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Ira accused of betraying dublin { February 22 2005 }

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Sinn Féin chiefs are accused of betraying Irish government
By John Murray Brown in Dublin
Published: February 22 2005 02:00 | Last updated: February 22 2005 02:00

Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, the IRA's pol-itical wing, and Martin McGuinness, the party's chief negotiator, were yesterday accused by a senior Irish minister of "betraying" the Dublin government as further evidence emerged of the scale of what police believe is a big IRA money laundering operation.

Micheál Martin, Ireland's enterprise minister, said: "The taoiseach [Irish prime minister] spoke for us all when he said he felt a deep sense of betrayal, that he had been betrayed by Gerry Adams and Martin Mc-Guinness. We all feel across the cabinet table, that trust has been shattered. People do not trust what's coming out of Sinn Féin."

More than £3m has been recovered in searches across the Republic. Forensic experts are now trying to link the finds with the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery in Belfast in December, which the UK and Irish governments blame on the IRA.

On Friday one man held in connection with the investigation was charged with IRA membership. Another six people were released. In a related development, the chairman of the Irish operations of the Bank of Scotland was forced to resign after he emerged as a non-executive director of one of the companies caught up in the police probe.

But the political fall-out from the bank heist is likely to be more far-reaching.

Relations between Sinn Féin and the Fianna Fail-led Irish government, one of the bulwarks of the Northern Ireland peace process until now, appear at a new low.

At the weekend Michael McDowell, Irish justice minister, turned up the heat by naming Mr Adams, Mr McGuinness and Martin Ferris, an Irish MP who was convicted of gun-running in the 1970s, as members of the IRA's ruling army council.

Willie O'Dea, defence minister, said Dublin could "no longer now turn a blind eye to criminality".

In the 11 years since the IRA declared its ceasefire, the Irish government had backed Sinn Féin demands for the release of IRA prisoners, the reduction in the army's presence in the province as well as far-reaching policing reforms.

In the failed negotiations in December, Bertie Ahern's government risked a popular backlash by promising to release the IRA gang that murdered Jerry McCabe, an Irish policeman shot in 1996 during a bungled robbery.

The talks broke down over the issue of unionist demands for photographic verification of any disarmament move by the IRA.

But Mr Ahern now be-lieves the IRA was already preparing the robbery of Belfast's Northern Bank, and the Sinn Féin leadership knew of the plans.

"I mean what kind of idiots do people take us for. This was an IRA job, this was a provisional IRA job. This was a job that would have been known to the leadership. This is a job that would have been known to the political leadership," said Mr Ahern, backing up the assessment of Hugh Orde, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who yesterday signed a joined protocol to increase co-operation with the Irish police.

Mr Adams made clear over the weekend Sinn Féin would "weather the storm", and would fight any attempt to "criminalise" it.

Arthur Aughey, political lecturer at the University of Ulster, believes Sinn Féin can probably rely on its core vote in the upcoming general election.

But in the Irish Republic, where the electoral system forces parties to rely on transfer votes from supporters of other parties, its short-term ambitions could be curtailed.

Where Sinn Féin may be electorally vulnerable is from an assault from members of its own community. The party leadership was slow to grasp the level of outrage in the Short Strand community of east Belfast at the murder of Robert McCartney, which is blamed on local IRA members.

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