Adams kept in dark over blast

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A long-standing administrative and physical separation between the Belfast- orientated Sinn Fein leadership and the Dublin-based general headquarters command of the IRA was central to the rift that gave leaders of the party short notice of the ceasefire ending.

Sources in the Irish government last night said that weekend intelligence briefings received by the Irish cabinet gave showed no inkling the ceasefire breakdown was imminent.

Dublin government experts suspect that the IRA army council was not, as had been widely speculated, the critical force in ending the peace. It was known to have gone along with the ceasefire at an earlier stage by a majority of five to two of its seven members.

Much more decisive, Dublin believes, was the group of IRA officers who run the IRA on a daily basis, including the director of operations and the quartermasters who control finances, movements of arms and equipment.

Dublin accepts the word of Sinn Fein leaders that they are not consulted on IRA operations, a practice which would be incompatible with effective security of communications.

The party inner circle is almost exclusively from Northern Ireland. Dublin Government officials believe the high-level Sinn Fein delegation it met in Dublin 48 hours before the bombing did not have the manner of people privately aware a blast was in the offing.

That group included top officials, including party president Gerry Adams, vice-president Pat Doherty, general secretary Lucilita Bhreathnach and publicity director Rita O'Hehir. Of these only Bhreathnach, a Dubliner, is not a Northerner.

The IRA standing officers - representing the wider spread of regions where arms are stored, funds raised and members recruited and trained - have a stronger Southern bias, and in some eyes have been more vociferously opposed to the ceasefire.

The split in 1986 over ending abstentionism and developing Sinn Fein's electoral ambitions saw a more hawkish Southern-based leadership quit, leaving the Northern Adams leadership in control. That said, few Dublin politicians believed the present Sinn Fein leadership were moral converts to non-violence, but had chosen the ceasefire as a tactically better bet.

The phenomenon even spawned its own humour among republicans. "The further south you get from the border the more extreme they get," observed a former Republican.

In planning attacks such as Friday's Docklands bombing, republican sources have long maintained several months are required.

That logic need not apply if Friday's attack was a solo operation with no follow-up. But the risks of detection for a small group sent specifically to conduct one attack are considerable, as events in Gibraltar in 1988 which saw the SAS kill three IRA members showed.

The timing of the decision to return to violence is significant in the controversy over how much Sinn Fein leaders knew.

Before Christmas, amid deadlock over all-party talks, Sinn Fein executive member Martin McGuinness said the earlier commitment that the ceasefire would hold "in all circumstances" no longer applied. Mitchell McLaughlin, party chairman, also expressed fears then that the peace process was coming to an end.