Police in dark over IRA aims

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Sir Hugh Annesley, Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, yesterday conceded that the police and intelligence agencies were in the dark about the intentions of the IRA, saying he did not know whether to expect more bombings or a renewed ceasefire.

However, he warned that attacks were a possibility either in Britain or in Northern Ireland. If the IRA attacked in Northern Ireland, he said, loyalist groups would retaliate both in the north and in the Republic.

He said the IRA and Sinn Fein were inextricably linked, and forecast that there would be no split between them. He had no doubt that significant sections of the IRA's ruling army council wanted peace, but indicated that the state of opinion on the council was changeable.

Speaking at the launch of his last annual report before his retirement, and later in an extended BBC interview, Sir Hugh described the situation as worrying, unsettled and volatile.

He went on: "I believe Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are very, very influential people and I think they have a major say in the conduct overall of the republican thrust. There are, of course, other members on the Provisional army council, and it seems to me at the moment that those who are arguing not for a resumption may from day to day be marginally in the majority. The difficulty is, it seems to move on a day-to-day basis, and that's why it's so difficult to read."

Asked about the possibility of a split within the IRA, he replied: "I think they would go to enormous lengths to ensure that it did not split. I think there are differences of opinion. I have no doubt that there are significant sections of the army council who want peace.

"The difficulty is that some have been associated with violence for so long. They don't trust the British, they don't trust the Unionists. I think that we could potentially see more violence rather than have a split in the IRA."

Meanwhile, the Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, yesterday demanded from Sinn Fein a clear statement of its attitude to the IRA campaign of violence. "It is not a matter upon which they can be ambiguous or ambivalent," the Taoiseach said.

t Five men were arrested yesterday after a suspected IRA bomb factory was found by police near the village of Clonaslee, Co Laois, in the Irish Republic.

Letters, page 17