22 January 2006



01/22/06 08:57 EST

A recent allegation of continued criminal activity by the IRA, made by a senior PSNI officer to the Northern Ireland Policing Board, was cortradicted by the PSNI Chief Constable himself, according tho Irish premier Bertie Ahern.

During a trade mission to India, Ahern claimed the chief constable had given him a different view from that of his Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kincaid, who told the north's Policing Board last week the IRA was still involved.

The Taoiseach, speaking in New Delhi, rejected Kincaid's analysis, alleging that Orde, 'the most senior police officer', had given him a different view.

But asked if Ahern's account of his meeting with the chief constable before Christmas was correct, a spokesperson for Orde said the Taoiseach 'is mistaken to say that the Chief Constable gave a different view'.

It is understood Orde stands behind Kincaid 's analysis that all paramilitary groups, including the IRA, are still involved in crime. His spokesperson stressed that Orde would not say anything to pre-empt the next International Monitoring Commission (IMC) report later this month.

Kincaid's assessment also contradicted the views of the Northern Ireland Security Minister, Sean Woodward, who claimed all IRA activities were over. The chairman, Des Rea, has admitted the minister and the police remained 'clearly at odds'.

British Ministers, including Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, are pinning hopes of restoring devolution on the new IMC report in the hope it will confirm all IRA activities have ceased.

Hain said that the north's politicians should take a lesson from Nelson Mandela and forgive their enemies. South Africa had five times as many people killed as died in the Troubles yet Mandela still shook hands with his jailers. The minister asked why the North's politicians could not do the same.

Hain said he was encouraged by the prospects for key talks on 6 February aimed at reviving the deadlocked devolution process. Proposals from the Democratic Unionist Party to revive a highly limited form of devolution could, he suggested, provided a starting point for negotiations.

Hain expected that a report from the Independent Monitoring Commission, due shortly, would indicate the IRA's momentus step to end all activities was 'for real'. But he admitted the IMC must decide how many of its individual members were still involved in crime.

"At some point, Northern Ireland has got to get to the South Africa moment of forgiving but not forgetting," he said. "If you have lost a husband or a child or other loved ones it's not for me to say that you can ever forget the past, and you can't ever have closure. But I think Northern Ireland has to look forward."

"If Nelson Mandela can - having spent 10,000 days of his adult life in prison can say 'I can shake the hand of my former jailer, I can extend my hand to the people who were killing my people', why can't Northern Ireland's politicians?"

The DUP will submit proposals to Downing Street this week for a resumption of the assembly, but without restoring the power-sharing executive. Hain did not favor this but if other parties did 'that could lead to a good result'. He warned: "Years more limbo is not an option."

Hain admitted leaks last week of a police report on alleged IRA criminal activity had been a 'spanner in the works' but said the report from the IMC should help restore confidence.

"They will never in the end be able to provide an absolute 100 per cent cast-iron picture because most of what their assessment is based on intelligence, which is fragmentary."

Republicans have denied the recent claims made by Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kincaid and said that members of the British security forces are attempting to damage the political process through malicious briefings against the IRA.

Ahern and Blair plan to make a joint keynote speech in the days after the report's publication, while Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, will join Northern secretary Peter Hain in hosting exploratory talks with the parties.

Ian Paisley's DUP has seized on Kincaid's remarks as justification for keeping Sinn Fein out of the political process.

Republicans have rejected the allegations, saying his briefing was a deliberate attempt by the PSNI to scupper political progress.

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