The party is due to hold its ard fheis (annual conference) in Dublin in two weeks' time. A sizeable rump of militants associated with the 32 County Sovereignty Committee opposed to the current talks process remains within the party. A clash of the two factions will make the event as stormy for the ard chomhairle (executive) as the 1986 gathering which precipitated the last split.
The 32 County element, led by a former IRA quartermaster eased out by the Adams-led majority last year, is now suspected of last week's plot to use a 1,000lb car bomb against a British target, possibly the Asia- Europe summit in London.
The split emerged publicly when 30 Sinn Fein members in County Louth resigned last November. The group's vice-chairperson is Bernadette Sands- McKevitt, the sister of IRA hunger striker and republican icon Bobby Sands.
The recent spate of arms and explosives finds by the gardai might suggest they have detailed intelligence on the dissidents, possibly even "authorised" from the mainstream Provisional side.
It is more likely that, given the relatively small area of Louth and Armagh from which much of the new leadership has sprung, the gardai have been able to identify and conduct intense surveillance on activists. The gardai also have a sizeable fund, set at IRpounds 745,000 in last December's Irish budget, for paying paramilitary informers.Reuse content