Sinn Fein angry at block on prisoners

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Relations between Sinn Fein and the Irish Republic's government were under strain last night following a cabinet move to block the permanent release of a group of IRA prisoners in time for Christmas.

Leaders of the party made no attempt to disguise their fury at the decision sparked by killings in Belfast this week that have been linked to the IRA.

Security sources in Dublin also reported that police had foiled a plot by IRA units to stage a series of raids on cash shipments in the Republic.

A big police operation headed off the planned crimes, detectives believe.

But information about the IRA plans relayed to the government by senior officers helped ministers agree to halt the scheduled early freeing of nine IRA men.

They were going to be freed as part of the Dublin government's continuing bid to encourage the Northern Ireland peace process. Instead, they were permitted only parole for the Christmas holiday, and will be back in jail by the New Year.

The nine included Thomas McMahon, who was jailed for life for the IRA murder of Earl Mountbatten on a fishing trip off Co Sligo 16 years ago.

Sinn Fein's vice-president Pat Doherty warned that it was a disservice to the peace process. Party leaders are expected to seek an early meeting with the Irish prime minister John Bruton to discuss his government's decision.