These men run IRA, says Dublin

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Key points

• Irish minister accuses Sinn Fein leaders of belonging to IRA’s Army Council

• Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds calls on IRA to disband

• Martin McGuinness denies involvement with IRA leadership

Key quote

"We’re talking about a small group of people, including a number of elected representatives, who run the whole republican movement. We are talking about Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams, Martin Ferris and others" - Michael McDowell, Irish justice minister

Story in full GERRY Adams and Martin McGuinness last night stood accused by the Irish government of being members of the IRA’s ruling Army Council.

Michael McDowell, the Irish justice minister, said the Sinn Fein president and chief negotiator - both MPs - and Martin Ferris, who sits in the Irish parliament, were three of the members of the seven-man council.

In a separate attack, the former Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds said the IRA must disband and Sinn Fein must take a bold step forward into the democratic peace process in Northern Ireland.

Mr Reynolds described the current situation as "very dangerous" and said it was time for everyone to remain calm and plot the best route forward.

Others have suggested Mr Adams, Mr McGuinness and Mr Ferris were involved at the top of the IRA, but Mr McDowell was the first to make the direct accusation.

"We’re talking about a small group of people, including a number of elected representatives, who run the whole republican movement," he said. "We are talking about Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams, Martin Ferris and others." Consistently the harshest critic of the IRA and Sinn Fein within the Irish government, Mr McDowell spoke out as the republican movement reeled from the worst crisis it has faced in years, following Garda raids which netted more than 2.3 million linked to an IRA money-laundering ring.

Tests were still being carried out to see if the money came from the 26.5 million Northern Bank raid in Belfast, which the IRA had been accused of carrying out.

Mr McGuinness made an immediate denial that neither he nor his party colleagues were on the IRA Army Council.

"It’s not true. I reject it completely. What he has alleged is totally and utterly false.

"I’m not a member of the IRA. I’m not a member of the IRA Army Council," he insisted, but again admitted his past, saying: "I was a member of the IRA many years ago."

Conceding the current situation was serious, he said Sinn Fein would not tolerate any criminal links within its ranks.

"Neither Gerry Adams nor I would have anybody near us who was in any way involved in any criminality of any kind," he said.

Mr Adams, meanwhile, speaking at a commemoration in Co Tyrone for three IRA men shot dead by the SAS 20 years ago, continued to paint a positive picture of republicans.

"No republican worthy of the name can be involved in criminality of any kind. If they are, they should be expelled from our ranks. We are not involved in criminality and we will not tolerate such behaviour," he said.

The Northern Ireland Secretary, Paul Murphy, and Mr McDowell meet today to discuss their joint drive against the IRA 24 hours before Mr Murphy tells the Commons what sanctions he will take against Sinn Fein over the bank robbery. Financial punishment seems likely.

His statement follows a report from the Independent Monitoring Commission that stated the IRA carried out the robbery and leading members of Sinn Fein knew of and sanctioned it. Removing parliamentary allowances from Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness and their two fellow Sinn Fein MPs could hit them in the pockets to the tune of 500,000.

Meanwhile, Hugh Orde, the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, said yesterday he was unimpressed by the "planting" of 50,000 from the robbery at a police sports club in Belfast, and branded it a minor distraction from the main investigation.

Mr Orde said the money had clearly been planted by the IRA to try to divert attention from the money-laundering investigation being conducted in the Irish Republic and his own robbery investigation.

He said it was still too early to say with certainty whether the money seized in Cork on Thursday was from the robbery. Forensic examination of the banknotes was still going on.