Flash: Process wrecked as Orde blames IRA
The PSNI police chief Hugh Orde has said, in his opinion, the
Provisional IRA was behind the Belfast bank raid last month.
Mr Orde's statement came despite affirmations by Sinn Fein's
Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams that they had been told that
the IRA were not involved.
Speaking in Belfast this morning Mr. McGuinness reiterated his
view that "there are clearly elements within the British system
and unionism intent on wrecking the peace process and of using
the robbery in Belfast as a pretext for this. They must not be
allowed to succeed."
No one has been arrested or charged in connection with the
robbery, and Mr Orde provided no evidence to justify the claim.
However, his declaration appears to have prompted the collapse
of peace efforts in Ireland, with Sinn Fein being vilified on
both sides of the border.
In the talks, the IRA had offered to stand down and fully disarm
in a verifiable manner. However, the talks broke down over
unionist demands, backed by the Dublin and London governments,
for symbolic 'humiliation' photographs of IRA disarmament.
Speaking at a press conference in Belfast, Mr Orde said it now
made "operational sense" to attribute blame. He insisted his
statement was not in response to political pressure.
He told a news conference in Belfast: "In my opinion the
Provisional IRA were responsible for this crime and all main
lines of inquiry currently undertaken are in that direction."
The 26-County Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, immediately accepted the
PSNI's judgement. He said it was "a serious setback" to the
peace process and that politicians would have to deal with that
Mr Ahern claimed that the robbery could have been planned while
he was in negotiations with people who would know the leadership
of the Provisional IRA.
The DUP's Ian Paisley Jr. said the revelation over the bank
raid justified his party's refusal to broker a deal last month.
He claimed that Sinn Fein had not been sincere in its
exchanges and that Sinn Fein should now be excluded from the
In London, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said he
took the development "very seriously".
Mr Orde said that the amount taken in the raid was greater than
previously estimated, at 26.5 millions pounds sterling, or
almost exactly 50 million US dollars. He also said Northern
Bank intended to withdraw all their bank notes and re-issue them
in a different style and colour. It has been reported that most
of the notes taken were in the Northern Bank's own style of
Mr Orde said the bank's move made the robbery the "largest theft
of waste paper in the living history of Northern Ireland".
The process of printing new notes will take up to eight weeks
and they will be put into circulation as soon as possible after
that. The existing stock of notes will be phased out.