DERRY – The head of Northern Ireland’s police vowed on Thursday to resign if it turns out that he was wrong in his accusations that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was behind the theft of £26.5 million (€38 million) from a Belfast bank in December.
Hugh Orde, Chief Constable of the Police Service for Northern Ireland (PSNI), stated publicly on 7 January that he believed that the IRA had carried out the robbery.
On Monday, the IRA proclaimed its innocence, after Sinn Féin, the political party linked to the IRA, had described the allegations as a conspiracy aimed at undermining Northern Ireland’s peace process.
Northern Ireland’s three decades of civil conflict up to 1998 saw over 3,600 people killed, most of them civilians, as mostly Catholic Irish nationalists and republican paramilitaries, who want Northern Ireland to merge with the Republic of Ireland to the south, faced off against mostly Protestant unionists or loyalist counterparts who want to remain part of the United Kingdom. British soldiers flooded into Northern Ireland but were viewed by many nationalists as a hostile occupation force and were regularly targeted by the IRA.
While Orde’s flamboyant remarks could be viewed as publicity stunt, his assessment of the Belfast bank heist is shared by all other political parties in Northern Ireland. The Irish and British governments agree with the police chief, whose statement was followed by a series of recriminations that have undermined any immediate prospects for progress in Northern Ireland’s peace process.
Before Christmas, Dublin and London presented Northern Ireland’s parties with a deal on restoring a devolved, cross-party government to Belfast – a key part of the 1998 agreement. However, Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party could not agree on the verification process of IRA weapons decommissioning.
On Thursday, Orde told the Policing Board that he believed a senior IRA figure in Belfast was the mastermind behind the robbery. It remains unclear how much Sinn Féin leaders knew about the raid, which was clearly in its final planning stages while the political negotiations on devolution were taking place.
Meanwhile in Dublin, Colm Murphy, so far the only person convicted in relation to the August 1998 Omagh bomb, one of worst atrocities of the conflict and one that took place after the peace deal was signed, was granted a retrial based on apparent tampering of evidence by two policemen in the Irish Republic.
The Omagh bomb was carried out by the “Real” IRA, a dissident group that disagreed with the IRA’s ending of violent resistance to British rule in Northern Ireland. Twenty-nine people died in what was the single greatest loss of life in Northern Ireland’s civil conflict.
In an opinion poll published in Dublin on Thursday, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams’ approval rating was shown to have declined by nine points to 42 per cent. However, popular support for Sinn Féin remains at 11 per cent in the Republic, where the party has made substantial gains in recent years on the back of the IRA apparently committing to peace in Northern Ireland.
However, as Sinn Féin becomes increasingly isolated politically, it is difficult to see how its current pariah status north and south in Ireland can be reversed. Such marginalisation could empower hardliners in the IRA and carries with it the potential for splinter movements, such as the “Real” IRA, to try replicate violence on the scale of the Omagh attack.Show