In a statement which will be welcomed by both the British and Irish governments, the IRA leadership said it had ``granted no one permission to use arms since August 31'', the date of its original ceasefire.
The clarification came as the funeral took place of Frank Kerr, 53, the postal worker shot dead as he grappled with an armed raider in the main Newry sorting office. He was buried after Mass at St Malachy's Catholic church in Carrickcruppin.
Two men arrested by the RUC after his killing were still in police custody yesterday. The IRA had been placed under heavy pressure to specify whether armed robberies were included in its original declaration of ``a complete cessation of military operations'', and the peace process would have received a severe setback if it had indicated that armed robberies would continue.
Yesterday's short statement did not clear up the possibility that the Newry robbery had been carried out by IRA members acting on their own initiative, but said only that the IRA had begun an investigation into the incident.
The clarification will be seen by many observers as a net gain for the peace process, in that it has removed the spectre of Sinn Fein sitting at the negotiating table while the IRA robs banks. Another potential complication, however, is the possibility of a general election in the Irish Republic and the disruption that would cause.
Labour, the junior coalition partner in the Dublin government, withdrew from cabinet on Friday in a row over the appointment of a conservative as President of the High Court. The Labour parliamentary party meets today to consider its position.
The Sinn Fein spokesman, Martin McGuinness, said yesterday he believed a change of government in Dublin would be ``very unhelpful indeed'' to the peace process.
- An explosion last night badly damaged a pub in the Republic's border town of Castleblaney, but police said it was too early to establish the cause. The premises, known as Frank's Tavern, were closed some time ago for reconstruction work.
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