- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2005

DUBLIN — The Irish government yesterday identified three of Sinn Fein’s top figures — including party leader Gerry Adams — as members of the Irish Republican Army command.

The government’s unprecedented declaration indicated it no longer would tolerate Mr. Adams’ protestations that his party should not be held accountable for IRA actions. The shift is intended to force the illegal IRA to disarm fully and disband or risk the marginalization of the legal Sinn Fein.

Political passions are reaching a boiling point in Ireland over the IRA’s suspected role in a $50 million robbery of a Belfast bank — one of the biggest heists in history — and an unfolding investigation into wider IRA money laundering. The Irish government says Sinn Fein leaders are involved in both.

During Northern Ireland peacemaking efforts the past decade, leaders of successive Irish and British governments privately have considered Mr. Adams and Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein’s deputy leader, to be members of the seven-member IRA command, called the “army council.”

To maintain good relations with Sinn Fein, neither government has confronted them about this in public. But during a live debate on a national radio station yesterday, Justice Minister Michael McDowell identified Mr. Adams, Mr. McGuinness and Martin Ferris as IRA army council members.

Mr. McDowell condemned their “deep, deep dishonesty.”

Mr. McGuinness, who served two short prison sentences for IRA membership in the mid-1970s, rejected Mr. McDowell’s accusations and insisted that none of the three was even in the IRA.

But when asked whether Mr. McDowell was “a liar,” Mr. McGuinness hesitated.

“What he has alleged is absolutely false,” he said.

Ireland’s claimant-friendly libel laws have allowed public figures who were called liars in public to win court cases easily.

The government’s foreign minister, Dermot Ahern, backed Mr. McDowell’s assessment.

“We’re absolutely satisfied that the leadership of Sinn Fein and the IRA are interlinked. They’re two sides of the one coin,” Mr. Ahern said.

Mr. Ferris is one of Sinn Fein’s five lawmakers in the 166-member Irish parliament. In 1984, he was caught trying to smuggle weapons into Northern Ireland on a ship from Boston and spent eight years in prison. The Irish government already has identified him as an IRA army council member.

Several books on the Sinn Fein-IRA movement have identified Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness as members of the IRA army council since the mid-1970s.

The hardening Irish government line comes during an unprecedented convergence in Northern Ireland politics. For the first time, the Irish and British governments and other major parties in Northern Ireland unanimously agree that the IRA’s refusal to disarm and disband poses the key obstacle to achieving lasting peace in the British territory.

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