FORENSIC experts investigating the fire that destroyed a historic cathedral early on Christmas Day have so far not found any evidence to indicate the blaze was started maliciously.
However, investigating officers last night stressed their inquiries have not yet been completed and they have not ruled out arson as a motive.
Detectives finally began an examination of the ruins of St Mel's Cathedral in Longford yesterday.
The forensic team had previously been delayed from entering the remains of the building because of safety fears.
Garda Inspector Joe McLoughlin said it is uncertain how long it will take to conclude the investigation because of the size of the cathedral.
"They've been in there since this morning," he told the Irish Independent.
"It's progressing. We have a team from the garda technical bureau in there, and we're supporting them with our own divisional crime units.
"It is early days as yet, and I'm being told that it could take a number of days."
A firm with experience of demolition jobs was on site last week amid fears that parts of the windows and walls at the northern end of the cathedral were unsafe and could collapse.
Gardai used a 60m-high crane with a safety cage to allow forensic experts examine the ruins.
But Insp McLoughlin said that it was too early for preliminary reports, and declined to comment on speculation that the fire may have started in a boiler area at the back of the altar.
"There is no way I could speculate, there's a lot of speculation out there but this is one you would have to be guided on by the experts," he said.
Weekend Masses in the town are expected to take place in the sports hall of St Mel's College which can accommodate up to 600 people.
It is thought that restoring the iconic building to its former glory could cost in excess of €8m.