IRA cache find raises fears of bomb campaign

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The weekend discovery of 30 kilos of Semtex and an arsenal of other bomb- making equipment in an underground bunker on an Irish farm has reinforced Dublin fears that the IRA has returned to a sustained campaign of violence.

In personnel terms the raid last Thursday that led to the arsenal find on the farm near Clonaslee in Co Laois was a serious blow to the IRA. Two senior members in its Southern Command were caught making mortar bombs. One is a quartermaster, the other an engineering expert.

The huge haul was a triumph for gardai, their biggest breakthrough against IRA logistics operations for three years. The 14ft by 8ft bunker, which served as a terrorist warehouse, was found at the end of a tunnel leading from a concealed entrance in a garden.

The bunker yielded the full range of explosives components: 40 mortar tubes, Semtex, large amounts of ammonia and nitrate used in home-made explosive, along with switches, timers, detonators, guns, tail fins and other mortar parts.

On Thursday 16 mortars were found in a ground level workshop. Detectives believe the farm may have been manufacturing bombs for another "spectacular" in Britain.

Three Dublin men each faced two charges in Dublin's anti-terrorist Special Criminal Court late on Friday of having mortars illegally and with intent to endanger life. John Conaty, 35, from Balbutcher Park, Ballymun; Gabriel Cleary ,52, from Friarstown, Tallaght; and Bryan McNally, 54, from Knocksinna Park, Foxrock, were remanded in custody until tomorrow.

A fourth man, Michael Cully, 46, of Clonaslee, Co Laois, was remanded on Saturday, charged with possession of 30 kilos of Semtex explosive with intent to endanger life.

The Taoiseach, John Bruton, again appealed for a new IRA ceasefire yesterday but warned that after the Manchester bombing, the Adare murder of a garda detective and the Laois bomb factory find, any cessation "would have to be really convincing . . . not a tactical matter, but involving a genuine, permanent and irrevocable commitment to peace."

Privately Irish Government sources are pessimistic about the chances of a new ceasefire and angry that they were apparently misled by Sinn Fein leaders who indicated a new ceasefire could be achieved if a date for all-party talks was set and former US Senator George Mitchell installed as chairman.

Dublin ministers feel let down that, after exerting enormous pressure on London, including at one stage walking out of Anglo-Irish negotiations, the promised co-operation never materialised.

Asked if Sinn Fein leaders had simply been refused a ceasefire by the IRA, one Dublin source said it was believed "they are not willing to ask in case the request is refused".