Ahern stands by Adams bank raid claim
Former Taoiseach 'certain' SF leader knew of robbery
FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last night stood by his claims that the Sinn Fein leadership had prior knowledge of the Northern Bank robbery by the IRA.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams' credibility took a battering again as the highly damaging revelations about republican involvement in the £26.5m (€31.4m) robbery overshadowed his selection as the party's general election candidate in Co Louth.
Mr Ahern's views that gardai told him the Sinn Fein leadership had advance knowledge of the Northern Bank heist in December 2004 were backed by two government ministers.
Mr Adams attempted to dismiss the Wikileaks disclosures of Mr Ahern's statement as little more than a Fianna Fail "smear" and later called the claims "nothing new" and "unfounded".
But Mr Ahern's accusation five years ago was based on garda intelligence.
Allegations from US diplomatic papers claim Mr Ahern suspected Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness had information about the IRA bank raid.
Amid the political fallout from the disclosures in leaked secret US cables, a spokesman for Mr Ahern said he stood over the claims.
"Mr Ahern's views on the Northern Bank robbery, as expressed in 2005, have not changed," the spokesman said.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and Health Minister Mary Harney supported that version of events yesterday.
Dermot Ahern, who was then Foreign Affairs Minister, and Ms Harney, who was then Tanaiste, both confirmed it was "the belief" of the Government at the time that Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness had prior knowledge of the raid.
Mr Ahern said discussions with Sinn Fein were dramatically restricted as a result of "information that we had that people were aware and had prior knowledge of these events".
Taoiseach Brian Cowen refused to make any comment about the reports.
When he made the original remarks in January 2005, Mr Ahern firmly blamed the IRA for the robbery and said the "political leadership" knew about it.
Mr Ahern made it clear he was reflecting what the gardai told him was their "professional assessment".
"This was a Provisional IRA job. This was a job that would have been known to the leadership," he said at the time.
US embassy cables revealed how a government official told the US ambassador that Mr Ahern was "certain" of the Sinn Fein leadership's knowledge.
According to one cable, written by then US ambassador James Kenny, Mr Ahern made claims about Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness in private discussions with then US special envoy Mitchell Reiss in June 2005.
Mr Ahern is said to have told the envoy that he believed Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness were both aware of IRA plans to rob the bank at the same time as they were engaged in peace process negotiations.
In another cable, Mr Ahern was also reported to have said the Government had "rock solid evidence" that Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness were members of the IRA military command, and as such would have known in advance of the robbery.
The leaked documents come after Sinn Fein recorded a massive jump in the opinion polls two weeks ago.
That rise was attributed to its successful by-election in Donegal and the decision by Mr Adams to contest a general election in the Republic for the first time.
Instead of being able to use the selection event to broaden the party's appeal, Mr Adams spent the day dealing with questions about his knowledge of the bank raid and his alleged membership of the IRA.