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20 January 2005 Edition

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The dogs have been unleashed

BY MITCHEL McLAUGHLIN

Ian Paisley's desire to humiliate republicans scuppered all attempts to put together a comprehensive agreement prior to Christmas. Ever since, the two governments have been at pains to divert blame for the collapse on to republicans. Realising that they had made a mistake in allowing the DUP demand for photographic evidence to be included in their proposals for agreement they had to come up with another explanation for breakdown. And so the dogs were unleashed to find some alternative reason that could be attributed to republicans.

Following the collapse of the talks, Mary Harney, who has not made one positive contribution to the Peace Process since it began, declares that it wasn't the DUP demand alone that caused the failure to reach agreement but the refusal by the IRA to commit to an end to 'criminality'. In other words, the PDs want the IRA to do something that even the worst excesses of Maggie Thatcher could not achieve - declare that its 30-year struggle was a criminal conspiracy. It will not happen.

Mary Harney's intervention was the cue for the political opponents of Sinn Féin, who smelled an opportunity to score some political points to join the 'baying hounds'. The SDLP, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party all joined in the chorus. This was, of course, music to the ears of the DUP and other anti-Agreement forces.

Once more, Dublin supplied the ammunition that would be used by the DUP to justify its refusal to share power with republicans.

Then, in the middle of all the efforts to brand the IRA as criminals, we just happened to conveniently have the biggest bank robbery in the history of these islands. It was tailor-made to suit the agenda that was being set to criminalise republicanism. Now, I don't know who did the robbery at the Northern Bank, therefore I am not going to point the finger of guilt at any group or organisation. But I do know that the IRA did not do it.

Hugh Orde obviously doesn't know who did it either. Despite having 45 of his top detectives working on this investigation for almost a month and carrying out hundreds of raids, mainly on the homes of republicans, he hasn't come up with any evidence or recovered even a fiver of the stolen £26.5 million.

But, despite not having a shred of evidence to corroborate what he termed his 'opinion', it didn't stop him, from accusing the IRA. But of course, 'opinions', when they can be used to discredit republicans, can very quickly be reported as fact. So, over the last month we have been told that if it is Hugh Orde's 'opinion', it must, therefore, be a fact that the IRA did it.

On RTE's Questions & Answers programme on Monday night, the PD Justice Minister, Michael McDowell even went so far as to declare that Bobby Sands was a criminal. If Bobby Sands' actions are the criteria that Bertie Ahern is allowing the PDs to lay down as his government's definition of criminality, then by extension he is criminalising all of the 1916 leaders, many of whom were executed, and many more, including relatives of Mr McDowell sentenced to long periods of imprisonment by British courts for similar activities in similar circumstances.

Were the 1916 leaders criminals? Are Bertie Ahern and the PDs now claiming that the limited freedom that the 26 Counties enjoy was founded on criminality?

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