DERRY — In its first official statement since the head of Northern Ireland’s police accused them of stealing £26.5 million (nearly €38 million) from a Belfast bank, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) last night denied that it took the money. The denial comes amid a growing political crisis in Northern Ireland. The failure by Sinn Féin, the party linked to the IRA, and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to forge a deal to restore the devolved government to Belfast has been compounded by the widespread belief that the IRA planned the heist, which is thought to be the largest in European history. Speaking at Westminster today, British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Paul Murphy described the robbery as a violation of the 1998 peace agreement. On 7 January, Hugh Orde, the head of Northern Ireland’s police said he believed that the IRA had carried out the robbery. He was backed by the Irish and British governments, as well as the other political parties in Northern Ireland, including the nationalist Social, Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).
DERRY — Politicians and the public in Ireland and the UK have spent the weekend coming to terms with accusations that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was responsible for a massive Belfast bank robbery on 20 December 2004.
Last Friday afternoon, Hugh Orde, Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), stated that he thought that “[…] the Provisional IRA were responsible for this crime and all main lines of inquiry currently undertaken are in that direction.” Orde was speaking after meeting key members of Northern Ireland’s policing board. Martin McGuinness, chief negotiator for Sinn Féin, the political party linked to the IRA, reacted to Orde’s comments by telling press that the IRA had told him that the group had not conducted the robbery, and that Orde’s comments were part of a politically-motivated campaign to undermine Sinn Féin and the peace process.
DERRY – Over £20 million (nearly €29 million) was stolen on Monday from a Belfast bank headquarters, in what was one of the largest robberies ever carried out in Ireland or Britain. Sam Kincaid, Assistant Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), said the robbery “was a well-organized crime”, and “could be paramilitary-related”. Former Special Branch police chief in Northern Ireland, Bill Lowry, told the pro-unionist Newsletter newspaper that the Provisional Irish Republican Army was the most likely suspect. Northern Bank headquarters, which holds cash for business clients and for the bank’s network of ATMs, was targeted in what appeared to be a meticulously planned operation.
DERRY – The latest attempts to forge a breakthrough in Northern Ireland’s peace process appear to have failed this morning, with the verification of IRA disarmament the remaining stumbling block. Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader, Reverend Ian Paisley, said while “we’ve never been closer to a settlement”, the IRA must “surrender”. However, it appears that the IRA will not consent to giving photographic evidence that their weapons have been destroyed – a key DUP demand. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, whose party is regarded as the IRA’s political wing, said last night the IRA would not “submit to humiliation” by giving photographic evidence of disarmament. Northern Ireland’s three decades of civil conflict up to 1998 saw over 3,600 people killed as mostly Catholic Irish nationalists and republicans, who want Northern Ireland to merge with the Republic of Ireland to the south, faced off against mostly Protestant unionists or loyalists who want to remain part of the United Kingdom. British soldiers flooded Northern Ireland but were viewed by many nationalists as a hostile occupation force.
DERRY – It has been two weeks since the Irish and British governments handed Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) its revised terms for the restoration of devolution to Northern Ireland, a key part of the 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of civil conflict in the region. Since then, both parties have consulted their grassroots, come up with responses and requests for clarification for the governments, and engaged in a series of talks with relevant policymakers in Belfast, Dublin, and London. However their respective dealings have not included face-to-face meetings as the DUP refuses to meet with a party it sees as indistinguishable from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). The discussions have so far been mediated by the Irish and British governments. This morning the DUP leader Reverend Ian Paisley was in London to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while a Sinn Féin delegation led by Gerry Adams was in Dublin to meet the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.
DERRY — On Monday the British government officially recognized the ceasefire declared by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), Northern Ireland’s largest “loyalist” (Protestant) paramilitary group. The recognition came despite the publication of an Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) report that said that the UDA continued to be involved in crime and internal feuding and exercised gangland-style control over loyalist urban areas in Northern Ireland. However the report noted a reduction in UDA activity since the last report was published six months ago. The IMC is a British-Irish taskforce appointed to assess the activity of Northern Ireland’s paramilitary groups. The move followed consultations between Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Paul Murphy and the Ulster Political Research Group, a think-tank affiliated with the UDA.
DERRY – Last week saw the first conviction for the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, one of Northern Ireland’s most notorious political assassinations. Now, the British government has promised a judicial inquiry to discover the truth behind the killing, which has been one of a few murders tainted by allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries — regarded by many as terrorists fighting to maintain British control of Northern Ireland — and the British state security forces. On 16 September, Ken Barrett, a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), a loyalist paramilitary group, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in the murder of Finucane in February 1989. Northern Ireland’s three decades of civil conflict up to 1998 saw over 3,600 people killed as mostly Catholic Irish nationalists and republicans, who want Northern Ireland to merge with the Republic of Ireland to the south, faced off against mostly Protestant unionists or loyalists who want to remain part of the United Kingdom. British soldiers flooded Northern Ireland but were viewed by many nationalists as a hostile occupation force.
DERRY — Three days of intensive talks on Northern Ireland’s political future ended on Saturday afternoon without a deal. However the Irish and British governments remained positive in the aftermath of this latest failure to resolve the ongoing problems in fully implementing the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland’s landmark peace deal forged in 1998. Both British Prime Minster Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern believe that the basis is there for an agreement in the near future. Held at Leeds Castle in Kent in the south of England, the much-anticipated talks opened amid an uncertain atmosphere.
DERRY — The saga around one of Northern Ireland’s most controversial political assassinations reached a conclusion of sorts on Thursday with the jailing of a former loyalist paramilitary. Ken Barrett, 41, admitted to being one a group of masked gunmen who in February 1989 shot prominent Catholic solicitor Pat Finucane 14 times as he ate a Sunday meal with his family. Finucane was a high-profile lawyer who represented republican clients – but also worked with Protestants. Barrett, then a member the loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), was given a minimum 22 year sentence. However, he could be released within just a few months as part of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland’s landmark 1998 peace deal. The peace deal included an amnesty for politically-motivated crimes committed during Northern Ireland’s 30-year civil conflict.