “you and some of your friends” had carried out a series of alleged punishment beatings in Belfast.

O Caolain responded by accusing the Taoiseach of making “continual outbursts and allegations” to smear Sinn Féin. He said the Taoiseach was “abusing his position without evidence”.

“I wish to make it very clear that I reject criminality in all its forms,” said O Caolain. “Would the Taoiseach be able to make that statement as clearly before the House?

“With respect to the Taoiseach, I think he has a neck on him, trying to label any other political party with the criminality tag when one looks at the daily unfolding reality in respect of his own political party.

He again called on Mr Ahern to provide the evidence for his charge linking the Sinn Féin leadership to a bank raid in Belfast last month.

“Everybody knows that we represent competing parties in respect of not only general elections but all other electoral endeavours in this State. It has become ever more apparent that with the realisation that Sinn Féin presents a real and substantial threat to the Taoiseach’s party at the polls in this State that he has more and more moved - as I see it - a situation where he seeks to misrepresent Sinn Féin intent.

“I do not believe for a moment that his continual outbursts and allegations have anything to do with a bank robbery in Belfast but everything to do with votes in Ballybough and Ballyconnell and everywhere else throughout this jurisdiction.”

Meanwhile, hardline unionist Ian Paisley has signalled that even if the IRA decommissions and ends paramilitary and criminal activity, it could be well into 2006 before he would allow a power-sharing administration in the North

The DUP leader has also, predictably, upped his demands of the IRA.

“There will have to be full, complete and transparent decommissioning with witnesses and the production of immediate photographic evidence. Nothing short of that will be sufficient to build confidence with the law-abiding community in Northern Ireland,” said Dr Paisley.

“Secondly, all terrorist and criminal activities conducted by Sinn Féin/IRA must cease and the criminal and paramilitary machinery abandoned,” he added.

And the British Prime Minister Tony Blair has again raised the possibility of moving further away from the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Blair said there could no longer be a question of the republican movement being in a process of transition: “People have to decide: they are either part of the democratic process or they are not. That moment of decision has long since passed and it has simply got to be clear whether people have made their decision or not.”

He said: “If it proves impossible to go forward on that inclusive basis we will have to look for another way forward, it is as simple as that.”

The Sinn Féin leadership is due to meet Mr Blair at Chequers on Friday morning.


Meanwhile, the ongoing difficulties were discussed as a Sinn Féin delegation held meetings with US Congressmen as part of a visit to Washington DC.

The delegation spoke to Congressmen from both the Democratic and Republican parties who form the bipartisan Friends of Ireland group on Capitol Hill.

Yesterday evening, the delegation, led by Gerry Kelly, met officials from the State Department.

Mr Kelly said after the meeting that he had reiterated his party’s position that it believed the IRA did not carry out the robbery. He also said he was assured there was ‘no issue’ over the granting of US visas to Sinn Féin activists.

It has also emerged that the annual St Patrick’s Day White House reception to which Irish party leaders, including Sinn Féin, have been invited in the past is likely to take place again this year.

Speculation that the reception might be cancelled to allow President Bush to avoid Gerry Adams in the wake of the bank raid controversy appears to have been without foundation.

* Celtic fans have accused Scottish police of harassment after a number travelling from Belfast to a weekend soccer game were stopped and questioned about the Northern Bank raid.

The fans were asked if they knew who was involved in robbery. Fathers and mothers bringing their kids through ports over the weekend were also asked details about their children and other members of their families.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News