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Sinn Fein leaders 'backed raids'


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Sinn Fein leaders 'backed raids'

Senior Sinn Fein members were involved in sanctioning robberies including the Northern Bank raid, the Independent Monitoring Commission has said.

The commission's report said the party should bear its share of the blame for a series of robberies and that it should face financial sanctions.

The IMC backs the police assertion the IRA was behind the £26m raid in Belfast in December - a claim the IRA denies.

Sinn Fein said it rejected the report because the IMC was "not independent".

Republicans blocked some roads for a time in Belfast, Londonderry and Newry in protest at the report.

The IMC's findings, released on Thursday, are based on intelligence information.

The four-strong commission also blames the paramilitary group for robberies in Belfast and County Tyrone in which several people were abducted.

"In our view, Sinn Fein must bear its share of responsibility for the incidents," said the commission.

"Some of its senior members, who are also members of PIRA (Provisional IRA), were involved in sanctioning the series of robberies."

It added: "Although we note Sinn Fein has said it is opposed to criminality of any kind, it appears at times to have its own definition of what constitutes a crime."

Rejecting the commission's findings, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams called on Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern to "put up or shut up".

Mr Adams challenged the taoiseach and the Irish authorities to arrest him over the bank raid.

"Previously they were saying the IRA was involved, and by dint of membership of the IRA leadership, that some members of Sinn Fein were involved. Now they are saying that Sinn Fein sanctioned this - that is untrue," he said.

"The person who first articulated this position was the taoiseach - he is the person who has to stand all of this up."

He added: "For me, he has brought all of this to a point where he has to back up his comments or he has to stand down from them."

In response, the Irish government said the taoiseach had no such power, and dismissed Sinn Fein's challenge as "a publicity stunt".

The commission said it would have recommended Sinn Fein's exclusion from office if the assembly was still sitting.

In the absence of devolution, Secretary of State Paul Murphy should consider imposing financial penalties, it said.

The IMC said the IRA carried out a robbery at the Makro store in Dunmurry in May last year, the abduction of people and robbery from an Iceland store in Strabane last September and a £2m cigarette robbery and abduction of people in Belfast last October.

"We believe that the Northern Bank robbery and abductions, and the other robberies and abductions... were carried out with the prior knowledge and authorisation of the leadership of PIRA," said the commission.

PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde's belief the IRA was behind the raid was also backed by the Garda Siochana in the Republic of Ireland.

However, the IRA denies the claims and, last week, it withdrew its offer of complete decommissioning.

Mr Murphy, speaking after the report's publication, said: "I shall now consider carefully the commission's recommendations. I plan to make a further statement to the House in the week of 21 February."

An Irish government spokesman said the IMC's conclusions concurred with the intelligence available to both governments in relation to the Northern Bank robbery and other incidents in Northern Ireland.

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson called for the political process to continue without Sinn Fein.

"Society should not be held to ransom by gunmen and gangsters," he said.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said: "I call on the government to publicly state that if the assembly was sitting and if the assembly failed to pass a motion of exclusion, they would, if necessary use the new statutory powers that they have... to exclude Sinn Fein."

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said: "The SDLP believes the best way forward is not through silly sanctions. It is by showing Sinn Fein - and the DUP - that they don't have a veto on change. We need a process of equals instead."

Conservative Northern Ireland spokesman David Lidington said it was an "affront to democracy" that Sinn Fein could access Commons facilities and receive allowances "at the same time as they are involved with an armed and active criminal gang".

Story from BBC NEWS:


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Nothing found in bank raid search

Nothing was found in a search of a County Tyrone family's land and property, police investigating the Northern Bank robbery have said.

The two-day operation near Beragh finished on Thursday.

The houses belong to brothers Michael and Liam Donnelly. Michael Donnelly's son Damien said the family had no idea why the police searched their property.

"It must have been false information they received, that's the only thing that I can see," he said.

He said they could not believe the searches were taking place.

"With the biggest robbery in history, to be involved in inquiries to do with that is just beyond us," he added.

