Northern Ireland: London maintains sanctions on Sinn Féin – ISN

DERRY — Northern Ireland Secretary of State Paul Murphy told the British House of Commons on Tuesday that he would extend sanctions against Sinn Féin, the political party linked to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), for a year.

Murphy said Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland Assembly grant, worth some £120,000 (about €173,000), would be suspended for an additional 12 months. The decision comes in the wake of the latest report from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) accusing the IRA of being behind the theft of around €33 million from a Belfast bank in December.

The IMC recommended imposing financial penalties on Sinn Féin. The commission was set up by the Irish and British governments to monitor paramilitary activity. An earlier IMC report, which detailed IRA involvement in smuggling and smaller robberies, led to the initial application of the sanctions.

However, the British government is expected to table a parliamentary motion enabling it to target Sinn Féin’s Westminister benefits, worth around £500,000 (about €721,000). Sinn Féin’s four members of parliament boycott the British House of Commons. Meanwhile, the fallout from last week’s arrests as part of an investigation into IRA money laundering in the Irish Republic has continued.

The head of Northern Ireland’s Policing Board, Sir Desmond Rea, resigned from his non-executive directorship of Ivy Woods, a Belfast property development company, citing his move as “precautionary.” Ivy Woods is a subsidiary of Harcourt Developments, from which Phil Flynn resigned his board seat last week.

Flynn is a former Sinn Féin vice-chairman who resigned from the party in 1987 and became a key industrial relations broker in the Irish Republic, as well as a consultant for Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern hired to troubleshoot for labor relations disputes. His links to companies targeted by the Irish police in their anti-IRA money laundering operation are set to come under scrutiny in the coming weeks and months.

The Conservative Party and the two main unionist parties in Northern Ireland have called for Sinn Féin to be excluded from political talks until the IRA disbands. The Irish and British governments both disagree with that approach, saying they did not wish to make Sinn Féin appear victimized.

Any talks will be based around restoring Northern Ireland’s devolved legislature, suspended since October 2002 amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at its Belfast headquarters. The debate about excluding Sinn Féin from politics is a largely symbolic one in the run-up to planned British general elections in May, as such a decision could not be debated until well into the autumn, irrespective of moves by the IRA to end criminality and hand in weapons.

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