"The whole of the Donnelly family has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism or bank robberies - it's not in our nature. We are out for an honest day's work for an honest day's pay."

A business belonging to the family was also searched.

Barry McElduff, Sinn Fein MLA for West Tyrone, said: "They have been searching for, according to this warrant that I have in my possession, vehicles associated with the Northern Bank robbery and notes stolen from the bank on 20 December 2004."

The IRA denies responsibility for last December's bank raid in Belfast, and Sinn Fein says they believe the denial.

Sinn Fein has accused the police of timing the searches to coincide with the International Monitoring Commission's report on the robbery which was published on Thursday.

The commission backed the police assertion the IRA was behind the raid in Belfast in December.

Sinn Fein said it rejected the report because the IMC was "not independent".


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Robbers 'trying to deflect blame'

There is speculation that the robbers behind the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery may be trying to implicate the security forces in the crime.

Money discovered in a police sports club was stolen in the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery, detectives confirmed.

Police discovered £50,000 in new Northern Bank notes at the Newforge Country Club in Belfast.

Five shrink-wrapped packages each containing £10,000 were found in the club toilets on Friday.

Police said the cash was planted to distract detectives investigating the Northern Bank raid and to divert attention from events elsewhere.

The DUP's Ian Paisley Jnr blamed republicans for leaving the cash in the club.

"I think this find by the police is an act of desperation by republicans, an attempt to throw the police off the scent," Mr Paisley said.

"I think it indicates just how hard the republican movement has been stung by events over the last 48 hours."

It is the first cash from the robbery to turn up.

A police spokeswoman said the notes had consecutive serial numbers and corresponded with the numbers given to the PSNI by the bank.

A man rang the Police Ombudsman on Friday claiming to be a PSNI officer and told them that drugs were hidden in the complex.

No drugs were found, but police discovered the cash packages during their search.

The RUC Athletics Association has blamed outsiders for leaving the cash.

A police spokesperson said of the Belfast find: "Initial checks would suggest that this incident is an effort to distract the police investigating the Northern Bank robbery and also to divert attention away from events elsewhere over the last two days.

"However, police are taking the find seriously and the material recovered will be examined as part of police efforts to find those responsible for the robbery."

New Forge Country Club is owned by the RUC Athletic Association.

The complex is used by former RUC officers and serving Police Service of Northern Ireland officers.

'Pending a report'

Police have blamed December's Northern Bank raid on the IRA, a charge the organisation has denied.

On Thursday, £2m - £60,000 of it in Northern Bank notes - was seized in the Irish Republic.

Police have released a man held in Cork after the money was found at his house.

On Friday night, two men arrested earlier in the week in Cork in connection with alleged money laundering were released without charge.

Two men from Londonderry, arrested in Dublin on Wednesday, were also released without charge, pending a report to the DPP.

A man was arrested on Friday night after police received reports of cash being burnt in a garden near Cork city.

Earlier, 17 bags of sterling bank notes were removed from a house near Cork.

Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy told a news conference an additional £175,000 had been surrendered to police in Dublin on Thursday night.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has said there has been an organised attempt to destroy his party.

"I consider this to be a very serious situation. There's a garda inquiry going on, obviously people should cooperate with that and in time that will do whatever it does," he said in Dublin on Saturday.

"But in the meantime, I think that what is happening is quite disgraceful.

"To listen to some of our political opponents, you would think that Sinn Fein as a party, Sinn Fein as an organisation, that those who vote for our party are criminals and we're not."


In a separate development, a former Sinn Fein vice president, Phil Flynn, resigned from an Irish government committee over his links with a company at the centre of the investigation.

He has also stepped down as chairman of the Bank of Scotland's Irish division.

Mr Flynn said he had done nothing wrong and had no involvement in laundering money for anyone.

Meanwhile, a man arrested in connection with alleged money laundering has been charged with membership of the Real IRA.

Don Bullman, 30, of Wilton, Cork, was one of three men arrested after 94,000 euros were found in a car in Dublin.

Story from BBC NEWS:


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